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Coleslaw vs. Sauerkraut — What's the Difference?

By Tayyaba Rehman — Updated on August 18, 2023
Coleslaw is a salad made primarily of finely shredded raw cabbage with a salad dressing, usually based on mayonnaise. Sauerkraut is fermented cabbage, often seasoned and eaten as a condiment or side dish.
Coleslaw vs. Sauerkraut — What's the Difference?

Difference Between Coleslaw and Sauerkraut


Key Differences

Coleslaw, a popular side dish in various global cuisines, primarily consists of shredded raw cabbage mixed with a dressing. The dressing is often mayonnaise-based but can also include buttermilk, sour cream, or vinegar. On the other hand, sauerkraut is a result of fermenting cabbage, a process that gives it a tangy flavor and enhances its shelf life.
In coleslaw, the cabbage retains its crispness and is combined with other vegetables like carrots or onions. It's typically served cold and complements dishes like fried chicken, barbecue, or sandwiches. Sauerkraut, however, undergoes a transformation where the cabbage softens, turns sour due to lactic acid bacteria, and often has a deeper, richer flavor. It pairs well with dishes like sausages, or stews.
The origin of coleslaw is believed to be from the Netherlands, where it was called 'koolsla', meaning 'cabbage salad'. Contrastingly, sauerkraut has roots in Central Europe, with strong associations with German, Polish, and Alsatian cuisines.
Coleslaw's fresh and creamy texture contrasts the sour and somewhat crunchy texture of sauerkraut. While coleslaw offers a refreshing bite with its mayonnaise or vinegar dressing, sauerkraut brings a tangy depth of flavor due to its fermentation.

Comparison Chart

Base Ingredient

Raw cabbage
Fermented cabbage


Soft and slightly crunchy


Creamy or tangy depending on the dressing
Sour due to fermentation


Netherlands (Koolsla)
Central Europe (Germany, Poland, Alsace)

Compare with Definitions


A side dish made by combining raw, shredded cabbage with a dressing, often served chilled.
Coleslaw added a refreshing crunch to our summer picnic.


Sour, fermented cabbage often paired with meats or used in various cuisines.
The Reuben sandwich uses sauerkraut as a key ingredient.


A salad made of sliced cabbage.


Chopped or shredded cabbage salted and fermented in its own juice.


A cold dish made from finely chopped vegetables, predominantly cabbage, mixed with a dressing.
The tangy coleslaw balanced out the richness of the pulled chicken sandwich.


Cabbage that has undergone fermentation, giving it a tangy flavor.
I added sauerkraut to my sandwich for an extra punch.


A salad consisting primarily of shredded raw cabbage and dressed with a mayonnaise-based sauce.
I paired my fried chicken with a side of creamy coleslaw.


Cabbage that has been preserved through the process of lacto-fermentation.
Sauerkraut not only adds flavor but also offers probiotic benefits.


A cabbage-based salad that typically incorporates mayonnaise, vinegar, or sour cream.
The barbecue plate was incomplete without a generous serving of coleslaw.


Fermented cabbage, seasoned and consumed as a condiment or side.
The bratwurst tasted even better with a topping of sauerkraut.


A salad of finely shredded raw cabbage and sometimes shredded carrots, dressed with mayonnaise (white slaw) or a vinaigrette (red slaw).


A dish made by fermenting finely chopped cabbage.


Coleslaw (from the Dutch term koolsla meaning 'cabbage salad'), also known as cole slaw, "New England Salad", or simply slaw, is a side dish consisting primarily of finely shredded raw cabbage with a salad dressing, commonly either vinaigrette or mayonnaise. Coleslaw prepared with vinaigrette may benefit from the long lifespan granted by pickling.


A German person.


A salad of shredded raw cabbage and sometimes shredded carrots, dressed with mayonnaise or a vinaigrette.


Sauerkraut (; German: [ˈzaʊɐˌkʁaʊt] (listen), lit. "sour cabbage") is finely cut raw cabbage that has been fermented by various lactic acid bacteria.


Basically shredded cabbage


Cabbage cut fine and allowed to ferment in a brine made of its own juice with salt, - a German dish.


A mixture of finely sliced cabbage, often with other vegetables, in a seasoned dressing.
I prefer coleslaw with a hint of mustard in the dressing.


Shredded cabbage fermented in brine

Common Curiosities

Can coleslaw be fermented like sauerkraut?

While coleslaw is typically a fresh salad, cabbage can be fermented separately to create a product similar to sauerkraut, though the two have distinct flavor profiles.

What gives sauerkraut its sour taste?

Sauerkraut gets its sour flavor from the fermentation process, where lactic acid bacteria break down sugars in the cabbage, producing lactic acid.

Is coleslaw always made with mayonnaise?

Coleslaw can be made with various dressings, including mayonnaise, vinegar, sour cream, or buttermilk, depending on regional and personal preferences.

Is sauerkraut beneficial for gut health?

Yes, sauerkraut is rich in probiotics due to the fermentation process, which can be beneficial for gut health.

Which is crunchier, coleslaw or sauerkraut?

Coleslaw, made from raw cabbage, is typically crunchier, whereas sauerkraut, due to fermentation, has a softer texture but can retain some crunch.

What dishes pair well with sauerkraut?

Sauerkraut pairs well with hearty meats, sausages, stews, and sandwiches like the Reuben.

How long can you store sauerkraut?

When stored in a cool, dark place and kept submerged in its brine, sauerkraut can last for several months.

Is coleslaw served hot or cold?

Coleslaw is generally served cold, making it a refreshing side dish especially during warmer months.

Are there other vegetables in coleslaw aside from cabbage?

Coleslaw can contain other vegetables such as carrots, onions, or bell peppers, but the primary ingredient is cabbage.

Can both coleslaw and sauerkraut be homemade?

Yes, both coleslaw and sauerkraut can be made at home, with coleslaw being a simple mix of ingredients and sauerkraut requiring fermentation over time.

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Author Spotlight

Written by
Tayyaba Rehman
Tayyaba Rehman is a distinguished writer, currently serving as a primary contributor to As a researcher in semantics and etymology, Tayyaba's passion for the complexity of languages and their distinctions has found a perfect home on the platform. Tayyaba delves into the intricacies of language, distinguishing between commonly confused words and phrases, thereby providing clarity for readers worldwide.

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