Find out how to cook sauerkraut, how to serve it, its nutritional benefits as well as how to buy it. The post also contains sauerkraut recipes.
Sauerkraut is an increasingly popular ingredient and there are lots of different ways to cook it. The good thing is that it's actually very simple to prepare and cook so can easily become part of your regular diet.
What is sauerkraut
Sauerkraut ('sour cabbage' in German) is fermented cabbage which is made by combining 2 ingredients: shredded raw cabbage with salt and pressing the mixture down to release water and encourage fermentation which happens over several days.
Is sauerkraut nutritious
Sauerkraut is extremely nutritious (as is sauerkraut juice so don't waste it!). Naturally low in calories it is high in Vitamins including C and K, fibre, potassium, a gut-friendly probiotic called lactobacillus as well as iron.
Does sauerkraut need to be rinsed
Generally speaking – no, it doesn’t. Sauerkraut is naturally sour and salty and once you try to remove these qualities it stops being sauerkraut. Commercially produced sauerkraut (especially sold in jars and cans) can, however, be a little too salty which is why you may want to rinse it briefly before using it. So taste it before you decide what to do.
Good quality sauerkraut, made without preservatives, is delicious just as it is and should not need to be rinsed. So if your sauerkraut tastes delicious don’t rinse it!
Does sauerkraut have to be cooked
No, it doesn’t. Sauerkraut is a ready-to-eat product whether in a jar, can, barrel etc. It is extremely versatile and can be eaten raw as well as cooked. Raw sauerkraut makes a fantastic salad ingredient served with a little oil, shredded carrots and apples (which balance out the sourness of the sauerkraut).
How to heat up sauerkraut
Although raw sauerkraut is more nutritious than cooked (heat destroys some of its nutrients) cooking adds another delicious dimension to this simple food.
If you want to serve sauerkraut as a hot side dish, topping for hot dogs/bratwurst, over mashed potatoes or pork chops you can either heat it up in the microwave or on the stove. This applies to all sauerkraut varieties (including canned and jarred sauerkraut).
How to cook sauerkraut on the stove:
1.Drain and chop the sauerkraut roughly.
2. Place in a saucepan, add a little water and oil, stir, cover and cook gently for several minutes (up to 30) until thoroughly heated, stirring often. Make sure there is enough moisture in the saucepan so the sauerkraut doesn’t stick to the pot and burn (top up with more water as needed). The exact cooking time depends on how soft you want your sauerkraut to be.
How to cook sauerkraut in the microwave:
This method works especially well if you don't have much time and want to just heat up the kraut without necessarily making it very tender. Prepare the sauerkraut as in Step 1 above then add a splash of water and a drop of oil, stir and microwave for about 5 minutes.
How long to cook sauerkraut
Sauerkraut is extremely versatile and is delicious whether you cook it for 30 minutes or 3 hours. The longer it cooks the darker the colour, the richer the flavour and the softer the texture so cook it according to what you are trying to achieve with your dish.
Stewing sauerkraut for 2-3 hours turns it into a rich and flavourful dish, especially if you cook it with other ingredients, as I have done in this traditional Polish sauerkraut stew - ‘bigos’. It’s versatile so you can use different types of meat (or enjoy it vegetarian), extremely uncomplicated to make and my personal favourite when it comes to serving sauerkraut!
If you make sauerkraut soup, popular in several East European countries (which in Poland goes by the name of ‘kapusniak’) cooking time is shorter. Your soup is ready when all the ingredients, including the sauerkraut, have softened.
How to cook sauerkraut in the oven
Cooking sauerkraut in the oven is a great idea if you are planning to make a casserole type dish (which requires longer cooking).
- Ensure your sauerkraut contains enough moisture (a little water and oil) so it doesn't become dry or stick to your dish and burn as it cooks. Top up with more water as needed (especially if you are cooking your sauerkraut for a long time).
- Cook it covered in a moderately hot oven.
- Cook sauerkraut with other ingredients, such as chicken and potatoes, for an easy one-pot meal.
How to season sauerkraut
Because sauerkraut is naturally salty you do not need to add any salt to it (both raw and cooked sauerkraut dishes). But use black pepper, paprika (sweet, smoked or hot), caraway seeds, bay leaves, allspice or juniper berries (these last 3 to cooked sauerkraut recipes).
What other ingredients go well with sauerkraut
- Fruits and vegetables, especially naturally sweet ones, such as apples, carrots, beets, onion and pears (use these in sauerkraut salads).
- Mushrooms, both regular and porcini (work well in slow cooking).
- Dried fruits, such as prunes, raisins and apricots (these can be added to salads as well as cooked together with sauerkraut).
- Fried bacon and sausage/kielbasa: you can fry the bacon separately and add into the sauerkraut once cooked, but I recommend cooking sauerkraut with the kielbasa (as in my bigos recipe above).
- Mango chutney: see sauerkraut cabbage rolls.
How to buy sauerkraut
When buying sauerkraut look for a light yellow, even slightly greenish sauerkraut, with no traces of grey.
The best traditional fresh sauerkraut consists of cabbage and salt and does NOT contain vinegar. Sauerkraut is sold in jars, cans and airtight bags (like the one in the photo above) and it can also be kept in barrels and sold by weight (in some Polish delis, for example).
Ideally sauerkraut should be preservative free and not pasteurised. (Canned sauerkraut is sometimes pasteurised, which translates into being less nutritious). It can also sometimes contain other ingredients, such as shredded carrot or caraway seeds for added flavour.
What else can you do with sauerkraut
- Add it to other dishes for an interesting flavour twist (these can include cabbage pasta or chicken stew).
- Turn it into a filling for sauerkraut pierogi.
- Use as a sandwich filler or topping for burgers.
- Buy good quality sauerkraut (ideally without preservatives).
- You do NOT need to rinse sauerkraut (unless it’s overly salty).
- Drain it thoroughly before cooking or using raw.
- Chop your sauerkraut roughly before cooking (or putting in a salad) so it’s easier to combine with other ingredients.
- When cooking sauerkraut it’s important to stir it often and make sure there is enough moisture in the pot so the sauerkraut doesn’t burn (add a splash of water as needed).
- You shouldn’t need to add salt to sauerkraut recipes but taste the finished dish before serving in case the seasoning needs adjusting.
- Cooked sauerkraut dishes taste delicious for several days (up to 4) so can be made ahead and reheated in small batches.
Sauerkraut has a long shelf life but once opened it should be refrigerated. Keep it in an airtight container (jar or another container it came in) and it should stay fresh in the fridge for 2 weeks or even longer.
Sauerkraut will stay fresh for longer if you ensure it’s completely immersed in the brine at all times. So don’t drain it completely if you are planning to store leftovers for later.
Keep in touch!
Did you find my tips on how to cook sauerkraut helpful? Do you have a favourite sauerkraut dish? Let me know in the comments below, thanks!
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I’d like to comment that the name kapusniak or kapushnyak for sauerkraut soup is actually Ukrainian not polish.
But they may share the name.
john ernest barrowclough
hello and good morning, i am going to make your kapusniak recipe, do you have a recipe for sauerkraut. many thanks.
Hi John, sorry, I don't have a recipe for making your own sauerkraut. The best sauerkraut I've ever come across is available in Polish shops - make sure it's organic and made without additives/preservatives.