What’s the Salt Ratio for making Sauerkraut?

We’ve been fermenting a lot over the last month or so.  It’s something that happens a lot in winter – fermenting is an ideal preservation method for hardy vegetables (like carrots, cabbage, onions, garlic, turnip, rutabaga and other root vegetables) and it adds a lot of variety to our meals.  Our fermenting has included a lot of fermentation and we’ve played with the ratio of salt to cabbage when making sauerkraut.

Sauerkraut is exceptionally easy to make: add salt to chopped (or grated cabbage), squeeze the cabbage and cover with a weight.  Here’s a few articles that will help you get up to speed if you haven’t made it before:

Now that we have the basics covered, a few basics of salting cabbage for kraut:

  • Salt helps pull liquid from the cabbage.
  • You can ferment cabbage without salt but it tends to be less sour and it’s shelf-life will be reduced.
  • Too much salt will prohibit fermentation altogether.
  • The more salt you have, the slower the ferment will take.  The opposite is, of course, true as well.
  • Many people don’t measure their salt and just taste it as a guideline.  I recommend measuring so that your results are somewhat repeatable.
  • Although you can use just about any salt, I really have a soft spot for the grey sea salt (‘sel gris’) when I ferment.
  • In the first few days of the ferment, your product may taste overly salted.  This will mellow as the ferment continues and more liquid is created in your fermenting vessel.
  • Many people learning to ferment add too much salt and inhibit or prevent fermentation.  Too much will stop fermentation – too little will not cause harm.

Many sources recommend 3 tablespoons of salt per 5 pounds of vegetables.  I like to think of this as 2 teaspoons per pound as many of my ferments are smaller than 5 pounds and it’s easier to scale that way.  From my experience, more than this is not required and can simply slow or stop the process.

In the last few weeks we made two sauerkrauts – one with the ratio above and a second using 2 tablespoons per 5 pounds of kraut.  Here’s what we found:

  • Timing: the version with less salt fermented faster than the one with more (about twice as fast even though had 66% of the salt content)
  • Mould: the version with less salt started growing mould on the surface of the brine on day 2 and had to be skimmed daily compared to the other.
  • Texture: the less-salty version was slightly softer (and parts of it even limp) compared to its mate.
  • Taste: While both tasted different, both were quite tasty.

In the future I’ll play some more but, for now, I’d use 2.5-3 tablespoons of non-iodized salt per 5 pounds of cabbage.

Edit – June 2, 2014 – For those looking for further precision, make a 3.5-5% brine.  It’s a bit tricky as I add the salt to the cabbage before adding the water so my technique starts with a bit of guessing: for every liter (1,000 grams) of water I anticipate adding to the ferment, I add 35-50 grams of non-iodized salt to the cabbage.  I crunch the cabbage and let it rest in the salt for 12-24 hours and cover it with the amount of water I had planned to use.  If I need more water I measure it and add more salt.

If you ferment, what ratio do you use?

  1. Perfect timing! We had pierogi tonight and when the husband asked where the ‘kraut was and I confessed it was all gone, well, there was sadness. To the market tomorrow to start another batch! I’ve only made it once, so I def. needed the refresher course.

  2. I made a recent batch and I was worried I put too much salt since.. well during the fermentation process it seemed to have created air pockets from what it looked like around the jar. Ie, there was no juice around some of the cabbage. I thought this was no good, and due to my having added too much salt such that it kept absorbing water.

    • Hi Christopher,

      Keep doing what you are doing – the more you practice, the more comfortable you will get. Salt will draw liquid out, not absorb the water. Some pockets of air will be natural is the ferment produces bubbles and they get trapped. Just give it a stir/ mix every day or so to release them. 🙂

  3. Thanks so much for this info! I just bought a case of cabbage (45 pounds), since it was on sale for St. Patrick’s day (wasn’t he the patron saint of sauerkraut??), and couldn’t find the post-it with the magic ratio. I like doing my kraut by weight (so much variation with “one head of cabbage”).

    I’m 30# in, and it is juicing like a charm. I’ll finish the chopping/mixing/packing tomorrow, since the kids keep complaining about the sound of the food processor. I add a shredded carrot and finely sliced onion to mine for a little extra flavor and color.

    Thanks again!!

  4. I’ve just tasted my first attempt at sauerkraut, I had added 35g of salt to 1kg veg and it tasted so salty I’m not sure I’ll be able to eat it. It fermented enthusiastically and escaped from the jar( note to self, don’t fill the jar so full next time). Could I add extra cooled boiled water now, it is day 11 of the ferment?

    • I rinse mine in tepid water and drain well before eating and it is fairly perfect. Give it a try! 🙂

  5. I’m sorry but you did *not* answer the question posed in the title of your post.

    A tablespoon of salt means almost nothing universally. A tablespoon of fine table salt is a hell of a lot more salt than a tablespoon of kosher salt.

    Since you are one of the top results in a search for sauerkraut and salt ratio perhaps you could help out the world by giving the salt type and it’s mass.

    Tablespoons and other volume measurements are not helpful for recipes that require precise formulas like pickling or for formulas like bread recipes.

    • John,

      fair comments and thank you for input. 3.5 – 5% by weight is what I would use. I usually weight the salt and compare it to the weight of water I anticipate using (i.e. 35 grams per liter of water)… I’ll update the article to just that as well. You make fair points.

      I hope the following doesn’t sound combative because I really value the points you’ve brought and am editing the post to reflect that, and you’ve given me a great idea for a post tomorrow that will expand on this… your feedback is truly appreciated.

      Having said that, most eyeball it. When I make pasta or bread or bake I am exact. Fermenting does not require the exact precision and is rarely repeatable. Even if you measure the salt precisely the different temperatures present in your house in a 10-30 days period will vary each time you make it and the results will not be the same. The variance of temperature will change the results far beyond the precision the salt will bring.

      • It’s fine to eyeball stuff when you’re experienced, but experienced people are probably not searching for and coming across your post.

        There is about a 25% difference in mass of equal volume measurements of kosher salt and table salt. That’s seems quite significant.

          • I’ve since discovered the ratio is typically 2% so I’m good and the kraut is on the ferment as we speak.

            The addendum is very confusing. What brine are you talking about adding? from what I’ve since read sauerkraut needs no brine added unless you’re topping off to make up for a too low water release from the cabbage.

            Maybe you were confusing this with pickles?

            This should be as simple as saying: “Use 2% by weight of salt to cabbage. For example 1 kilogram of cabbage requires 20 grams of salt”.

            If you are talking about extra brine to make up the difference if it turns out to be too low that’s another matter but also as easily described.

          • 2% seems very low. This article may give more of what you’re looking for: http://www.wildfermentation.com/2012/04/

            Sandor Katz (who is largely recognized as the leading fermenter; and is the link above) recommends starting with 5%. The more salt you add, the slower the ferment will be (if you add too much you can stop it)… Slower ferments tent to be crisper and, in my opinion, more flavorful.

            When you add water the ratio of salt will go out the window as you dilute it.

          • I must have a sensitive palate, I really couldn’t cope with even 3.5% salt! it has really put me off trying again.

          • That’s unfortunate Cas – you can use less as well.

            How long did you ferment for? Ferments often start tasting VERY salty (to the point that they can be almost inedible) but transform through the fermenting process. A friend of mine just made Kimchi for the first time and almost threw it out only to find that, a few days later, it became much more balanced…

            Sandor Katz uses a 5% ration and has mentioned that people sometimes find it too salty, which I did as well.

            You can also ferment with less salt though it will increase the speed of the ferment (which could effect flavor and make the texture softer. If you were to ferment with less salt I’d advise fermenting a cool room in your house (high 60’s-low-70’s) which will help lengthen the ferment…

          • It fermented for 2 weeks then my husband banished it from the house because it smelt too cabbagey 🙂 I must admit that having tasted it at 2 weeks I thought it was horrid and so I didn’t mind it being banished.

            I wanted to have a go at fermenting all sorts of veg when I have a glut from the veggie garden but I have lost enthusiasm after a failed attempt. I’m trying to persuade my friend to get someone to run a workshop at her farm shop so I at least know what it should taste like.

          • sounds like it may have been ready! Sauerkraut often gets real stinky when it’s ready to eat. The good news is that you can then store it in the fridge with a lid on it. The cool temperature often lowers the smell as well. 🙂

          • Are we reading the same article by Sandor Katz? I looked at the link you said about sauerkraut and Katz recommends 2%.

            I think you’re looking at the pickle brine recipe below it which is a different story entirely and not applicable here.

            For sliced sauerkraut, ratios are given for cabbage to salt, not water to salt.

            For pickling whole veggies of course it’s a different story and you then need to make a brine so the ratios are water to salt but that’s pickling, not sauerkraut.

            You seem to be mixing up pickling and sauerkraut throughout this page and in your comments.

            Let’s see what Sandor says from the article you linked to:

            “As a starting point, try 3 tablespoons of salt per 5 pound of vegetables”.

            Given that table salt is more dense let’s assume that’s what Sandor meant (though there was no mention in that article I could find of actual salt type to use which seems peculiar).

            So Sandor says 3 tablespoons (51 grams) of salt for 5 pounds of vegetables (2268 grams). 51/2268 = 0.2 or 2%!

            Perhaps you are mixing up pickling and sauerkrauting in your replies?

          • I’m doing bad math! 🙂

            Your measurements are correct; sorry for the confusion (grams vs pounds I converted the cabbage to metric incorrectly)…

            I posted a longer post on how I measure today; sounds like you’ve got what you need… When I measure, I measure the liquid (including cabbage liquid); similar to a brine but using the technique described for kraut and not pickles.. Measuring the salt and/or the cabbage alone and then randomly diluting it seems to defeat the purpose of measuring, does it not?

            Thanks again for the math and apologies for making you explain it multiple times – normally much sharper than that. 😉

          • “When I measure, I measure the liquid (including cabbage liquid); similar to a brine but using the technique described for kraut and not pickles.. Measuring the salt and/or the cabbage alone and then randomly diluting it seems to defeat the purpose of measuring, does it not?”

            What liquid? Sauerkraut made from sliced cabbage has exactly two ingredients: cabbage and salt.

            The only time you need brine is if you are a) pickling whole cabbage or b) discover after making it that there is not enough liquid being released by the cabbage due to excessively large slicing or long stored cabbage that is already fairly dried out.

            I’m constantly baffled by what you are writing, it seems like you are describing a process of pickling, not making sauerkraut. Perhaps you need to revisit your methods, they sound like they might be more complicated than they need to be.

          • If you put salt in cabbage it will draw liquid from the cabbage. Not all cabbage has enough water to cover it and you may need to add some. Appologies that I’m not explaining myself better. j

  6. Hi Joel,
    Thanks for the article and congrats on it being one of the google top pages when searching ‘salt ratio sauerkraut’
    Perhaps you could put the ratio into your article. Perhaps at the start. Something alone the lines ” By weigh, the salt to cabbage ratio is 1:50″

    Thanks John for finding the ratio.

    Or perhaps you were taking John for a ride..:)

    • Hi Nedlear,

      The ratio for most is 3-5%. So 1:33 or 1:50 – but most don’t measure to that type of precision! 🙂 Variables of heat, water content and more will make the absolute precision of measuring salt fairly insignificant as there are many other variables that will change the flavor and results.

      Now, that’s not to say I think measuring is wrong or silly or dumb; just that it won’t create the level of precision that many are looking for…

  7. Wow, thanks for the post, i found making the sauerkraut almost as easy as falling off a log! After one week I couldn’t keep my hands off of it and now my only challenge is making fermented food as quickly as I want to eat it. For anyone thinking it is a mysterious or confusing process after your explanations, I have to wonder what kind of success they are enjoying in the other areas of their life, such as getting dressed in the morning. Long live the ‘kraut!

    • I agree!!!
      Great info and much success.
      My kraut is great.
      Always different and certainly never exact.
      Did a 2 day workshop with Sandoz in Oct. He’s of the same mind.
      It’s Not an exact science.
      Thanks for all your info!!

  8. This was great! I have made it before and depending on where I fermented it; that is what affects the taste. This recipe was easy and tasted very good. I had dry cabbage and had to add extra salt solution to it to cover the kraut.

  9. I have been using 20g Himalayan fine salt to 1kg cabbage for a couple of years now. I also use Fido jars or any similar wire-topped, rubber sealed glass jar. The gases release through the seal, but no oxygen enters and therefore, no mold and absolutely no waste. Sometimes I have to add a small amount of extra brine (19g Himalayan fine salt dissolved in 1lt pure water) to bring the level up to 1″ from the lid.

    Yes, it is essential to sit these jars in a dish of some sort. Once fermentation commences, the bubbles form pockets in the ‘kraut, forcing it and the juice up to the top of the jar. The juice will bubble out through the seal and into the container it is sitting in. I therefore tap the jar gently on a piece of sponge rubber, twice a day forcing the cabbage back down. This helps to conserve the liquid.

    Before I decided to take this measure, I lost 2/3 of the brine. Consequently, several inches of cabbage was exposed. However, it did not mold or discolor the ‘kraut or cause spoilage and it tasted wonderful. AT NO STAGE DID I OPEN THE JAR DURING FERMENTATION. That would have allowed oxygen to enter and mold would probably have grown as a result.

    I make some every year and add it to my supply. It is still good, unopened, years later in these jars.

    I use organic or chemical free red cabbage/green cabbage and sometimes add some slices of green apple or grated beets and juniper berries. I have even added shredded green papaya which worked really well.

    I used to make it in crocks, but always had spoilage. With these jars, no spoilage at all.

  10. What is the ratio of salt (by weight Oz. Lb. or Grams) to pounds of shredded cabbage? Tablespoons, teaspoons is an imprecise unite of measure and impractical for large batches, like a 10 gal. crock.

    • 2.5-3% by weight. But precision isn’t required – the percentage of water contained by cabbage can vary by 20-25% through a year so such percentages are guidelines because of the amount the water can vary…