Germans eat a lot of wursts, what Americans call sausages. They stand at high sidewalk tables for breakfast, lunch and late night snacks, enjoying currywurst, knockwurst, bockwurst, blutwurst or weisswurst–usually doused in spicy catsup. My father Herbert– whose father left Bavaria at age 19– always loved the many types of wursts he found at local Amish markets. Hmm. Could there be an inherited affection for cholesterol, saturated fats and nitrites in German genes? My follow-up question could be: is there an epidemic of stomach cancer in Germany? Or is something counteracting the unhealthy wurstfest?
Of course! Sauerkraut—literally “sour cabbage” in Deutsch-speak–a superfood packed with nutrition which is often paired with the fatty sausages.
One cup of sauerkraut has 32 calories, 4 grams of fiber, 35% Percent Daily Value (DV) of needed Vitamin C, 102% DV vitamin K, 12%DV iron plus vitamin B6, folate, calcium, potassium, and copper. In addition to the above nutrients, some sauerkraut supplies probiotics because of lactic acid fermentation. Other healthy components of sauerkraut are: isothiocyanates, which are thought to prevent cancer growth; indole-3-carbinol, another cancer fighter; and flavonoids which figure in heart disease.
Cabbage only requires salt to start the process of fermentation. Several bacteria are involved but the most common probiotic produced is Lactobacillus plantarum. Unfortunately, many commercial products have been pasteurized which will destroy the bacteria. If the bacteria were not killed, the cans or jars would expand and burst. Also the preservative sodium benzoate will destroy bacteria. Look on the labels to see if it is included and also if probiotics have been added.
Sauerkraut in a can will not have live bacteria; in the refrigerator case, yes. Cooking also kills the probiotics but it can still be very nutritious for many reasons.
Fresh sauerkraut from farmers’ markets is another story. At Reading Terminal Market in Philadelphia some time ago, I bought a tub of sauerkraut from an Amish man who looked to be 95 but worked as if he were 25 years old. Testimonial enough for me.
Sauerkraut is simple to make. Proof of that is a bunch of college kids in my first microbiology class added salt and cabbage to a barrel and waited until the end of the semester when we celebrated with a lovely sauerkraut party. Those were the days! Today, you can see how easy it is to make sauerkraut by watching any number of YouTube videos.
Sauerkraut isn’t perfect. High sodium seems to be the deal breaker for some people, but if you wash it thoroughly and avoid other high sodium foods, you should be able to indulge.
Pair sauerkraut in the traditional way, with a stew of lean pork and apples. The GLK Foods website has dozens of novel approaches (think pizza) to sneaking this potent vegetable into your diet. Or be even more creative, and try sauerkraut desserts. I actually baked a sauerkraut cake once but never felt compelled to make another. And come to think of it, no one asked for the recipe.