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Worldwide Gastronomy Habits & Trends

All About Sauerkraut and How To Make The German Signature Dish

ByFranziska Dietz

Feb 8, 2022

Sauerkraut definitely is one of the best known German dishes around the world. Its connection to Germany is that deep that some people even call Germans, often not with the most polite intention, “the Krauts”. In Germany, for many years, Sauerkraut carried the reputation of being boring poor people’s food. But this reputation has been changing for the last few years as the health benefits of Sauerkraut were rediscovered and food shopping trends direct to the consumption of regional foods. If you want to find out more about the origin of Sauerkraut, its health benefits and how to make it, read on!

What is Sauerkraut?

Sauerkraut can be described as finely cut, raw, fermented cabbage. To make it, you do not need any more than cabbage and salt. In the fermentation process, various different lactic acid bacteria living on the surface of the cabbage, work together. And after a few weeks, the fermentation, which creates the typical salty and acidic taste, is completed.

To make Sauerkraut, different kinds of cabbage can be used. But the most common ones to make German Sauerkraut are white cabbage or pointed white cabbage.

Nowadays, Sauerkraut is one of the most popular dishes in Germany. And one of the most popular German dishes internationally known. But although most people link this fermented delicacy to Germany, its roots lead to another country, even another continent.

Who were the first ones to discover how to make Sauerkraut?

The Origins of Sauerkraut – Far From Germany

The origin of Sauerkraut, or its predecessor, does not go back to Germany. Actually, it were the people habituating nowadays China who invented some kind of Sauerkraut. During the times of the building of the Great Wall, the Chinese Sauerkraut equivalent served as a staple. Without exactly knowing about its healthy side effects, the workers took benefit of its high nutritious score. And from the predecessor of Sauerkraut most likely the Asian equivalent, Kimchi, derived.

Later, the secret of making fermented cabbage spread through the movement of the Tatars to Europe. They brought the technique of fermenting cabbage to European countries, and making Sauerkraut took root in the Eastern European cuisines. And from there, it also spread to central European countries like Germany, France and the Netherlands.

The Health Benefits of Sauerkraut and How It Saved Many Sailors

Cabbage already contains a lot of vital substances in its raw and fresh form. But the fermentation process even adds more to it:

Foremost, Sauerkraut definitely is a vitamin bomb. It contains vitamin C, B1, B2 and K. It also carries many minerals and secondary plant substances. Also, the fermented cabbage carries lactic acid bacteria, which promote a healthy balance of our intestinal flora. Because of this, in naturopathy Sauerkraut and its juice often serve as remedy for intestinal complaints.

People have known about benefitting from the healthy nutrients of Sauerkraut for hundreds, even thousands of years. As already mentioned, an ancient equivalent of Sauerkraut helped the builders of the Great Wall to keep their strength. And many centuries later, it helped sailors to avoid getting sick of Scurvy. This disease results from a lack of vitamin C and can even end in the death of a person. In the 13th century, many crusaders fell ill of Scurvy as they carried no fresh foods containing vitamin C on their long journeys on the ocean. More or less accidentally, they discovered that consuming fermented cabbage helped to avoid Scurvy. After that, Sauerkraut became a staple on the long journeys of the sailors.

But now, after having talked so much about its history, let’s get to the point and find out, how to make German Sauerkraut yourself.

How To Make the German Bestseller

To make about four 450 ml jars of Sauerkraut you will need the following ingredients:

  • 2 kg very firm, pale green or white cabbage (any leathery outer leaves and the trunk removed)
  • 3 tablespoons of coarse crystal seal salt
  • 1 tablespoon caraway seeds
  • 1 tablespoon peppercorns

How to proceed:

Wash a large tub or bowl, then rinse with boiling water from the kettle. It makes sense to use a container that will fit the softened cabbage easily and leave some room at the top to avoid overflow. Before starting, make sure your hands and everything coming in contact with the cabbage are very clean.

First, shred the cabbage thinly. For this step, you can also use a food processor. Put the cabbage in the tub, add the salt and massage it into the cabbage for 5 minutes. Wait 5 minutes, then repeat the massaging. After this, the volume of the cabbage should have reduced a lot, and it should be sitting in its own brine. Then, mix in the caraway seeds and the peppercorns.

Cover the surface of the cabbage entirely with a sheet of cling film. Then, press out all the air bubbles from below. Using a couple of heavy plates or other heavy objects, weigh down the cabbage so that the brine covers as much as possible. Put a cover on the tub and put it in a dark place at cool room temperature (18-20 C) for at least five days. After this, it will be ready to be eaten, but after two to six weeks it devolves its maximum flavor.

Check the cabbage every day or so and release any gases that have built up during the fermentation. In case of it forming any scum, remove it, rinse the weights in boiling water and replace the cling film. You should see bubbles and possibly some foam on top of the brine. During the fermentation, make sure to keep it at an even, cool room temperature.

The cabbage will become more and more sour the longer you leave it to ferment. Make sure to try it even now and then to get the right moment for you to end the fermentation. When you like the taste, transfer the Sauerkraut to smaller, sterilized jars. You can keep your traditional German Sauerkraut in the fridge for up to six months.

German Consumption Recommendations for Sauerkraut

In Germany, Sauerkraut often goes with meat

In Germany, there are many different ways to eat your Sauerkraut. It often comes heated with a pair of traditional sausages, Bratwürste, or other meat. In general, it is very common to cook the Sauerkraut accompanied by some kind of meat. Just keep in mind that many of its healthy nutrients get lost in the cooking process.

Another very delicious and vegetarian way of eating Sauerkraut is to have it with fried potatoes. But actually, you can have Sauerkraut with whatever you like. Put in on top of your grilled cheese sandwich, eat it with eggs or whatever you like. There are no rules, except to enjoy your German Sauerkraut however you like!