Got Cabbage? Try Homemade Sauerkraut!

Homemade sauerkraut is a fun fermented food that's easy to prepare and good for you.

  • CabbageSlicer
    Full-sized cabbage slicers may look like antiques, but you can purchase one through eBay for $15 or less.
    Megan Phelps
  • homemade sauerkraut - cabbage head and bussels sprouts
    The homemade sauerkraut European immigrants brought with them to United States included a wider variety of ingredients than fermented cabbage and salt. Apples, turnips, juniper berries, wine, garlic — and Brussels sprouts — were all part of the mix.
    Photo by Rick Wetherbee
  • Sauerkraut
    In spite of its health benefits, most sauerkraut is loaded with salt. If you’re on a low-sodium diet, you may be better off avoiding sauerkraut entirely, or making your own at home with a low-salt recipe.
    Megan Phelps
  • Sauerkraut2
    Sauerkraut is a good source of fiber and other essential nutrients, including iron and vitamins K and C.
    Megan Phelps
  • Sauerkraut3
    Sauerkraut will spoil quickly if it becomes too warm (it will turn brown if it does), so keep it in a cool place, such as a refrigerator or root cellar.
    Rick Wetherbee

  • CabbageSlicer
  • homemade sauerkraut - cabbage head and bussels sprouts
  • Sauerkraut
  • Sauerkraut2
  • Sauerkraut3

If you’ve only eaten store-bought, canned sauerkraut, you owe it to yourself to try the homemade variety. Fresh sauerkraut has a crunchier texture, a delightfully tangy flavor and a much greater potential for interesting recipes.

When European immigrants brought the technique for fermenting cabbage to the United States, many of their recipes included surprising ingredients such as apples, turnips, juniper berries, wine and garlic. In fact, traditional sauerkraut is very similar to the Korean dish kimchi, a food that’s also made with fermented cabbage but that contains additional vegetables, such as radishes and cucumbers, and is seasoned with ginger and other spices.

There’s nothing wrong with the classic, just-plain-cabbage variety of sauerkraut usually eaten on a hot dog or pork chop. But homemade sauerkraut made with additional vegetables, herbs and spices is more than a condiment; it’s a delicious side dish all on its own — and a surprisingly healthy one.

Superhealthy Sauerkraut

Perhaps because it’s often paired with hot dogs, sauerkraut doesn’t have a reputation as an especially healthy food, but that’s been changing in the last few years. One reason is that sauerkraut is a live-culture “probiotic” food. Fresh sauerkraut contains lactobacilli, beneficial bacteria that improve the functioning of the digestive tract. Probiotic foods such as sauerkraut and yogurt are often recommended for people taking antibiotics, which kill both the beneficial and harmful bacteria in the body. Live-culture foods can help restore the beneficial bacteria.

Sauerkraut also is a good source of fiber and essential nutrients, including iron, vitamin K and vitamin C. In fact, in the 18th century, sailors ate sauerkraut on long voyages to prevent scurvy, a disease caused by vitamin C deficiency.

Another interesting health claim was made last fall by a group of Korean scientists. They reported that feeding an extract of kimchi to 13 chickens with avian flu led to a much lower mortality rate in the birds. More research is needed to support this claim, but the announcement fueled a spike in sauerkraut sales last year. Scientists also are studying cabbage and other vegetables in the brassica family for their potential to prevent breast cancer.

8/14/2013 6:14:27 PM

What does one do after it has fermented?  Can it be transferred to a canning jar and processed to preserve it?  I have a few people interested in the final product and what to know how to share it with them.  Thanks!

Lisa Sharpe
5/28/2012 1:39:10 AM

Is it possible to add sugar and caraway seeds before canning to create a Bavarian style kraut or would that create a preservation problem? I can't think of a reason it wouldn't work but have no idea what the proportions would be. Suggestions?

Rebecca Baer
11/5/2011 10:03:16 PM

I've developed a couple sauerkraut recipes you may want to try. The first is a confirmed hit. The second includes beets and is still a work in progress.

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