A Simple Sauerkraut Recipe for Beginners. Getting Started Fermenting in Jars and Ceramic Crocks.

Fermenting in jars and ceramic crocks.

Fer­ment­ed veg­eta­bles taste great and are so easy to make. Some veg­eta­bles, a lit­tle salt, and few oth­er bits and pieces from your kitchen are all that are need­ed. Our sim­ple sauer­kraut recipe for begin­ners will walk you through all the stages of mak­ing this tra­di­tion­al and nutri­tious fer­ment­ed cabbage.

Although the recipe itself is super sim­ple, this is going to be quite a long post. Along with the recipe, I will go over some fun­da­men­tals of the fer­men­ta­tion process, offer some tips on what equip­ment to use, and describe how to store your fin­ished sauerkraut.

A Brief Introduction to Lacto-Fermentation

Dur­ing the process of Lac­to-fer­men­ta­tion, the friend­ly bac­te­ria Lac­to­bacil­lus con­verts nat­u­ral­ly occur­ring sug­ars found in foods into lac­tic acid. This lac­tic acid both pre­serves and flavours the result­ing ferment.

Lac­to­bacil­lus is so use­ful for pre­serv­ing as it thrives in and cre­ates con­di­tions that are hos­tile to many oth­er microbes. Some of these microbes would oth­er­wise be harm­ful to us or would spoil the fer­ment. These con­di­tions include:

  • Lac­to­bacil­lus tol­er­ates and flour­ish­es in high con­cen­tra­tions of salt.
  • Lac­to-fer­men­ta­tion occurs in an anaer­o­bic envi­ron­ment, one that that is deplet­ed in oxygen.
  • The lac­tic acid pro­duced by Lac­to­bacil­lus dur­ing lac­to-fer­men­ta­tion cre­ates an increas­ing­ly acidic environment.

So when we fer­ment veg­eta­bles our 3 prin­ci­pal goals should be to:

  • Cre­ate the ide­al salty envi­ron­ment for Lac­to­bacil­lus to live and mul­ti­ply in.
  • Keep air, and there­fore oxy­gen, out of our fer­ment as much as possible.
  • Ensure that Lac­to­bacil­lus grows rapid­ly in the fer­ment, pro­duc­ing lots of lac­tic acid.

Final­ly, dur­ing lac­to-fer­men­ta­tion Lac­to­bacil­lus pro­duces car­bon diox­ide gas as a waste prod­uct. This needs to be able to escape from the ferment.

Simple Sauerkraut Recipe Ingredients

Sauer­kraut, at its most basic, is made from just cab­bage and salt. Adding a spat­ter­ing of spices to our sim­ple sauer­kraut recipe will liv­en up the flavour. Any cab­bage can be used, the crunchy vari­eties of tight-head­ed white or green sum­mer cab­bage being most suit­able.  As a gen­er­al rule 1kg of shred­ded cab­bage will make around 1 litre of sauer­kraut. Table salt often con­tains addi­tives hos­tile to the fer­ment­ing process so I rec­om­mend using fine sea salt.

For­tu­nate­ly Lacbacil­lus is already present on the sur­face of your veg­eta­bles, there is no need to add any to get the fer­ment started..

To make around 2 litres of sauerkraut:

  • 2kg of shred­ded cab­bage. Approx­i­mate­ly 2 large white or green sum­mer cabbages.
  • 40g fine sea salt.

After some exper­i­ment­ing you will undoubt­ed­ly find your own favourite com­bi­na­tion of spices. Juniper berries and car­away seeds fea­ture heav­i­ly in tra­di­tion­al sauer­kraut mak­ing, but they are def­i­nite­ly an acquired taste. Instead, I high­ly rec­om­mend this hot sauer­kraut spice mix that we often make here at home. Vary the quan­ti­ty of chilli accord­ing to your tastes, or alter­na­tive­ly just leave it out.

  • 2 tsp cumin seed.
  • 2 tsp hot chilli flakes (option­al).
  • 1 tsp white mus­tard seed.
  • 1 tsp black pep­per corns.

Simple Sauerkraut Recipe Equipment Needed

You do not actu­al­ly need any spe­cial­ist kitchen­ware to make this sim­ple sauer­kraut recipe. It is very like­ly you already have every­thing required at hand in your kitchen.

  • Large, non-metal­lic mix­ing bowl.
  • Sharp veg­etable knife or a man­do­line slicer.
  • Glass jars with lids or a ceram­ic fer­men­ta­tion crock.
  • A wood­en spoon, flat-end­ed rolling pin or cab­bage pounder.
  • Large peb­bles or pur­pose built fer­men­ta­tion weights.

Choosing to Use Jars or Ceramic Crocks

Fer­men­ta­tion of the pre­pared cab­bage can take place in a range of con­tain­ers. Glass jars or ceram­ic crocks are most com­mon­ly used. Each have their pros and cons. Jars are handy for begin­ners, or for old hands prepar­ing small­er batch­es of fer­ments, while crocks are most use­ful for the prepa­ra­tion of larg­er quan­ti­ties of kraut. The basic prin­ci­pal behind all these dif­fer­ent fer­men­ta­tion ves­sels is to keep oxy­gen rich air out, while at the same time allow­ing the car­bon diox­ide pro­duced by the fer­men­ta­tion process to be released. 

Sealed Jars

With sealed jars this is achieved by peri­od­i­cal­ly crack­ing the jar lids open to release the pres­sure. This process is some­what humor­ous­ly known as ‘burp­ing’. The best part about using jars is that you don’t have to decant your fin­ished fer­ment for stor­age, the con­tents can stay in the same jar from the start of the fer­ment­ing process until it is time to serve.

Any jars will do, as long as they have well fit­ting lids. Kil­ner’s clip-top jars are ide­al. They have a wide open­ing for easy fill­ing and the wire lever mech­a­nisms make the jars sim­ple to burp. Even if you for­get to burp them the seals will even­tu­al­ly release the increas­ing gas pres­sure long before the jar explodes. 

Ceramic Fermentation Crocks

Ceram­ic crocks have been used to fer­ment veg­eta­bles for cen­turies. It is a sim­ple tech­nol­o­gy that has stood the test of time. The lids of ceram­ic fer­men­ta­tion crocks sit in a water-filled trough. As pres­sure ris­es inside the crock this sim­ple water-trap allows car­bon diox­ide to escape while also pre­vent­ing the ingress of air from out­side. Being very easy to fill with larg­er quan­ti­ties of veg­eta­bles, and able to be left for long peri­ods with­out atten­tion, makes them an essen­tial acces­so­ry for any­one seri­ous about fer­ment­ing. After your fer­ment is ready it is decant­ed into mul­ti­ple jars for stor­age in your fridge.

Fermentation Jars with Airlocks or Valves

The water-filled brew­ing air­locks, like that found on our air­lock fer­men­ta­tion jar sets, work in a sim­i­lar way to the water traps found on ceram­ic fer­men­ta­tion crocks. These jars nev­er need to be burped, but like ceram­ic fer­men­ta­tion crocks it is nec­es­sary to decant the fin­ished prod­uct into oth­er jars for storage.

Kil­ner’s fer­men­ta­tion jar sets fea­tures 2 types of lids. The first con­tains a sim­ple one-way valve that only allow for gas­es to escape from the jars when fer­ment­ing. These are then swapped for a con­ven­tion­al lid when fer­men­ta­tion is fin­ished, allow­ing the jars to be used for stor­age and serving.

Methods for Weighing Down the Ferment

While fer­ment­ing the aim is to keep the cab­bage under the liq­uid brine, this fur­ther pro­tects it from oxy­gen in the air. To do this we weigh the fer­ment down. Tra­di­tion­al­ly this is achieved with ceram­ic or glass fer­men­ta­tion weight stones, but when fer­ment­ing in jars we can also use stones or pebbles.

Simple Sauerkraut Recipe Method

Preparing the Cabbage

Hav­ing gath­ered togeth­er your equip­ment and ingre­di­ents, the next stage of our sim­ple sauer­kraut recipe is to pre­pare the cab­bage. The aim is to shred the cab­bage by cut­ting it into long, fine strips. This can be achieved with either a sharp knife or a man­do­line slicer.

Dis­card any limp or dis­coloured out­er leaves. You may wish to set aside some clean out­er leaves to use in keep­ing the sauer­kraut beneath the brine, more about that later. 

Shredding Cabbages with a Knife

Using a sharp kitchen knife cut your cab­bage into quar­ters. This will reveal the hard core of the cab­bage. Cut the core from each quar­ter sec­tion and dis­card it. Now weigh your cab­bage quar­ters, we will need the weight to deter­mine how much salt to use. Hold the quar­ters of cab­bage down on a flat side and slice them lat­er­al­ly into thin strips.

Shredding Cabbages with a Mandoline

Man­do­lines make fast, accu­rate work of shred­ding larg­er quan­ti­ties of cab­bage. Be care­ful if using one though as they can be dan­ger­ous. Quar­ter your cab­bages with a knife first and weigh them. Keep the unwant­ed core in place and shred the rest of the cab­bage around it. Do not let your fin­gers approach the razor sharp blades. If your man­do­line was sup­plied with a veg­etable hold­er use it. Alter­na­tive­ly grip the cab­bage with a fold­ed tea tow­el and/or wear cut resis­tant gloves. Fin­ish off small pieces of cab­bage with a knife. Final­ly weigh the dis­card­ed cab­bage cores and deduct from the weight of the quar­ters, we will need the weight of shred­ded cab­bage to deter­mine how much salt to use.

Salting the Shredded Cabbage

The next stage of our sim­ple sauer­kraut recipe is known as dry brin­ing where we add the salt to the shred­ded cab­bage. Sauer­kraut is usu­al­ly 1.5% to 2.5% salt by weight, for this recipe we will use 2% salt. It is impor­tant to get this ratio of salt to cab­bage right, cre­at­ing the ide­al con­di­tions for our Lac­to­bacil­lus. To cal­cu­late the weight of salt need­ed sim­ply mul­ti­ply the weight of shred­ded cab­bage in grams by 0.02.  So for 2kg or 2000g of shred­ded cab­bage we will need 2000 x 0.02 = 40g of salt. 

Place the shred­ded cab­bage in a large non-met­al­ic bowl or food safe con­tain­er. Grad­u­al­ly add the salt while mix­ing the cab­bage then cov­er and leave to stand for an hour or so. When you come back to it you will see that the cab­bage has start­ed to loose its water through the process of osmo­sis. Now is the time to start mas­sag­ing and squeez­ing the cab­bage with both hands. Work the cab­bage with you hands for at least 30 min­utes in total until you have a good pud­dle of brine in the bot­tom of your bowl. This can be hard graft but it can be achieved in stages, leav­ing the cab­bage to rest in between sessions.

Packing the Cabbage into Jars or Crock

Cleaning the Fermentation Jars or Crock

Whether glass or ceram­ic your fer­men­ta­tion ves­sels will need to be cleaned well with warm, soapy water. There is no need to ster­ilise them in an oven. If you are using fer­men­ta­tion weights or stones sani­tise them by sim­mer­ing in a 50:50 white vine­gar and water solu­tion for 30 minutes.

Packing and Pounding

Pack your cab­bage into your jar or crock a lit­tle at a time. Each lay­er you add needs to be pound­ed to pack it down and fur­ther squeeze out the brine. You can do this with the flat end of a rolling pin, the edge of a wood­en spoon or with a pur­pose made cab­bage pounder. You don’t actu­al­ly pound the cab­bage, this would risk break­ing your crock or jars, just press the pound­ing imple­ment firm­ly down repeat­ed­ly, squeez­ing more brine from the cab­bage. Add any spices as you fill the container.

When pack­ing bear in mind you will need some head­room at the top of your crock or jar to maneu­ver your weight stones or peb­bles in.

When done pour the remain­ing brine from your bowl into the jars or crock. The aim is to have the top of the fer­ment­ing sauer­kraut ful­ly submerged. 

Weighing Down the Ferment

The next step is to weigh down the cab­bage to pre­vent any from float­ing to the sur­face of the brine. This can be achieved with a pur­pose made set of fer­men­ta­tion weights or alter­na­tive­ly a clean stone or peb­ble. Cut a cir­cle in a cab­bage leaf the diam­e­ter of your fer­ment­ing jar and place it on top of your fer­ment fol­lowed by your stone or peb­ble. Alter­na­tive­ly a cir­cle of kitchen parch­ment paper can be used instead.

Not Enough Brine?

It may be that that you do not pro­duce suf­fi­cient brine to sub­merge the fer­ment. This can hap­pen if the cab­bage you were using has gone a lit­tle dry pri­or to shred­ding. If so make up a 2% salt solu­tion, by mix­ing 20g salt in 1 litre of water, and top up with as much as you need.

Sealing the Crock or Jar

Once packed and weighed down it’s time to seal your fer­ment. Close jar lids tight­ly. If using a crock move it into its final posi­tion. Then fill the trough with water hav­ing placed the lid on first.

Looking After Your Ferment

The opti­mal tem­per­a­ture for sauer­kraut lac­to-fer­men­ta­tion is 18oC to 22oC. Main­tain­ing this range off tem­per­a­tures is par­tic­u­lar­ly impor­tant dur­ing the first few days of the fer­ment. Locate your fer­men­ta­tion jars or crock in your house accord­ing­ly. If using jars place them out of direct sunlight.

Ini­tial­ly the fer­men­ta­tion will be slow but will increase over the first week or so until slow­ing again. If using sealed jars ensure you burp them at the end of day 2, and dai­ly after that until the end of the first week. After that they will only require burp­ing every few days. If using a ceram­ic crock check the water lev­el reg­u­lar­ly and top-up the trough when needed. 

Open­ing your jars or crocks will be nec­es­sary to check on the sauer­kraut’s progress by tast­ing or to detect any prob­lem with the fer­ment. Try to bal­ance this with the risk of con­t­a­m­i­na­tion by doing so. 

How Long to Let Your Sauerkraut Ferment

This is down to a num­ber of fac­tors and is high­ly sub­jec­tive depend­ing on the flavour required. High­er ambi­ent tem­per­a­tures increase the rate of fer­men­ta­tion, but at 18oC to 22oC the sauer­kraut should be ful­ly fer­ment­ed in 21 to 28 days. The longer the fer­ment the more sour the kraut will be. I pre­fer a younger kraut, and will fin­ish the fer­ment at around 7 to 10 days in the sum­mer­time . Ide­al­ly after the first week start tast­ing the sauer­kraut every few days, when it’s to your taste it’s ready.

Even after a full-length fer­ment your sauer­kraut should main­tain a crunchy texture.

Storing Your Sauerkraut

Chill­ing your kraut will effec­tive­ly cease any fur­ther fer­men­ta­tion. If you are using jars they can go straight into your fridge ready to serve. If using a crock decant the sauer­kraut into clean jars first. Stored in your fridge the kraut will be good to eat for up to 6 months but be care­ful to be on the look­out for spoilage before serving.

Problems During Fermentation

Lac­to-fer­men­ta­tion of veg­etable is usu­al­ly pret­ty trou­ble free but there are a few microbes that can cause prob­lems in your ferment.

Kahm Yeast

This is a yeast that most often forms at the start of fer­men­ta­tion when acid­i­ty is still low. It appears as a pow­dery white sub­stance on the sur­face of your fer­ment. It’s pret­ty harm­less but will taste hor­ri­ble. If found remove as much as pos­si­ble, as well as a thick lay­er of the kraut below it, and repack your fer­men­ta­tion jars or crock. You may pre­fer to dis­card the batch and try again.


Bac­te­ria can cause the brine to become slight­ly gluti­nous. Again this is usu­al­ly a prob­lem encoun­tered dur­ing the first few days of the fer­ment, before lac­tic acid lev­els have suf­fi­cient­ly risen. It’s not usu­al­ly a prob­lem with cab­bage only sauer­kraut, but if you add sug­ar-rich veg­eta­bles like car­rots it can be a an issue. It is harm­less but will result in the veg­eta­bles loos­ing their crunch. To avoid this ensure that the fer­ment is kept at 18oC to 22oC for the first few days.


Molds appear as white, black, green or pink fuzzy growths. For­tu­nate­ly the appear­ance of molds is pret­ty rare. Molds can be dan­ger­ous to health and if they appear I would usu­al­ly rec­om­mend dis­card­ing the ferment.

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