Sauerkraut is a great addition to any diet due to its probiotic benefits and high vitamin content. Since this power food is made by fermenting cabbages in brine, it is packed with healthy bacteria that promotes gut health. Sauerkraut is also packed with vitamins that help boost immunity—so keeping some in your kitchen is always a good idea. However, storing fermented foods is always tricky since it can be difficult to figure out just how long they can last. So, does sauerkraut go bad and just how long can it last in your refrigerator?
Sauerkraut goes bad after about six months if it is refrigerated. Unrefrigerated sauerkraut will go bad in about a month after opening. There are two main types of sauerkraut, pasteurized (or room temperature sauerkraut) and unpasteurized (or refrigerated sauerkraut). The main difference between the two is that the room temperature sauerkraut is pasteurized after the fermentation process. Pasteurization kills the bacteria formed during the fermentation process so this type of sauerkraut can be stored at room temperature without going bad.
How Long Does Sauerkraut Last?
Fermented food products contain probiotics or beneficial bacteria which have a host of benefits for your digestive health. If you enjoy sauerkraut either as a side dish, dip, or in any other dish, you probably find that you have plenty left over after a serving. Fortunately, sauerkraut can last for up to six months if it is properly stored. However, it is important to differentiate between the two types of sauerkraut because they have different shelf lives.
Does Sauerkraut Go Bad if It Is Pasteurized?
Pasteurized sauerkraut is sold non-refrigerated because it is heat-treated to stop the fermentation process. This means that it can be stored at room temperature without going bad provided the can is not opened. Unopened pasteurized sauerkraut can last for three to five years, but it is always best to check the sell-by date when purchasing the product.
Once you open a can of pasteurized sauerkraut, you will need to store it in the refrigerator. An opened can of this type of sauerkraut can only last for a month in the refrigerator.
Does Unpasteurized Sauerkraut Go Bad?
Refrigerated sauerkraut is not heat treated, which means that the fermentation process is still ongoing in the can—albeit, at a slower rate. This fermentation process is the reason you notice bubbles or fizzing when you open a can of unpasteurized sauerkraut. In most cases, unpasteurized sauerkraut will last for six months from the date of manufacture. However, it is always best to check the labels for the sell-by date.
Unpasteurized sauerkraut has to be stored in the refrigerator before and after opening. Unpasteurized sauerkraut can last for six months in the refrigerator without going bad. It is important to note that since unpasteurized sauerkraut is still undergoing fermentation, the taste gets more sour with time. This means that if you keep it for more than six months, even if it doesn’t go bad, the taste may become too harsh or overly acidic.
How To Store Sauerkraut
Unpasteurized sauerkraut should not be left out at room temperature. This is because higher temperatures will accelerate the fermentation process and alter the taste of your sauerkraut. Storing it in the refrigerator, therefore, keeps your sauerkraut fresher for longer.
When you buy sauerkraut, the cabbage in the can is usually submerged in the brine. The brine helps to preserve the flavor of the sauerkraut and prevent surface mold growth. This means when you scoop out sauerkraut, always ensure that you submerge the remainder in the brine so that it is fully covered. If you leave the cabbage exposed on the surface, it will dry out and develop white specks. Always keep your sauerkraut submerged at least half an inch below the brine level in the jar.
If the brine in the can is not enough to cover the remaining cabbage, you can easily make some brine and top it up. Simply mix one teaspoon of salt in one cup of water and add it to your sauerkraut.
Always make sure that your sauerkraut is completely covered in an airtight container before refrigerating it. Leaky jars or cans that are not completely airtight will allow air and moisture in and cause your sauerkraut to go bad. Unpasteurized sauerkraut is stored in similar conditions as kimchi and other fermented foods such as pickles.
In case you are using pasteurized sauerkraut, you do not need to store it in the refrigerator until it is opened. Pasteurized sauerkraut can last for years at room temperature. Just make sure to store it in a cool and dry place away from direct sunlight. Once pasteurized sauerkraut is open it can go bad pretty fast.
Once you have opened the can and scooped out what you need, make sure the rest of the cabbage is fully submerged in brine—then refrigerate. Pasteurized sauerkraut, once opened, will only last one month in the refrigerator before it goes bad.
If you prefer to make your own sauerkraut at home, it can still be safely stored for later use. Once your sauerkraut is fermented, scoop it into air-tight jars and make sure they are properly covered. Since homemade sauerkraut can last for three to four months refrigerated, always label the jars indicating the date of packing. This will come in handy when you want to check how long your sauerkraut has been stored.
Can You Freeze Sauerkraut?
Sauerkraut can be frozen for eight to 12 months. However, it is important to note that if you freeze unpasteurized sauerkraut, the fermentation process will be hampered. This means the flavor, texture, and probiotic content of the sauerkraut will be diminished. To enjoy the full health benefits of sauerkraut, it is best to refrigerate and allow the fermentation to continue taking place slowly.
Signs that Your Sauerkraut Has Gone Bad
One of the first signs that your sauerkraut is no longer safe for consumption is if it gets moldy. Mold grows pretty fast in food that has not been properly preserved. In the case of sauerkraut, a layer of mold forms on the surface and creates a film over the cabbage. In most cases, molding occurs when you have stored the sauerkraut for too long or if the jar is not completely air-tight.
Off Smell and Texture
Fresh and well-preserved sauerkraut has a slightly sour smell similar to that of vinegar. However, when the sauerkraut starts to go bad, it develops a rotten smell that can be quite pungent. You will also notice that the texture of the sauerkraut has changed from crispy or crunchy to soggy. These are indications that your sauerkraut has gone bad and needs to be tossed.
Change in Color
Discoloration is another sign that your sauerkraut is no longer safe for consumption. If you notice that your sauerkraut is turning brownish, that is a tell-tale sign that it has gone bad. Discoloration will also occur if you fail to submerge all of the sauerkraut in brine when storing an opened can of sauerkraut. In such cases, you will notice that your sauerkraut gets white specks and starts to dry up.
Change in Flavor
If stored properly, sauerkraut can last for several months in the refrigerator. However, after a while, the taste starts to change and gets even more sour. This happens because the fermentation process continues even during refrigeration and this steadily increases the acidity levels as time goes by. If you store your sauerkraut too long, it will develop a harsh sour taste that may be unpalatable.
Tips to Make Your Sauerkraut Last Longer
- Do not leave your jar of sauerkraut out at room temperature for long periods, especially if it is not pasteurized. Unpasteurized sauerkraut should always be refrigerated before and after you open the can.
- When storing your sauerkraut, always make sure there is sufficient brine in the can. The brine helps to keep the sauerkraut from molding and also helps with the fermentation process.
- When scooping sauerkraut from its jar, always use clean utensils and avoid double-dipping. A dirty spoon can easily introduce bacteria into the jar causing the sauerkraut to go bad much faster.
- Even pasteurized sauerkraut can go bad in hot and humid conditions. This means you should always store your pasteurized sauerkraut in a cool, dry place before opening—and then refrigerate once the can is open.
As a healthy source of vitamins, fiber, and probiotics, sauerkraut ticks all the right boxes. However, just like any other food, how you store your sauerkraut makes a lot of difference. If you do not want your sauerkraut to go bad, it is important to always store it in an air-tight container and refrigerate it. All foods eventually go bad and this includes fermented foods like sauerkraut and kimchi. However, since sauerkraut can last for up to six months or more, you can store your leftovers for a considerable length of time.