Cooking and Baking With Sauerkraut: A Fermented Fantasy Come True
Sure, it’s great with sausage, but sauerkraut can do so much more. Discover the health benefits and versatility of this ancient probiotic with 31 spectacular sauerkraut recipes from soup and pizza to chocolate cake.
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In my family, sauerkraut was the food of love. Its crinkled shreds cradled my mom’s dried out pork chops, and it always appeared on the plate when my Pop-Pop took me to our favorite German restaurant where he’d tell the waitresses how smart I was. A meal with sauerkraut meant somebody loved me enough to cook or even sing my praises. But I hated it. Sour and stinky, it was like a punch to my little tongue. Why did anybody eat that stuff?
A few generations ago, many families made their kraut at home. Crocks and jars lined my great-grandmother’s basement shelves, because most folks back then made a ton; recipes often called for at least eight heads of cabbage, some as many as 25 pounds. But what were they to do with all that sauerkraut? It wasn’t until the late '90s that fermented foods began sluicing their way into hip, mainstream restaurants — not just the macrobiotic joints— and suddenly it tasted like a revelation: Bright and tangy, sour and fresh, acidic, but there was something more. It woke up my nose and made my belly glad; my tongue could finally taste the love.
And as the health seekers always knew, there are some phenomenal sauerkraut health benefits: The naturally occurring probiotic, lactobacilli, supports the immune system, a healthy digestive tract, and helps fight yeast infections. The fermentation process boosts the availability of existing vitamins, minerals, and nutrients, and recent studies have shown certain compounds in fermented cabbage may help fight cancer. Plus, it makes the cabbage tastier, even more nutritious and probiotic. And in the recipes below, it adds layers of flavor and complex acidic notes that make each dish all the more compelling to eat.
Today my great-grandma’s sauerkraut stomper (a tool for mashing the cabbage down into the crock) has a place of honor on my desk (and occasionally goes to work in my kitchen). It reminds me of a Korean saying that loosely translates as: “Happy is the man who, laying prone, can caress his full stomach.” With enough sauerkraut (and a little love), anyone can.
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Start your sauerkraut lesson right here
What is sauerkraut? Does it have to be fermented, or can it be made with vinegar?
Fermented cabbage has existed in one form or another since ancient times. The Romans developed dry fermentation to preserve veggies used to feed cattle, and the builders who constructed the Great Wall of China chowed down on shredded fermented cabbage thousands of years ago. Sauerkraut as we know it today began in 17th century Germany and Alsace, and to be legit must be fermented with salt, which works with cabbage’s lactic acid bacteria to draw out its natural carbohydrates, sugars, and liquids. The result is a deliciously tangy sour flavor and a more nutritious vegetable that’s a natural probiotic.
Be sure to read the label: Only pickles are made with vinegar. If your sauerkraut has vinegar on the ingredient list, you are not purchasing a fermented food but a sneaky pickled cabbage imposter.
Bagged, jarred, or canned? Or is it best from a barrel?
If you can find barrel-made sauerkraut, often in an old school deli or German market, snap it up. Otherwise bagged sauerkraut in the refrigerated aisle of your grocery store is the most delicious and fresh choice — jarred and canned sauerkraut will last a long time unopened, but have been pasteurized so there is less of the good bacteria and a more muted flavor.
How do I know if my sauerkraut is vegan?
The fermentation process for sauerkraut creates lactobacilli, the same healthy bacteria (or microflora) found in yogurt, except sauerkraut is dairy-free. Some of the meatless dishes below specify lacto-fermented sauerkraut — the “lacto” refers to lactic acid bacteria that is already present in fresh cabbage, not lactose. Fear not, that sauerkraut is still 100% vegan.
How long does sauerkraut last? Or, when cabbage goes wrong: How to tell if sauerkraut is bad
General wisdom holds that refrigerated kraut should last about four to six months, but the fermentation process has been known to extend its life even further. Sauerkraut can be the rare exception to expiration dates and last a few months longer if it’s kept refrigerated, submerged below its briny liquid, and only very clean utensils are inserted into the container. Any new bacteria introduced to the environment will cause spoilage.
And while sauerkraut definitely has its own distinct funk, your eyes and nose will let you know when it’s time to toss it. Mold will be visible, and it will smell off.
The Mother Kraut
Embrace your inner fermenter. Yes you can! Read on to learn how to make your very own sauerkraut at home.
Commandeer your Crock Pot for this four-ingredient recipe of only cabbage, salt, juniper berries, and water. (Ideally the salt is 2.25% of the weight of the ingredients, though fermentation will still occur as long as the salt to cabbage ratio is between 1% and 5%.) Shredding eight cabbage heads takes time and muscle; the shredding disc of a food processor can be helpful if your arm tires. Don’t have a sauerkraut stomper? (Now that’s one for the holiday wish list!) A potato masher or circular or mallet-style meat pounder will get the job done. Likewise, if you don’t have round stone weights on hand for fermenting (Gosh this wish list is getting long), feel free to use a clean heavy plate or platter that fits as snugly as possible in your slow cooker. Home fermented sauerkraut tastes amazing and is loaded with healthy bacteria for your gut — and it comes with bragging rights!
Wondering what to do with sauerkraut? These creative starters and snacks will surprise and delight.
These adorable little egg sliders elevate a deviled egg with a sophisticated center of spicy sauerkraut-deviled egg filling topped with a tiny version of a classic BLT. Sesame seeds sprinkled on top perfect the bun imagery. And they’re keto, paleo and Whole30 friendly.
Who doesn’t love a creamy dip with bacon, garlic, and the sassy tang of sauerkraut? Serve it with pretzel rods for a fully German experience, but a vegetable crudité, crackers, or potato chips would also be a crowd pleaser. If you don’t have garlic paste, a teaspoon of garlic powder will also work.
These festive appetizers are reminiscent of a German rose, but with a luscious Reuben sandwich filling. Wonton wrappers make it easy to assemble these protein-packed bites, and 20 minutes later you’ve got a savory treat with zing that’s sure to please.
Sauerkraut, crumbled sausage, Swiss cheese, onion, and mustard (try whole-grain) are mixed together before being breaded and fried until golden brown. They can be shaped and breaded a day in advance for easy entertaining.
These quesadillas taste like fall in a tortilla. Tart Granny Smith apples, sharp cheddar cheese, and spirited sauerkraut get warm and melty, and cut into small triangles are great as a starter or snack.
The softness of ricotta cheese blunts the tanginess of the sauerkraut and sharpness of the Pecorino in these addictive little pancakes that are a Northern Italian take on the blini.
Soups, salads, and sides
This fermented cabbage is a surprisingly versatile food: It’s a dish in its own right, but also an excellent ingredient in the following slow and quick side dish recipes with sauerkraut.
It only takes about 20 minutes to prepare this flavorful golden dish that’s studded with chewy bits of bacon and sautéed in its fat, or luscious duck fat if you have some on hand. It’s naturally keto- and paleo-friendly, and great served as a condiment next to pork chops, sausages, or savory meatballs.
Dried beans soaked overnight get cooked from scratch in under an hour for a depth of flavor in this soup along with smoked sausages, sauerkraut, onion, and garlic. After the soup is cooked, some of the beans can be smashed with the back of a spoon to thicken the broth.
This clever recipe uses the liquid brine that’s left in the bottom of the jar (or bag) to excellent effect — its sour punch stands in for acidic vinegar or lemon juice in a standard vinaigrette, and ensures the salad will go down easy.
Homemade pierogi might sound challenging to prepare, but it comes down to mixing a simple dough, then making mashed potatoes with sauerkraut and white cheddar cheese stirred in. The dough is rolled out, cut into circles and filled with a spoonful of the potato mixture. After being boiled and sautéed in a bit of butter, they’re topped with bacon and fried onion. A bit of effort delivers the ultimate food hug.
This sprightly potato salad is inspired by the Ukrainian and Russian dish, vinegret, though ironically this version contains no oil. Beets give the entire dish a glorious pink blush, and fresh dill delivers brightness whether you eat it in the cold of winter or at a summer barbecue.
This authentic Polish soup is smoky and tangy, and warming on a cold day. It takes the unusual step of using a rack of pork ribs to deliver a rich meaty flavor, though a smoked turkey leg would also be delicious. Allspice, marjoram, and bay leaves add to the warming effect of this hearty soup.
This cozy casserole uses hot Hungarian paprika to heat up the lightly creamed cabbage, shallot, and sauerkraut that’s topped with freshly made breadcrumbs studded with caraway seeds. Plus, it can be prepared up to two days ahead.
Sauerkraut lends its venerable bite to the following meals, where it cuts through rich flavors and aids digestion, while making every dish a bit brighter
This one-dish meal is a comfort food star, and incredibly easy to prepare. Frozen pierogi are nestled into a bed of sautéed kielbasa, onion, and sauerkraut, and simmered in the oven in a sauce of chicken broth, mustard, and caraway seeds for authentic flavor. Topped with grated cheddar and Swiss cheese and scallions, it’s a great weeknight dinner.
This six-ingredient dish is simple to assemble, yet is elegantly more than the sum of its parts. Purchased pizza dough makes it easy to wrap the filling in a simple braid that looks fabulous and makes the sandwich way more fun to cut and share.
Goulash was originally the purview of the Hungarian cowboy, eaten as a simple soup seasoned with paprika for the last two centuries (earlier it was tons of pepper). Once paprika arrived on the scene, the dish became a special occasion meal that has since been exported to much of Central and Eastern Europe, and the U.S. This version is a German take that uses beef shoulder and both sweet and hot paprika to great effect. Serve it over egg noodles, spaetzle, or boiled potatoes.
This traditional Alsatian dish is redolent with thyme, cumin, and star anise, along with the sourness of sauerkraut and sweetness of Riesling wine, which together creates intriguing and mysterious flavors. Trout, pikeperch, or similar flaky white fish are fabulous in this elegant dish.
Beer, bratwurst, sauerkraut, and pretzel rolls come together in this very German take on an Italian strata (savory bread pudding) to make a cozy, comforting casserole that tastes like a beer garden on a plate. Hot dogs instead of bratwurst will do in a pinch.
Inspired by an autumn food festival in Ohio, this clever twist on a standard pizza topping delivers an interesting tang. This recipe with sauerkraut calls for making meatballs from scratch — if you’re pressed for time, pre-made cooked meatballs can be substituted.
You don’t have to eat like an old school fräulein to reap the benefits of delicious bacteria for your gut
Across the Slavic countries, savory, slightly sour, and hearty food reigns supreme, and this vegan take on a Slovak soup uses dried mushrooms, potatoes, dill, and sauerkraut to make a nourishing and rib-sticking potage to warm up the coldest nights.
Homemade pierogi are a revelation and totally worth the effort. Plus the dough is fairly simple to make — it’s easier and less fraught than from-scratch pie dough, so don’t be afraid to give it a try. Garlicky mashed sweet potato and nutritional yeast (the nooch!) deliver a cozy, cheesy filling that’s offset by sauerkraut’s edgy zip.
This sweet sauerkraut salad is a better version of bland and gloppy coleslaw: Tangy sauerkraut, diced bell pepper, chopped pimiento, onion, and celery are dressed with a sweet and sour dressing in this traditional Serbian dish that’s even better the day after it’s made.
Cauliflower florets are mixed with Middle Eastern spices like turmeric, za’atar, nigella, and cumin, then processed with onion, garlic, and ginger mixed with quinoa and flax (for a protein punch) to make these brightly colored burgers. They’re topped with sauerkraut, kale, and avocado for a bright and satisfying meal.
Apple, onion, and juniper berries come together with white wine to bring a touch of sophistication to this sweet and sour Bavarian (and inadvertently vegan) take on sauerkraut, a rustic farmhouse classic.
These silver-dollar Polish pancakes use flaxseed powder instead of the traditional egg, then add paprika, salt, and pepper for a savory breakfast that, thanks to the fermented cabbage, ensures the day will begin with a happy gut. These little pancakes can also double as a tasty appetizer.
Baked with love … and sauerkraut
Who knew you could bake with fermented foods? Sweet and savory, they’ll be a surprise hit.
This quick bread — which means no yeast (nor rising time) is required — bakes quite slowly, but makes a great German-inspired loaf in the slow cooker! Caraway seeds, sauerkraut, mustard, and wheat beer are all stirred in, for the ultimate sandwich bread, or as a great buttered slice next to roasted pork and some braised red cabbage.
No one will notice the taste of sauerkraut in this chocolate cake, but they will appreciate how moist it is and how good their stomach feels afterwards. The homemade frosting contains exactly two ingredients: milk chocolate and sour cream. Nothing about this cake should work, yet you’ll be angling for the last slice.
The sauerkraut in this sweet custard pie is blanched in simple syrup and will likely be mistaken for coconut if you keep mum while folks take the first bite. It’s the ultimate October surprise, but could be the gift that keeps giving at every holiday.
This from-scratch rye bread goes a little wild, with delicious results. Elements of an everything bagel — caraway seeds, dried onion bits, and other spices — join sauerkraut and pickle juice for perhaps the best homemade bread to make a Reuben with. Prost!
It’s Oktoberfest in a cupcake! But they’re so good you might celebrate year round. The sauerkraut ends up tasting like candied citrus peel in this recipe, and if you use a stout beer you’ll get the sweetest and malty-est result.
Note: There is some uncooked beer in the frosting, so be sure to warn sober folks and parents about the alcohol. Or simmer the beer for the frosting on the stove for a few minutes until the alcohol has burned off, then proceed with the recipe as written.
Inspired by sauerkraut?
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