Exploring the Shelf Life of Sauerkraut: How Long Does It Last?

How long does sauerkraut keep?

Sauerkraut is a fermented food that has been enjoyed for centuries. Made from a simple combination of chopped cabbage and salt, it has a tangy, salty flavor that many people find delicious. But how long does sauerkraut actually keep? In this article, we will explore the shelf life of sauerkraut, how it achieves its longevity, and how to store it properly to maximize its freshness and quality.

The Shelf Life of Sauerkraut

Sauerkraut can last up to several weeks or even months if stored properly. However, to ensure freshness, quality, and safety, it is recommended that a jar of sauerkraut be consumed within one month. Refrigerating sauerkraut can further extend its shelf life.

The fermentation process of sauerkraut

Sauerkraut achieves its long shelf life through the process of fermentation. When cabbage is mixed with salt, chemical changes occur that drive excess liquid out of the vegetable. The cabbage is then left to ferment while immersed in its own juices, creating a barrier that fights oxidation and rot.
The fermentation process of sauerkraut occurs in three stages: the initial stage, the priming stage, and the peak fermentation stage.

Initial stage

During the initial stage, the cabbage is left in a cool and dark place where it begins to grow cultures of “good” bacteria. These bacteria are present in the air and flourish as the environment becomes more favorable for their growth. The presence of salt and other chemical changes in the cabbage cause the pH to drop, inhibiting the growth of harmful bacteria.

Priming stage

In the priming stage, the acidity of the liquid becomes too high for harmful bacteria to survive, allowing the good bacteria to grow unimpeded. Certain types of bacteria continue to process the cabbage, lowering the pH even further. These changes gradually affect the flavor and texture of the cabbage, preparing it for the final stage of fermentation.

Peak fermentation stage

Peak fermentation occurs when the pH has dropped significantly and Lactobacillus species take over the fermentation process. These bacteria convert the remaining sugars in the cabbage, resulting in the development of favorable characteristics. It is important to note that fermenting the cabbage beyond this stage can make it more acidic and salty in taste.
The entire fermentation process of sauerkraut usually takes about 2-3 weeks from the initial stage. However, the time may vary depending on the environmental conditions.

Characteristics of Sauerkraut

Before discussing the shelf life of sauerkraut in detail, let’s explore the important characteristics that give it its resilience.


Sauerkraut has a tangy, salty flavor with a hint of earthiness from the cabbage. Contrary to popular belief, sauerkraut does not have a fishy or unpleasant taste, even at the peak of fermentation. Instead, it can become tangy, which many people find delicious. The saltiness of sauerkraut complements meats, vegetables, and spices, adding contrast and enhancing the overall flavor.


Even when fermented, cabbage retains its crunchy texture, making sauerkraut satisfying and addictive. When prepared correctly, sauerkraut should have a firm texture that closely resembles raw cabbage. Soft and tender cabbage is a sign that the fermentation process has not been successful. Some variations of sauerkraut may contain spices and flavorings that retain their texture with minor changes due to the hydration and acidity of the mixture.


Sauerkraut’s long shelf life makes it a convenient ingredient to have on hand for quick recipes. It is a nutritious and flavorful addition to sandwiches and meat-based dishes, enhancing their flavor and texture. Sauerkraut can also be enjoyed on its own, seasoned with spices and condiments. It can be added to salads or coleslaw recipes for a different flavor profile. In addition, sauerkraut can be enjoyed as a topping on toasted bread, creating an easy and nutritious sandwich.

How to make and store sauerkraut

To maximize the shelf life of sauerkraut, proper storage techniques are essential. Interestingly, the best way to store sauerkraut is part of the process of making it. Here’s a step-by-step guide:

Sauerkraut Ingredients

– Airtight jar
– A pinch of salt
– Finely chopped cabbage

Cooking instructions

1. Core the cabbage and chop as desired. It is recommended to have a combination of fine and thin shreds for a better texture.
2. In a large bowl, mix the cabbage with salt. The general recommendation is about 2% of the cabbage’s weight in salt, but you can adjust to taste.
3. Massage and squeeze the cabbage with your hands for a few minutes until it begins to release its juices. This step will help break down the cell walls and begin the fermentation process.
4. Transfer the cabbage and its liquid to a clean, airtight jar. Be sure to seal tightly to eliminate any air pockets and to completely submerge the cabbage in its own juices. The liquid will act as a protective barrier against mold and contamination.
5. Close the jar tightly and store in a cool, dark place for the initial fermentation period. The ideal temperature range is 18-24°C (65-75°F).
6. Check the jar every few days to release any built-up pressure by slightly opening the lid. This will allow the gases produced during fermentation to escape.
7. After about 2-3 weeks, the sauerkraut should have reached its peak fermentation stage. At this point, you can transfer it to the refrigerator for longer storage.
8. Sauerkraut can be stored in the refrigerator for several weeks, up to a month, while maintaining its quality and flavor.


Sauerkraut is a versatile and nutritious food with a surprisingly long shelf life. The process of fermentation transforms the cabbage into a tangy and crunchy condiment that can be enjoyed in a variety of dishes. By understanding the stages of fermentation and how to properly store sauerkraut, you can ensure its freshness and quality for an extended period of time. So make a batch of sauerkraut at home and enjoy its unique flavors and health benefits for weeks to come.


How long does sauerkraut keep when stored properly?

When properly stored, sauerkraut can last up to several weeks or even months.

Should sauerkraut be refrigerated?

Yes, refrigerating sauerkraut can help extend its shelf life and maintain its quality and freshness.

Can sauerkraut go bad?

Although sauerkraut has a long shelf life, it can go bad if not stored properly. Sauerkraut that sticks out of the liquid can mold and spoil, while sauerkraut that is submerged should stay fresh.

Does sauerkraut get more acidic over time?

Yes, sauerkraut can become more acidic and salty the longer it is fermented. It is recommended to consume sauerkraut within a month for optimal flavor.

Can sauerkraut be frozen?

Freezing sauerkraut is not recommended as it can change the texture and affect the quality. It is best to store sauerkraut in the refrigerator for longer shelf life.

How do I know when sauerkraut has gone bad?

When sauerkraut develops a foul odor, unusual color, or slimy texture, it is a sign that it has gone bad. It is best to throw away the sauerkraut if any of these signs are present.