What is Sauerkraut?
If you really don’t know, sauerkraut is a very typical food in Germany, France (in the Alsatian region), Poland, and even Russia. Sauerkraut in German means “sour cabbage” and if you have ever tried it, you will understand why it is so called. It is prepared by fermenting the cabbage in brine and herbs, seeds or peppers.
There are those who say that sauerkraut was being consumed in China 3 thousand years BC by the workers who built the Great Wall, and that during the Roman Empire it was a common dish. Roman politician Kato said it was a health secret to soak cabbage in vinegar. What we do know for certain is that it has been eaten by several cultures who used fermentation as a preservation method, especially in times of war and scarcity.
The science behind fermentation is creating the right conditions in the food to be fermented so that the ‘good’ organisms take over and outweigh the ‘bad’. And just so as you know, fermented products have been prepared and eaten for centuries: yogurts, cheeses, gherkins, olives, sausages, any marinade, pickles, anchovies, beer, etc.
What does Sauerkraut Taste Like?
In the case of sauerkraut, the fermentation that will take place in cabbage will generate a vinegary flavor (as happens in pickled gherkins). The cabbage is seasoned with salt, and then fermented in a bottle or bowl. This description, however, does not do this dish any justice as sauerkraut can have a wide range of flavors ranging from tangy to a complex vinegar-like punchy taste.
Depending on what you use, the taste of your sauerkraut will differ slightly, even though at its base you will still get a slight salt-and-vinegar flavour. Sometimes caraway seeds are also used for fermentation. Apart from cabbage you can add other ingredients as well, such as apple, cumin, onions, garlic and all sorts of spices.
Anything can be fermented, so don’t be afraid to experiment with this dish and find what works for you. In Germany, this dish varies slightly from region to region. In the western and southern regions, sauerkraut is eaten warm and in the eastern and northern regions, you eat it cold like pickles.
The best thing about this food is that it is quite versatile. It is true that it has a strong flavor, but even so, throughout history it has been used as a main food and as an accompaniment in hundreds of preparations.
The Benefits of Sauerkraut
During the cabbage fermentation process, the presence of lactic bacteria that naturally live on the leaves multiplies. These bacteria produce lactic acid and this is what gives them the preservative capacity, since they perform a great antimicrobial activity.
Sauerkraut is considered a dish with a probiotic effect which, according to the World Health Organization, refers to:
Microorganisms, that applied to man or other animals in adequate amounts provide beneficial effects on the host, improving the properties of the native flora.World Health Organization
A Source of Vitamin C
In the 18th century, ships that sailed the seas stocked up on pickled cabbage. It is difficult to eat fresh food on a lengthy sea voyage. Lots of sailors became affected by scurvy, a disease caused by a lack of vitamin C. At this time, sauerkraut had become a great source of vitamin C for sailors because it was easy to store and to consume.
People with bad stomachs are better off eating sauerkraut rather than raw cabbage.
When a person with a bad stomach eats raw cabbage, it may cause gas or abdominal discomfort due to sulfur compounds or insoluble fibers.
How to Eat It
Perhaps the most common way of consuming sauerkraut is by adding a few tablespoons of it to any salad, although in this case it will surely take center stage due to the strength of its flavor. A classic sauerkraut salad is accompanied with apples and walnuts.
In Germany, sauerkraut is often eaten with sausage or meat. This is because the sour glutinous acidity improves the oily taste of the meat. You can also put it in hot dogs. Simply put sauerkraut instead of onion in hot dog bread, and add sausage to it.
In the French region adjacent to the German border, people put sauerkraut, sausage, bacon, and various vegetables in a pot and boil them together to eat like soup. The taste is similar to that of Korea’s kimchi stew.
If you want to properly consume the nutrients of sauerkraut, don’t warm it up. Eat it cold instead. Vitamin U in cabbage is easily destroyed when heated.
How to Make Sauerkraut:
There are several cooking methods for this dish. However, there is an opinion that thickly cutting the cabbage increases the storage time and helps maintain its favor as opposed to dicing it thinly. You will need:
1 medium head green cabbage
1 1/2 tablespoons of kosher salt
1 tablespoon of caraway seeds / a bay leaf (optional)
Slice the cabbage
Start by cutting your cabbage into large pieces. Yes, cutting vegetables in this way will reduce the time it takes to prepare for pickling.
Rub with Salt
Once you are done, place your cabbage into a large bowl and rub it thoroughly with the salt. If you want to add the caraway seeds or other spices, now is the time to do so.
To get a spicy marinade, in addition to salt you can also add spices. Replacing the bay leaf with cherries results in an interesting tart in salt water.
Place in Jar
Grab handfuls of the mixture and place them into your jar of choice. The first thing to note is to remove as much oxygen from the vegetable mass as possible. This is necessary to prevent the multiplication of microorganisms that will cause the dish to spoil. Press the cabbage firmly into the jar to remove the oxygen. As a result, juices secreted by the vegetables replace any excess air.
Cover with a Cloth
Cover the mouth of your jar with a tea cloth and secure it with a rubber band. This will allow the mixture to breathe and encourage fermentation.
Add extra Liquid
Salt water not only protects the vitamin C from being destroyed but also contributes to the fermentation process. Therefore, you need to make sure that the vegetables are completely covered with marinade. Check on your jar after 24 hours to see if the mixture is completely submerged in liquid. If not, mix a teaspoon of salt with half a cup of water and add it to the jar.
Temperature is important for proper fermentation. It is recommended to maintain the temperature range within 15-22 degrees Celsius. At high temperatures, unwanted microorganisms begin to multiply in the product. The finished snack can be safely stored in the refrigerator.