Sauerkraut is a fermented cabbage dish that is thought to have many health benefits. Though sauerkraut as we know it most commonly associated with Polish or German cuisine, it is believed to have originated in China thousands of years ago. Sauerkraut has a relatively long shelf life, but you have the option to make it last even longer.
So, can you freeze sauerkraut? The short answer is yes. A number of factors must be taken into consideration, such as the proper storage measures and the effect freezing has on the healthy bacteria that sauerkraut contains. However, sauerkraut can indeed be frozen, which will undoubtedly extend its shelf life.
Read on to learn everything that you need to know about freezing sauerkraut. You’ll also find a general sauerkraut overview, recipe recommendations, and answers to common questions that arise about sauerkraut and freezing it.
What Is Sauerkraut?
So what exactly is sauerkraut? As we mentioned, it has its origins in ancient China and is thought to have been invented 2,000 years ago when the Chinese first fermented cabbage in rice wine.
Nowadays it is popular in a number of international cuisines.
Germans eat it with pork or bratwurst, it is most frequently paired with kielbasa sausage in Poland, and it traditionally accompanies Irish corned beef Reuben sandwiches.
How Sauerkraut is Made
Sauerkraut is made from a pickling process called lactic acid fermentation. Cabbage is shredded, layered with salt, and left to ferment.
As it sets, various strains of healthy bacteria, such as L. mesenteroides and L. plantarum, grow. It takes about three weeks for these bacterias to fully develop.
As sauerkraut is fermenting, it should remain between 65 and 72 degrees F.
Believe it or not, sauerkraut is relatively easy to make at home! You just need a jar, a small weight, a clean cloth, cabbage, salt, and a few weeks!
Follow these simple steps to make homemade sauerkraut:
- Ensure that everything (knife, cutting board, jar, even hands!) is properly sanitized and sterilized. Failing to do so could cause bad bacteria to contaminate your sauerkraut, presenting the risk of spoiling it.
- You’ll want your cabbage to be as fresh as possible, ensuring that the bacteria can flourish. Toss the few outer layers and slice the rest of the cabbage into thin shreds.
- Put in a large bowl and add 1-2 tablespoons of salt to the cabbage. With clean hands, massage the cabbage for 5-10 minutes, until it is watery and limp and no more liquid can be squeezed out.
- Pack into a jar, ensuring that all of the cabbage is covered in liquid, and place a weight (can be a large stone or a smaller jar filled with sand) on top. Cover the jar by placing a clean cotton cloth or kitchen towel overtop of it, and secure the cloth with a rubber band.
- For the first 24 hours, press the weight down every few hours. If the cabbage at the top of the jar is not covered in liquid, feel free to add some salty water to fully submerge it.
- Set in a cool, dark place (ideally between 65 and 72 degrees F) for as little as 3 days and up to 3 weeks! The longer you let your sauerkraut ferment, the tangier and more complex it will get, thanks to the growth of healthy bacteria.
- Once your sauerkraut has reached its optimum point of fermentation, cover with a lid and store in the refrigerator (or the freezer – read on to find out how).
As we mentioned, sauerkraut is a common condiment in a wide variety of cuisines. It goes great on sandwiches or served with meat, such as pork and sausages. Additionally, it can be cooked into soups and stews, such as Eastern European borscht or creamy potato stew. Use in place of relish on hot dogs or even toss it into a salad!
How to Freeze Sauerkraut
Fresh sauerkraut, though it can also be stored on the countertop for short periods of time, is most commonly stored in the fridge.
When properly stored, sauerkraut should last for up to 6 months in the refrigerator. However, you should always check on the freshness of your sauerkraut (color, smell, taste) before serving.
To freeze sauerkraut, transfer it (assuming that it’s in a glass jar) to a plastic bag or freezer-safe plastic container.
Always leave a few inches of space at the top, as the liquid in the sauerkraut will expand when frozen. Remove all possible air and seal tight.
When properly stored, frozen sauerkraut will last much longer than refrigerated sauerkraut, making freezing your best option for long-term storage. Sauerkraut that has been properly frozen will last up to 8-12 months.
You also have the option of freezing small portions of sauerkraut in an ice cube tray. To use this method, freeze tablespoons of sauerkraut in an ice cube tray and, once hardened, transfer to a freezer-safe airtight bag or plastic container for storage.
This method is a great option if you know you’ll just be wanting to use small portions of sauerkraut at a time.
How to Defrost Frozen Sauerkraut
Once you’re ready to eat the sauerkraut that you’ve frozen, you have a couple of options when it comes to thawing.
First off, you can defrost sauerkraut in the refrigerator. You should use your sauerkraut within 3-5 days of transferring your sauerkraut from the freezer to the fridge.
You will have to use the thawed sauerkraut immediately when using the following methods: countertop and microwave:
- To thaw your sauerkraut on the countertop, let it sit at room temperature for a few hours and use immediately after it is fully thawed.
- When defrosting sauerkraut in the microwave, heat on high power in small increments of time (10-20 seconds) until fully thawed. Again, you must use the sauerkraut immediately after defrosting in the microwave.
- Finally, if you plan on using your sauerkraut in a cooked dish, such as a stew or cooked with pork, you can simply add in your frozen sauerkraut with the rest of the ingredients. Note that adding a frozen ingredient like frozen sauerkraut will extend the dish’s cooking time.
Pros and Cons of Freezing Sauerkraut
There are both benefits and downsides to freezing sauerkraut.
When it comes to the pros, freezing sauerkraut extends its shelf life, which is very helpful if you have an extremely large batch that you won’t be able to eat in a short amount of time.
On the other hand, freezing sauerkraut can potentially kill off some of the healthy bacteria that so many people value it for.
While it is certainly possible that some probiotics may be killed when sauerkraut is frozen, some of the bacteria may simply remain dormant at low temperatures, reactivating once again when they reach a higher temperature.
If you are consuming sauerkraut because you value its high concentration of probiotics, your best bet is to eat it when refrigerated or at room temperature. However, you should be able to enjoy at least some of the benefits of the good bacteria that sauerkraut has if you freeze and then thaw it.
We’ve taken the liberty to try and guess what you might ask next. Hopefully, you’ll find something that answers any remaining questions you might have about freezing sauerkraut!
Can you freeze sauerkraut after it has been cooked?
Perhaps you’ve already cooked sauerkraut with pork or in a stew and want to freeze it. It is perfectly fine to freeze sauerkraut that has already been cooked, and you can reheat it with whatever ingredients it was cooked with in the first place.
However, cooking and then freezing sauerkraut will almost certainly kill all of its probiotics.
These bacteria cannot withstand high cooking temperatures, and freezing sauerkraut on top of cooking it will very likely diminish, if not destroy, all of its probiotic properties. At least it’s still delicious!
Are there any other ways to preserve sauerkraut?
When it comes to extending the shelf-life of sauerkraut, you do have another option aside from freezing: canning. Canning sauerkraut will ensure that it lasts for years.
The nature of the canning process requires you to heat the jars and the food that they contain (in this case sauerkraut) to extremely high temperatures. The purpose of this is to kill any bacteria present, which keeps the food from spoiling.
However, this process also kills any good bacteria present, such as the probiotics in sauerkraut. If you’re looking for the best method to prolong the shelf-life of sauerkraut while preserving as much healthy bacteria as possible, freezing is your best bet.
How do you know if sauerkraut has gone bad?
It’s pretty easy to tell when sauerkraut has spoiled. An off-smelling, rotting aroma is your first clue that your sauerkraut has gone bad. Additionally, if it seems discolored or has a strange texture, your sauerkraut is very likely spoiled.
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