Originally developed in Central and Eastern Europe, sauerkraut is one of the healthiest and oldest varieties of fermented foods around. Packed full of gut-boosting probiotics, fiber, vitamin C, and vitamin K, this powerhouse food is an important staple for promoting digestive health.
But probiotics and vitamins are not the only things that this fermented cabbage is packed full of. Sauerkraut also contains a lot of sodium chloride (NaCl), commonly known as salt. A single 1-cup serving of sauerkraut could contain anywhere between 938.6 to1,560 milligrams of sodium, which is about half a teaspoon of salt and half a recommended daily allowance.
So, if you’re limiting salt intake due to health reasons, you may worry that sauerkraut is inappropriate for your diet. While it’s true that most sauerkraut is made with salt, there are some easy-to-follow, salt-free sauerkraut recipes that are great for your gut and tasty too.Jump To Recipe
Why Does Sauerkraut Traditionally Include Salt?
While there are several reasons why sauerkraut usually includes salt, there are two primary reasons: flavor and preservation.
Salt is great for flavoring foods and can help accentuate the flavors of many dishes, including sauerkraut. But, for those on sodium-restricted diets, there are tasty, salt-free sauerkraut recipes that won’t have you missing salt at all.
Adding lemon juice to your sauerkraut recipe is an easy way to mimic the sour flavor of salt, but without any of the adverse health effects.
Alternatively, adding herb seeds and spices to your sauerkraut prior to fermentation can create a tasty and unique sauerkraut flavor that is sure to please.
Beyond flavoring, salt helps the fermentation process of sauerkraut but, again, it is not necessary. In traditional sauerkraut, salt is added to create a brine that can inhibit the growth of bacteria and mold.
That said, salt-free sauerkraut is easy to make as well, be prepared to monitor the temperature and fermentation process a bit closer to ensure everything is working properly.
For salt-free sauerkraut recipes, it’s important to maintain a temperature range of between 60 to 70°F (15 to 20°C) for optimal fermentation.
Finally, salt can help sauerkraut stay a bit crisper during the fermentation process, but this is in large part because salt helps draw out moisture from the cabbage leaves, which can make your sauerkraut feel a bit limp.
Try pressing as much moisture out of your cabbage for salt-free recipes as possible to create a firmer finished product. You’ll probably need to add extra water to your salt-free sauerkraut to ensure you have enough brine for the recipe as well.
How To Make Salt-Free Sauerkraut At Home?
Sauerkraut, including sodium-free sauerkraut, is incredibly easy to make at home, with only a little time and a few simple ingredients. Your friends and family are sure to be impressed when you tell them you made your own Lacto-fermented sauerkraut.
Follow along for my step-by-step recipe and instructions below, and you’ll be well on your way to making your first batch of tasty, homemade sauerkraut without salt.
How To Make Sauerkraut Without SaltCourse: SidesCuisine: GermanDifficulty: Medium
As this is your first batch, we will start small. One head of cabbage will be enough. Once you have mastered the recipe, you can make larger batches of kraut with 5-10 heads of cabbage or more. Just multiply the other ingredients accordingly.
One medium-size head of cabbage – either red or green cabbage will do
Three to four carrots
Cumin seeds to taste, approximately 1 ½ teaspoon
Chili flakes to taste, approximately ½ teaspoon
One large, sterilized glass Mason jar or fermentation crock, with a lid
A sauerkraut pounder, a wooden rolling pin, or other sturdy, food-safe device that can be used to mash your sauerkraut
A wooden spoon
Juice from one lemon (optional)
- Before you get started, you’ll want to sterilize your equipment. If you’re using a Mason jar and glass weights, boiling your items before use, or filling your jar with boiling water is often sufficient. For glazed fermentation crocks, simply fill your crock with hot (but not boiling water) and a few tablespoons of white vinegar and allow it to sit overnight before rinsing your items with clean, hot water.
- Next, wash your cabbage thoroughly and remove the outermost leaves. You’ll want to save these leaves for later use.
- Finely slice up or chop your cabbage until it is as thin as you want it. Thinner, more finely chopped pieces of cabbage can ferment quicker and more evenly. If you want, a food processor can help with this step.
- After you’ve shredded your cabbage, add it to a clean, non-metallic bowl.
- Wash and then shred or finely chop your carrots next and then add them to the bowl with your cabbage.
- Sprinkle in any seeds or herbs you are using and add the juice from one lemon if you would like to. While the lemon is not necessary, it can keep your cabbage a bit crisper and can add a sour, salt-like flavor to your sauerkraut. Grinding your spices in a mortar and pestle or spice mill can help accentuate their flavor too.
- Now, and this is the most important step, you need to mash your cabbage thoroughly to release the juices in its leaves which will form the brine of your sauerkraut and help to make your finished sauerkraut a bit firmer.
- Using a sauerkraut pounder, the end of a wooden rolling pin, or another sturdy, food-safe device, begin to pound your cabbage firmly, stopping every once in a while to squeeze and press liquid out of your cabbage leaves. This process can take a little bit of elbow grease, but it can be quite therapeutic if you get into it. Just put on some music and have fun with the process.
- After you’ve mashed your sauerkraut for about 8 to 10 minutes, your cabbage should have released a lot of liquid and you’re ready to proceed.
- Carefully pour your sauerkraut liquid and mashed cabbage into your fermentation crock, taking care to press your cabbage down firmly into the jar with a wooden spoon to remove any bubbles and any pieces of cabbage stuck on the jar walls. If you have done a good job, your cabbage will have released a lot of brine and you’re ready for the next step. If you don’t have much brine, pour a bit of bottled water into your jar or crock so that your cabbage is just covered by the waterline.
- Next, gently press the outer cabbage leaves you saved earlier on top of your sauerkraut mix, pushing the leaves down so that they are beneath the brine as well. These leaves will help ensure your sauerkraut ferments properly by keeping all shredded cabbage beneath the brine.
- Now you’ll want to add your fermentation weights. While there are many different weights to choose from, for an inexpensive option, simply fill a smaller mason jar with water, screw on the lid, and use the jar as a weight to hold the cabbage leaves beneath the brine. You’ll want your fermentation weights to be below the brine level as well.
- Finally, lightly cover your sauerkraut jar or crock with an airlock lid, a bit of cheesecloth secured with a rubber band, or your Mason jar lid; however, be sure to only screw the lid on loosely. During the fermentation process, your sauerkraut will produce gases that can cause your jar to explode if it is fully sealed. If you’re using a Mason jar lid, only loosely tighten the lid or make a few holes in it.
- Place your kraut in a cool, dark place, such as in a kitchen cabinet.
Leaving it at room temperature of 60 to 70°F (15 to 20°C) is the best. Be mindful that your jar may leak liquid as it ferments so locate your entire crock or jar on top of a plate or cookie sheet to catch any drips.
- Leave your sauerkraut to ferment for the next five to seven days, checking it daily for any odors or brine evaporation.
- As it ferments, your sauerkraut should only smell sour. If you notice any unpleasant odors, toss out your batch and start over. Your kraut should NOT smell rotten, moldy, or rancid, nor should it turn brown or black.
- If your brine evaporates, add additional water as needed to ensure your sauerkraut remains below the waterline during the entire fermentation process.
- After a few days, begin taste-testing your sauerkraut until it has achieved the appropriate level of fermentation for your tastes. If it tastes pleasantly sour and tangy it is ready to eat. The longer you leave your sauerkraut to ferment, the stronger the flavor will be and the softer the cabbage will become.
- When your sauerkraut has reached the desired fermentation, move the jar to your refrigerator and enjoy your finished product.
- Since you’re making salt-free sauerkraut, whatever herb seeds or spices you add to your batch will do most of the heavy lifting when it comes to flavoring your sauerkraut. While my personal favorite recipe includes cumin seeds and chili flakes, try experimenting with other spices such as dill seed, caraway seed, celery seed, or crushed peppercorns. To bring out the flavor of your spice blend, grinding up your spices with a mortar and pestle or spice mill prior to use can help.
Read Also: 8 Best Probiotic Sauerkraut Smoothie Recipes – (Nutritious And Tangy).
Frequently Asked Questions
How long can sauerkraut last in the fridge?
A properly made batch of sauerkraut without salt can last for four to six months when refrigerated.
Do I need to heat my sauerkraut before eating it?
Sauerkraut can be used either cooked or raw; however, cooking your sauerkraut prior to use can kill off the helpful probiotics in your batch.
My sauerkraut has mold on it. Can I still eat it?
This is a personal choice and really up to you. Most sauerkraut aficionados believe it is okay to eat moldy sauerkraut if the mold is only on the surface and is green or gray in color and the mold can simply be removed with a spoon. If, however, your sauerkraut smells off or has black, pink, or orange mold, it is not safe to consume.
Read Also: 6 Healthy Recipes With Sauerkraut – (Probiotic And Nutritious).
Sauerkraut is a great way to get probiotics into your diet. It is low in calories and high in fiber. And yes, if you are trying to avoid sodium, you can make your own sauerkraut without salt. If you are new to fermenting your own cabbage, start with a small amount and work your way up to larger serving size.