Fermented cabbage becomes tart, salty sauerkraut, a key component in a Reuben sandwich or a slow-cooked pork chop dinner. It’s available in cans, jars and bags, and it’s easy to make at home.

Adding Ingredients to Sauerkraut

Add about ½ ounce of caraway seed, dill or juniper berry to your German sauerkraut recipes. Korean kimchi, a spicy fermented cabbage preparation, is flavored with red pepper flakes, garlic, ginger, sugar and fish sauce.

Brighten the flavor and the color palette of sauerkraut with shredded radishes, carrots, apples or beets.

Make a main dish by simmering bratwurst or Polish sausage in sauerkraut until the meat is cooked through. For added color, brown the sausage before you add it to the kraut. Combine sauerkraut and pork chops or country-style ribs in the slow cooker. Cover and cook on high for four to five hours.

Layer sauerkraut, corned beef, Swiss cheese and Thousand Island dressing on rye bread for a Reuben sandwich.

Canned Sauerkraut Tips

Whether your sauerkraut comes in a can, a jar or a bag, you need to rinse it before you use it. Put it in a colander, spray with cold water and let the sauerkraut drain in the colander. If your recipe calls for squeezing the excess liquid out of the kraut, place it in several layers of paper towels and squeeze.

Because sauerkraut is fermented, it’s a good source of probiotics, beneficial bacteria that promote digestive health. It also has vitamins C and K, calcium and potassium. But the kraut you find in cans and jars has been pasteurized, which kills many of the bacteria. On the downside, just 1/2 cup of sauerkraut provides a third of your daily sodium intake.

Will sauerkraut help you lose weight? The jury is out on whether some probiotics aid in weight loss. But, cabbage is high in fiber, which might make you eat less because you’ll feel full longer.

Best Sauerkraut Recipe

Wash and shred green or red cabbage on a mandoline or with the slicing blade on your food processor. You can also slice it thin with a knife if you don’t have a mandoline or food processor.

Weigh the cabbage before you shred it (it’s easier to weigh unshredded). Put 5 pounds of shredded cabbage in a large, clean pot and sprinkle with 3 tablespoons of canning or pickling salt. Mix thoroughly and allow it to stand for about 10 minutes. Continue this process if you’re making more than 5 pounds.

Pack the sauerkraut into a clean crock or food-grade plastic tub with a tight-fitting lid. Press it down until enough liquid accumulates to cover the cabbage. Weigh down the cabbage with a dinner plate or a sealed bag of water. The cabbage must stay submerged and can’t be exposed to air while it ferments.

Let the cabbage ferment at 68 to 72 degrees Fahrenheit for three to four weeks.

Sauerkraut Making Tips

  • Larger cabbage heads harvested in the fall are sweeter. Try to find cabbage that weighs between 6 and 15 pounds each. Remove the outer leaves.
  • Don’t use iodized salt. The iodine inhibits fermentation.
  • Some quick and easy recipes call for fermenting the cabbage in Mason jars, but they’re not really large enough to allow for even fermentation.
  • Can, freeze or refrigerate the finished sauerkraut.

About the Author

Meg Jernigan

Native New Yorker Meg Jernigan stayed in Washington, D.C. after attending the George Washington University, and worked in the tourism industry with the National Park Service for many years. She’s a dedicated foodie with an extensive cookbook collection and years of experience in the kitchen. Jernigan’s recipes have been published online and in magazines like Southern Living.