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Authentic German Coleslaw (Krautsalat)

Here’s A German Coleslaw Recipe That Pairs Well With Lots of Meals!

If you’re looking for an easy side salad, you should try making German coleslaw – known as Krautsalat in German. It is a light but flavorful salad that pairs well with many dishes, especially meat dishes.

A staple of German cuisine, it is made with white/green cabbage, fresh onion, white wine vinegar, oil, sugar and caraway seeds. Sometimes there are also regional additions such as bacon and mustard.

brown bowl of green german coleslaw on wooden board with spoons behind.
German coleslaw makes a great side salad.

Krautslat has always been a classic side dish for Sunday lunches at Lisa’s grandparents’ house. These meals usually consisted of meat, potato dumplings or bread dumplings (Semmelknödel), and a side like German coleslaw.

Unlike coleslaw in North America, German coleslaw is not usually made with shredded carrots and mayonnaise to get the creamy consistency. So don’t be surprised when you make this recipe!

Ingredients

ingredients to make coleslaw on counter in bowls with labels.
The ingredients to make this coleslaw recipe!

To make this tasty recipe, here are the German coleslaw ingredients that you will need:

  • White cabbage – Use a fresh and firm small cabbage.
  • Salt – To soften and season the cabbage.
  • Sugar – Regular granulated sugar to balance the flavors and add a touch of sweetness.
  • Yellow onions – For extra flavor; you can also use a white onion if you prefer.
  • Caraway Seeds – Classic ingredient for Krautsalat, but can be omitted if you don’t like it.
  • Vegetable oil – To make the dressing. Alternatively, you can use sunflower oil.
  • White wine vinegar – Adds acidity and enhances the flavor.
  • Water – Or vegetable broth (preferably low-sodium); for the dressing.
  • Black pepper – To season the cabbage.

Recipe Tips and Substitutions

Before you make Krautsalat, have a read through these recipe tips and tricks so that you know what to expect and can modify the recipe to your liking:

  • For the best salad, cut the cabbage into thin, even strips. You can use a knife, a mandoline, or a food processor.
  • If you want the cabbage to be crunchier, massage it for less time, e.g. 4 minutes instead of 8 minutes.
  • After massaging the cabbage with salt, drain the excess water from the bowl. This will prevent the salad from being too watery.
  • You can use vegetable broth instead of water for extra flavor. Use low-sodium veggie broth if possible and/or adjust the amount of salt you add.
  • Adjust the amount of sugar and caraway seeds to your taste. Sugar balances the acidity of the vinegar, so add more or less to taste.
  • There are several ways to make German coleslaw, we’ve included two methods in the recipe instructions below. If you want a milder, softer salad use method 1; for a crunchier, fresher salad use method 2.
  • If you want to make a classic Bavarian-style Krautsalat, cook some bacon pieces, onion, and caraway seeds in oil, then add vegetable broth and vinegar and pour over the cabbage (method 1 below with the addition of bacon). Also add 1 teaspoon of German mustard (Dijon mustard works as well) to the dressing for extra flavor.
  • For the best flavor, let the Krautsalat sit in the fridge for at least two hours before serving. If you want the flavors to be more intense, you can also let it sit for longer.
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How to Make German Coleslaw (Step-By-Step)

In this section, we’ll show you exactly how to make this authentic Krautsalat recipe. We’ve included all of the recipe process photos that we snapped along the way so you can follow along as you make it at home.

This way, you can see if you’re on the right track – but this isn’t a difficult recipe, so you shouldn’t have a problem!

Of course, you can also find the recipe card at the end of this post with all the details.

green cabbage on wooden cutting board with knife beside cut into thin strips.
Thinly slice the cabbage.

Start by removing the outer leaves of the cabbage and then cut the cabbage into quarters. Remove the core from each quarter, then place it on its side and slice downward into thin, even strips.

red mixing bowl with thinly slices cabbage and salt and sugar on top.
Add the sugar and salt.

Place the cabbage strips in a large bowl and add the sugar and salt.

two hands massaging green cabbage in red mixing bowl.
Massage the cabbage.

Now it is time to massage the cabbage with your clean hands for around 6-8 minutes. This will soften the cabbage and release some of the excess water.

If you want the cabbage to be crunchier, massage it for less time.

shredded green cabbage in red mixing bowl on counter.
Drain the cabbage.

After you’ve massaged the cabbage, it should feel significantly softer and will have lost some water.

Drain and discard the water that has pooled in the bottom of the bowl, then set the bowl aside.

chopped onions on wooden cutting board with knife beside.
Chop the onions.

Next, peel and finely chop the onions.

Then decide how you want to make your Krautsalat – cook the onions (and heat the dressing) for a milder salad, or leave them raw.

chopped onions with caraway seeds and wooden spoon stirring in frying pan.
Add the oil, onions, and caraway to the pan.

If you want to cook the onions, heat the vegetable oil in a frying pan over medium heat. Then add the chopped onions and caraway seeds.

You can also fry up some small pieces of bacon before adding the onions if you like.

onions and vinegar and water in frying pan with wooden spoon sticking out.
Cook the onions, then add the vinegar and water.

Cook for about 5 minutes, stirring regularly, until the onions are soft. 

Then add the water – or vegetable broth if you prefer – and white wine vinegar to the pan. Stir everything.

When the mixture is heated, remove the frying pan from the heat.

onions and caraway seeds on shredded cabbage in red mixing bowl.
Mix everything.

Carefully pour the hot dressing and onion mixture over the cabbage and mix well.

If you decide you don’t want to cook the onions first, just add the chopped raw onions and the caraway seeds to the bowl with the cabbage. In a small bowl, combine the water (or vegetable broth), oil, and vinegar) and pour it over the cabbage. Mix well.

green cabbage in red mixing bowl with ground pepper on top and wooden spoon beside.
Add the ground pepper to taste.

Taste the cabbage and add pepper to taste. Then cover the bowl and place the salad in the fridge for at least two hours before serving.

Taste it again and adjust the seasoning if necessary.

bowl of german coleslaw sitting on wooden board with silver fork beside.
Enjoy your coleslaw with all kinds of hearty, savory dishes!

Serve the German cabbage salad as a side to meals of your choice. Enjoy!

In Germany, it’s a classic side dish for meat dishes such as pork roast and pork hock, for BBQ get-togethers, or for Brotzeit with cold cuts and cheese.

Storage Tips

To store leftovers, simply cover the salad with plastic wrap or transfer it to a sealed container and place it in the fridge. It’ll keep 3 to 4 days.

Related Recipes

For more German salads and German side dishes in general, have a look at these recipes:

German Coleslaw (Krautsalat)

This authentic German coleslaw is made with fresh white cabbage, onions, and a touch of white wine vinegar and caraway. It's a light salad that works well as a side dish to hearty dishes.
4.84 from 18 votes
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Prep Time: 20 minutes
Additional Time: 2 hours
Total Time: 2 hours 20 minutes
Servings: 8

Ingredients

  • 1 small green/white cabbage, thinly sliced (about 2 pounds or 9 cups tightly packed)
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 3 teaspoons granulated sugar, or to taste
  • 2 teaspoons caraway, more or less to taste
  • 2 small yellow onions
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 4 tablespoons white wine vinegar, more or less to taste
  • 1/3 cup water, or low-sodium vegetable broth
  • black pepper, to taste

Instructions

  • Remove any wilted outer leaves from the cabbage and cut it into quarters. Remove the hard core and cut the cabbage into fine strips, then transfer them to a large bowl.
    1 small green/white cabbage
  • Sprinkle salt and sugar over the cabbage. Use your hands to massage the cabbage for about 6-8 minutes, until it becomes soft. Drain any excess liquid and set the bowl aside.
    2 teaspoons salt, 3 teaspoons granulated sugar
  • Peel and finely chop the onions.
    2 small yellow onions
  • Method 1: Heat the oil in a frying pan over medium heat. Add the onions and caraway seeds, and cook for about 5 minutes, stirring regularly, until the onions are soft. Add the water (or vegetable broth) and vinegar. When the water and vinegar are hot, pour the mixture over the cabbage and mix well.
    Method 2: Don't cook the onion and caraway seeds; instead just add them to the bowl with the cabbage. In a small bowl, combine the water, oil, and vinegar and pour over the cabbage. Mix well.
    2 teaspoons caraway, 2 tablespoons vegetable oil, 4 tablespoons white wine vinegar, 1/3 cup water
  • Season with pepper to taste and refrigerate the Krautsalat for at least 2 hours before serving.
    black pepper

Notes

  • It’s important to cut the cabbage into relatively fine strips so the salad won’t be too crunchy. You can use a knife, a mandoline, or a food processor.
  • If you want the cabbage to be crunchier, massage it for less time.
  • You can use vegetable broth instead of water for extra flavor. Use low-sodium veggie broth if possible and/or adjust the amount of salt you add.
  • Adjust the amount of sugar and caraway seeds to your taste. Sugar balances the acidity of the vinegar, so add more or less to taste.
  • There are several ways to make German coleslaw, we’ve listed two methods. If you want a milder, softer salad use method 1; for a crunchier, fresher salad use method 2.
  • If you want to make a classic Bavarian-style Krautsalat, cook some bacon pieces, onion, and caraway seeds in oil, then add vegetable broth and vinegar and pour over the cabbage (method 1 below with the addition of bacon). Also add 1 teaspoon of German mustard (Dijon mustard works as well) to the dressing for extra flavor.
  • For the best flavor, let the coleslaw sit in the fridge for at least two hours before serving. If you want the flavors to be more intense, you can also let it sit longer.

Nutrition

Calories: 74kcal | Carbohydrates: 10g | Protein: 2g | Fat: 4g | Saturated Fat: 1g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 2g | Monounsaturated Fat: 1g | Trans Fat: 0.02g | Sodium: 604mg | Potassium: 228mg | Fiber: 3g | Sugar: 6g | Vitamin A: 113IU | Vitamin C: 43mg | Calcium: 54mg | Iron: 1mg

This nutritional information has been estimated by an online nutrition calculator. It should only be seen as a rough calculation and not a replacement for professional dietary advice.

Course Salad, Side Dish
Cuisine German
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This recipe was first published in October 2020 and updated in December 2023.

12 thoughts on “Authentic German Coleslaw (Krautsalat)”

  1. I’ve only ever eaten it hot/warm. The cabbage has been lightly steamed & the caraway seeds are a must. It’s a fabulous dish and one that my whole family has enjoyed.

    Reply
  2. Substitute Monk sweetener for sugar and It will reduce the carbs dramatically. Adding it to the heated water will bring it’s flavor out better than just granulated. A keto tip.

    Reply
  3. Do you drain the water from the cabbage after massaging it? Or keep the water in it and add the onions and other ingredients to it? I’m concerned that it will get too watery….thanks.

    Reply
  4. So here’s a very simple twist. Cabbage, tomatoes, salt and pepper. That’s it. Prep and slice the cabbage, place it in a bowl. Dice fresh tomatoes and mix with the cabbage. Stir in salt and black pepper to taste .(I use regular pepper and a few twists from a pepper mill.) Mix well, cover and sit in the fridge over night. My Mom fixed this for years for Sunday lunch. It’s fresh crisp. If you don’t like mayo this is a good alternative. Goes great with beef or pork. Great for cook outs.

    Reply
  5. Hi there

    Just to mention that cumin may give the Krautsalat a more Indian style flavour. I would recommend to use caraway seeds instead – enjoy!

    Reply
    • You’re absolutely right Tina, caraway is the traditional choice for Krautsalat and what we would use if we made the recipe in Germany! Unfortunately, it can be quite difficult to find caraway where we currently live in Canada so we sometimes use cumin instead. But since it does change the flavor noticeably, I made an amendment to the recipe card. Thanks again for pointing that out! /Lisa

      Reply

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