I personally can’t think of a better accompaniment to a meaty and heavy dish, like kielbasa, than sauerkraut. In essence, it’s just fermented cabbage. But thanks to the lacto-fermentation process, it tastes far more complex and delicious than plain cabbage. It’s pleasantly sour, salty, and sweet at the same time. On top of that, it is very nutritious; it is chock full of probiotics, vitamins K and C, fiber, potassium, and calcium.
It’s no wonder people can’t get enough of it. If you’re one of those people and have bought more than you can use right now, don’t worry. It will last for a while in the fridge. But can you freeze sauerkraut? Yes, you can!
However, just because you can do something, it doesn’t always follow that you should. This is certainly the case with freezing sauerkraut, as there are definite downsides to doing it.
Read on to learn everything you need to know about freezing sauerkraut. I’ll explain what happens when you do it and hopefully by the end of this article you’ll know whether it’s the best option for you.
Can You Freeze Sauerkraut?
So yes, the great news is that you certainly can freeze sauerkraut! Before you do, though, it’s worth considering whether you actually need to.
We’re all very accustomed to keeping everything in the fridge or freezer to prevent it from spoiling. So, naturally, leaving an opened jar of food on the countertop or in our pantry for a long time is very counterintuitive to us.
It feels like we are inviting the harmful bacteria and microorganisms to a party, right?
Well, this is true for most foods, but you don’t necessarily need to freeze sauerkraut to prolong its shelf life.
Why Would You Want to Freeze Sauerkraut?
Sauerkraut is a lacto-fermented product. This means that it has a good deal of lactic acid and probiotics (beneficial microorganisms) in it. What this means is that sauerkraut can last for a long time, even left unrefrigerated. These microorganisms are also responsible for many of the health benefits of sauerkraut.
When you freeze sauerkraut, the cold temperature kills most, if not all, of the bacteria that promotes gut health. This is not ideal since it is one of the healthiest aspects of sauerkraut and fermented foods in general. In fact, many people consume lacto-fermented products such as sauerkraut just because of this health aspect.
You also risk losing the pleasant crunch of the cabbage when you freeze it. As the water molecules inside the cabbage expand during freezing, they rupture the cells and alter the structure of the cabbage. This process, unfortunately, results in a rubbery, soft, and flabby sauerkraut.
All things considered, I’d advise that in most circumstances you’re better off not freezing sauerkraut.
But still, there are some occasions in which it is better to freeze your sauerkraut rather than letting it go to waste. For example, if you’re planning to go away for a very long time, you may opt to freeze it so you have it when you get back.
How to Freeze Sauerkraut
Even though it’s always best to consume sauerkraut when it is fresh, tangy, and crunchy, sometimes our situation demands us to freeze it to prevent it from going bad.
If this is the case for you, you should know a few details about freezing your sauerkraut.
First of all, it’s crucial that you leave some room at the top of your container or bag, because the sauerkraut will expand a little in the freezer.
Also, it’s best to freeze your sauerkraut in an airtight freezer bag or a plastic bag, making sure to squeeze out the excess air.
Finally, you should always label it and write down the date on it to keep track of time properly.
The ‘Ice Cube’ Method
Another method for freezing sauerkraut utilizes ice trays. This is ideal if you want to consume small portions and keep the rest frozen.
To begin, take an ice cube tray. Fill each cavity on the tray with sauerkraut and place in the freezer, leaving it overnight.
Once the cubes have frozen, take them out of the tray and pop them into a freezer bag or container. As before, be sure to squeeze out any excess air. Label the bag with the freeze date and put it in the freezer.
When you want to eat some, simply take a few out of the ice cube tray and thaw them using the thawing methods I have written below.
How Long Does Sauerkraut Last in the Freezer?
If you follow the above steps, they should be good to consume for 8 months up to a year.
Though, after that much time, they probably won’t be as crunchy and tangy, but rather a bit dull and squeaky because most of the healthy microorganisms will be dead.
How to Defrost Sauerkraut
Defrosting sauerkraut is pretty straightforward and doesn’t take much effort.
But there are a few things you should be careful about in certain methods.
So, whenever you have a craving for sauerkraut, you can defrost your frozen batch using these four methods based on whichever suits your needs the most.
Thawing in the Fridge
Ideally, you should thaw your frozen sauerkraut in your fridge overnight.
This is the least risky method in terms of bacterial growth and spoilage.
But still, you should consume your thawed sauerkraut within 3 to 5 days after thawing.
Thawing in the Microwave
If your microwave has a defrost setting, you should use that for optimal results.
If not, you can use high heat, it won’t matter too much.
However, be sure to microwave your sauerkraut incrementally every 10 to 30 seconds.
If you use this method, you should eat your sauerkraut immediately after thawing.
Thawing on the Countertop
For this method, simply leave your sauerkraut out on your countertop for a few hours until it is thawed.
You can put your frozen bag into a bowl of water to speed up the thawing process. In this method, you should consume the thawed sauerkraut immediately.
When Using in a Cooked Dish
If you are going to use your frozen sauerkraut in a cooked dish, you don’t need to thaw it.
You can just toss it into the pot, and it will thaw while cooking. However, you should note that this method will increase the required cooking time for your dish.
It will also increase its water content slightly. So, you should adjust the water level accordingly to prevent the sauerkraut from diluting the sauce or the dish.
How to Tell if Sauerkraut has Gone Bad
Eagerly opening the jar of sauerkraut only to see that it has gone bad is one of the worst things that can happen to you, it can bum you out instantly.
But what is worse is that actually eating a spoiled sauerkraut without realizing it and getting sick. Because even though sauerkraut has a long shelf life thanks to its acidity, it can still go bad and make you sick.
Foodborne diseases shouldn’t be taken lightly, especially when it is a fermented food such as sauerkraut. Negligence about this issue can cause a huge deal of distress to your health.
Luckily, signs of spoilage in sauerkraut are pretty noticeable. Just like in most other foods, you can easily spot a bad sauerkraut with your senses. If you suspect that your sauerkraut might have gone bad, here are what you should look for:
If you think your sauerkraut might have gone bad, give it a sniff. If it smells putrid or unpleasant in any way, it has highly likely gone bad. Don’t even try tasting it, discard it right away.
During the lacto-fermentation process, the green color of the cabbage turns into a pale yellow or even white, which is completely normal. If you bought or made this variety – because there are also pink or red versions – and you notice that the color is somehow off, then it is a telltale sign that it has gone bad. You should either discard it or compost it.
Fresh and good sauerkraut should be very crunchy and crisp. If your sauerkraut has a weird, different texture, I’d advise you to err on the side of caution and get rid of it. This weird texture might be squishy, slimy or anything unpleasant.
One of the most obvious signs of spoilage in sauerkraut is mold growth. Although it is usually uncommon due to its lactic-acid-heavy environment, it can still happen.
Any type of mold or organic growth in your sauerkraut apart from its own healthy bacteria has the potential to make you very sick, even more so if you are immunocompromised.
So, if you see any blueish or greenish specs or spots on your sauerkraut, it most likely has mold growth on it. In this case, you should immediately but safely throw it away, making sure that you didn’t contaminate any other surface in your kitchen.