Admit it, you’ve had it happen. Just about everyone has lost something at the back of the fridge at some point. With ferments, how do you know if they’re still good? How long can a ferment last in the refrigerator? In this post, Ashley discusses the shelf life of fermented foods.
How long does fermented food last in the refrigerator? The answer is a lot longer than you think.
Most recipes have you ferment sauerkraut on the counter using a water lock for 6-12 weeks, and then replace the water lock with a regular canning lid before storing in the refrigerator. More often than not, they’ll say “consume within a month or two.”
Every time I read “consume within a month or two” I think to myself, “Wait a minute! Isn’t fermenting supposed to help preserve food? Cabbage keeps for months in the refrigerator all on its own. Shouldn’t ferments last longer?”
Sauerkraut, a fermented cabbage dish, has been enjoyed for centuries. Its tangy flavor and numerous health benefits make it a popular choice for many. But have you ever wondered, “How long does sauerkraut last?” In this article, we'll explore the shelf life of sauerkraut and provide answers to some common questions about its storage and preservation.
How long does sauerkraut last in the refrigerator?
I recently had the opportunity to test it out. An overly polite house guest stayed with us and though they loved our homegrown and homemade food, they felt horrible “eating all our hard work.” At the end of their trip, they tried to replace what they’d eaten by buying us new food from the store.
They replaced our home-harvested honey with store-bought honey, our homemade cookies with store-bought, and our homemade sauerkraut with locally-made raw kraut. They had such good intentions, but I found it hard to explain that I love making my own kraut. I love visiting our bees and tasting the nuanced flavors of their honey. I love baking cookies!
More than I love making my own homemade goodies, I love sharing them with house guests.
I kindly accepted the gifts, because in many ways our house guest was trying to get the satisfaction of giving in return, and there’s no way I would rob them of that. The problem is, that I then quickly forgot about the gifts.
Sure, the cookies were eaten on the counter, but the odd jar of honey got lost in the pantry and the locally-produced raw sauerkraut got shoved to the back of the refrigerator.
A full 18 months later, I found that jar of honey and remembered our house guest. A minute later, the honey reminded me that the kraut must also still be here…
Goodness! I know honey keeps forever, but what about kraut? I’ve never had homemade kraut last that long; my family always gobbles it up. This jar got pushed to the back of the fridge, and though I’d see it there from time to time it always got passed over in favor of homemade. Only now it dawned on me that it’s well over a year old.
How to Extend the Shell Life of Sauerkraut
- Refrigerate it! Ensure the jar is tightly sealed or transfer the sauerkraut to an airtight container before placing it in the refrigerator for an extended shelf life.
- Keep it away from the fridge door! Avoid storing sauerkraut in the refrigerator door as it experiences fluctuating temperatures due to frequent openings. Instead, place it on a shelf toward the back of the fridge for optimal preservation.
- Opt for glass containers! Sauerkraut retains its best quality when stored in glass jars. If your sauerkraut comes in a bag, consider transferring it to a glass jar, mason jar, or another glass container before refrigeration. While plastic containers are suitable, glass is the preferred choice for storage.
- Prevent cross-contamination! Always use clean utensils when transferring sauerkraut into other containers to avoid cross-contamination. Ensure you use a fresh, clean spoon every time you scoop from the jar.
Quick Link: 5 Life-Changing Health Benefits of Sauerkraut
Could it possibly still be good?
I cracked the seal and popped it open and…YES! Amazingly, it was perfect without even a hint of off flavors. Though I haven’t tasted this kraut “fresh” me, it tasted about as good as any newly-made batch, perhaps a bit stronger, but just as lovely.
A bit of quick research online confirmed what my taste buds had told me. A clean, uncontaminated, and well-sealed jar can be kept for around two full years in the refrigerator.
A quick visual inspection will often tell you if your ferment has kept well. Is there mold starting? Off colors? Strange smells? Finally, give it a quick taste. If it tastes good, you’ve won! Go ahead and use up that ancient ferment, and then get back to the kitchen and make some more!
Can Sauerkraut Go Bad?
If you're ever in doubt about the freshness of your sauerkraut, there are a few reliable ways to decide whether it's still good to eat or time to discard it.
1. Smell Check: Open the jar and take a good whiff. Fresh sauerkraut has a distinctive sour aroma. If it smells overly sour or has an unusual odor, it's a clear sign that it's no longer fresh. While sauerkraut naturally has a sour scent, familiarity with the baseline smell will help you detect any off-putting changes.
2. Visual Inspection: Pay attention to its appearance. If the sauerkraut's color appears abnormal, whether too dark or too light, it's an indication of bacterial growth, and you should dispose of it. Mold or other visible signs of bad bacteria growth are a red flag, and the sauerkraut should be discarded immediately.
3. Taste Test: If both the smell and appearance pass the test, take a small forkful and taste it. You're likely familiar with its usual taste, so trust your senses. If you notice an unusually sour or off-flavor, it's best to err on the side of caution and discard the entire jar.
Best Tips to Store Your Sauerkraut
Refrigeration plays a crucial role in maintaining the freshness and quality of our krauts and marinades. Whether the product is sealed or opened, keeping it in the fridge is the key to preserving its crunch, flavor, and the health benefits it offers. The cool temperatures slow down the fermentation process of the live cultures in sauerkraut, ensuring you get the maximum benefit from the probiotics while extending its shelf life.
Sauerkraut is not suited for hot, humid environments, so refrigeration is essential. It not only maintains the product's integrity but also prolongs its shelf life.
To fully enjoy your sauerkraut, get creative with how you incorporate this tangy and delicious product into your meals. It can be a fantastic addition to salads, a versatile dip, a flavorful marinade, or a delightful complement to sandwiches, rice dishes, tacos, and various proteins. The possibilities are endless!
Additionally, make use of our new product locator tool to find the nearest store carrying the specific flavor you desire. You'll find all our products in the refrigerated section of the store for your convenience.
In conclusion, sauerkraut is a versatile and delicious addition to various dishes, and knowing how to store it properly ensures it remains safe and flavorful for an extended period. By following the recommended guidelines and understanding the factors that influence its shelf life, you can continue to enjoy sauerkraut's unique taste and probiotic benefits. If you have more questions about sauerkraut or its preservation, refer to the FAQs below.
Sauerkraut stored in the refrigerator can last for up to 6 months. To maintain its quality, ensure it's tightly sealed in an airtight container or jar.
While sauerkraut doesn't typically spoil, it can develop off-flavors or become overly sour over time. Check for any signs of mold, discoloration, or an unusual odor, and discard it if you notice these changes.
Freezing sauerkraut is possible, but it can change the texture and taste. It's best used within 2-3 months for the best quality. Consider portioning it in smaller containers to avoid frequent thawing and refreezing.
The ideal temperature for storing sauerkraut is between 32°F to 40°F (0°C to 4.4°C). A cold, consistent temperature helps maintain its quality and extends its shelf life. Keep it in the refrigerator for the best results.