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Homemade Sauerkaut: More Than Just Cabbage!

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Sauerkraut is a fermented food and fermented foods seem to be making a lot of news lately!  Recently, fermented food was listed as one of the new food trends of 2015 on the cover of the Good Eating section of the Chicago Tribune (November 4, 2014), and with good reason.

Our ancestors fermented their vegetables in order to store produce throughout the long winter months.  According to Food and Nutrition,  “the earliest record of fermentation dates back as far as 6000 B.C. in the Fertile Crescent—and nearly every civilization since has included at least one fermented food in its culinary heritage.” 

But fermenting foods can do more than just preserve them.  In some cases they alter the composition of the food to make it safe to eat, as in the case of the African garri fermented from the cassava root.  The raw cassava contains natural cyanides that are poisonous if not fermented.

What has gotten fermented foods, also called lacto-fermented foods,  the most attention lately though, are the tiny microbes (or bacteria) that they produce.

Did you know that our gut is made up of much more than our own cells.  There are trillions of microorganisms populating our intestines making up our gut bacteria or microflora.  In fact, there are 10 times as many of these microbes than are cells in our bodies.  These microbes help us digest and absorb the nutrients in our foods.  In fact, they are able to digest some foods that we are unable to digest ourselves, thus allowing us a much broader diet, and better nutrition, than we might have otherwise. 

It is interesting to note, that while there are beneficial microbes growing in our gut, there are also microbes that are harmful to us.  These organisms are responsible for illness. These harmful strains of bacteria feed off of refined carbohydrates, creating gas and causing bloating or diarrhea.  Long term this can lead to a condition known as leaky gut where bacteria and other pathogens are able to pass through small openings in our intestinal wall and enter into the blood stream, challenging our immune system and causing chronic illness.  An overgrowth of a harmful microflora has been associated with such diseases as obesity, metabolic syndrome, diabetes, inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and celiac disease. (1)

One way to ensure that the beneficial bacteria flourishes in our gut and the harmful bacteria is kept at a minimum is to eat a healthy diet rich in whole foods that includes leafy greens, vegetables and fruits.  These foods contain nutrients that keep our gut healthy and allow us to fight off illness.

We can also promote a healthy microflora by purposefully ingesting the healthy bacteria known as probiotics.  While probiotics can be taken in capsule form as a supplement, one of the most natural ways to include them in your diet is through fermented foods.

Some lacto-fermented foods such as yogurt, kefir and kombucha are inoculated with a culture containing active microbes that are encouraged to multiply.  We’ve all seen those messages on yogurt containers proclaiming they contain these “live cultures.”  These microbes, or probiotics, help use maintain a healthy digestive tract and avoid growth of the “bad bacteria” that cause disease.

jar-of-picklesVegetables can also be converted into probiotics naturally by allowing the organisms that are naturally found on the plants to multiply.  Allowing the vegetables to sit out at room temperature for several days or weeks in a salt solution can do this.  Adding salt retards the growth of the harmful bacteria and allows the beneficial probiotics to multiply. Dill pickles, sauerkraut, the Korean dish kimchi, and fermented vegetables are all examples of this process.  Beneficial microbes are what give the food its tangy flavor.  That’s how you know the process has been successful. 

Lacto-fermentation is a simple process.  I have made home-made dill pickles and sauerkraut many times.  All you need are some vegetables, non-iodized salt, some sharp knives, and clean, sterile containers.  I love experimenting by adding different vegetables to my sauerkraut.  In the past, I have used green and red cabbage, carrots, daikon radish, garlic, beets and apples.  I have added caraway seeds too.

If you aren’t up to making fermented veggies on your own, you can also buy them in the store.  Just make sure they have those “active cultures” in them.  If they are on the store shelf, the cultures have been killed off by heating.  Live cultures need to be refrigerated.  Look for brands such as Bubbie’s dill pickles and sauerkraut in the refrigerated section, usually near the dairy products.  I haven’t tried their pickled tomatoes, but I understand they are delicious.  Tomatoes have the added bonus of being a prebiotic.  This means they provide additional nutrients that encourage probiotic growth in the gut.

If you want to give fermenting a try, here is a very basic recipe for you to follow!  Feel free to experiment with adding other vegetables, such as these: 


Have you ever made a fermented food?  Yogurt counts!
Yours in Health,
Homemade Sauerkraut Sauerkraut-2

Adding salt between 2-3% will produce quality sauerkraut. To meet 2.5% salt requirement, 4 tsp. of salt is added to 2.2 lb of cabbage.  Adding 4 tsp of salt to 1 quart of water makes an acceptable brine for pickling vegetables.

Simple Sauerkraut


1 head green or red cabbage (about 2 lbs), organic is best

½ -1 tsp caraway seeds

½ apple (optional)

4 tsp sea salt (figure about 2 tsp/lb of cabbage, depending on how salty you like it)

Variations, add any of the following:

1 carrot, shredded

½ small onion

¼-1/2 cup chopped cranberries (fresh)

1-2 juniper berries 

1 bay leaf

  1. Save the outer two leaves of the cabbage.
  2. Shred the cabbage using the slicing blade on the food processor or mandolin.
  3. Shred the apple using the grater function on the food processor.
  4. Mix all ingredients together and mix together.  Use your hands to “crush” the cabbage leaves until it forms its own liquid. Continue to mix forcefully until the cabbage is wilted and there is a good quantity of liquid.
  5. Transfer mix to a glass Mason jar or crock.  Pack the mixture down tightly with each addition. Container should have at least 1 inch of air space near the top and all the cabbage mixture should be covered with liquid.
  6. Wash the two outer cabbage leaves and lay them on top if the mixture.  Use weights to keep everything submerged (it’s okay if the outer leaves aren’t covered).  You can use a plastic bag filled with a saltwater solution (4 tsp to 1 quart water).
  7. Place jar/crock in a dark corner of the kitchen for 1-3 weeks.  Some recipes recommend placing the container in a cooler location after the first week to slow down the fermentation process.
  8. After the first week, you can check your sauerkraut for tartness.  If there is a white film growing on top, just skim it off.  This is natural “kahm” yeast and isn’t harmful.
  9. When tartness is to your liking, transfer sauerkraut to a sealed jar and place in the refrigerator.  Sauerkraut will keep for weeks this way.
Note:  if your sauerkraut develops an “off” flavor or smell, discard as it may have been contaminated.  I have never had this happen though.  Just make sure you have thoroughly cleaned your hands and equipment when making the kraut!





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