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Exploring Sauerkraut: Fables, Facts, and Fun Recipes

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Linda explores food facts, folklore, and fabulous recipes, one ingredient at a time.

exploring-sauerkraut

Believe It or Not

What do these foods have in common?

  • ice cream
  • pasta
  • beer
  • cured ham
  • sushi
  • sauerkraut

All of these foods originated in China. Yes, sauerkraut! Long before German “sour cabbage” was being heated with ham hocks in Heinzenhausen, the Chinese were pickling shredded cabbage in rice wine. A little building project (otherwise known as the Great Wall of China) necessitated the development of a food that could last well beyond the growing season, and thus fermentation was born.

1000 years later, Genghis Khan and his band of merry men began their marauding ways in China. From there they expanded their conquest to most of Eurasia. They seized vast regions, depleting crops, wiping out the civilization of entire towns, and spreading deadly diseases. In fact, historians believe that the Black Death of the 1300s came not directly from rats, but from the fleas that traveled with Mongol hordes.

But those Mongols also introduced sour cabbage to Europe . . .so all is forgiven?

According to a German website on the history of sauerkraut:

In the 12th century the Abbess Hildegard von Bingen, established sauerkraut as a remedy in folk medicine. In addition to promoting digestion, it was used to purify blood and skin, to heal ulcers, inflammation, gout, headaches and hangovers.

So, even in the 12th century, sauerkraut was being recognized as not only a method of preserving food, but as a great part of one's diet.

Health Benefits of Sauerkraut

Cabbage, on its own, is a wonderful food. It's full of fiber. It contains substantial amounts of the important minerals potassium, magnesium and calcium. But fermented cabbage is a super food, and here's why:

  • It contains live and active probiotics.
  • These probiotics act like your first line of defense against various harmful bacteria or toxins that might enter your body.
  • They also have important anti-inflammatory effects.
  • They prevent and reduce symptoms of food allergies, including lactose intolerance, milk protein allergy and others.
  • It can improve high blood pressure.
  • It can lower cholesterol.

Are you willing to give sauerkraut a chance?

A New Methodology

In about the 16th century, a different method was being employed in Europe to create sauerkraut. Rather than packing cabbage with vinegar or sour wine, salt was used to convert the natural sugars into lactic acid.

And that acid is important.

Sauerkraut is a great source of vitamin C, which prevents scurvy. No wonder explorer James Cook included it in the provisions for his sea voyages—25,000 pounds of it.

When General Lee took possession of Chambersburg on his way to Gettysburg, we happened to be a member of the Committee representing the town. Among the first things he demanded for his army was twenty-five barrels of Saur-Kraut.

— Editor, The Guardian (1869)

Facts and Folklore

  • Cabbage harvest is in the autumn, and fermentation takes place during the winter months. Hence a meal of pork and sauerkraut is a New Year’s tradition in the Pennsylvania Dutch community.
  • In World War I, the word “kraut” was used as a pejorative for people from Germany, so during the war years the product was called “Liberty Cabbage.”
  • Americans consume 387 million pounds of sauerkraut (or about 1 ¼ pounds per person) each year.
  • According to the USDA, approximately 262 million pounds of cabbage for sauerkraut were harvested in 2011 in the United States.
  • Waynesville, Ohio hosts an annual Sauerkraut Festival in October. In the first year (1970) 528 pounds of sauerkraut was served to approximately 1500 visitors. Festival serves 7 tons of sauerkraut and attracts approximately 350,000 visitors each year to browse among the over 450 craft booths and sample the offerings from more than 30 different food booths.

How to Make Your Own Sauerkraut

Of course, you can purchase sauerkraut at the grocery store. Personally, I don't recommend the stuff in cans. Buy it in a jar. It has a better flavor (not tinny), less briny, more crisp, more like homemade. (I have also read that the canning process can destroy some of the probiotic benefits.)

But, speaking of homemade, did you know that you can make your own? It just takes cabbage, salt, a little muscle, and patience. Two weeks worth of patience. The following video shows how easy making your own sour cabbage can be.

A few things to keep in mind:

  • Use the freshest cabbage you can get (bad cabbage won’t improve with age, trust me).
  • Make sure everything is clean. Fermentation happens because of bacteria, but it has to be the right kind of bacteria. Bowls, tampers, jars, and hands need to be very clean.
  • Don’t skimp on the salt.
  • Temperature is important. From 60 to 70 degrees is perfect. If it's colder, the fermentation process will slow down. If it's higher, the fermentation will be too fast and your cabbage will turn mushy.

Creamy Sausage, Potato, and Sauerkraut Soup

This soup is full bodied, rich and creamy. The sausage is already fully cooked, so you can put this together for your family in less than 30 minutes. A side salad or fresh veggies and you have a wonderful, comforting, and healthy meal.

German Skillet With Mustard Cream Sauce

Did you think that the soup recipe sounded good? Well, take a look at this! Same sausage, potatoes, and sauerkraut. But then, you add heavy cream and brown mustard. This meal is rich and creamy, decadent, luxurious (need I go on?).

Potato and Sauerkraut Onion Pierogies

Pierogis (dumplings), potatoes, and sauerkraut. My mom was Volga-Deutch, and this dish is blissfully reminiscent of my childhood. The pierogi dough is easy to make, and the yin/yang of sweet creamy potatoes and crisp tangy kraut make a delicious, satisfying filling. Make extra and store them in the freezer.

exploring-sauerkraut

Chocolate Cake (With a Secret Ingredient)

This recipe is from my mom's collection and is almost as old as me. I remember the first time she made it. I had to take a vow of silence that I would not disclose the "secret" ingredient. My dad loved it, thinking that it was a rich, moist chocolate cake with coconut . . . I don't think that Mom ever told him what was really inside.

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup butter or margarine
  • 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 cup sauerkraut, rinsed, drained well, and chopped fine
  • 1 12-ounce package semisweet chocolate chips

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and flour a 13x9 inch cake pan and set aside.
  2. In a large mixing bowl, cream together the butter or margarine and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in eggs, one at a time; add vanilla.
  3. Sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and cocoa powder. Add to creamed mixture alternately with water, beating after each addition. Stir in sauerkraut. Pour batter into prepared pan.
  4. Bake in preheated oven for 35 to 40 minutes. Let cake cool in pan. Frost with your favorite chocolate frosting. Cut into squares to serve.

© 2018 Linda Lum

Comments

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on December 03, 2019:

That sounds great Eric.You'll love it. Get Gabe to help you--tell him it's a science experiment.

Eric Dierker from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A. on December 03, 2019:

Fantastic.This is great. I not patient enough but will try to do some. Today I will get it in a jar. And then use that jar. Clean I get.

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on June 19, 2018:

Good morning Lawrence. I'm amazed at what I learn when I research these topics.

Lawrence Hebb from Hamilton, New Zealand on June 18, 2018:

Linda

Very interesting, I'd no idea it was brought to Europe by the Mongols

Ann Carr from SW England on June 18, 2018:

Yes, I might just do that!

Ann

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on June 18, 2018:

Thank you Ann. The quality of school lunches in the 50's and 60's should have been enough to put us off of eating entirely.

Perhaps you can sneak some sauerkraut into your family's chocolate cake?

Ann Carr from SW England on June 18, 2018:

I was totally put off cabbage with school meals in the 50s/60s - ugh! However, I've since eaten sauerkraut in Alsace, France (close to Germany) and it was delicious. I didn't realise it was so nutritious. Trying to get others in my family to eat it, though, might prove more difficult!

Yummy looking dishes and great recipes!

Ann

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on June 07, 2018:

Peggy, I could have sworn I had responded to your comment. Yes, we did sauerkraut, and dill pickles, and canned cherries and peaches and green beans. Wonderful memories there.

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on June 07, 2018:

Shyron, you are so very sweet. Thank you for sharing your memories and thank you for your kind words.

Shyron E Shenko from Texas on June 07, 2018:

Linda, my beloved would have love your cooking. I put sauerkraut in my Golumpki (stuffed cabbage) and other dishes. And like Peggy my grandparents made their own sauerkraut and I loved the smell and the taste.

Wonderful hub that awakens the memories, thank you.

Blessings my friend.

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on May 26, 2018:

My grandfather had a huge garden when I was a child. Among other things he grew cabbage. My parents and grandparents worked together in making sauerkraut each year. I loved the smell of the fermenting cabbage in those large crocks they had in the basement. I also loved the taste of it as it slowly turned into sauerkraut. Yummy!

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on May 23, 2018:

Thank you Manatita. Yes, pierogi are Polish (the singular is pierog, but can anyone eat just one?) I am in the midst of writing an article solely on them. Stay tuned.

manatita44 from london on May 22, 2018:

Linda you are a born natural. A great writer and a super-excellent researcher and cook. I will look for you in my next life. This Temple needs to be cared for, afterall.

The Chinese are not given enough credit for their inventions. They did so much!

Yes... about this luscious dish. Go on! Immaculate! Palatable! Delicioso! Moi! (WITH A KISS) ...

This is the first time that I've seen 'Peirogi' spelt. I ate it often! Isn't it Polish? Another mighty fine Hub. Peace.

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on May 22, 2018:

Larry, the Fertile Crescent of the Tigris and Euphrates was the birthplace of civilization, but it seems that China was the birthplace of the culinary world. I truly enjoy doing the research on these topics, and I am glad to know that there are people like you who enjoy the journey. Thanks so much for stopping by and commenting.

Larry W Fish from Raleigh on May 22, 2018:

That is a very interesting read, Linda. When I read all of those foods that started in China I was hooked to keep reading.

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on May 22, 2018:

Shauna, no honestly you don't taste the sauerkraut. (My dad was English/Irish and there's no way that he would touch the stuff. He loved Mom, but not THAT much LOL). The 'tang' that it provides is like buttermilk added to a cake batter.

Shauna L Bowling from Central Florida on May 22, 2018:

I love sauerkraut and all these recipes look yummy! You're mom's chocolate cake sounds interesting. Can you taste the sauerkraut? How does it flavor the cake?

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on May 22, 2018:

Audrey, in Washington State (where I live) the IN thing used to be craft beers. Then hard cider was a THING. Now, it's craft sauerkraut. The bacteria that promote the fermentation are very good for your gut health (also something that people are paying more attention to these days).

Thanks for stopping by and taking the time to comment.

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on May 22, 2018:

Patty, if you do visit the festival, I hope you will remember me and let me know all about it.

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on May 22, 2018:

Flourish, the "sour" part of sauerkraut it probably what makes folks run and hide from that cake recipe, but when you stop to think about it, yogurt and/or sour cream are often used in baking, and buttermilk too. Carrot cake contains shredded veggies. Why not cabbage?

And, everything's better with chocolate, right?

Audrey Hunt from Idyllwild Ca. on May 21, 2018:

I grew up on sauerkraut and still include it in my diet. I love all kinds of cabbage. Thanks for this great hub.

Patty Inglish MS from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation on May 21, 2018:

Waynesville, Ohio is only 80 miles from me, so I will attempt to visit that festival! Thanks for an interesting article!

FlourishAnyway from USA on May 21, 2018:

No way is sauerkraut in that cake! OMG! I’ve tasted chocolate cakes that were good that had odd things in them though...tomato sauce, mayo, soda. This takes the cake! Cracking up at Bill’s comment.

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on May 21, 2018:

John, thank you so much. Your opinion means a lot to me.

John Hansen from Queensland Australia on May 21, 2018:

Linda, unlike Bill, I love sauerkraut or kimchi, and cabbage in general. We had Korean home stay students and they taught us now to prepare kimchi. We often have a batch and the good thing is it lasts so long. Hard to imagine as a secret ingredient in chocolate cake but as your dad found out, what you don't know won't hurt you and it would have made it healthier. I enjoyed this especially the history.

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on May 21, 2018:

Bill, I am not surprised by your response. In fact, I was anticipating it. That's OK. My husband feels the same way about it. That's why I look forward to the Oktoberfest potluck dinners at our church--that's where I can get my sauerkraut "fix".

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on May 21, 2018:

I'm sorry, Linda! I really don't want to appear negative. I know I'm a picky eater. But sauerkraut? I get sick to my stomach just smelling it. No way it goes between my lips, not even if you cook it. But we're still friends, right? :)