Sauerkraut is finely-sliced white cabbage fermented with lactobacillus bacteria. The sugars in the cabbage are thereby converted into lactic acid and serve as a preservative. The German word Sauerkraut literally translates to sour cabbage.
Sauerkraut, a relative of kimchi and other fermented vegetables, is thought to have originated in the north of China among the Mongols and been introduced in Europe by invading Asiatic tribes. Eastern Europeans, in particular, consume a large amount of sauerkraut, and it has long been a staple of the winter diet in Germany and the Netherlands. The popularity of the dish in Alsace has spread sauerkraut (choucroute in French) to other regions of France. Immigrants to America from Germany (e.g. the Pennsylvania Dutch) and other European regions brought their traditional preparation methods and appreciation of this delicious food. Sauerkraut's popularity in Europe and America continues today, though in somewhat reduced measure due to the convenience of modern alternative preserving methods.
Raw sauerkraut is an extremely healthy food—an excellent source of lactobacilli (more so than yoghurt), Vitamin C and other nutrients (however the overabundance of lactobacilli can easily upset the stomach of people who are not used to eating raw sauerkraut). Sauerkraut provided a vital source for these during the winter, especially before freezing and importation of foods from southern countries became generally available in northern and central Europe. Captain James Cook always took a store of sauerkraut on his sea voyages, since experience had taught him that it was an effective remedy against scurvy.
Sauerkraut is made by cutting fresh cabbage into fine strips and packing it tightly into an airtight container while mixing in a certain amount of salt, approximately 1.5%. Traditionally, a stoneware crock is used and the seal is created with a piece of wet linen cloth, a board and a heavy stone. The fermentation vessel is kept at 23°C (73°F) for three days, then left in cooler temperatures for eight weeks.
Variations include sauerkraut prepared from whole cabbages instead of shredded ones. Sometimes other vegetables are added. Sometimes spices and/or wine are added (caraway seed is a common addition).
For preparation at home, the various methods are somewhat controversial. The USDA recommendations call for a greater amount of salt than is traditional, making the sauerkraut unpalatably salty unless rinsed before eating. Such rinsing removes a good deal of the vitamins and other healthy components (and of the flavor). When traditional amounts of salt are used, temperature control becomes more critical, because food poisoning can occur if the fermentation temperature is too high.
Sauerkraut can be eaten alone or as a salad with oil and onions. It is often used to prepare other dishes, such as Central and Eastern European bigos , pierogi, shchi or kapusniak (sauerkraut soup). It is also a traditional condiment for North American hot dogs.
In France, sauerkraut is generally consumed as part of the typically Alsatian dish of choucroute garnie (garnished sauerkraut): sauerkraut, sausages, pieces of meat such as ham knuckle , perhaps some potatoes. Typical accompaniment beverages are beer or white whine (riesling).
Kraut juice is a regional beverage in the U.S., and consists of the liquid in which sauerkraut is cured.
There are many other vegetables that are preserved by a similar process, for example in Korean cuisine.
Also silage, a feed for cattle, is made the same way.
Bratwurst (Bratwurst, Sauerkraut and potatoes being a traditional dish in various parts of the southern German-speaking world)
USDA Canning guides, Volume 7
Keeping Food Fresh
Last updated: 02-08-2005 11:32:27
Last updated: 05-03-2005 17:50:55