One of the great things about homemade sauerkraut is that it doesn’t need refrigeration.
One of the less great things about homemade sauerkraut is that it doesn’t always get as sour as you’d like.
Sure, you can add a whole cabbage’s worth of shredded veggies and keep fermenting, but if you’re already satisfied with the tartness and want to up the ante on your kraut’s flavor, as well as its sour punch, it might be time for a little sugar.
In this article, we’ll explore how to sweeten sauerkraut—and why you might want to.
What is Sauerkraut?
As mentioned a couple of times in our blog, sauerkraut or sauerbraten is finely cut or shredded cabbage that various lactic acid bacteria have fermented to produce a sour, pickled flavor.
The good-for-you bugs in your ferment increase the levels of vitamins and minerals compared to raw cabbage and other vegetables.
Their tangy contribution enhances the taste of eating plain or adding to other ingredients.
Sauerkraut is one of the best ways to incorporate fermented foods into your diet, especially if you are new to them.
It has a very long shelf life (a couple of months at least).
Why Would I Want to Sweeten Sauerkraut?
Sauerkraut has a reputation for being one of the sourest foods around.
It isn’t, though—not compared to vinegar-based pickles, for example.
And once sauerkraut starts fermenting, its flavor mellows out even more as it continues to develop.
Keep this in mind when you’re adding ingredients that are themselves quite tart (like cranberries or dried currants) or particularly sweet (like grapes, pineapples, sugar).
If you want your sauerkraut to be sour, start with more salt.
So why would you want to sweeten sauerkraut? A few reasons.
First, some people enjoy the balance of sweet and sour in homemade pickles.
Second, if your ferment is short on flavor—if it tastes just like cabbage—you might be able to bolster it with another ingredient or two.
And finally, in some cases, a touch of sweetness can help delay the growth of mold.
And one of the easiest ways to sweeten sauerkraut is by adding sugars.
Types of Sugars to Use When Sweetening Sauerkraut
When making sauerkraut, it’s important to add sugars in the right proportion.
Otherwise, you might encourage the wrong bacteria during fermentation and compromise the product’s safety or flavor.
There are quite a few kinds of sugars that you can add to your ferment:
1 – White Sugar
This is one of the least controversial ingredients, with a clean flavor and neutral pH.
Plus, it’s readily available and easy to use.
2 – Brown Sugar
Brown sugar has a more intense flavor than white sugar—and a higher concentration of molasses solids that can contribute caramel-like notes to your ferment.
It’s also slightly acidic, which means that it can suppress mold or other unwanted bacteria in your sauerkraut.
3 – Fruit Sugars
Not all fruit sugar is created equal.
That’s why you’ll want to use caution when adding sweeteners like pineapple, grapes, dates, figs, blueberries—or even raisins.
Some fruits are high in acid, which can act as a preservative.
Others are high in sugar—which is great if you’re adding them to your batch for flavor, but not so great if you want your sauerkraut to be sour.
Other Ways to Sweeten Sauerkraut without Sugar
Adding sweet vegetables, such as shredded carrots, corn, and daikon radishes, is another option.
A staple in many pantries is dried fruit, which is sweet.
You might try mixing a handful of figs, raisins, and apricots to cover the acidity of the sauerkraut.
In addition to this, dried fruit soaked in a flavorful liquid, such as wine or beer can infuse your sauerkraut with a hint of sweetness.
1 – Vegetables, like beets or carrots
These can come in handy if you’d like your sauerkraut to take on the flavor of another ferment.
Remember that these veggies are likely high in pectin, which gels with the fibers in cabbage, so you might want to slice or grate them before adding.
2 – Add Little Fat
Some fats can also mellow out the sour flavor of sauerkraut, such as oils that are high in monounsaturated fat (like olive oil or avocado oil) or high in polyunsaturated fat (like safflower oil).
3 – Rinse and Drain sauerkraut
After your sauerkraut has been fermenting for a while, taste it.
If you’d like it to be sweeter, drain and rinse the cabbage.
This will remove some of the brine that has been absorbed into the cabbage and might dilute its sour flavor.
You could also squeeze your sauerkraut like a sponge—a great way to get rid of excess liquid and excrete more juice (and flavor).
4 – Brown Sauerkraut with Onions
You could add a bit of sweetness by browning sauerkraut in oil or butter and adding caramelized onions to the mix.
Make sure to let the sauerkraut cool fully before you eat it.
5 – Add Fruits, Like Apples or Grapes
Apples and grapes are classic additions to sauerkraut.
They’ll add a touch of sweetness to your ferment, as well as some familiar fruity notes from their natural sugars.
These are great options if you’re looking to make sweeter sauerkraut.
Spiced up Your Sauerkraut
If you’re looking for ways to add sugar or another sweetener, you can do so in moderation.
Remember, if you’d like your sauerkraut to taste less sour, you might want to consider cutting back on the amount of salt you use during fermentation.
Or ferment it longer.
That being said, there are a few things you can do to spice up your sauerkraut, even more than just adding a few spices.
You can read more on this article.
Sauerkraut has the potential to become the perfect food for you, but the intensity of its sourness might turn you off.
That’s why it’s a good idea to sweeten sauerkraut with one or more of the ingredients mentioned above.
Of course, there are other options, too—but these are the most popular.
So next time you make sauerkraut, why not add some fruit (like grapes or apples), some sugar (in small amounts), or some sweet veggies (shredded carrots, for instance).
You might also want to try adding a spice or two.