When I began my career in culinary nutrition, homemade sauerkraut was a dying art. Over the years while I was teaching in-person classes, I made it my mission to bring it back to my community and typically had a sauerkraut demo on the docket. Thankfully, fermented foods like sauerkraut are experiencing a popular resurgence and plenty of people are now trying it at home. It's inexpensive, easy to make, and incredibly nutritious – so there's really no reason not to do it.
What Is Sauerkraut?
Sauerkraut is finely shredded cabbage that is combined with a brine or massaged to create its own brine, and sometimes herbs and spices. It's generally used as a condiment on things like burgers, tacos, salads and sandwiches.
What's The Difference Between Fermented Sauerkraut and Vinegar Sauerkraut?
The only type of sauerkraut I eat is the kind that has gone through a lactic acid fermentation process – basically fermented in naturally derived salt brine. During the fermentation process, various bacteria work on the cabbage to produce lactic acid. No special cultures, preservatives or chemicals need to be added.
Non-fermented sauerkraut is usually coated in a heated vinegar-salt brine and then canned. Often, food producers will use extra preservatives to keep it more shelf-stable and to ensure that the colours stay bright and vibrant. Most of what you'll find in your supermarket has been pasteurized, which means all of the good bacteria have been killed. We want the good bacteria!
Canned sauerkraut has a very different taste from naturally fermented sauerkraut – the former is quite vinegary, while the latter is tangy and delightfully sour.
Health Benefits of Sauerkraut
Fermented foods like homemade sauerkraut are rich in probiotics. The word 'probiotic' means 'promoting life'. Probiotics are the good guys; the beneficial bacteria we need in our gut that help keep us healthy. They support healthy digestion, immunity and our brains.
Key Health Benefits of Sauerkraut
- Loaded with Vitamin C, Vitamin K and B vitamins, particularly B6 and folate.
- Rich in isothiocyanates – a substance thought to inhibit the formation of cancer and tumours.
- High in fibre, great for digestion, hormone balance and detoxification.
- A source of manganese – this helps to protect us from free radical damage and supports bone health and blood sugar balance.
- A source of the probiotics leuconostoc, pediococcus, and lactobacillus.
How to Incorporate Sauerkraut in Your Diet
I like to have a little bit of fermented foods, like sauerkraut, every single day. I also give it to my son Finn, as it's one of his favourite foods. You don't need a ton of it – a small amount, 1 or 2 tablespoons only, will do. If you eat too much (and aren't used to eating kraut), you may end up with diarrhea.
Some ways to incorporate sauerkraut in your diet:
- Add it to salads
- Use as a sandwich or burger topper
- Have it as a side dish
- Add it to smoothies (yes, you read that right!)
- Add to steamed greens
- Serve it over avocado toast, poached eggs or omelettes
- Mash it into guacamole or salsa
- Don't forget about the brine – save it to use in salad dressings or any other recipe where you'd use vinegar
The recipe I've included in this post is very easy to make. However, I know that fermenting can be scary if you haven't done it before! Fermentation can sometimes be a science experiment, where you don't always know the results.
Some things to keep in mind:
- The sauerkraut must be submerged in brine to prevent mold. To keep it submerged, use a rolled cabbage leaf or a fermentation puck on top.
- Depending on where you live and the season (summer vs winter), fermentation can take different amounts of time. In a cold climate, it can take several weeks to ferment.
- Always taste test with a clean spoon.
- Don't double-dip into your kraut. I like to make a big jar (my 'main jar'), and then transfer to a small jar as I use it. That way, the main jar has less exposure to air or other bacteria, so it lasts longer.
- Sauerkraut will change colour as it ferments.
- If you get tired of massaging your kraut, leave the salt on it for about an hour before you begin massaging or pounding it. This will help naturally release the juices, cutting down on massage time.
- If I see mold, I throw my kraut out. Some people like to live on the edge and just scrape it off, but if there is mold on top, there is likely mold throughout that you can't see.
- Your nose will likely tell you if sauerkraut has gone off. But when it doubt, throw it out. You can always start a new batch tomorrow.
Yield: 2 cups
- 1 medium-sized cabbage (any colour)
- 1 Tbsp caraway seeds
- 2 tsp sea salt
- ⅔ cup grated carrot (optional)
- 2-3 Tbsp chopped or grated ginger (optional)
- Remove large outer leaves from cabbage and set them aside.
- Core and shred cabbage finely.
- In a large bowl, mix cabbage with caraway seeds, sea salt and optional ginger and carrots.
- Massage with your hands (or pound with a wooden mallet or tamper) for about ten minutes. Juices will be released.
- Place into a wide mouth Mason jar and pound down until juices come up and cover the cabbage. Leave about 2 inches of space at the top.
- Carefully place whole cabbage leaves overtop (inside the jar) to ensure everything is submerged completely. Seal jar firmly.
- Keep at room temperature for about 3 days and then transfer to your fridge.
- It may be eaten right away but will improve with time.
More Fermentation Resources
- My Favourite Probiotic-Rich Foods
- Fermented Nut Cheese
- Homemade Kimchi
- Coconut Miso Soup
- Coconut Kefir Ice Cream Pops
- Everything You Need to Know About Fermented Foods