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Fermentation Friday: Sauerkraut Troubleshooting

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Sauerkraut Troubleshooting

Out of all ferments, sauerkraut is high on my list of favorites that I always have on hand.  It tastes great and is very versatile.  I enjoy it at almost every meal.  With my eggs for breakfast, on top of pizza for lunch and as an accompaniment to most any meat dish (mmm, bratwurst and sauerkraut, mmm).

While it really is a simple ferment, just cabbage and salt, the following questions pop up and I also asked on Facebook what some of your questions about sauerkraut might be.

Heaving, what is it, why it happens, what to do when it happens.

This is the most common question I see about sauerkraut.  When sauerkraut hits it’s active peak, usually around day 3 depending on the temperature, it can heave, pushing up the cabbage and brine and can make quite a mess.  I’ve had brine push up into the airlock and make a puddle around my jars.

The reason kraut does this (and most shredded vegetable ferments like carrots or zucchini) is because the gases created during fermentation need to push their way up and out.  With a brine ferment like pickles, the air can move around the veggies through the water more easily.  When the veggies are packed together, it’s harder for the air to get out so it pushes the veggies up with it.

There is no way to really avoid this happening (that I’ve found) but there are things you can do to prevent a mess.  Be sure to pack your jar no higher than the bottom of the shoulder.  This means the brine should just reach the shoulder like this:

Not sauerkraut but it is a good example of how full your jar should be.

I’ve been known to overpack jars, trying to squeeze in as much into one jar as I can to save space but it always ends in disaster.  I now try to pack my jars only 75% full.  Don’t pack it less than that because too much air in the jar initially can lead to mold since it may take a while for the ferment to push all of that oxygen out.

Once your kraut does heave, you’ll want to quickly crack open your jar and push everything back under the brine.  Yes, you introduce oxygen doing this but it will quickly get pushed back out once you close the jar back up.  I usually do this at least once or twice while it’s on the counter.

If you do everything right and you still end up with a puddle of brine around your jar, after you push everything back down, you can add more 2% brine to bring the brine level back up to 1″ above the veggies.

My brine seemed to disappear in the fridge?

Sauerkraut with too low brine.

This is another common occurrence.  First try pushing your kraut down.  If there still isn’t much brine, you can add more 2% brine on top.  You’ll want 1″ of brine above the kraut.

“How long does sauerkraut need to ferment and why so long?” and “How long can I let it ferment before it goes bad? Could it ferment indefinitely?”

Sauerkraut is a loooong ferment.  While most other ferments take just 1-2 weeks, sauerkraut takes about 10-12 weeks.  Why so long you ask?  According to Kathleen, owner of Pickl-It, histamines are produced during weeks 2 and 3 which many people are quite sensitive too.  During weeks 3-6, the vitamin C is eaten up by the lactic acid bacteria but will regenerate it by the end of 10 weeks.  A longer ferment results in fewer histamines and more vitamins.  You know your kraut is done when it doesn’t taste cabbagey and it shouldn’t taste too salty.

To answer the second question, even in the fridge, the sauerkraut is fermenting and it will continue to ferment until all the food source is eaten up.  At that point the LAB’s will die.  Luckily that takes a long time, especially if fermentation is slowed down by putting it in the fridge.  Leaving at too high temps will cause it to ferment too quickly.  I’d love to view a ferment that is a year old to see how many LAB’s it still contains.  I don’t have any that old at the moment but I hopefully will next spring if I can resist eating it all.

Even once the LAB’s do begin to die off, the ferment still has great nutritional value.  It’s easier to digest, still has the great B vitamins and vitamin C as well as lactic acid that aids in digestion.

My ferment fridge keeps everything around 50F.

How do I know when to move it to the fridge?

Once the initial fermentation is complete, you can move the kraut to your fridge.  This can be between 3-7 days.  You shouldn’t see many bubbles going up and if you have pushed your kraut down after it has heaved, it shouldn’t heave anymore.  The airlock might still be pushed up but not as high.  It should be dropping down.  If you are using an “S” shaped airlock, you can see the bubbles slow down.

“Is it too much salt that can make it smell beer like or get fizzy?”

The beer smell you sense is most likely due to yeast which is a normal product of fermentation.  You just don’t want too much yeast because that can cause the ferment to create alcohol and can make the kraut mushy and even turn it pink.  It’s not necessarily bad but can result in off tastes and a yucky texture.  Adding more salt can actually help in that situation.  Having a good anaerobic vessel is important here too.

Fizziness is caused by carbon dioxide that is created during fermentation.  If your sauerkraut is still fizzy, it’s either still in the active first stage or the CO2 isn’t being released like it should (using a fido to ferment will cause CO2 build up).  I keep my kraut in the fridge with a mini-airlock for at least 3 months.  If you hear a pop when you open your fido, the ferment is not ready to be without the airlock.

 

“Can I ferment purple cabbage?”

Yes!  It’s actually my favorite and I’m not sure why you don’t see it as much.  It makes a beautiful pink kraut with deep purple brine.  You might want to keep it away from children though.  It stains!  To use it, just sub purple cabbage for green.  You can even mix purple and green cabbage for a really pretty sauerkraut.

Step by Step Fermenting Instructions

I haven’t really done a good step by step post on making sauerkraut yet.  But, KerryAnn from www.cookingtf.com has a great video out that takes you through the process in her video based e-course on lactofermentation: Lactofermentation Class.

“I have heard the longer you leave it out at room temp or warmer, the better the good bacteria growth. True or not?” 

I’ve heard this before and I’m not sure where people got this information.  Traditionally, sauerkraut was stored in a root cellar that keeps food between 32-55F and they didn’t start fermenting cabbage until the weather cooled down in the fall.  All of my resources say sauerkraut should be kept around 50F which is considerably cooler than my cold house (though not much, lol!).  Keeping the ferment too warm for too long can result in overfermentation and a reduction in the number of good bacteria.

I recommend keeping the cabbage at room temp for 3-7 days, depending on how warm your house is.  Once the initial active stage is complete, put it in cold storage.  If you’re lucky enough to have a root cellar, put it there.  Otherwise the warmest part of your fridge is the best place.  Top shelf toward the front or the door is great.

Sauerkraut

How long does it last?

Stored properly, sauerkraut will last at least a year or more though it rarely lasts that long in my house.  Store in a good airtight jar like a Fido, Boss Pickler or a Pickl-it.  I usually wait at least 3 months before removing the airlock

Does sauerkraut give you gas?

I brought this subject up to some fellow ferment freaks and Lydia from Divine Health said this which made me laugh, “Um, well probiotic rich foods in people not used to them can certainly get gas cause those good guys go in and munch munch munch creating a die off – and gas-o-liciousness for sure!”  So there you have it.  If you are not used to fermented foods and have a gut dysbiosis (imbalance of bacteria) consuming fermented foods can indeed cause gas.

If you are just starting out with fermented foods, take it slowly or you might regret it.  Start with just a tablespoon a day and increase as you tolerate it.  Many people find they tolerate the juice better than the sauerkraut.  When starting ferments on the GAPS diet, Dr. Natasha McBride recommends starting with just the juice.

If I buy Bubbies, is it ok to drink the juice? Also, can I use that juice to start another ferment?

To answer your first question, yes!  The juice is actually the best part.  That is where the lactic acid bacteria live.  Traditionally it was common for people to cook the kraut and drink the juice.  Bubbies is a fairly good brand to buy.  They do a quick flash pasteurization which kills just the bugs in the out layer of the jar but the majority of the kraut is still living.  Making your own is the best but if you can’t, Bubbies is a decent option.  Caldwell’s offers a selection of fermented vegetables as well that are excellent.  http://www.culturesforhealth.com/ready-to-eat-foods/raw-cultured-vegetables.html

*ETA: Bubbies only ferments their sauerkraut for 2 weeks so it is not a complete ferment.  People who are sensitive to histamines would have problems with eating this sauerkraut.

For the second question, using the juice to start another ferment is quite the controversial subject.  Some swear by it, others shun it.  Personally, I like the cabbage to go through all the stages of fermentation naturally.  The bacteria you are introducing by “starting” the kraut with kraut juice is the later stage bacteria.  Starting it in the way make the ferment skip steps.  If you are unsure of using  just salt and cabbage to make your sauerkraut, you can add a starter like Caldwell’s.  Caldwell’s can shorten the initial fermentation period and adds the correct bacteria to the ferment.

More Q&A’s?

If you have more questions about fermentation (sauerkraut or any other ferment), comment with your question.  I might make this a regular post.

Part of Freaky Friday, Fight Back Friday

204 comments to Fermentation Friday: Sauerkraut Troubleshooting

  • I am blown away by the view inside your pickling fridge! I would really like to know how you incorporate All Those Products in your meals. My family, now, is just my husband and me, so our needs are modest. I currently have fermented green beans, two colors of sauerkraut and garlic in our fridge. I would love to be able to do a lot more, but don’t want to waste anything and the “other” fridge is full of goat milk and homemade cheese. :D

    • Melanie

      Sometimes I just open it up, stand back and admire it. All of this fermented food I’m hoping will last my family of 6 until next summer. It is tempting for me to eat it all up but I do have to ration it out to make it last. We normally eat a small serving of ferments with one or two meals a day. A serving for us is about 1/4-1/2 cup worth of ferments.

      My goal this year was to ferment as much local organic food that I could find so that I wouldn’t need to do much fermenting over the winter. So it’s a lot right now but it will start to dwindle toward the end of winter. Stored properly, all of this should last a full year or more.

  • Deborah

    I had to call my husband to come and look at your fridge. It’s so beautiful! I want to come and shop in your fridge.

  • Lola

    Wow Melanie what a terrific resource you are! i’m new to your site but your fridge inspires me! My problem is I never seem to have enough brine. I let my cabbage sit with the salt for about an hour before tamping it down for 10-15mins then squishing it a bit more by hand while packing it into my fermenting jar. I definitely don’t have 1″ brine covering my cabbage. The little brine I do have however, tends to disappear in the fridge. I’m new at this and starting to get discouraged.

    • Melanie

      Sometimes cabbage can be dry especially if it isn’t very fresh or during certain times of the year, it’s just dryer. In that case, it’s fine to add your own brine to the top to make the 1″ or more. Even after it’s been in the fridge, you can still add more to keep it under the brine.

  • Kelly

    We just ate some of our sauerkraut after letting it ferment for 7-8 weeks. It was REALLY sour! Not salty at all. Did we ferment it too long? Is there anything we can do to it before canning it to make it not so sour?

  • John B

    I’ve just recently become aware of the masonjar/PickleIt/Fido controversy. The way I’ve been making sauerkraut is in a 1 gal. stoneware crock which I then cover with plastic wrap secured with a rubber band. Prior to sealing with the wrap, the kraut is submerged under brine. While the PickleIt or Harsch definitely seems to be the way to go, can anyone tell me how my method does not create an anaerobic environment?

    • Hi John. Air molecules are small enough to squeeze under a rubber band quite easily. It’s better than leaving the jar open but it’s not air tight.

      • John

        hmm, If the produce is fermenting, it will create gases that will then create a zone of higher pressure inside the jar, as long as it is fermenting this higher pressure should keep air molecules out. Check your plastic, does it have a dome indicating higher pressure if so, as long as this dome exist you should be fine If there is no dome, see if you can get the plastic on tighter.

  • I’m in the process of making my first batch of sauerkraut. I’m week 4 or so (don’t remember exactly honestly) I’ve been actively watching it and making sure it’s under brine. I’m doing it with mason jars and a thick cloth over it. Today I checked it to find that the cabbage was over the brine, resulting in moldy green/blue cabbage. I scooped it off and added more brine. Is this alright to do or should the sauerkraut be tossed?

    • This is why it’s important to make sauerkraut in an anaerobic environment. Even under the brine isn’t enough. As much as I hate to say it, I would toss it. Mold forms long tendrils into the ferment and scooping it off the top only removes some of the mold. Some people scoop and keep going but I don’t think that’s a great idea, especially if gut healing is the end goal. Sorry!

      • Ah man! I was hoping this wasn’t the answer. Better to be safe than sorry. Anaerobic means no air, right? So baggy w/ water or other methods to not allow air would work right? I’m trying to use tools that I have on hand and not buy anything

  • Helen

    Just made my first batch of sauerkraut 4 days ago.I bought a gallon size jar with the air lock lid , but ended up with only a little over 1/2 jar full.Is this ok? and also today I notice that the kraut pushed up a little over the brine. What should i do at this point?

    • It’s better if you fill it 75% full. You can top it off with more brine (19 gms of salt per quart of water). That’ll take care of the cabbage that pushed up over the brine and will fill it the right amount. The brine is really the best part of the ferment anyway. It’s where all the good probiotics live. I usually do this on purpose to give me more brine.

  • Hello! Thank you so much for posting all of this information. I’m wondering if I’m in the same situation as Kristine above. I made sauerkraut according to the method outlined in Put ‘em Up, so it’s in a glass gallon jar with brine covering, a plate on that, a quart jar filled with water on that, and just a kitchen towel covering it all. The book says to keep it at room temp for 1-2 weeks. I’m at about 1.5 weeks now. There was a dot of mold floating on the brine, which I removed. There is also a little film at the top. Is what I have edible? Is it dangerous? Can I salvage it? This is the first vegetable I’ve fermented, and I’m a little leery of eating it, and exposing my family to it!

    • I don’t feel comfortable just scooping off mold from my ferments. The mold grows tendrils that extend deep into the kraut. Sauerkraut really needs be anaerobic and covering it with a towel is anything but anaerobic. A jar with an airlock or a ceramic fermentation vessel (like a Harsch crock) are what I recommend.

      If you do scoop it off, I would scoop at least a few inches down to get it all.

  • sean

    i prepared my first batch of sauerkraut for fermenting 3 days ago.everything looks fine and i have brine above but i also have
    an inch of brine at the bottom of my kraut.there is no mold or
    anything that looks wrong.it’s just that we have this brine on the bottom
    and brine on the top.please advise. also, can i take this out of the
    container and transfer it to jars,pressing everthing down and resealing
    to make airtight and not lose any ground here?

    • Brine on the bottom is totally normal. As long as there is still brine on top, don’t worry. If the kraut does start peeking over the brine, open it up and push everything back down.
      It’s best not to repack the jars because that’ll stir in a bunch of oxygen that we don’t want. But are you wanting to repack into smaller jars because your big batch not sealed? If it isn’t, I would repack. The ferment is active and it should be able to get rid of any oxygen that does get mixed in.

  • Michael

    I am working on my first batch of sauerkraut and I got the recipe from YouTube. I used 2 tbs of salt for one head of cabbage. I am using a mason jar with a shot glass holding the cabbage underneath the brine and a lid lightly tightened. Today I tasted the sauerkraut and it seems extremely salty – is this normal? Will 10 weeks in the fridge cut down on the saltiness, and if so, how does that work?
    Thanks,
    Michael

    • First, screw the lid on as tight as you can. It’ll help keep mold away. Just loosen it every day to let the gasses out. How much salt did you use and how long has it been fermenting? Mason jar ferments (as opposed to using a fermentation crock or airlock system) do need more salt to keep mold away. The salt does get used by the bacteria over time. Usually by 10-12 weeks it shouldn’t be as salty. If it’s still salty, either too much salt was used or it just needs more time.

  • Breena

    I’m doing a mason jar ferment recipe that I found in the Nourishing Traditions cookbook. It says that you can use whey as an inoculate for the fermenting process in place of the other tablespoon of salt. Do you have any experience with this method, and can I use frozen whey from raw goat milk?

    • You can use whey but it just ends up being a different kind of ferment. The bacteria that are created are dairy based and not plant based and it causes the ferment to skip stages. I find my sauerkraut made with only salt and in a good anaerobic vessel with an airlock is a crunchier, better tasting ferment.
      Also if you use a good anaerobic jar, you can use a significantly less amount of salt. I only use about 1 tbsp (22 gms) per 5lbs of cabbage.

  • Ted

    I have made 4 or 5 batches of sauerkraut using 4 heads of cabbage, a food grade bucket and a water bag to seal it off from the outside air. All tasted wonderful after either 4 or 5 weeks. I just checked the batch I have in at the present and after 4 weeks it is nowhere near as far along as the previous batches were at this sage of the game. It tastes like salty cabbage with not much fermentation going on. Could something be just taking this batch longer to mature than the others of did I use too much salt? Should I give it more time?

  • Michael

    The link you provided (www.cookingtf.com) is no longer an active website.

  • Marji

    Melanie,
    I have had my last two batches get slimy and have had to throw them out. I have tried it in the German Crock and also in a gallon glass jar. I have used the salt ratio recommended. The first batch I did not take it to a colder part of the house but have one there now. This third batch seems to be getting slimy too. In the past I used quart jars and made the kraut with no problems or fuss but it seems the larger batches are going bad. Do you have any suggestions to help me get a successful batch? Thanks

    • Slimy doesn’t necessarily mean bad. I haven’t found the answer yet (I’m still looking) but for some reason, some ferments can get a thickish brine. Some ferments are more susceptible than others like carrots always get slimy for me. Occasionally my sauerkraut will get a thick brine as well. Do you think they are bad or just have a thick brine? Do they smell ok, taste sour, no visible mold, is the color ok?

  • Tarapin

    Made an elderberry sauerkraut that turned out divine but had a question concerning refrigeration. The kraut gets very dry in the fridge, is it okay to add a little water to moisten it up and put it back in the fridge? Or will this attract mold?

  • nathan

    I just tried my sauerkraut fermenting for four weeks. It tastes very badly, like a mix between cabbage and sauerkraut. It smells like sauerkraut a little bit but does not taste like it at all. I followed intructions on youtube, the only thing I didn’t do was let it sit for an hour, but I did use a water, salt brine mix.I’m using a Gartopf fermentation container. Do I need to let it sit longer? It is stored at about 58-64 degress F.

    • It just needs to ferment longer. 4 week sauerkraut isn’t fully fermented. It takes a minimum of 10 weeks to get a good sauerkraut. Some people don’t touch it for a full 6 months. It shouldn’t taste like cabbage and shouldn’t taste salty.

  • blessedmom

    I am on a very tight budget and looking at buying the pickle-it jars … can I store the ferments in a mason jar after they have fermented or do they still need to be in the pickle-it or fido (I cannot afford all of it) I need to get started soon (like yesterday:) since we are on GAPS – do you have any recommendations? Also, GAPS recipes do not require that long of fermenting for the kraut and usually lacto-ferments, do the lacto-ferments not take as long?
    Thank you!

    • If you are comfortable with it, drilling your own hole in a Fido jar is a real option. I used to discourage people from it but after talking to many others, I see no good reason why you shouldn’t. That can save you a lot.

      I really don’t recommend storing in mason jars, they just aren’t as airtight as fido jars. If you have a store like TJ Maxx or Ross near you, they carry them for a very good price. If that is still more than you can do, storing in a mason jar, isn’t the end of the world. If you do, make sure you screw the lid on tight and try to use the ferment up as quickly as you can. Maybe do smaller pint sized jars.

      I get frustrated with all the GAPS recipes out there that tell people to ferment cabbage for such a short time. Cabbage really really should be fermented for 10-12 weeks, especially if you are trying to heal gut issues. Cabbage creates anti-nutrients and histamines early on and letting it ferment for the full time will reduce/eliminate that. I would suggest you get some kraut going asap as well as some quicker ferments like shredded carrots, carrot sticks, and beet kvass. Those will be ready in about a week so you can eat those while you wait for your kraut to be done.

      I hope this helps!

  • John

    How do you start the ferment for pickles and other veggies? I am thinking of starting a brine and some cabbage scraps that don’t go into the regular cabbage and after it starts the process after a few days, us the brine as a starter using 1/4 cup of it and poring it into a glass of say cucumbers and fill it up with a mild salt brine…will this work?

    • Hi John, if you look in my recipe section, there are a lot of recipes there. All vegetables have everything they need to start themselves, no starter needed. I just use the veggies, herbs/spices and a 2% salt brine (19gms of salt per quart of water).

      • John

        Thank you, I will give this a try. I read so much about external starters and I am always worry about the stuff that is sold on the internet (one reason I have not tried Kefir water)…too many hucksters out there i.m.h.o. that will sell you anything from battery acid to the real stuff.

  • josh

    this is my 1st time doin this.can i get sick frowm this?

    • John

      Josh,
      As long as your end product is not moldy or slimy there is no chance to get sick from this,Follow the instructions and tips on this site and you be just fine. I grew up with my mother fermenting our food and making our own butter. I did not do anything with what I learned as a child for the last 50+ years and now I am getting back into it. This site is one of the best organized sites I have found on the net. I am surprised how “conservative” Melanie is overall with the food “production”. My mother would say she is overly cautious and wasteful lol…but hen my mother never wasted anything that came from the fields…and I man nothing, she found the strangest uses for it. I guess growing up at the end of WW-II in Europe with nothing causes one to be very, very frugal. Fermenting is what our ancestors did before they had refrigerators and freezers. It is so much healthier then the mass produced junk you get in the stores. Try it, you will be surprised.Let us know how your fermenting adventures go.

  • Ted

    Hi Melanie,
    I have canned Sauerkraut about 5 times now using the wet bath method with no problem. Today I was canning a batch and the bottom broke out of one of the jars. What could have caused that?
    Thank you

  • Hi, I’ve started my first batch of sauerkraut on March 26th. I do not see any bubbling as i’ve read about. it smells ok and i’ve been removing white ‘blooms’ from the top. How do i know if it’s progressing right?

    • Hi Connie,
      Sometimes the bubbles are hard to see. If you use a jar with an airlock, or a Harsch crock, you can see the bubble action in the water of the airlock. As long as it’s smelling good and you’re not seeing any mold, you should be good.

      • John

        If you use a fermenting crock with a water lock, you can hear what my wife calls farts about once or twice a minute until it calms down after about 2-3 weeks to only an occasional burp… In our house it “farts and burbs” a lot.

  • [...] out my post on Trouble Shooting Sauerkraut.  Much of what happens with sauerkraut is true for kimchi as [...]

  • Marcia

    I am on day 6 of my very first ferment (sauerkraut). I used a combination of whey and salt and a bit of the brine from a past commercial (natural) kraut. I’m using the ball jar/recap/airlock system. I over packed and had some early heaving and I removed some of the brine to keep it contained. I’m using a cabbage leaf to hold the kraut down. I tasted a bit today and it tastes pleasantly tart, but from reading above I’m assuming it’s not ready. Problem is, I’m using a 1/2 gallon jar and there’s no way on earth it will fit in my fridge with the airlock on. Any suggestions? Great blog, BTW.

    • Hi Marcia,
      Could you repack them in quart jars? The half gallon with an airlock is very tall! I had to adjust my shelves to make room for my kraut. Otherwise, is there a cooler place in your house like a corner of the basement?

  • Marcia

    My whole house is in the low 60′s, and since the weather is (finally) warming up, that will change soon for higher temps everywhere. I can certainly leave it out for a while longer, but I don’t want it to get too sour. It tastes rather nice now, but I understand it is still “immature.” Since it’s my first ever, I don’t really know what I’m looking for– in taste. And I don’t know what time will add to it–both at room temp and in the fridge. I could transfer into 2 quarts as I have 3 airlocks. I want to start a new batch soon, so don’t want to monopolize all my airlock/caps foreveer.

    • stefania

      Marcia, I have the same problem, how did you sort this out?

      • Marcia

        I’m sorry. But I can’t remember. It’s been a long time since that batch. All I can say is that I must have sorted it out because I haven’t had a bad batch yet. I think, as long as you like the taste of it (and it’s not spoiled) it’s time to stop the fermenting. It’s your kraut after all.

  • John

    Marcia,
    I use stone crocks at my place. I am on week 12 of it sitting at 65deg and getting ready to open it up for the first time. I have made Styrofoam boxes out of blue 2 inch Styrofoam panels that I put over the crocks once they are done fermenting,(the same could be done with individual jars) and they sit on the cold basement floor in a corner. the floor is always in the upper50s to lower 60s..regardless of how warm it is in the rest of the basement and inside the box the temperature rarely goes above 60 at all it mostly sites at 57ish… Something to think of, I used the blue foam that is used to insulate homes and glued the pieced together with a can of expandable foam. Its quite sturdy and will do until the root cellar is re

    • Marcia

      Thank you, John. I actually have some of that foam. But because my basement is smallish and the furnace is there and hot water is called for even now, the furnace does keep the place warmer than a proper root cellar.

      One question (for anyone). Am I correct in assuming that the Fido jars don’t need an airlock because the gasket is one? If that is the case, then I could transfer my kraut to a couple of those and then they would fit in the fridge. My current arrangement involves one of those less-than-compact airlocks and it all takes up so much vertical space.

      • Yes, a Fido would be another good choice. I would burp the jar every few days just to relieve pressure inside. I’m not sure if built up pressure has a bad effect on ferments or not so I relieve the pressure just to be safe. Even though the jar shouldn’t ever explode from the pressure, they do hold in quite a bit, enough to push the CO2 into the brine making it carbonated.

  • sharon

    I started fermenting my sauerkraut in a fido jar about 3 weeks ago. I noticed a few days after it started fermenting, it had risen over the brine. I didn’t know at the time that I should open it and add more brine so it has been sitting there over the brine for 3 weeks. Do I need to throw it out? It doesn’t look like there is any mold, but I am a little concerned about botulism. I don’t want to waste a whole batch, so I don’t know what to do now.

    • Botulism is not a problem in ferments because the pH is far too low for it to live. It’s only a problem in low acid foods. If it’s not moldy and it looks ok, add more brine now. The cabbage that is above the brine just isn’t fermenting but if you get it under the brine now, it should be fine.

  • Chelsea

    Great site, Melanie! I just started my first batch of kraut a week ago (in my Pickl-it). I will be heeding your advice and pushing it down with a wooden spoon then placing in the fridge for another ten or so weeks.

    I do have two questions:

    1. I plan on making a fresh batch of sauerkraut every couple weeks so that we never run out. For these future batches, could I make a brine ahead of time and store it in the fridge so I can use as needed (either for fresh ferments or adding brine to previous ones)? If so, how long would this brine last in the fridge? Would a simple 2% brine suffice or should I add some Caldwell’s starter in this scenario?

    2. Also, I will be moving in about a month (only about an hour away)… Are there any ways to make my ferments more travel-friendly so that I don’t lose them in transit?

    Thanks so much for this information! I am bookmarking it!

    • Hi Chelsea,

      Making brine ahead of time is a huge time saver! Especially during harvest season, I always have a gallon jug of brine in my fridge. While I’m not sure exactly how long it will last, since it’s a saline solution it should last a good long time. Just make the 2% brine with no starter. There is nothing in the brine to keep the starter alive.

      An hour transport should be just fine. I wouldn’t even worry about using coolers unless you anticipate them being out for more that 3 or 4 hours. Just don’t let them sit in a hot vehicle.

      Good luck with your move!

  • elisa

    hi, i made sauerkraut and let it ferment for 30 days in a fido jar. after about the 2nd day, the brine level lowered and it was not covering the kraut. i didn’t know what to do, so i just left it alone. i opened it after 30 days and it looks and smells fine, there is no mold, but i am afraid of botulism. is that possible and should i throw the whole batch out?

    • Botulism is never a problem in sauerkraut or any other high acid food. It can’t survive in a low pH environment. The only problem with the kraut that is not under the brine is that it’s probably not fermented like the rest of it. You can either add more brine now and it should catch up to the rest after a while or you can just scoop off the stuff that wasn’t under. I wouldn’t worry about it at all though.

  • Syd

    Fermenting cabbage is crock pot. Just checked progress 10dAy
    So far & I don’t see any bubbling smells ok & don’t
    See any mold & ceramic weight are under brine
    Should I b doing anything besides “wait”?

  • Dana Tucker

    Most of the time my sauerkraut really wreaks…I have had many people complain about the smell. I follow all the recipes to the letter and time and time again the darn stuff just stinks. Any thing I can do to help eliminate this? I follow recipe, put in glass jar with the air lock on top, let it sit in dark closet for several days. Any help would be greatly appreciated!

    • Can you describe the smell? Cabbage will have a fairly strong smell, almost like a fart. I don’t think it stinks but some people do. Or is it a rotting stench? That would be bad.

  • Julie

    Could you convert the 19 grams to teaspoons, tablespoons for me?
    Thank You.
    Julee

    • Different salts can weigh different amounts which is why I weigh it. If you have a fine grain salt like Redmond’s Real salt, it weighs 5 gms per teaspoon so 4 tsp would be fine.

  • Julie

    Melanie-
    I do not do well making sauerkraut. I would like to try the method of not using whey …. I have been using 1 T salt and 4 T whey (NT book) per head of cabbage. You said you can use “lots less salt if not using whey”… the NT book says use 2T salt per head of cabbage if not using whey… I am confused!
    Also – it is getting warmer here (upper 70′s) – does this mean I immediately put the sauerkraut in my basement where it is cooler right away – or do I keep it at room temp for awhile?
    And can I dip into the sauerkraut as it is sitting on the counter to use it – or do I need to wait the whole 10 weeks….. and if I make it in batches – how do I know the taste will be right if I wait for 10 whole weeks? We were hoping to up our intake of ferments over the summer.
    Thanks -
    Julee.

    • They recommend using more salt because a mason jar is not a great anaerobic jar. If you use a jar with an airlock (Pickl-it, Harsch Crock or even a Fido jar), there is a much less chance of it molding.

      At the upper 70′s, I would ferment for 3-5 days before putting in the basement. Once the kraut heaves (it’ll bubble like crazy and push the cabbage up), open it up quickly, push the cabbage back under the brine and then put it in a cooler place the next day. This should be between 3-5 days.

      I personally don’t think it hurts to sneak a bite hear and there before the 10-12 weeks. Nutrient and enzyme level is at it’s highest at the end and histamine levels are much lower but if you’re not sensitive to histamines, it’s shouldn’t hurt to try it. The sauerkraut should be crispy/squeaky, sour, and not too salty. It shouldn’t taste like cabbage. If it tastes cabbagey and salty, it needs to ferment longer.

      If you’re wanting to increase ferments, you might want to try shorter ferments like carrot sticks or green beans. Those are ready to eat after a week and everyone loves them. Cabbage ferments are the ones that take the longest.

    • Marcia Hutchinson

      I’m relatively new to fermenting and I’ve had great success on 4 consecutive batches of kraut using very reduced salt and whey and a bit of juice from earlier ferments. Here are some of my recipes:

      3 -3/4 lb of veggies– mostly cabbage with 6 small carrots and a lb or so of grated daikon
      1 T caraway, sprinkle of yellow mustard seeds
      3 t sea salt (actually salted to taste)
      1/4 cup whey + old ferment juice
      2 minced cloves garlic
      ————–

      4 lb. 2 oz veggies
      ( cabbage: 3 lb 1oz.;
      kale: 8.9oz.;whole scallions: 3.8 oz.;
      1 T fennel seed (whole)
      4 large garlic cloves chopped
      17 g. pink salt – to taste, and it tasted salty enough for me
      1/4 cup half and half whey and old ferment juice;
      ————————–

      5 lbs 2 1/2 oz veggies
      3.9 # cabbage
      10 oz. turnip
      10 oz onion
      4 lg. cloves garlic
      1/2 Tbsp dill seeds
      17 g. salt
      1/4 c whey/old ferment (actually a hair more than the cup measure)
      —————-
      7 ¼ # veggies
      4 ¾ # cabbage
      5 ½ oz. scallion
      1 ½ # daikon
      11 oz. carrots
      5-6 cloves garlic
      5-6 tsp salt
      ½ cup plus whey and dill pickle ferment
      1+ Tbsp caraway
      2 Tbsp mustard seed

  • Julie

    Melanie -
    Thank you ….. so, if I have a 5 liter Fido jar, how do I determine how many cabbages go in and how much salt? I understand from your comment above that the amount of salt must be adjusted based on the type of vessel you are fermenting in. I hadn’t thought of that before. And when the temp starts going into the 80′s, how do I adjust my fermentation time?
    Thanks again – Julee.

  • I’ve been making kraut for a few months now as it is part of the Budwig Protocol for cancer. My last batch has gone really alcoholic – it smells sweet and when I put it through the juicer, there is a strong chemical alcohol smell. Should I just dump this batch or can I leave it and see if it comes right? I thought its not reversible when it goes alcoholic, but you are suggesting much longer ferments than what I’ve been using up till now. Thanks for any advice!

  • Mark

    My second batch of sauerkraut is not as crunchy as the first…no crunch at all actually. There’s no off color, odor, no mold, etc. Both batches sat out for about 3 weeks, room temp on the second batch was a bit higher. Could the higher temp be the reason? Care to hazard a guess as to why?

    Thanks
    Mark

  • Linda

    I’m new to fermenting and am reading Fermenting for Dummies. I thought making saukerkraut in mason jars only takes 3-5 days to ferment on the counter. Will that produce enough lactic acid?

  • Linda

    Can the juice of organic celery be used to ferment the cabbage instead of using salt?

  • rowan

    Hello there
    just wondering why my kraut is non crunchy after 6 weeks. its been much warmer here in the UK and i used a little less salt than last time as it was too much.
    Its not slimey its just not crunchy.
    ive taken 1 jar out for now and will leave the rest in the huge 10litre crock for another 6 weeks, but im worried its going to be even softer and less appetising.
    thanks

    • My guess would be the combination of warmth and less salt. Both could mean a less crunchy kraut. Try to keep the kraut below 72F and at least 2% brine (for kraut that ends up being 19 grams of salt per 3 lbs of shredded cabbage). Only leave it at room temp for 5-7 days (after the kraut has settled down a little). Leaving it out longer can lead to soft kraut as well. I let mine continue to ferment between 32-55F for another 10-12 weeks.

  • Enjoyed my first 4 half gallons and now finishing my second go around. All my jars have a 1/2 inch cream bottom. After reading your post above I did not see one that explained about this type of color. Is it safe to eat. I live in the warm area of San Antonio and wonder if this should be something I attempt in winter instead of summer

  • Gina

    I made up a batch if sauerkraut on Sunday that is definitely *not* airtight. Can I create an anaerobic environment for it now, or is it too late? It’s been 3-ish days.
    Darn it, I’m so annoyed. I have no desire to eat mold (not that I see any – the kraut looks gorgeous).

    • John

      Go for it, many people ferment their sauerkraut by just using a towel over the container and they swear by it. If you don’t have mold go and get it air tight after all, you have a couple month before its really done.

    • I’m sure it’s fine, Gina. Especially after only 3 days. I’d get it air tight now though. People can do open air ferments without mold problems but when you make it airtight, it’s just a better end product. You’ll have more lactic acid bacteria if it’s sealed well.

  • I helped my mother cold pack her kraut in mason jars with only the cap and ring. She just did not tighten the ring until all fermentation ended. We did this year after year and we had never heard about all the other methods being used. To my knowledge we never through out a jar because it was bad. You may just be OK!

  • Sandy

    Melanie, you suggest using shorter ferments while waiting on the sauerkraut to finish. Does this mean beans, carrots, etc. go through the 3 stages of fermentation more quickly, or do they not go through those same stages? Are we still getting the beneficial LABs with these shorter ferments?

    • Yes, they do go through all the stages. They do go through the stages at the same rate, the thing with sauerkraut is the anti-nutrients and histamines that are created during fermentation that isn’t a problem with other non-cabbage ferments. After 12 weeks, the histamine level should be significantly lower.

  • Cody

    Melanie,

    Just curious what you mean by the word disaster in the above sentance: “I’ve been known to over-pack jars, trying to squeeze in as much into one jar as I can to save space but it always ends in disaster.” The main problem I’ve been having is the juice seems to disappear. I’m doing the gaps diet and my sauerkraut attempts (three thus far) I’ve ended up throwing away due to no juice. I have however been packing it past the shoulder all the way nearly to the top. I’m just trying to figure out how to make a good batch that I can drink regularly. Any tips are appreciated.

  • Tyler

    Hi,

    My gf and I are having an issue fermenting cabbage. The problem is the water above the cabbage becomes cloudy and builds up a white residue on the sides of the jar. We have been using cheese cloth weighted down with a jar to keep everything submerged and keep it in a dark closet at room temp. Is the cloudy water a common issue or do you think it has something to do with the cheese cloth?

    Thanks for the help,

    Tyler

  • jess

    This is my first time at making sauerkraut and I’m on day 4 of the ferment. I read that you can ferment it anywhere from 3 days to several months. I’d like to put my batch in the fridge today but am wondering if it is allready even started to ferment by day 4. It smells kind of like “beer”. It just attracts wayy too many fruit flies and I’d just like to bottle it to get it over with for now. I scooped off a white firm this morning but other than that it seems to be doing well. Please let me know what you think pabout putting it in a jar in the fridge on day 4.
    Thank you soo much!

  • jess

    Oh and also I don’t use a sealed jar. I used a glass container and topped it with a small plate with a mason jar filled with water on top for extra weight. The brine is good and higher than the plate. Any advice would be appreciated.

  • Beth

    I just made a batch of pickles in a Pickl-It jar on 8/4/2013. I used some brine and bits from year-old batch of pepper mash made according to the recipe on the Pickl-It site (the pepper mash is so yummy, by the way, and well worth the wait!).

    I used a 3.5% salinity as per the brine article on the Pickl-It site. I ran out of dunk-rs so I improvised and used a white ceramic pestle from one of those short, squatty morter and pestles to hold the cukes under the brine, and I was careful not to fill beyond the shoulders. I skimmed the foam for the first 2-3 days, as per the Pickl-It site instructions, and I am about to add the dill and garlic. I’ve noticed in the last day or so that the little cukes have something white on the top surface of each of them, somewhat like snowfall. It’s on all of them, regardless of their depth in the jar. They have been kept at room temp covered with a dark towel. What are your thoughts on the formation of the white stuff?

    • It’s just yeast. Totally normal.

      • Beth

        Thanks, Melanie! I thought that was the case and I’m glad to have it confirmed by you.

        One more thing: Using the Pickl-It recipe here, http://www.pickl-it.com/blog/515/kosher-dill-pickles-made-easy-short-version-recipe/,I have it on my calendar to move these pickles to the frig tomorrow to continue fermenting. Would you follow the timing of the recipe, or ferment them longer at room temp to reduce histamines? Or is it the case with pickles that when you slice them and they have a uniform green color throughout, as mentioned in this recipe, that this is the best indicator of when they’re finished and ready to eat? Does waiting longer on the counter or fermenting longer with the airlock in the frig reduce histamines for pickles? If so, how long would you go?

        I’m grateful for your sage advice.

  • Deanne

    I love the taste of Bubbies and I have been trying to recreate it with my expensive Harsch fermenting pot. I do not have a basement and house temperature hovers around 70 degrees all yr round. The first batch I went 4 weeks and it was awful and threw it out. This second time around it is much better at about 9 weeks but still not tart enough like Bubbies. I also reduced the salt amount again too. I also used filtered water without chlorine. I didn’t rinse the green cabbage either but tore off the outer layer. I kept on unsealing by twisting the lid and letting the water swoosh down to make sure it had not evaporated. But I think next time I will not do that since the water seemed not to evaporate that much this summer. For health reasons, autoimmunity, and the high cost of Bubbies I need to figure this out since each try takes months. I was shocked to read at this site that Bubbies only takes two weeks to ferment. They must do something to get that stronger vinegar taste and keep the cabbage crunchy.

  • Carol

    For some reason (I probably didn’t pay attention) I put my sauerkraut right in the fridge without letting it set out a few days. It’s in a gallon glass jar and appears fine, but no mold or anything like that. Do you think it will ferment?

  • Have you ever had it happen that nothing happened? I’ve made 3 batches of kraut now using an old jar of salt from my pantry labeled fine mediterranian sea salt, and they don’t bubble at all. The most recent batch was made in an airlock crock. After almost a month we opened it and the water was suspiciously crystal clear, and the cabbage looks exactly the same as it went in, still crispy and firm (squeaks between the teeth), and the kraut smelled…. totally un krauty. Maybe a bit like a diaper. What the heck is going on?

  • Linda

    Does fermented saukerkraut contain HISTAMINES?
    How about Bubbie’s saukerkraut.
    I was under the impression that homemade saukerkraut is good for gut bacteria but now I understand the histamines in the kraut can cause histamine to rise.

    • That is the reason that I encourage people to do a long ferment with sauerkraut. By 12 weeks, the histamine level should be greatly reduced. A 4 week kraut has high histamines. I’m not entirely sure of Bubbie’s method of making sauerkraut so I’m not sure.

      • Linda

        I have been eating Bubbie’s Sauerkraut and Dill Pickles occassionally and thought perhaps I should increase the amount of fermented foods I eat becasuse I’ve been belching alot and suffer from IBS-C. (It’s probably all the carbs I eat). I already know that I am allergic to baker’s yeast, (saccromyces cerevaise) and my blood histamine measured at 3. The recipe I used for sauerkraut said to ferment in a mason jar for approximately 5 days, which to my disappointment, means that it’s filled with histamines. Perhaps that why my rosacea has acted up.
        Also: ACETALDEHYDE, IS A VERY COMMON AND POTENT NEUROTOXIN (acts like alcohol)
        Anything that fermets in the gut can cause high acetaldehyde.

  • Julie

    Hi Melanie.
    Thanks for all your answers. I have a question about the amount of salt to use if you are using a Fido jar to ferment. I understand you are supposed to use less salt – but what exactly does “less” mean? I have a 5L jar.
    Thanks.
    Julee.

  • Miriam

    Thanks for the troubleshooting advice. I made my batch of kraut yesterday, and when I got home from work today (24 hours later), the jars had heaved, leaving an aromatic (!) mess all over my pantry. I emptied out some more cabbage from the jars, and used the excess to fill another quart jar. I hope I didn’t mess up the whole process. Should I be concerned about the effectiveness of fermentation given the disruption?

  • Traci

    Melanie – thanks for all the great info. on this site. I am new to making sauerkraut and have used an old family recipe. It has me fill mason jars with cabbage (packed tightly) and 1 t each salt, sugar and vinegar. You then fill with boiling water and seal with a traditional canning lid & ring. Finally store in cool dry place upside down for 6-10 weeks.
    Does this sound accurate?
    I’m also wondering if I can open the jars to add more brine (what mixture do you suggest), then close again. If yes, should I use boiling water and boil the lid again?
    Thanks!
    Traci

  • Traci

    Melanie,
    I just noticed that your website is out of Minot, ND and you live in “Nowheresville” ND. I grew up 70 miles from Minot, in Washburn and go back all the time to visit my parents. Small world!

  • anita

    Hi, an fyi here. I have used the white silicon inserts for my mason jars to make them more airtight for use in the fridge. I didn’t even know they exsisted, they are like the rings on the fido jars.

  • Hilde Spowage

    Hi Melanie!
    Thank you so much for all the great information and education you have provided for food fermentation. Just thought I’d pass along the website where I found “mini airlocks” (made in Italy) for sale at $1.50 each plus shipping cost (they are based in Connecticut) http://www.maltoseexptress.net I know that you use the mini airlocks for some of the ferments while stored in the refrigerator.
    Thank you again.
    Sincerely,
    Hilde

  • Daphne

    Help please. My cabbage has been on the counter for 3 1/2 day and there are hardly any bubbles. I know it should take 4-5 but shouldn’t I be seeing some now?
    Also, I’m a little worried about opening it. It’s pushing on the canning jar lid a bit.
    Thanks, this is my 3rd attempt and I really want it to work!

  • Rebecca

    I adapted a kimchi recipe (Sandor Katz) to use regular green storage cabbage – it fermented warm on the countertop in a large crock for a week and then decanted into quart jars in the fridge for 2 weeks so far. I just opened a jar and there are off-gas alcohol flavors like paint thinner – I’ve heard this is from it fermenting too hot in the beginning? If we keep it in the fridge for 8 more weeks will it mellow out and be okay to eat?

  • OutdoorsyRN

    Hi Melanie,

    I have been reading your posts on this forum and you seem we’ll informed
    Re: fermenting foods. I have a couple of 1 gallon batches of sauerkraut
    That I left out on countertop at least 2 mos before I moved to fridge. My
    Brine level I believe is adequate. The color of my kraut is slightly
    Brown and the taste is salty. I made this fermented saurkraut to help
    Get rid of my candida overgrowth. I am on a treatment regiment for the
    Last 10 weeks. I ate some of the fermented kraut and I noticed it made
    My already existing rash on my abdomen back and bilateral groin worse.
    Does this mean that the batch of sauerkraut has gone bad? Is the batch
    Moldy now? If you haveany feedback that would be greatly appreciated.

    Respectfully

    OutdoorsyRN

  • I canned several jars of sauerkraut I made months back. I noticed right after canning they didnt seal right, almost like there was too much fluid? I packed the jars & left the headspace as indicated. I would up removing a small amount of liquid and re-processed them right away. To date (and it’s been months), most jars look like there is barely any liquid and the color has changed slightly. I also notice the kraut aroma when I’m near my pantry. Will this be safe to eat?

  • Dawn

    I made fermented sauerkraut a few months ago and was wondering if the liquid on top normally turns brown? Everything looks normal in the jar except the liquid on top. Do u think it would be safe to eat?

    • John

      Hi Dawn,

      Did you find anything out about the brown liquid? Mine is just a couple of days old and the same thing has happened to me.

      • Jason

        Hi all,

        Any news on the brown liquid. Mine is two days old and brown liquid on top of the cabbage. Wondering whether to proceed with caution or not.

        • Brown liquid usually means oxidation. Is it sealed well, like with an airlock jar, or is it open?

          • Stephanie

            The kraut below the weight is completely under the brine but all I have covering the liquid is a cloth. Is is still ok? It smells ok and I tasted one crispy piece of kraut and it’s a bit salty but definitely getting fermented !

          • Stephanie

            I also am encountering brown liquid

  • Gina

    Do you have any comments, thoughts etc about the smells produced? I’m just getting into fermenting and have some kraut I’ve been working on for at least two months. At first it didn’t do ANYTHING. Finally I added some more brine and it seemed to get moving and just heaved this week. I considered putting in the fridge but it’s still bubbling quite actively (there’s so much info out there it’s been a work in process on which techniques I pick). Anyway, I don’t generally mind the smells but my husband hates it! When I did pickles I put them in a cupboard and three months later it still smells dilly. Right now every time he comes in the kitchen he complains it smells like something is rotting. I don’t think anything is wrong with the cabbage ferment, but it does have an odor. If it helps, for my pickles I used mason jars almost finger tight so they could off gas and for the cabbage just a 5 gallon glass jar with lid (doesn’t seal, just sits on top). Lots of resources said just cover with cheese cloth etc and then some say seal it all together. Can’t decide which but I will have to find a solution or my pickling will be banned from the house!

  • Bryan

    Love the site. I am new to veggie ferments. I just finished my first batch of kraut. I have a #5 crock (with no lid). I used about 12lbs of cabbage, sea salt, garlic, chili flakes, and a bit of onion powder. I let it sit for almost 11 or 12 days in the crock. I checked it after the first 24 hours and added a bit of brine to cover the cabbage as it was weighted down. I skimmed the ‘scum’ off of it every couple of days or so. Today I cleaned the top off, and even took off the top 1/2″ layer of cabbage (just to be safe, it is my first time you know). My kraut is not very crisp. I had read on another site that it had to be tossed, but since I am a total noob, I wanted to get another opinion.

  • Thank you very much for the information. i have been making sauerkraut for some months now.
    I would like to ask you a few questions following that experience on growing those little friends (as I consider them nowadays…) :
    1) I buy the cabbage from different stalls on the organic market. And each batch seems to have different “flavors”. Dr Natasha in her video says to use the outside leaves, for they contain the bacteria.
    Do the different flavors come from different families on bacteria?
    2) Sometimes the kraut seems to have “cooked” following few days of fermentation, is not crunchy. Did you have any experience like that? Can it be because the jar was square (not round), [because the others in the same batch in round jars were OK]?
    3) Have you used, instead of sea salt, himalayan pink salt?
    4) can you have a look at this video of making and tell me what you think?
    http://youtu.be/Ky14zMZKyn0
    Thank you

  • Julie

    Hi. Please help! Two days ago I made seven large Ball jars of kraut (my first time). Today I came home and several jars had burst out the sides of the airtight lids and a few others looked as though they were about to explode (the lids were sealed tightly when canning). I opened the jars very slowly and as I did, almost all of my brine rushed out of the jar, spilling over the sides. After releasing the extra air (and sadly my delicious smelling brine), I sealed the lids shut again. What should I do now? The kraut smells fine, but the brine is now gone and the kraut has been exposed to air. Is my batch doomed on Day 2? Can I save it? What shall I do? Please help. Any and all ideas welcome and very much appreciated!! Thanks in advance for your time and expertise.

    • Bryan

      Hi Julie. I am not a fermented foods expert. I have only made sauerkraut. But, when you are making it, be sure to leave the lid loose enough to allow the CO2 to escape. That is why they burst thru the lids. CO2 is a byproduct of the fermentation process. I actually went to a large 2nd hand store and purchased a #5 crock for around $50.00. After I smash my cabbage, I place a large plate on top of it, a gallon jug of water (although next time its going to be a large bag full of brine), and then I cover it with a towel. I leave it open. I have to scrape the ‘scum’ or ‘bloom’ off of the top of it every few days. This is just caused by exposure to air. So just remember, anything you ferment, leave the lids a bit loose to allow CO2 out.
      Bryan

    • That’s one reason I recommend people use jars with airlocks. Explosions are a very real possibility. I’m probably too late getting back to you, I apologize for that, but you can add more brine. Just top off the kraut with a 2% brine (19 grams or 4 tsp of fine grain salt per quart of water).

  • Bryan

    Sorry, I forgot to add that you can try adding more brine…that might save it.

  • Cindy B

    our sauerkraut his been under brine for two weeks and it isn’t fermenting, what can we do?

  • I am starting to think Western Australia may be too warm to make sauerkraut. I used half red and half green/whit cabbage, added one chili (mistake, very hot, garlic and bay leaves. I used a salt water filled bag (2 quarts of water) as a weight, and a lid over that. It has smelled very ‘cabbagy’ and at six weeks is not sharp but very mild, much of the red has gone but the brine is purple, and not crisp – as if it has been just cooked. The smell is not offensiveand there is no mould.
    Where do I go from here – we are getting into summer and the temperature will be around 30 celsius and up to 100 F from now on.
    Great site,

    • Bryan

      Once again, I am definitely not an expert. My in-laws would make kraut years ago and store it in their basement. They would leave it for six weeks, but the difference is that it was Wisconsin in the winter and was probably around 60F or 15-16C. I fermented some in a #5crock in my kitchen for nine days and it was around 23C. The warmer it is the faster it ferments and probably the less time you need to leave it fermenting. I guess I would probably just start tasting it every day or two to make sure you get it where you want it.

    • Sauerkraut is traditionally made in the fall (this time of year up north here) because of the cooler temps. It’s not impossible to make kraut when it’s hot but you’ll want to find ways to keep it cooler. The biggest problem with too warm of temps is getting a mushy kraut. It ferments way too fast. It’s best to keep the temp in the low 70′s. If you don’t have a place that cool in your house, try putting it in a cooler with some packs of ice. It only needs to be kept out for about a week and then it can continue fermenting in the refrigerator for a few weeks. I like to let my kraut go for 12 weeks minimum.

  • Judy

    Help! Started a batch of kraut a couple of weeks ago. At the beginning, it smelled wonderfully krauty and things seemed to be going well. Then–don’t ask why–I stirred the kraut up a little. Even since then, it has stopped smelling like kraut and has a yeasty smell. I’ve read that if it smells yeasty, it should be tossed. Have I ruined it by introducing air? Do I need to toss it and begin again? Thank you so much for this site!

    • Bryan

      Sadly, I think that stirring it is probably the,worst thing you could do to it. The liquid it is under is anaerobic and I always have a scum that grows on the surface from its contact with the wild yeast and other microbes in the air. You can actually ferment a certain liquids from exposure to the wild yeast.
      I am not an expert, but it sounds bad to me.

    • I agree with Bryan. Stirring introduced oxygen and got the yeast happy. I wouldn’t toss it yet. Try sealing it up tightly again and give it a few weeks.

  • Bryan

    Let us know how it works out…being a total noob myself it would be nice to know.

  • Lori

    Hi there – I have made a few batches of raw kraut, and some turn out fantastic, and a few have been duds and tasted terrible. I have noticed that when I remove the lid from my mason jars, on the bad batches, there is no “fizz” when I open then. These tend to be the gross batches that I can’t stomach. On the batches that ooze and bubble and fizz everywhere, those batches taste great. I am very new to fermenting cabbage, but what am I doing wrong?

  • Barb Tervo

    Melani, I Love your site, and so appreciate your expertise and dedication to the art and science of fermentation. It’s so fun to find comrades–most people’s eyes glaze over very quickly when I begin to talk about sauerkraut……! Anyways, am 3 weeks into my first batch of kraut. Made it in a 1/2 Gallon Vegetable Master that has an airlock on top. Progress report, and several questions: There’s a top layer of cabbage that is not submerged in brine, and it never was. There is no visible mold. IS ALL MOLD VISIBLE? At this point, should I remove the top layer, or, just mix up and add a 2% salt solution to cover it? Also, is Redmonds RealSalt ( unrefined sea salt with trace minerals) ok to use? I am also confused about a main point. After I shredded my kraut, i added salt and tried to smash it all up to release the cabbage juices. Even with great effort, I couldn’t get enough brine to cover the whole deal. Is that normal? I had to add salt water from the get go, then some seemed to evaporate even with the Airlock set-up. Now it appears I may need to add even more. Any tips on releasing maximal amounts of the natural cabbage juices? Is the basic idea to release as much natural cabbage juice as possible, and if it doesn’t cover it with about an inch (or two?) of liquid then make and apply a 2% solution to cover it adequately? Thank you very much for helping. All The Best, Barb

    • Thanks Barb! I’m glad you found me :-)
      As long as you don’t see mold, you should be fine. Push it under the brine if you can. Don’t mix it up, that just mixes oxygen into and can cause problems.
      Some cabbage is just more dry than others. Sometimes I can’t get enough brine with just cabbage and sometimes I get an abundance. And yes, the brine disappearing is totally normal. Where it goes, I have no idea. It’s like it magically disappears. It shouldn’t evaporate through the airlock. Many times I have to add more 2% brine 2 or 3 times. So to answer your question, yes, add as much 2% brine as you need and add more as needed.
      Redmonds Real Salt is my favorite, it’s great to use.

      • Barb Tervo

        Hi Melani, I’m glad I found you too. Thanks so much for your speedy reply. Now I have another brine question. In your opinion, is it necessary to boil the quart of water prior to adding the 4 tsp of salt to make the 2% solution? ( I have well water) Or is plain tap water a-ok? Also, is mold just fuzzy whiteness, or is it often different colors? I’m brand new to this whole thing, so even ” mold identification” is a wonderment…. Thanks again, Barb

  • Hi,
    Thank you for all the info. My Question is, we are on our 3rd batch and all done the same way. We make it in a 5gal. plastic restaurant bucket and hold it in the brine with a plate and a large plastic bag filled with water. This batch is on about day 20 and it has a yeasty type odor, not a pleasant smell. Is it okay, can it be rinsed or have salt added. Thanks for the help. This is potential xmas gifts.
    Calhoun
    teach peace and tolerance

    • There might still be air getting into it, feeding the yeast. Also how warm is it? You might need to keep it cooler. At this point, I would skim off the top layer where the yeast probably is and add more salt brine to the top (about 4 tsp in a quart of water). Do not stir it in as that would introduce more air, just pour brine on top and push the cabbage under. Use a plate to keep the cabbage under the brine.

      I converted a 5 gallon bucket to a fermenter by drilling a hole in the top of a lid and inserting a grommet with an airlock. The lid was one intended for food storage so it had a gasket and screwed on like this http://amzn.to/19t8R3i This system does a better job of keeping the air out than a plastic bag.

  • billy brian

    Hi, this is an amazing sight. Learnt so much!! I’ve decided to start making my own saurkraut and I’m fascinated how simple and complicated it could be. I would love to hear an answer to my question as I have encountered this same obstacle twice. When I packed my cabbage into the jar the liquid exceeded the cabbage by a couple of inches. Now I realise that the cabbage is slightly drying out but the liquid has slightly pushed closer to the top of the jar. Is the cabbage suppose to expand and loose a little water??? Thank you

    • Yes, that is called heaving. It’s not so much that the cabbage is getting bigger or really losing liquid, but the gases produced during fermentation are pushing everything making it expand. Kraut usually heaves once or twice when it’s really active and then it will calm down. I usually open it up when it heaves and push the cabbage down, especially if it starts poking above the brine.

  • Rodney Ginter

    Hi, I made Sauerkraut for the first time this year. I made it in a beer & wine making bucket. I used 6 or seven heads of cabbage one red. I used Himalayan sea salt and added some horseradish. I put a lid with a fermentation lock on it and waited four week. When four weeks came I opened the bucket thinking my sauerkraut would be ready but instead it was like it had not fermented at all the cabbage was still hard like when I first cut it. What do you think I did wrong? Thanks

    • Hi Rodney,

      Did you taste it? Sauerkraut, when made right, should be pretty crunchy. Also, how cool is it? If it’s in a cool place, it will take longer to ferment. Personally, I think 4 week sauerkraut is too young though many people eat it that early. If it still tastes cabbagey, it’s not ready. I usually let mine ferment at room time (72F) for about a week and then move it to a cooler place to ferment for a full 12 weeks. Just give it more time.

  • Hilditch

    Where did the brine go? Back into the cabbage to refill the stolen water. Think of a turkey baster bulb being a storage cell in plants and animals. When the salt gets neutralized the cells are in a vacuum state and are ready to take their water back, just like a fat cell in an animal that has burned it’s glucose. Lettuce gets crunchy too in a cool, moist environment as it sucks in more moisture.

  • Brookolyn

    Hi! I drink the juice and don’t eat the cabbage. Does anybody know if instead of cutting up more cabbage and making a whole new batch of sauerkraut, can you just refill with new water to make more sauerkraut juice?

  • melonie marley

    I put my kraut in mason jars. I did 2TBS sea salt per 1 head of green cabbage. Im using mason jars with their lids. They have been fermenting at room temp for 10 days. Today i noticed most of the bubbles have disappeared. Every day or so, i have tamped down the cabbage so the brine covers it up. It smelled like beer on the 3rd day and smells sour today. Its crunchy with cloudy brine but still tastes VERY salty. Should i put it in the fridge at this stage? The recipe i was following called for it to be at room temp for 3 weeks. My end goal is for crunchy, sour, and probiotic filled kraut.

  • Mike S

    Hi Melanie,
    We made it first big batch of sauerkraut and it came out flavorful but mushy. Reading here and other sites I understand that could be due to insufficient salt or poorly distributed salt. My question is can we add salt, mix it into the current batch, and correct the mushiness?
    Thanks in advance!
    Mike

    • It can be a number of different reasons. What kind of vessel are you using and what is the temperature? Oxygen getting in and too warm temps can cause mushy kraut. Also leaving it out too long at too warm of a temp. I keep mine at room temp (around 70F) for only 5-7 days and then move it to cold storage (ideally between 33 and 55F) for about 3 months.

  • Don G

    After shredding 5 heads of winter cabbage with salt into a fermenter, and waiting 10 weeks the sauerkraut is not sour at all . It does have a faint taste of sauerkraut.
    But nothing like when opening a store bought kind.
    What did I do wrong?

  • Mike S

    HI Melanie, You replied:
    “It can be a number of different reasons. What kind of vessel are you using and what is the temperature? Oxygen getting in and too warm temps can cause mushy kraut. Also leaving it out too long at too warm of a temp. I keep mine at room temp (around 70F) for only 5-7 days and then move it to cold storage (ideally between 33 and 55F) for about 3 months.”
    I used the Polish moat crock, and I opened it several times during a 30 day fermentation at room temperature. So it looks like I should leave it unopened, find a colder place, and wait longer, right?
    I can’t think of a place where I can count on that temperature range other than outdoors, since I live in Texas. Would you say outdoors it’s ok?
    And can I restart fermentation on mushy kraut or just ssd it to soups or otherwise avoid the negative mushy feel?
    Thanks!

  • Ray

    I made a great batch of sauerkraut in a five gallon bucket using a fermentation lock from my beer brewing equipment. No problems at all. However, today I set about freezing 8 quarts (no problem), packing some into jars for daily usage in fridge and giveaways (keep that pro-biotic happening) Problem was canning. I followed directions for cold (raw) pack canning. Jars, lids, and rims were all sterilized. I packed the kraut in tightly leaving kraut down about 1 inch and liquid over that leaving 1/2 head space then put lids and rings on somewhat loosely. I did the water bath for 40 minutes and after taking them out the kraut had expanded and there was almost no head space. The solid “juice” level is down to about 1/4 of the way down the jar. It looks like if I could open the jar and push the kraut down it would all be covered again. The lids have pulled down and sealed well. Is this natural? Can I store these on a shelf for a year like my other preserves (tomato gravy) or should I keep in fridge and try and eat all in the next few months?

  • Mike S

    Solution to “mushy kraut”:
    We put it in a blender and made a batch with the texture of applesauce. Tastes great and eliminated the mushy mouth feel. Adding some water makes it drinkable. Also can be added to soup. I’d have preferred nice crunchy kraut, but found the next best thing.

  • michael anderson

    My kraut is a good two weeks old now. I have ita plastic beer brewing carboy with an airlock. I’m weighing it down with a stainless steal sanitized weight. I have a little white scum bubbles on top of the brine. The kraut smells and tastes quite nice and seems to be coming along. Only thing, its gotten a bit soft now. Not slimy just kind of like a cooked cabbage. I believe my temperature is around 68 or so. I used about 3 tbsp salt per 5 pound but had to add more brine because the cabbage didn’t have enough liquid by itself. Is it trash if its soft?

  • greetings all…I’ve been lacto fermenting since before many of you were born…yep…’60s hipster child.
    I’ve just had a first! A batch of red cabbage (whey/salt)ferment was getting to that wonderful sour state, but sill too chewy for my liking…so I packed it back into the jar and added brine…sealed it up and now…a couple of weeks later went to taste it again.
    It’s still too chewy but it’s no longer that sour! Still salty and smells good…tastes ok…but what the heck?
    Any of you had this happen? I can’t find anything from Sandor or anyone that mentions this. thanks for a great blog! love and peace

  • Nicole

    Thanks for the information! My sauerkraut is in week 3. I put it in the fridge after 2 weeks. It tastes fine, but there was no brine so I made more. First, I think I used too much salt. I did 1 tablespoon of salt to one cup of water. Will the kraut be ok? Second, there are pieces of kraut floating at the top. I don’t know how to keep them down. Thanks in advance!

  • I started my first batch of sauerkraut this week. Is it supposed to turn color? The liquid is brown? I can’t seem to find any information on whether it’s okay to continue or did I do something wrong?

    Thanks so much!

    • Jason

      Hi Georgene,
      I seem to have the same problem with my batch. The liquid on top of the cabbage turned brown, but the rest looks more or less normal in color. Did you get any help with this issue?

  • Bonnie

    First time making kraut – I’m using Fido jars, and they have heaved liquid. My question is – do I open them up and wipe off the seals, or just leave them alone? They are 3 days into the fermentation. Thank you!

  • Dennise

    Hi Melanie. I perked up at your comment about slimey carrot ferments. I let a jar of gingered carrots ferment for five days and when opened, it was quite slimey but no sign of mold or any other problem. Did you mean that when your carrot ferments are slimey that you throw them out or that it is jut what happens with carrots? I had just put my carrots in the fridge, disappointed and not ready to pitch them yet. That was a couple,weeks ago. Dare I eat them? Or do I need to pitch ‘em? Thank you!

  • stefania

    melanie, I fermented the cabbage in a big german crock for one week and now I have to move it to a cooler place. Unfortunately I don’t have a cellar, is it ok taking out the cabbage from the crock and fill a few Fido jars to be placed in the fridge? the crock is too big for my fridge. thanks!

  • Brett

    I just made my first batch of Kraut, well second. The first batch got tossed out.
    This time I used about 2 heads. It was looking good except for a few air gaps. I had this happen last time too. No matter how hard I pack it down, there were still little voids. It’s like the cabbage is packed so tight, that it doesn’t let the brine flow between the shredded leaves. I notice this more toward the bottom of the jar, but the top looked good.
    I thought I would try again… It had about 2 inced or more of brine above it and started to smell nice after about a week. Then it got pretty warm about 80. Its been fermenting for about 3-4 weeks.
    So, tonight I gave it a try. I noticed the brine on the bottom is whitish and the Kraut was kind of soft. The color is golden. It didn’t smell bad, or taste bad, but it has me worried (I’m a bit of a germaphobe). No mold on top, not slimy from what I can tell. I tossed out the top portion anyway and put the remainder in a smaller mason jar, in the refrigerator.
    Do you think it’s safe to eat, from what I describe?
    Thanks for your advice!

  • Rochel

    Hi, I made several jars of sauerkraut with the Kraut Tops in mason jars. At 6 weeks I checked and the brine had dried up, the Kraut top still had water in it. I opened up one of the jars and it smells good but it hardly has any brine.
    What should I do? Thanks for advice, greatly appreciated.

  • Kathleen

    Hi Melanie!
    About July 1, I prepared 10lbs of cabbage for a 2 gallon crock. I used kosher salt. I massaged the sliced cabbage and salt with my hands. It made plenty of brine, at least 2” over the cabbage. I covered it with whole cabbage leaves, saran wrap, & tucked the saran wrap at the sides downward, a plate and a sterilized brick. I covered it with a sterilized towel and rubber band. Because everything went so well I in the evening put it in the basement later that day. I think I put in the basement too soon. July 13, 2014 it is not yet producing bubbles. A friend said in the basement to put a little heater, so I did. Nothing. Yesterday I added 2 1/2 cups boiled distilled water with sea salt. I decided to remove the saran wrap. Now I have brought it upstairs to my kitchen. I do not have air conditioning. Whatever the temp is outside I will have inside. So in my WNY area we are having daytime; 70 degrees to low to high 80′s mostly. At night 60-70 degrees and it can get cooler at night. In the kitchen do you think it will start to ferment? There is no smell. The liquid is a yellow-light greenish color. No slime. Should I just leave it in the kitchen. The basement is usually a 15-20 degree difference, at least from the kitchen. Help! & thank you! Kathleen

    • Hello folks,
      I have been making sauerkraut for over 2 uears and passed through mistakes so I will humbly share what I learned over those years.
      Sauerkraut is very easy to make, but as in all easy things, there are also very strick rulers to follow.
      1) The cabage can only be organic. Because the bacteria that will make the fermentation grows on the cabbage leaves. And the best leaves are the outside leaves. So when you buy you should look for them.
      2) The bacteia is anaerobic. Which means the cabbage leaves should be UNDER the brine at all times. If they touch the air the BAD aerobic bacteria grows and it cabbage rots, grows fungus, the whole system warms up and cooks the leaves. SO you will have white on top, no crunchy sauerkraut and a mess up.
      SO make shure you check everyday if the water is on top!
      3) Don’t close the lead to stringily as the carbonic gaz, resulting in the fermentation, should scape. Ptherwise it can explode.
      4) The temperature the first days can be warm but latter you should but in the freedje. Fermentation will continue but at a slow pace.
      5) whatch the video to have an idea at how to keet the brine on the otp at all times.
      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ky14zMZKyn0
      6) If it doesn’t turn vinegar after few days something is wrong with the bacteria,
      Hope it helps!
      Bruno

  • Kathleen

    I just posted. It listed as a reply, but it is a QUESTION
    hope I did not goof up. Kathleen

  • Michelle

    Thanks for your very informative website. I am just getting into fermented foods and I would like to try get some into my children. I have heard the juice from sauerkraut can be easier and very beneficial for them but the sauerkraut I have doesn’t have much juice, it is mainly cabbage. Can I add water or brine to the finished sauerkraut to make it more ‘juicy’? Thanks!

  • Christine

    Hi Fabulous Fermenteers! Hoping someone can answer – what do you do with ‘failed krauts’? I assume it’s too salty to pour into the compost or the worm farm, but it’s also a bit too liquid (and putrid) to easily bag up for the weekly household garbage collection. There’s so much of it! Any bright ideas? I’d like to deal with it in a ‘sustainable’ way if I can. Thanks!

  • Laurie

    I am glad I came upon this site as I came very close to tossing out my kraut !

    Someone told me ir only took a week and a half (10 days) to ferment before putting it in the fridge.

    OMG… It was awful !!! Awful smell… Awful taste…. (I just tasted a tiny piece)

    I lft it on the counter in the paper bag the jars were in, so I could dump it before the garbage went.

    Lids are still not tight.

    There was bubbleing during the two weeks, but I. Haven’t checked recently, because I thought it was ruined.

    Now I’m not so sure !

    When should the lids be tightened or locked down with the seals? 10 weeks before placing in fridge?

    Is there still hope for this batch (my first)

    Thank you !!!

  • Laurie

    I meant 10 weeks after putting in the fridge.
    I just checked it and it looks and smells fine, now !

  • Claire

    I started my first batch of sauerkraut this evening, in a new to me harsch fermenting crock. I didn’t allocate my time very well, and was trying to hurry the process along so I didn’t wait for the boiled water to cool before adding to cover the sauerkraut. Now I see that the heat is being retained in the crock and I’m guessing this will affect fermentation. Should I just pitch this batch and start from scratch tomorrow night? I’d hate to wait four weeks only to find out that my first effort was a complete failure. Please advise. thanks, Claire

  • Kim

    I bought a ceramic crock and weights from Williams-Sonoma to make our own sauerkraut. The instructions with it say to only ferment for 7-10 days. So I need to move it into jars and place in fridge. But from what you’re saying I then need to wait around another 9 weeks to eat? I wasn’t aware that it wasn’t a full ferment as I’ve read above. I’m surprised Williams-Sonoma didn’t mention that….thanks for the info!

    • If you google “how to make sauerkraut” you’ll find hundreds of different ways. Some people are happy with a 7-10 day ferment but it still tastes very cabbagey to me. Sauerkraut can be a high histamine food and letting it ferment longer removes much of the histamines. So if you are sensitive to histamines, a longer ferment is better.

  • Paul Hinchcliffe

    Great site with great information! I have Barrett’s esophagus and a permanent colostomy due to colon cancer so having my gut in great shape is important to me! At first I was on capsule probiotics.

    I’ve been making sauerkraut now for about 2 years using a Harsch crock and I believe successfully. I say that because I’ve often wondered how I know that I have good bacteria at the end of the fermentation process.

    I mean it tastes like it should, has the correct texture & color but is the good bacteria there? I’ve never seen anyone address this with a simple test, perhaps there’s none.

    I know some Biology classes study stomach bacteria and I wonder if someone could come up with a test whereby a forkful of sauerkraut is placed in a petri dish and something added and after a couple of days one might see results to indicate the presence of good bacteria or not.

    Maybe I’m being silly? Any thoughts are most welcomed?

    • Not silly at all. It’s a great question. I would really love to send in some of my ferments just to see exactly what is in there and get a count for how many bacteria are swimming around. I have looked at many ferments under a microscope and it’s truly amazing what you can see. While I can’t count how many units are there, my ferments are packed full of lactic acid bacteria.

      For a # though, Dr. Mercola has sent his sauerkraut in to get tested and the results are amazing! 10 trillion cfu per 25 gm serving! I wrote a post about that here http://www.picklemetoo.com/2012/10/26/fermentation-friday-probiotic-pills-vs-fermented-food/

      • John

        Careful with referencing Mercola, the man is a snake oil salesman and quack.

        • I don’t agree with much of what he says but this is an actual lab number. Nothing that anyone could skew.

          • John

            That is correct, unless it is a number he made up. Did you were able to independently verify this “lab report”? I am suspect of anything that comes from him. He has been too often caught lying and making up stories all in order to get rich and make a buck and the consequences to others be darned.

  • Paul Hinchcliffe

    I would be interested in hearing from a reader or contributor if they know of a simple way to determine if there are good bacteria present when fermentation is complete.

  • Hello! Very interesting post, thank you! Well, I am trying to find some answers in the web world, but had no luck so far. So maybe you can advise me here. ) I’ve been fermenting sauerkraut since I was 10, helping mom or grandma. In Russia every house has sauerkraut in the frig. But we never used airlocks. Usually heavy stone on top of a cabbage leaf to keep it under water, and it always worked wonderful. This is my second time trying airlock and it is acting very weird. It had good amount of natural juice at first, it didn’t overflow or over bubbled. It is third day and it is lightly covered with juice on top, but getting very dry in the bottom and middle part of the jar. It was packed very well, but created little spaces I can see through glass. Do I need to open it and push everything down again? Do I need to do anything else? Do I use the airlock properly? I filled it with water till the water line. Mm… Help. ))

    • That’s totally normal. The same thing happens in the big crocks, you just can’t see it because the sides aren’t transparent. During fermentation, CO2 is formed and will push the sauerkraut up (I call it heaving) and this happens regardless of the method you are using. It usually does it during the first week and then settles down after that. I do open it up and push everything back under the brine. If your kraut is a bit dry (which is common with summer harvested cabbage), it’ll soak up some of the brine and you might need to add more. When you push it back down, if there isn’t enough brine to cover the kraut, just add more 2% brine (20 gms of salt per liter of water).

  • NICOLE

    i have just made my first batch of sauerkraut. when it is in the fridge does the brine still need to cover the cabbage

  • Yes, I appreciate all those who have experience and their willingness to share teach those of us who are new.

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