Sauerkraut isn’t just for Oktoberfest and topping hot dogs. Not only is this fermented food steeped in tradition and intensely flavorful, it’s also a nutritional powerhouse packing healthful probiotic benefits into every single bite. There are so many ways to prepare sauerkraut and so many variations to the basic recipe that it affords ample opportunity for the culinary imagination to run riot.
Sauerkraut is not only tasty but also has an interesting history that might surprise you. Read on to discover more about its legacy in the culinary realm, its nutritional benefits, instructions on how to make it, and fun and easy-to-execute recipes (beyond Reubens) that even include dessert. Yes, that’s right; sauerkraut dessert!
What Is Sauerkraut?
Sauerkraut owes its existence to lactobacillus bacteria. It’s this fermentation workhorse that converts the naturally occurring sugars in thinly sliced cabbage with the introduction of salt into lactic acid that acts as a preservative. Aromatics and spices are sometimes added to ratchet up the flavor as water is leached out from the cabbage via the salt to eventually produce what we know as sauerkraut. (A similar process is at work when you make kimchi.)
Related Reading: What Is the Difference Between Pickling and Fermenting?
Where Did Sauerkraut Come From?
Sauerkraut (“sour cabbage” in German) has long been associated with Germany but this is not where it actually originated! The Chinese workers who built the Great Wall of China ate cabbage fermented with rice wine as a source of nutrition and sustenance while building this architectural wonder.
The founder of the Mongol Empire, Genghis Kahn, and his soldiers carried sauerkraut with them during their conquests, eventually introducing it to Europe around 1,000 years ago. It was here that rice wine was substituted for salt as the fermentation ingredient.
What Are Sauerkraut’s Health Benefits?
Sailors have long relied upon the vitamin C in sauerkraut to prevent scurvy on their long voyages but there’s more to sauerkraut than vitamin C from a nutritional perspective.
Sauerkraut is also rich in vitamins K and B whose effectiveness is intensified due to fermentation, which elevates their bioavailability. Sauerkraut also contains magnesium and calcium along with antioxidants and the unfamiliar vitamin U which is an effective treatment for peptic ulcers. A recent study suggests that it could even help stave off coronavirus (at the very least, it can’t hurt, but keep wearing your mask and washing your hands!).
How Do You Make Sauerkraut?
1. Thinly shred or cut five pounds of cabbage and prepare four tablespoons of kosher salt. Reserve four to six of the outer cabbage leaves for covering the kraut up later in the process.
2. Combine the cabbage and salt in a bowl and let sit at room temperature for 20 minutes. Squeeze the cabbage to draw out its brine and let sit for another 20 minutes, squeezing one more time. Repeat this process for another two to four hours, or until you have enough brine to completely cover the cabbage.
3. Transfer the cabbage and its brine to a clean one gallon glass jar, crock, or other nonreactive container. You can also use a fermenter if you’ve made the decision that you are fully committed to the process of fermentation. Add any aromatics you are using such as caraway, allspice, juniper, or mustard seeds. Place the reserved whole cabbage leaves on top. Press down so everything, including the top leaves, are below the brine. Weight down with a plate if it is small enough to fit completely into the container or a one pint Mason jar filled with dried beans or rice that is small enough to fit entirely into the fermenting container.
4. Set the container in a cool, dark place and let the salt work its magic. Scrape off the white scum that begins to form after a day or two and continue to do so throughout the first week. Be sure that the cabbage remains below the brine at all times. After the first week, the fermentation process will slow down and the white scum formation will begin to dissipate. Let sit for an additional two to three weeks. Once your sauerkraut is ready, transfer it to a covered container and refrigerate. It will keep for several months.
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What Should You Do with Sauerkraut?
There are lots of delicious ways to eat sauerkraut besides plopping it next to pork chops, on top of hot dogs, or inside Reuben sandwiches (though those are all fantastic options too). Here are some more sauerkraut recipes to try:
Comfort in a pot is what this simple and nourishing recipe delivers. The sausage makes it feel substantial and the kraut and vegetables give it a healthy infusion of flavor and texture. Get the One-Pot Sauerkraut with Sausage and Rice recipe.
This salad recipe transforms sauerkraut into something completely new with the bright addition of cilantro along with a splash of sauerkraut brine and apple cider vinegar. It’s a clever twist on a traditional favorite. Get the Sauerkraut Carrot Cilantro Salad recipe.
With just five easy-to-find ingredients, this sandwich recipe will become a go-to favorite time and time again. The creaminess of avocado and hummus are perfect dancing partners for tangy sauerkraut and crunchy toasted pumpernickel. Get the Sauerkraut and Avocado Sandwich recipe.
Layers of homey kielbasa combined with zesty sauerkraut and velvety layer of pillowy dumplings make this recipe a win for a lazy Sunday family day during that magical time of the year when the leaves are turning and there’s crispness in the air. Get the Sauerkraut and Dumplings with Kielbasa recipe.
If you can’t choose between sausages and a crisp-outside, gooey-inside sandwich, combine them into this stunner. Get our Sauerkraut Kielbasa Reuben recipe.
Apples and sauerkraut bring out the best in one another as illustrated in this wholesome and nutritious casserole. Potatoes and bread add substance and a medley of early autumn spices make this a perfect dish for the cooler months. Get the Sauerkraut Apple Casserole recipe.
Sauerkraut for dessert? This recipe proves that it’s possible to transform sauerkraut into a successful finale to a meal. A creamy custard infused with the sweetness of coconut, sugar and a dash of vanilla is the secret to a pie that is all at once surprising and addictive. Get the Sauerkraut Pie recipe.
Related Video: How to Make a Reuben Sandwich
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