Chinese Fermented Sour Cabbage (东北酸白菜)

Today, we are making fermented sour cabbage. This is a popular ingredient in north Chinese cuisine. You can use it to make dumpling and steamed bun filling. I also like to put it in braised meat. You can use the pickled brine to flavor noodle soup or hot pot soup. There are tons of ways to use it.

The Science of Fermentation

Before we get started, let’s talk about the science of fermentation. All plants are covered with live lactobacillus and other bacteria. If you put them in a salt solution and an anaerobic environment, they will metabolize the sugar in the vegetable and produce lactic acid and carbon dioxide. This process will give the vegetable a characteristic flavor and suppress the bad bacteria that cause spoilage and disease from growing.


What can you cook with this sour cabbage?

  1. Use it as a filling for dumplings, steamed buns, wontons. Check this Jade Cabbage dumplings
  2. In this cabbage roll recipe, I used fresh cabbage but you can replace it with fermented cabbage. The distinctive pickle taste will elevate the flavor of the dish.
  3. You can make stir-fries with it, which I will have a new recipe and share soon.



Print Recipe
5 from 2 votes



  • Cabbage
  • iodine-free Salt 2%-3% of the cabbage weight depending on your taste


  • Wash your cutting board, knife, a couple of big bowls, and some glass jars with soapy water. Rinse them several times; then one last time, rinse with boiling hot water.
  • Put the bowl and the jars in a 180°F oven for 20 minutes to dry them completely. For the cutting board, knife, and plastic jar lids, you can’t dry them in the oven; just let them air dry on the countertop.
  • Remove the outer layers of the cabbage before putting it on the cutting board. Cut the cabbage into four or eight even pieces depending on the size of your jar.
  • You might wonder - why don’t I wash the cabbage? You could wash it, but it takes forever to dry and it really doesn’t do anything different besides rinsing off the dirt. That is why I only removed the outer layers because those are the parts that have the chance to be in contact with the dirt. The inside of the cabbage should be naturally clean. However, if you don’t feel comfortable, you can wash it and let it air dry before you do the next step.
  • Weigh the cabbage. Mine is about 3 kg in total. Then, weigh the salt. It should be 2-3% of the total weight of the cabbage, depending on your taste. It is best to use iodine-free salt because iodine will darken the color of the pickles.
  • Rub the cabbage with salt. Be sure to get to every leaf. This is going to take about 20 minutes or so. Once all the salt is finished, you can put the cabbage in the jar. But the jar that I use, the mouth is too small. Right now, the cabbage can’t go through the mouth. So, I will cover the cabbage with a plastic film and let it sit at room temperature overnight.
  • The next day, the salt will draw out lots of liquid from the cabbage and the stem will be much more pliable. Put the cabbage and the juice into the jar.
  • Check the liquid amount. It should be enough to cover all the cabbage. If not, you can add some 2-3% salt solution to cover all the cabbage and seal the jar. This way, it will take about 3-4 weeks for the cabbage to be ready.


If you want to speed up the fermenting process, you can add some old pickling brine from the previous pickle you made. This way, it only takes 1-2 weeks for the cabbage to be ready. The old pickling brine contains lots of lactobacilli already, and if you add it to the new jar, it will become the dominant bacteria. It can multiply fast and take over the territory and leave no space for other bacteria.
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