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Ultimate Guide To Sauerkraut (Incl. Recipe & Buyer's Guide)

Researched and Written by:
Richelle Godwin, RDN Richelle Godwin, RDN Jenna Swift, APD Dietitian Jenna Swift, APD Dietitian

Now, I know, I know...sour cabbage doesn’t sound so exciting, especially when compared to the fashionable ferments like kombucha and kefir. But did you know, sauerkraut sales are BOOMING in the US! In fact, from March 2019 to March 2020, supermarket sales of sauerkraut soared by nearly ONE THOUSAND PER CENT! How cool is that! So myself and our research team at Essential Stacks decided to see what all the fuss is about...and take you on a journey into the World of sauerkraut. Let’s go!

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Table of Contents

    What is sauerkraut?

    Say GUTEN TAG to the king of ALL fermented vegetables...sauerkraut.

    Born in China, raised in Germany, and now…. found on hotdogs throughout the USA... this is the probiotic lovechild of the world!  

    If the United Nations needs a flagship dish, it might just be this. 

    It is one of Germany’s most BELOVED national dishes...a fermented superfood called..Sauerkraut!  

    So sauerkraut is simply fermented cabbage. And that’s it!  
    Meaning it is probably the Most basic fermented food on the planet.

    What does sauerkraut taste like?

    So I have some sauerkraut right here and I’ll take a quick bite so I can explain the flavor.

    It’s sour.

    Ok, on to the next section…

    Just kidding. Sort of. 

    You see, unlike the FIERY flavor of kimchi, which is sour, spicy, tangy, sweet AND savory...sauerkraut’s flavor profile is well...blander.  

    Besides the SOUR notes, the only other flavor that your taste buds will really pick up when eating traditional sauerkraut is the SALTINESS.  

    And of course, you’ll probably also notice an acidic tangy kick with each bite. 
    Like many fermented foods, sauerkraut can be an ACQUIRED taste. 

    This is especially true if your taste buds are used to sweet, sugary snacks and drinks. 

    But once you’ve tried it a few times, sauerkraut can taste downright Delicious.
    And you can of course go full WOLFGANG PUCK and FLAVOR your Sauerkraut to make it even more appetizing. 

    For example, you can use delicious herbs like dill, add in vegetables like garlic and onion, or drop in an explosion of heat with jalapenos.  

    And I actually love doing this from time to time, as it gives sauerkraut whole new flavor profiles.  Meaning, you don’t get sick of it.

    As for the TEXTURE of sauerkraut - it should be slightly crunchy and firm.  

    How is Sauerkraut made?

    • To MAKE sauerkraut, all you really need are THREE things...a head of cabbage - usually green, white or red cabbage - plus some salt and a large glass jar. That’s basically it. 
    • Once you’ve rounded up these ingredients, all you need to do is split the cabbage in half, get rid of the little stalk and thinly slice it up.  To make life easy, you can either use a mandoline slicer or a sharp-edged chef’s knife. Either way you go, just be careful not to cut your finger. Fermented cabbage: good!  Fermented finger?  Not so good. 
    • With your sliced up cabbage in hand, you can then pop a handful into the glass jar and sprinkle a few pinches of salt over it. 
    • Then press down on the cabbage in the jar so you break the cell walls of the cabbage and release its water content.  And then repeat!
    • In Germany, serious sauerkraut fans stomp their cabbage using what is known as a Krautstamper. fact... is a kitchen utensil that translates as cabbage stomper
    • Now, if you have somehow misplaced your beloved krautstampfer, you can just use your fist or a big spoon. 
    • Either way, don’t be afraid to go full JOE PESCE in Casino on that cabbage, as the Cabbage juice will be critical for getting things fermenting and helping all those friendly bacteria come alive. 
    • Once you’re done releasing your anger on the poor cabbage...I mean kraut stomping...all you have to do is seal the jar and place it in a dark, cool place such as your pantry.  
    • Let it sit there for at least three weeks so the fermentation magic can happen. 
    • Of course, if you end up becoming a Sauerkraut aficionado, then you can Extend the fermentation period to several months to increase the friendly bacteria content and get it tasting super sour.

    By the way, if you are a bit of a fermentation freak like me, and want to see how Sauerkraut COMPARES to all the other fermented foods (like kombucha, kefir and kimchi), then check out our Fermented Foods Compared tool - link in the description below.

    I think you’ll love this tool, because you can finally...

    • Work out whether Sauerkraut is really GOOD for you.
    • See EXACTLY how Sauerkraut stacks up against OTHER fermented foods... in terms of health benefits AND probiotic content!
    • Plus you can learn our quick and simple way to make Sauerkraut at home.

    Where did Sauerkraut come from?

    The name ‘sauerkraut’ would seem to suggest that this little dish originated all the way from Germany, right?

    But, as with pretty much everything - from paper to alcohol - this fermented food most likely originated in China, where it was called...and excuse my pronunciation here...Suan cai SOON KAI 

    And what we found really fascinating were the historical mentions of cabbage being fermented as far back as the building of the original Great Wall of China -

    Over 2000 years ago!

    Of course, since then, sauerkraut has made its way ALL over the world, having followed the trade route from China to Europe - and really taken up a place of pride in Germany and neighboring countries to the East. 

    Interestingly over the centuries, sauerkraut has played a huge role in keeping us humans NOURISHED through the WINTER MONTHS when fresh vegetables weren’t available.

    Explorers of the high seas were even known to take it on journeys and guard it like treasure, knowing just how well it helped prevent SCURVY - this was thanks to its vitamin C content.

    Perhaps even more his bestselling book, Salt - (sarcasm - slower) and yes, there is a 496 page book just about salt - (back to normal) Mark Kulansky remarked ”In nineteenth century Russia, sauerkraut was valued more than caviar”.

    Best ways to enjoy Sauerkraut

    Since Sauerkraut has been enjoyed by cultures from all over the world, there are many varieties of ways to enjoy it.  

    But since our focus here at Essential Stacks is on showing you how to Improve your gut health, we’re going to BREAK these ideas up INTO TWO.  

    First, we’ll look at the best ways to eat Sauerkraut cold, as this is the only way to ensure any good bacteria are kept alive by the time you eat it.  And second, we’ll look at ways to eat Sauerkraut warm, which is not as optimal, but at least still delivers you a good serving of fiber and PREbiotics.  

    So the NUMBER ONE way to eat Sauerkraut cold, is as a SMALL SIDE DISH to accompany any SAVORY meal.  

    You can add it to your breakfast of eggs.  Your lunch of salmon.  Or your dinner of turkey.  

    The NEXT best way to eat it cold, is to add it to a SALAD, since it works similar to vinaigrette dressings, by delivering a sour and tangy punch.  

    And of course, if you want to be a little naughty... you can go FULL GERMAN and add it to any sandwich, bagel or in true Bavarian style...a hot dog or veiner schnitzel!    

    When it comes to eating Sauerkraut warm, you’ve got a few options.  

    One of the simplest is adding it to SOUP - especially any RICHLY-FLAVORED soups (hello ham hock soup), which need an acidic note to balance them out.

    If you’ve been watching WAY TOO MUCH Masterchef…. you can of course get fancy, and start sauteing your sauerkraut with ALL kinds of exotic ingredients like juniper berries or caraway seeds.  

    Now, if you want to don your babushka hat and go full Eastern European, then you can use your sauerkraut to make little DUMPLINGS, which are often known as pirogi or varenikies depending on who you’re talking to. 

    And if you need any extra convincing of this idea...when asked what her Favorite food was, MARTHA STEWART, THE QUEEN OF TASTE replied “Although I always answer Japanese, the real response should be and is pirogi!”. 

    Something her mother always made.  

    Perhaps the BEST thing with sauerkraut, is that if you don’t use it all up straight away, it can be stored for around 3-6 months in your fridge  
    Any longer and it can become too sour and soft to enjoy.

    What to watch out for when eating Sauerkraut?

    The FIRST thing to watch out for when starting your sauerkraut journey is Salt.
    You see, generally speaking, 1 tablespoon of Sauerkraut = will contain roughly 100 mg of sodium.  

    And given the Recommended daily intake is 2,000 mg, this can be something to keep an eye on.  

    The next big thing to consider is that Sauerkraut - like many fermented foods - contains some FODMAPs…. which are fermentable carbohydrates that can irritate the gut for those of us with IBS.

    The MAIN culprit being the sugar alcohol, MANNITOL.  

    So IF your gut is sensitive to this, stick to the recommended serving size from Monash University, which is 1 Tablespoon.

    Now, if that’s got you feeling like some sort of sauerkraut-starved Oliver Twist, there is one trick you can try.  

    And that is SWITCHING from NORMAL sauerkraut, which is made using GREEN or WHITE cabbage, to sauerkraut made with RED or PURPLE cabbage.  
    Because funny enough, when this darker cabbage is fermented it is Much lower in FODMAPs.  

    In fact, Monash University reports that those of us with a sensitive gut can eat up to Half a cup of this type of sauerkraut.

    There are other issues to consider when deciding whether to eat Sauerkraut - such as Histamine or tyramine intolerances - and if you want to dive deeper into the potential issues, check out our Fermented Foods Compared tool in the description below. 

    How much Sauerkraut should you eat?

    Assuming you don’t suffer from any of the issues we just looked at, you are free to eat sauerkraut to your gut’s desire.  

    In fact, the Fermentation process creates bacteria and enzymes that actually makes the cabbage easier to digest

    So if you’ve had issues with raw cabbage in the past, sauerkraut might just be a winner for your digestive system.

    But like with most things, if you’re just starting out, go slow.  

    As this is important for giving your microbiome TIME TO ADJUST to all the new good bacteria coming its way. 

    By contrast, if you go too hard too soon, you CAN experience bloating, gas and other digestive distress.

    So to keep things simple:

    • Start week 1 with... 1 tablespoon per day
    • Then in week 2... try 2 tablespoons a day
    • And keep following this progression all the way up to week 8 where you can enjoy up to 4 ounces or 120g a day - which is USUALLY MORE than enough kraut!

    The Buyer’s Guide To Sauerkraut

    If you’re going to buy sauerkraut from the store, there’s a few important things to keep in mind. 

    First, heat and pasteurization are to sauerkraut, what kryptonite is to superman. 
    Meaning, they can Destroy the superpowers in sauerkraut, being primarily the beneficial lactic acid bacteria

    Unfortunately, many brands of store-bought sauerkraut ARE pasteurized and you’ll find them in the Dry food aisles of your supermarket. 

    By contrast, the unpasteurized sauerkraut - brimming with billions of good bacteria - are found in the Refrigerated section

    So stick to the fridges when buying your sauerkraut. 

    The next big thing to look out for is the Ingredients list of the sauerkraut.  
    As we looked at earlier in this video - Traditional sauerkraut contains JUST cabbage and salt.  NOTHING ELSE. 

    Now, some brands will get A LITTLE FANCY and include other healthy ingredients like Caraway seeds, garlic or ginger.  And they are fine. 

    But what you do NOT want to see on the label is Vinegar or sodium benzoate  BENZOATE, as this would suggest the product has been PRESERVED in a way that would KILL the GOOD BACTERIA. 

    Our Conclusion

    Now that you know more about sauerkraut, I’m sure you’ve got a few questions, like…

    • How do I make my own sauerkraut at home?
    • Or... does sauerkraut actually live up to the health benefits you’ve read about online?
    • Well, to find the answers you’re looking for, check out our FREE Fermented Foods Compared tool - where our TEAM of registered dietitians and researchers COMPARE sauerkraut against kombucha, kefir, kimchi and a host of other fermented foods.  

    Evidence Based

    An evidence hierarchy is followed to ensure conclusions are formed off of the most up-to-date and well-designed studies available. We aim to reference studies conducted within the past five years when possible.

    • Systematic review or meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials
    • Randomized controlled trials
    • Controlled trials without randomization
    • Case-control (retrospective) and cohort (prospective) studies
    • A systematic review of descriptive, qualitative, or mixed-method studies
    • A single descriptive, qualitative, or mixed-method study
    • Studies without controls, case reports, and case series
    • Animal research
    • In vitro research

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