Sauerkraut: To Can or Not To Can

Sauerkraut will soon be on our minds as our gardens begin to overflow with cabbage.  Spring is the best time to raise cabbage here in North Dakota (or so I’m told) and also early fall.  It’ll be quite a while yet before the first harvest but I’m thinking about it already.

I get a few questions here and there about canning sauerkraut.  Stop!  Read this before you start sterilizing your jars and boiling your water.  The following advice is true for any ferment including lactofermented pickles.

Only within the last hundred years, this is what people did, cabbage was fermented to perfection and then packed into jars, water bath canned and then set on a shelf to use in the future.  What an excellent way to preserve the harvest!  Or is it?

There are always pros and cons to each method but one method comes out on top in my opinion.


Pros of Canning:

Shelf life, glorious shelf life.  You don’t have to worry about finding a place below 55F to keep your sauerkraut.  It can go right on the shelf with your other canned goods and it will last years that way (if you don’t eat it up).

You can age your sauerkraut to perfection.  Once your sauerkraut is as sour (or not) as you want it, canning it will stop the fermentation process.  It will stop fermenting and won’t get any more sour.

Cons of Canning:

Extra work.  Some people have canning down to art but not me.  It heats up the house, takes time, effort and space that I don’t really have.  I don’t want to can if I don’t have to.

Canned sauerkraut a dead food.  Canning kills everything in the jar.  All the beneficial bacteria kick the bucket.  Enzymes are toast.  For shelf life this is a good thing.  Killing all those buggies is what allows you to keep the jar on the shelf for years, but those bacteria and enzymes are good for us.  They are what populate our gut and keep us healthy.

Is Canned Sauerkraut Bad?

No, it’s not bad at all.  In fact it’s still quite good for you.  While the beneficial bacteria are all killed off during the canning process, many of the nutrients still remain and the cabbage is in a predigested form making it easier for us to access those nutrients.  The lactic acid is still good for your stomach and it still aids in digestion.  Loading up your sausage with cooked sauerkraut will help you digest that heavy protein.

Which is the best, canned or raw?

By far, raw sauerkraut has the most nutritional benefit.  If you have the means to store it, please, please keep it raw.  The beneficial bacteria and enzymes are worth the room in the fridge or cellar (if your cellar is below 55F).

Raw sauerkraut will keep for a minimum of a year and up to 2 years or more when stored at a cold temperature.  It’s best kept below 55F but keeping it just above freezing will extend it’s fridge life.

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25 comments to Sauerkraut: To Can or Not To Can

  • First, let me say that I truly enjoy reading your newsletters.
    Now, on to serious business: As I see it, there are two ways to look at sauerkraut: as food, or as a beneficial addition to your diet, which will give you certain nutrients otherwise not as easily available.
    What I am saying is:
    If you culture raw sauerkraut, it has a lot of beneficial aspects. You can save raw sauerkraut for up to a year in your refrigerator. (from what I am told, you can even freeze it — I don’t have that kind of freezer capacity, and I’m not so sure about that, but…)

    If you can your raw sauerkraut after it is cultured, all of those benefits from culturing it go away. You still have a vegetable for your meals, and it is every bit as good as cabbage that you have just canned, but with a different flavor.

    When it is a good cabbage season, I make up several jars of sauerkraut at a time (sometimes I find, as I did my first time out, a huge cabbage, and I make up 5 or 6 jars worth.

    Now, I am partial to a 3-day sauerkraut, which I get by using spring water and probiotics (I use New Chapter All-Flora). I like the 3-day taste. After 3 days, I eat what I can, put the lid back on tightly, and put the jar in the refrigerator.

    With the remaining jars I’ve made in that batch, sometimes I leave them up to 5 days, but usually, I put them in the refrigerator as well. That way, they stay more “3-day”.

    Any more cabbage I have left over gets grated up and added to marinated salads, seaweed salads, coleslaw, soups, juices, or green drinks. (Yes, I am raw).

    Since I live in a large city in a small apartment, I can usually control the amount of cabbage I have at any one time. (I have experimented with salting cabbage leaves for a while (1/2 hr or so) on a paper towel and washing them off (or dehydrating them for and hour), and using them as you would use a wrap for a “burrito” or “taco”.

  • John

    as i see it, both ways have only pluses. I make big crooks of Sauerkraut…one is burping away in the corner of the room as I type this.
    It will be about 25lbs of sauerkraut (or other veggies I have 4 crocks) once its all done by the end of May.
    I will stuff 5-6 jars with raw Sauerkraut and put it into the fridge, and the rest gets canned simply because there is no room for it otherwise. And that is not a bad thing really, It will still be rich on mineral and retains most of its vitamins. It is a good long term food especially if one wants to preserve food for an emergency, when the power goes out for a week or what ever, it basically lasts forever in a dark room in the basement. In the mean time, if I want the bacteria for my gut I eat what o put into the fridge or one of the other fermented foods I make like kimchee or just other vegetables…again the same is true, all excess gets canned.

    • Great point! Just have some of each. I’m running out of room in my ferment fridge and was planning on canning some of my excess too. There is no way I’ll be able to eat 4 gallons before more cabbage is ready to ferment anyway.

  • Chloe

    Hello Melanie.

    Love your blog!

    You are very knowledgeable and I have been meaning to ask you:

    How – and with what – do you shred cabbage and hard roots like beets and carrots for fermentation?

    I have a little Bosch food processor 450W but the rotating iron grater is bending under pressure and the plastic containers have cracked numerous places. What do you use and what is you opinion on how many watts necessary etc?


    • Thanks Chloe!

      I have tried two different food processors, a KitchenAid and a Cuisinart. They are both about the same price but I hands down prefer the Cuisinart. The motor is much much stronger. It just feels better built. The KitchenAid has lots of fancy blades that I like but the motor is what makes the biggest difference.

      I’ve had my Cuisinart for 4 years now and it’s a work horse. This is the one I have (affiliate link)

    • Chloe:
      I am a lazy chewer, so I shred my vegetables in my food processor (after many years of wearing out 2-3 food processors per year, I got smart and bought a Cuisinart (I’ve had it for 4 years, and it is still going. Since I don’t like to chew, I put my vegetables in with the S blade and process until they are small enough that I am willing to eat them. If you are pulsing, you can choose to stop at any point. Some people like chewing, and they like a kraut with long strings (you thinly slice the cabbage, and then you slice the slices into reasonable pieces) For harder vegetables, you would hand slice into rounds, then thin-slice matchsticks.

  • Does fermented kraut lose the beneficial bacteria when frozen? Thank you, Nancy

  • Freezing is actually a great way to store ferments if needed. Kraut does last a very long time (like at least 2 years) in the refrigerator so it’s normally not needed but if it freezes on accident, the probiotic power should be fine. It will alter the texture though, making it softer and not crispy.

  • Tami Mulder

    I just purchased my first 20 liter Schmitt fermenting crock and I wondered about canning and killing off the good “stuff”. Then wondered how long the good bacteria would last in the fridge. I am SO glad I ran across this sit and information, THANK YOU! And I found gallon canning jars, so will go purchase some to use for storage in the fridge.

  • Hi, I think your blog might be having browser compatibility
    issues. When I look at your blog in Firefox, it looks fine but when opening in Internet Explorer, it has some overlapping.
    I just wanted to give you a quick heads up! Other then that, excellent

    • Maerzie Dotes

      I am reading this on Internet Explorer, and it’s perfect.

      I am currently just finishing up the crock fermenting of about 7 gallons of sauerkraut, and it’s delicious. I’m anxious to get it jarred or packaged up because cleaning and sterilizing the cloth, the plate, and the weight (a big smooth rock), is getting to be a pain. My S.O. shreds the cabbage on an old-fashioned kraut-cutter, that we were lucky to find at an estate sale, or somewhere. We used to have to borrow one, but those old specialty tools are becoming extinct.

      I have an old paperback, a real treasure, entitled, “Putting Food By”, authors: Ruth Hertzberg, Beatrice Vaughan, Janet Greene. ISB# 0-8289-0163-5 (last digit(5)changes to 3, for a cloth binding). I turn to this book frequently, as I like to do lots of the old fashioned kinds of food processing and preserving. Amazing what’s all packed into this gem, and it probably wasn’t too expensive. Price on the old cover says $3.95. Maybe I got it through Amazon, but who knows, as I’ve had it quite a few years.

  • Paula

    I fermented my sauerkraut in mason jars. I intend to keep half raw and can the other half for storage. I am curious if anyone know, can I just lid them up in the jars they fermented in and water bath can them or do I need to sterilize new jars for canning? I am sure the canning process would kill off any bad bacteria… Right?

  • jeremy

    Is there a way to reintroduce the beneficial probiotic activity into sauerkraut that I have taken out of a can?
    The canned ingredients are just cabbage, salt, and water.

  • Nancy

    The recipe I was given for sauerkraut in a jar says just to can it in the jars. The lady that gave it to me just cans them like that with no problems. We talked about wiping the rims but that’s it. I never thought about what canning would destroy so I will be freezing some. Thanks so much.

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  • Rachel E.

    I just recently had to dump 20 pounds of kraut because I didn’t have time to can it. I didn’t know what I was doing, but now I do. Thank you for this information. I noticed the bubbles stop and knew it was time to do something with it, but with Christmas and such – I never got around to do anything with it. Then last week, I looked into my crock and found mold. Nasty black mold. I was sick from my discovery – knowing my work would have to be dumped.

    So, questions:

    Where should you store your crock when cabbage is fermenting? I had it in my kitchen. I suppose that is too warm. Should I take it downstairs to the basement? I don’t have a cellar. I have a large refrigerator downstairs I can store it in when I am done. If I decide to pack it into jars, do I pack the kraut in first and pour over brine? I don’t want to can it in a canner.

    Any information you can give me would help. I plan to do this when cabbage is on sale.

  • NickD

    Great article! I’ve recently become full-on obsessed with fermenting vegetables, after years of only making ‘vinegar pickles.’

    I saw someone mention doing ferments for just a few days, which some folks do to suit their palate. Less time = less sour (think half-sour pickles). However, to really get the probiotic benefit, I’ve heard it’s best to let it go for 4+ weeks, to allow the microbes to flourish. I personally like that aged, sour funk!

  • Margaret

    Wanting something for a farmers market, will having it sit in their jars during the day cause it to get ferment eve more, therefore ruining it

  • cheryl

    My Aunt and I shredded the cabbage in the crock in the garage for 2-3 months to ferment. We put it in jars and left 1 inch of space at the top and put it in a steam bath. I’m going to put it on my shelf downstairs and she thinks she should freeze it. Who’s right? Also,is there a way to bag it without losing the juices?
    Now that we had given them the steam, have we also lost the good bacteria?
    Now long can you also leave the fresh fermented sauerkaurt in the fridge before it goes bad. Thank you, Cheryl

  • Andrea

    Paula as long as you wipe off the top of the jars and rinse the seals and rings you can can them in the jars you fermented them in. Also place the jars in the canner as you bring the water to temperature to keep from breaking when introducing colder jars to boiling water.

    I fermented a batch on the counter in mason jars and am going to place on a drip tray in my pantry which has one concrete wall on my lower level. As I process more I’ll just keep rotating and see how this goes. I have seen a video of a person who had done this and was still eating 10 year old raw sauerkraut, only because she grew way too many cabbages that year. I’ll not keep mine for 10 years but it can be done.

  • Thank you for the information on whether or not its worth it to can! I really want to try canning and refrigerator pickling to compare the taste and recipes – I usually prefer refrigerator pickling but I’m definitely keen to try canning! Thank you for sharing!

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