German sauerkraut recipe—utter these words and your mind is filled with images of cozy kitchens and yummy food. Sauerkraut has a culinary heritage with recipes from plain cabbage-fermented sauerkraut to gingery beet kraut and Hawaiian kraut, that have been passed down for generations. It’s a dish celebrated for its tangy flavor and health benefits.
German Sauerkraut Recipe
Yields: one to two quart jars of sauerkraut
- 1 head of green cabbage (about 2 to 2½ pounds)
- 1 to 1½ tablespoon kosher salt
- 6 bay leaves
- 20 whole black peppercorns
Remove the outer leaves from the cabbage and discard. Wash the cabbage with cold water. Cut in half lengthwise, and remove the core from each half. Shred the cabbage into thinly sliced shreds, about 1/8-inch thick. You can also use a mandolin or cabbage shredder for this step. Try to keep the shreds uniform in size so that they ferment evenly.
Collect shreds in a nonreactive bowl, such as glass, plastic or solid stainless steel. Add salt and mix well. Use clean hands (remove nail polish and jewelry or wear food-safe gloves) to mix the salt with the shredded produce, squeezing and mashing with your fists to tenderize the cabbage. You can also use a wooden tamping tool for this process, but be intentional about not over-mashing the produce or it will turn into a mushy ferment.
Massage the cabbage mixture until you can pick up a fistful and squeeze liquid from your fist. Once the liquid drains out, you’re ready to transfer the cabbage shreds into a clean quart jar. At this point, mix in the peppercorns so that they’re evenly spread throughout the kraut.
Transfer the kraut into a clean quart jar, and gently stick the bay leaves within the kraut and the side of the jar, careful not to break the leaves. Leave one to two inches of headspace (room from the cabbage mixture to the rim of the jar). Use your fist or cabbage tamper to tightly fill the jar. Pour any excess liquid from the bowl into the jar(s) as well. This liquid is the brine that the sauerkraut will ferment in.
Once filled, there should be enough brine to cover the kraut shreds. If there is not enough liquid, check again in the morning, and often, enough will be produced overnight. You’ll need some weight to keep the cabbage pushed under the brine. Keeping the shreds submerged under the brine is the key to a successful ferment. There are weights specifically made to fit jars, but you can also get creative – see the “tips section” below for alternative options. Wipe off the rim of the jar, add the mason jar canning lid, and tightly screw on the ring.
German Sauerkraut Fermentation
In this traditional German sauerkraut recipe, fermentation will happen for two to three weeks and can go up to six. The temperature of the space where you are fermenting will determine how long it takes. The warmer a room, the faster it will ferment. Ideally, you should ferment between 60 to 75°F. Keep out of direct sunlight.
Burp the jar daily, especially at first when the ferment is very active; unscrew the lid briefly and tighten it back on to allow any built-up gas to release. At least once per day, you’ll have to use a clean utensil to push down the weight and submerge the cabbage again. Scoop away any pieces of food floating on top of the brine to avoid mold.
Taste test the ferment after the second week. If it still tastes of raw cabbage, allow it to ferment another week and taste again. Some people prefer a very sour and soft sauerkraut and therefore will ferment closer to the six-week range. Once fermentation in this German sauerkraut recipe is complete to your liking, transfer the jar into the refrigerator, with the brine and all.
Fermentation does not stop once the ferment is transferred to the refrigerator, however, it does slow the process down. The taste and texture will continue to change; therefore, it’s best enjoyed within six months.
We enjoy this German sauerkraut recipe with many meals in our household and view it as a finished veggie side dish that can be added to a variety of meals; it’s not just for bratwursts and pork chops.
Sauerkraut Tips & Tricks
- If you don’t have a glass jar weight, you can improvise by using an easily removable small food-grade glass dish that fits inside the jar. If you have a smaller glass canning jar that can fit into the mouth of the jar you are fermenting with, you can use that to keep the produce pushed under the brine.
- You may substitute fine sea salt instead of coarse kosher salt. Consult a salt conversion chart.
- Expect foam-like bubbling, at least in the first week of this ferment. It’s completely normal.
This German sauerkraut recipe has been adapted from Can It & Ferment It (expanded 2020 edition) with permission from Skyhorse Publishing, Inc. For more sauerkraut recipes, check out WECK Small-Batch Preserving, and WECK Home Preserving by Stephanie Thurow.
This German sauerkraut recipe story was written for Hobby Farms magazine online. Click here to subscribe.