What is Czech sauerkraut?

Sauerkraut is a popular food in many European countries, and the Czech version – known as Zeli sauerkraut – is no exception. This fermented cabbage dish is a staple of Czech cuisine, often served as a side dish with meat and potatoes or used as an ingredient in soups and stews.

Sliced red cabbage from pixabay

The history of Czech sauerkraut Zeli

Zeli, also known as Czech sauerkraut, is a traditional dish that has been enjoyed by the Czech people for centuries. The history of this beloved food can be traced back to ancient times when early civilizations needed to preserve their food to ensure survival during harsh winters. Fermenting cabbage was one of the ways they discovered along the way to preserve their vegetables.

Fast forward to modern times and Zeli remains a staple in the Czech diet. This tangy and slightly sweet dish is made from finely shredded red cabbage that’s mixed with salt and left to ferment for a month or more. The result is a crunchy, flavourful side dish that pairs perfectly with roasted meats or potatoes.

While there are many variations of sauerkraut throughout Europe, Czech Zeli has its own unique flavour profile due to the addition of caraway seeds and juniper berries during fermentation.

Zeli sauerkraut has been enjoyed by Czechs for centuries and remains an important part of their culinary heritage.

What is it in a nutshell?

The preparation of Zeli sauerkraut involves shredding fresh red cabbage and mixing it with salt, which helps to draw out the water content. The mixture is then packed tightly into jars or crocks and left to ferment for several days or longer. During this time, natural bacteria break down the sugars in the cabbage to create lactic acid, giving the sauerkraut its distinctive tangy flavour.

Red cabbage sauerkraut

Czech sauerkraut

This sauerkraut is made with red cabbage, caraway seeds, juniper berries and optional garlic.
Prep Time 30 minutes
Waiting time 30 minutes
Total Time 1 hour
Course Side Dish
Servings 10


  • 1 1 litre preserving jar A wide-mouth flip-top jar with a rubber or silicone ring is ideal
  • 1 sauerkraut stomper This can be wooden, metal, or stone, a pestle can work well


  • 1 red cabbage cleaned and shreeded
  • 1 tablespoon caraway seeds
  • 3 juniper berries
  • 1 tablespoon celtic sea salt
  • 1 clove garlic cleaned and minced


  • Mix the cabbage with the caraway seeds, garlic and the salt in a bowl and leave it standing for about 30 minutes so that the cells can start breaking down and the fluids of the cabbage will start flowing.
  • Check after 30 minutes, when you see the fluids flowing then transfer the cabbage to the preserving jar and press it down firmly as you want to make sure that there are no air pockets in the cabbage as lactic acid fermentation is an anaerobic process.
  • Make sure that the room between the cabbage and the top of the jar is at least 2.5 cm or 1 inch.
  • Leave it at room temperature for about 3 days to kickstart the fermentation process. After that you can transfer it to cold storage to let it ferment for some weeks.
  • We like to leave it to ferment for about a month before we start eating it, but it can already be eaten after a week of fermentation.
Keyword Fermentation, GAPS, Keto, Low Carb, NT, Paleo, Primal, SCD, Vegetarian, WAPF

Serving: Popular dishes featuring sauerkraut

Czech cuisine is a blend of traditional and modern cooking styles, reflecting the country’s cultural diversity. Sauerkraut is a staple ingredient in Czech cuisine, used in many popular dishes. It is made by fermenting finely chopped cabbage with salt, giving it a sour and tangy flavour that complements meat dishes perfectly.

One of the most popular dishes featuring Czech sauerkraut is Svíčková na Smetaně (Beef Sirloin in Cream Sauce). This dish consists of tender beef sirloin marinated in beef stock and served with Czech sauerkraut, boiled vegetables, and a creamy sauce. The combination of tangy sauerkraut and rich cream sauce makes this dish an instant crowd-pleaser.

Svíčková na Smetaně

Svíčková na Smetaně aka Beef Sirloin in cream sauce

This Czech beef dish goes really well with the czech red sauerkraut
Prep Time 20 minutes
Cook Time 2 hours
Course Main Course
Cuisine Czech
Servings 4


  • 1 large frying pan
  • 1 large oven dish


  • 1 kg sirloin
  • 2 large onions
  • 60 grams butter
  • 500 ml beef broth home made
  • 250 ml double cream
  • 3 tbsp plain flour
  • 3 tbsp lemon juice
  • 1 tbsp sucanat
  • salt and pepper to taste

For garnish

  • cranberry sauce
  • lemon wedge
  • sour cream for topping


  • Preheat your oven to 190C/325F
  • Cut the beef into large pieces and season with salt and pepper.
  • Finely chop one of the onions and cook it in a large pan with butter until it's soft.
  • Add the beef to the pan and sear on all sides until browned.
  • Transfer everything to an oven-safe baking dish and pour the beef broth over it.
  • Cover the dish with a lid or foil and bake for around 2 hours, or until the beef is fully cooked and tender.
  • Remove from the oven and transfer the meat to a plate.
  • Strain the liquid from the baking dish into a pot.
  • Add double cream to this pot, then bring everything up to a simmer for around 10 minutes while stirring continuously.
  • While that's happening, cut your second onion into thin strips.
  • Once your sauce has thickened, add in these onion strips and let them cook for another 5-10 minutes until they're softened; be careful not to overcook them!
  • Serve your Svíčková hot, with your onions on top of each piece of meat and pouring some of your smetana sauce over everything.
  • Serve with cranberry sauce, sour cream & red sauerkraut.
Keyword Low Carb, NT, Traditional, WAPF

Health benefits: Probiotics and vitamin C

Czech sauerkraut has been a staple in the traditional Czech diet for centuries due to its numerous health benefits. One of the key benefits of Czech sauerkraut is that it contains probiotics, which are essential for maintaining a healthy gut. Probiotics are live bacteria and yeasts that help to keep our digestive system in good working order by promoting the growth of beneficial bacteria.

In addition to probiotics, Czech sauerkraut is also packed with vitamins, minerals, and enzymes that are essential for overall health and immunity. Vitamin C is one such nutrient found in abundance in this fermented cabbage dish. Vitamin C helps to boost immunity by strengthening our body’s natural defences against harmful pathogens and free radicals. It also improves skin texture and reduces inflammation.

Conclusion: Enjoy the flavours and benefits

Sauerkraut is a traditional dish that has gained popularity worldwide. Not only does it have a unique and tasty flavour, but it also offers many benefits for your health. Sauerkraut is rich in vitamins C and K, which can help boost your immune system and improve bone health. It also contains minerals like iron, calcium, and magnesium, all of which contribute to overall wellness.

In addition to its nutritional value, sauerkraut is a versatile ingredient that can be used in a variety of recipes. From soups to salads to sandwiches, there are many ways to incorporate sauerkraut into your meals for added flavour and nutrition. And the best part? It’s easy to make at home! With just a few simple ingredients and some patience, you can enjoy fresh homemade sauerkraut any time you want.

Will you try this sauerkraut?

I’d love to see some pictures when you’ve made some!