Sauerkraut (sour cabbage) is a finely cut raw cabbage that has been fermented by lactic acid bacteria. It has a long shelf life and a particular sour flavor. Homemade sauerkraut is tasty, healthy and easy to cook.
Sauerkraut is fermented cabbage. Fermented foods have a protracted history in many cultures, with sauerkraut being one of the most well-known instances of traditional fermented moist cabbage side dishes.
Fermentation is a method of preserving food that dates back more than 2,000 years.
Sauerkraut – like other preserved foods – provided a source of nutrients during the winter in Medieval Europe. This fermented food is rich in vitamins and great for your gut.
Although “sauerkraut” could be a German word, the dish did not originate in Germany.
Some claim that the sauerkraut came to Europe with the Mongols in the 13th century. Others claim that it originally came from China and surrounding areas and that the Tatars brought it to Europe, and changed the original Chinese recipe by fermenting it with salt instead of rice wine.
It was very popular in Central and Eastern European cuisines, but also known in other European countries.
For example in the Netherlands sauerkraut was known as zuurkool. In France the name of this dish became choucroute.
The English name “sauerkraut” is borrowed from German wherever it means that virtually “sour herb” or “sour cabbage”. The names in Slavic and other Central and Eastern European languages have similar meanings with the German word: “fermented cabbage”.
Sauerkraut is made by a process of pickling called lactic acid fermentation that is analogous to how traditional pickled cucumbers and kimchi are made.
The cabbage is finely sliced, layered with salt, and left to ferment. From time to time, pierce the cabbage with a long stick to release the gases that accumulate during fermentation.
Sauerkraut keeps for several months in a container with a lid at 15 °C (60 °F) or below. We recommend cooking and storing sauerkraut in an oak bucket for fermentation.
Neither refrigeration nor pasteurization is required.
During the fermentation process, beneficial probiotics, or ‘live bacteria’, are produced, and these probiotics are what give sauerkraut most of its health benefits.
Fermentation by lactobacilli is introduced naturally, as these air-borne bacteria culture on raw cabbage leaves. There are also yeasts and may yield soft sauerkraut of poor flavor when the fermentation temperature is too high.
The fermentation process has three phases.
- Anaerobic bacteria such as Klebsiella and Enterobacter, lead the fermentation and begin producing an acidic environment that favors later bacteria.
- The acid levels become too high for many bacteria, and Leuconostoc mesenteroides and other Leuconostoc species take dominance.
- Various Lactobacillus species, including L. brevis and L. plantarum, ferment any remaining sugars, additional lowering the pH scale.
What are the health benefits of sauerkraut?
The beneficial probiotics found in sauerkraut are important for good digestive health.
There is increasing research on the importance of good gut bacteria in supporting overall long-term health. They ‘feed’ the good bacteria in your gut and can help to combat inflammation.
Probiotics from fermented foods such as sauerkraut may reduce your risk of conditions such as depression and Alzheimer’s.
Sauerkraut also contains enzymes that help the body to absorb more nutrients.
Sauerkraut is a good form of dietary fiber and contains vitamins C and K, potassium, calcium and phosphorus.
Can sauerkraut help to support your immune system?
Most of our immune system is found in our gut. So sauerkraut can also be of benefit to your immune system too. The good bacteria from sauerkraut helps to keep the lining of your digestive system healthy. A strong gut lining stops any unwanted substances or toxins from ‘leaking’ into your body. These same bacteria may also support your natural antibodies and reduce your risk of infections.
Can sauerkraut help with weight loss?
Some research has shown that consuming probiotic-rich foods such as sauerkraut can reduce your risk of obesity and aid weight loss. Sauerkraut is a good source of fiber.