Once you get the hang of it, making this fermented red cabbage recipe is not too difficult and can save you money. You can make this vibrant red cabbage sauerkraut at home with just cabbage and salt; no starter culture is needed! Also, I’m going to share the secret sauerkraut-making trick that will help tell you if you have a successful batch!
I have a long, unsuccessful history with sauerkraut making. My first attempt at making a fermented red cabbage recipe was for a microbiology class at Cornell University back in the late 1990s. It was a total flop.
My group chopped the cabbage into large pieces instead of shredding or grating it. Our second error was not pounding the cabbage shreds long enough to release the water needed to create sufficient brine. I remember the professor expressing disappointment that we did not invest enough time in this project.
So, my first takeaway is that fermenting red cabbage is a slow food process. You need to be willing to put in the time on this one.
I had different issues with a more recent (but also failed) batch. With this batch, I DID take the time to grate the cabbage finely. And then I pounded the heck out of the salty cabbage with a mallet and tightly packed it into a jar.
I could see that I had plenty of brine with this one. And yet, when I checked on the jar a few weeks later, it was riddled with mold.
When I opened the jar, my poor husband could smell the failed fermented red cabbage recipe from another room. What I created was definitely not fit for human consumption. So, what went wrong?
First, let’s talk about what I did right
Before I get to what went wrong, I want to mention the things I did right with my last failed batch. I thoroughly cleaned and sanitized my equipment in the dishwasher beforehand. (Since this ferment is not occurring in an anaerobic environment nor being canned, I did not sterilize the equipment as described in this yogurt recipe.)
Another thing I did right was using the USDA’s recommended amount of salt for sauerkraut. They advise using three tablespoons per five pounds of cabbage.
You can wind up with unwanted bacterial growth when you skimp on the salt. So, don’t try to make this one lower in sodium.
A potential issue with using a volume measurement for salt is that you could end up short if you use a coarser salt grain. A smarter way to go about things is to weigh both the salt and the cabbage. In this case, I’ve been advised to use salt in the amount of 2% of the weight of cabbage.
The USDA recommends using a canning or pickling salt. It’s also OK to use a fine grain sea salt, as I did. They advise that you do not use iodized salt because this will alter the salt to cabbage ratio.
One more thing I did correctly was using a food-safe container for my ferment, in this case, a glass canning jar. I love sauerkraut dearly, but making a ginormous batch in a garbage bag or a clean garbage can is a bad idea. The USDA recommends not trying to ferment foods in metal containers, other than those that are stainless steel.
Avoid my fermented red cabbage recipe mistakes; here’s where things went wrong
The biggest mistake I made in my failed batch of sauerkraut was not investing in a few key items upfront. I tried to save money by using free (or almost free) alternatives and ended up having to throw out food as a result.
Some air needs to be able to get into the jar when you ferment red cabbage sauerkraut. However, you need to keep the jar covered in some way to help keep dust and mold out. Also, the cabbage needs to stay below the level of the brine while it ferments.
Initially, I weighed the shredded cabbage down with clean outer cabbage leaves and covered the jar with a cheesecloth. In our dry winter air, the brine was evaporating too quickly with this setup. As a result, I had to add more brine several times per week.
Frustrated, I read that you can fill a food-safe baggie with brine and use that as a weight. The baggie prevents more evaporation, so that (supposedly) you do not need to keep adding brine. The tutorial I found online said that you do not need to check on the ferment for weeks.
HUGE MISTAKE! This resulted in a dried out, horribly smelly jar of mold. Please do not try this at home!
It is important to check on your ferment daily and skim off any foam or “scum” forming on the brine. Another benefit is that you will quickly see whether you need to add more brine.
My top two sauerkraut-making tips for beginners
Most sauerkraut tutorials online will not tell you what I am about to say. However, I’ve found the following two things have greatly helped in fermenting cabbage.
The first is to invest in a fermenting kit that (at minimum) contains glass jar weights and airlock fermentation lids. The jar weights keep the cabbage under the brine, both during the ferment and later in the fridge. Airlock fermentation lids help maintain the right amount of moisture and air in the jar while keeping dust out.
Your family is going to wonder what you are up to. The airlock lids give the appearance that some sort of weird science experiment is going on. Indeed, my first experience with fermenting was in a microbiology class, so I’d say that impression is right on target.
I am using the Year of Plenty Complete Fermenting Kit, which includes jar weights, airlock lids, and a cool bamboo tamper. The tamper is entirely optional; a mallet works just as well for bashing the water out of the cabbage. However, I did find the tamper to be the best option for tightly packing the cabbage into the jar.
The set is an investment
My second tip is to make your first ferments with red cabbage, not green. Not only is red cabbage sauerkraut a beautiful magenta color
Remember using red cabbage as an acid-base indicator in junior high chemistry? The red means your ferment has turned acidic, precisely what you want!
How I served my homemade sauerkraut
Having some delicious, homemade sauerkraut on hand is a reason to celebrate! I wanted to pair it with a special meal. I went with Nodine’s Smokehouse potatis korv, homemade slow cooker applesauce, and roasted sweet potatoes.
Be sure to keep an eye out for the slow cooker applesauce recipe coming up in my next post. It’s a ridiculously easy two-ingredient recipe that you are going to love. I am really digging it right now.
Potatis korv is an amazingly delicious sausage from Sweden that needs to become more popular in my country. The one I purchased was pork, potatoes, and spices only, though it also often contains beef. If you ever get the chance to try it, I highly recommend it!
I keep my homemade fermented red cabbage in the fridge. This helps to preserve the potentially beneficial probiotics that may largely be lost during hot bath canning. I enjoy it occasionally as a low-calorie snack, in addition to with my meals.
If you find the sauerkraut to be a little too salty for your taste buds, you can give it a rinse before eating. The downside to this is that you will lose some of the probiotics along with the salt.
Whatever you do, don’t reduce the salt in this recipe! As mentioned above, it is needed to help prevent the growth of unwanted bacteria.
And now for the disclaimer…
All recipes on this website may or may not be appropriate for you, depending on your medical needs and personal preferences. Consult with a registered dietitian or your physician if you need help determining the dietary pattern that may be best for you.
The calorie information is an estimate provided as a courtesy. It will differ depending on the specific brands and ingredients that you use. Calorie information on food labels may be wildly inaccurate, so please don’t sweat the numbers too much.
For more information on how the three recipe levels may help with a weight management goal, refer to this post. Let’s get cooking!
Fermented Red Cabbage Sauerkraut
- 23 ounces red cabbage (652 grams; about 1 small head)
- 1 tablespoon pickling salt or finely ground sea salt (not iodized salt)
- 8 juniper berries
- ½ teaspoon caraway seeds
- Important! Please read the post accompanying this recipe before you begin. It contains essential equipment and food safety information that you do not want to miss.
- Wash and sanitize your metal and glass equipment in the dishwasher before you begin. I did not use a boiling water bath to sterilize the equipment, since we are not fermenting in an anaerobic environment nor canning the sauerkraut. I accidentally broke a jar weight in a boiling water bath once, so please be careful!
- Core and shred your cabbage. I used the grating plate on my food processor to save time with this step. The finer you shred your cabbage, the faster it will ferment.
- Put your cabbage in a large bowl and sprinkle with the salt. Stir and pound the cabbage for at least 10 minutes. The cabbage should release a lot of juice, creating a salty brine.
- Stir in the juniper berries and caraway seeds. (No worries if you do not have these, they are optional but nice.)
- Pack your cabbage very tightly into the sanitized 4-cup canning jar. Put your glass jar weight into the jar.
- The brine should be at least 1-inch (2.54 cm) above the level of the cabbage. If not, you will need to add additional brine by dissolving salt in hot water. Your jar should be about 3 cups full.
- Put the airlock lid on the jar. Leave the jar at room temperature to ferment (approximately 70°F/21°C.) My house is a little cooler than this at this time of the year, so I snuggled the jar next to a heating pad on the lowest setting.
- Important! Check the jar daily. Open it and skim off any foam or "scum" that has formed on top of the brine. Replace the airlock lid when you have finished. You can also add more brine if needed, but this will likely be unnecessary if you use the airlock lid.
- Your sauerkraut will be ready in three days up to six weeks. I let my batch ferment for five days. Let yours ferment longer if you'd prefer a more tangy sauerkraut.
- When it is finished fermenting, store your sauerkraut in the fridge with a regular canning jar lid and rim. Keep the jar weight in the jar to keep the sauerkraut pressed below the level of the brine.
- This recipe makes approximately three cups of sauerkraut, or twelve ¼-cup servings.
As always, take a photo and tag me @SummerYuleRDN on your social media if you make this gorgeous fermented red cabbage recipe. Don’t be afraid to show off those culinary skills!