Raw sauerkraut is simply a type of fermented cabbage that has two ingredients: cabbage and salt. How can this two-ingredient food be so powerful? It’s all in the fermentation process! When the natural microbes like bacteria on the cabbage begin to break down the cabbage, many beneficial compounds are formed.
Fermentation is the process where enzymes and microorganisms break down a food into more digestible nutrients and compounds. The main microorganisms on cabbage are called lactobacilli bacteria, which are on the surface of all living things. These bacteria break the food down turning the sugars in the cabbage into lactic acid which then serve as a preservative and provide the body with infinite benefits.
The word sauerkraut is German for "sour cabbage" but it wasn't really invented by the Germans, although it is wildly popular there. It is believed labourers building the Great Wall of China began fermenting shredded cabbage in rice wine over 2,000 years ago. Some claim that the Mongol Emperor Genghis Khan himself was the one who brought it to Europe 1000 years later.
Before frozen foods, refrigeration, and cheap transport from warmer areas became readily available in northern, central and eastern Europe, fermentation was one of the methods used to keep foods from spoiling quickly. It was the Germans in the 16th century, that began dry curing cabbage with salt to extract the water from the vegetable and allowed the mixture to ferment.
Sauerkraut and other preserved food provided a source of nutrients during the winter. Captain James Cook and other seamen always took a store of sauerkraut on their sea voyages, since it was known to prevent scurvy (vitamin C deficiency).
Many forms of sauerkraut are on the market today. Raw sauerkraut is simply sauerkraut that is unpasteurised. Kimchi is another name for sauerkraut and it’s usually a spicy version. The raw form of sauerkraut allows you to get the benefits of live probiotics.
A half cup (about 75g) sauerkraut has:
Sodium 469 mg
Vitamin C 11mg
Vitamin K1 5mcg
Vitamin K2 5mcg
Vitamin B6 0.1mg
Improves Your Digestion
Your gut is said to contain over 100 trillion microorganisms or “gut flora,” which is more than 10 times the total number of cells in your body. Raw unpasteurised sauerkraut contains probiotics, which are beneficial bacteria that act as the first line of defence against toxins and harmful bacteria. They help make foods more digestible, which increases your gut’s ability to absorb the vitamins and minerals they contain.
Probiotics can help improve the bacterial balance in your gut after it has been disturbed by the use of antibiotics. This can help reduce or prevent antibiotic-provoked diarrhoea. Research also shows that probiotics help reduce gas, bloating, constipation, diarrhoea, heartburn, reflux, symptoms linked to Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis, and even candida.
According to recent research published in PLOS One, over 114 types of probiotic are found in sauerkraut, which beats out any probiotic supplement on the market today. These probiotic from raw sauerkraut can survive the low acid content of the stomach, which make it an ideal form of probiotic. Different probiotic strains may provide varying advantages. Research has reported that one serving may contain up to 28 distinct bacterial strains.
Raw sauerkraut is also a very concentrated probiotic. Research from Functional Foods in Health and Disease determined that a very small dose, 2 tablespoons of sauerkraut, contain over 1 million colony forming units (CFUs) of healthy probiotic.
Like most other fermented foods, sauerkraut contains a variety of enzymes, which help break down nutrients into smaller, more easily digestible molecules. Probiotics aren’t just beneficial bacteria, they are beneficial fungi too. The types of fungi in sauerkraut can include Actinomucor, Amylomyces, Aspergillus, Monascus, Mucor, Neurospora, and Rhizopus. These little fungi produce enzymes to aid our bodies in digestion. These enzymes include: amylase, amyloglucosidase, maltase, invertase, pectinase, ß-galactosidase, cellulose, hemi-cellulase, acid and alkaline, proteases and lipases.
Boosts Your Immune System
Beneficial bacteria can educate, activate and support the immune system. The probiotics found in sauerkraut could help improve the balance of bacteria in your gut, which helps keep your gut lining healthy. A stronger gut lining helps prevent unwanted substances from “leaking” into your body and causing an immune response. Maintaining a healthy gut flora also helps prevent the growth of harmful bacteria and may even boost the production of natural antibodies.
Research has shown that probiotics can be effective at fighting diarrhea, antibiotic resistance, Clostridium difficile colitis, various infections, inflammatory bowel diseases, constipation and even cancer. Lactobacillus rhamnosus strains have been proven beneficial on intestinal immunity and can increase the number of IgA and other immunoglobulins in the intestinal mucosa.
Sauerkraut is rich in vitamin C and iron, both of which contribute to a healthy immune system. So when you have the common cold it may help you get rid of symptoms more quickly.
Improves Your Mood & Brain Health
Researchers are still learning about the fascinating and intimate relationship between your gut and brain, especially how this relationship is actually bidirectional, or a “two-way street.” It’s not just that your mood can affect your digestion, but, it turns out that the health of your digestive system can also affect your nervous system, brain function and moods!
Probiotic foods are getting a lot of attention for their beneficial effects related to gut and brain connections. A review paper of 8 clinical studies in the journal ‘Nutrients’ concluded that probiotics help improve mood and reduce symptoms of depression. This is because probiotic bacteria signal to the brain to make serotonin and dopamine which are mood enhancers.
Probiotics can also help improve memory and reduce symptoms of anxiety, autism, and even obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). Sauerkraut may also maintain brain health by increasing your gut’s absorption of mood-regulating minerals, including magnesium and zinc.
That said, some researchers warn that compounds in sauerkraut may interact with monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs), a type of medication prescribed to treat depression, anxiety disorders, and Parkinson’s disease. Individuals taking these medications should consult their healthcare provider before adding sauerkraut to their diet.
May Help You Lose Weight
Sauerkraut shows promise for helping people reduce their waistlines as shown in some clinical studies. Sauerkraut benefits weight loss because it could: reduce inflammation, reduce abdominal fat, improve satisfaction from eating and may prevent fat accumulation.
While nothing alone works to keep us slender, fermented foods likely do play an instrumental role in keeping us free from the diseases of obesity. By helping us stay lean, fermented foods also can help us prevent heart disease too.
May Lower the Risk of Certain Cancers
Cabbage, the main ingredient in sauerkraut, contains antioxidants and other beneficial plant compounds, such as phytonutrients, that may help reduce the risk of certain cancers. Researchers believe these compounds may help reduce DNA damage, prevent cell mutations, and block the excessive cell growth that typically leads to tumour development. The cabbage fermentation process may also create particular plant compounds that suppress the growth of precancerous cells.
Certain genes are associated with an increased risk of cancer. The expression of these genes is sometimes modulated by chemical compounds in the food you eat. Two recent studies suggest that cabbage and sauerkraut juice may help reduce the risk of cancer by reducing the expression of cancer-associated genes.
In another study, researchers observed that women who ate a lot of cabbage and sauerkraut from their teens into adulthood had a reduced risk of breast cancer. The women consuming more than 3 servings per week had a 72% lower risk of breast cancer than those who ate less than 1.5 servings per week. Another study in men shows cabbage had similar effects on the risk of prostate cancer.
However, the number of studies is limited, and not all studies found the same results. Thus, more are needed before strong conclusions can be made.
Recipe for Health
To ensure you get the most out of store-bought sauerkraut:
· Avoid pasteurised varieties. Off-the-shelf sauerkraut is typically pasteurised, a process that kills the beneficial probiotics. Refrigerated varieties are less likely to be pasteurised, but check the label to be sure.
· Avoid preservatives. Many store-bought sauerkraut brands contain preservatives, which may lower the probiotic count.
· Avoid added sugars. Sauerkraut should only contain two basic ingredients: cabbage and salt. Some varieties may also add extra vegetables, but avoid those that add sugar or anything else to the mix.
Alternatively, to make sure you get all the health benefits of sauerkraut, you can make it yourself.
· 1 medium green cabbage
· 1 teaspoon Himalayan or Celtic salt
· 2–3 carrots, shredded (optional)
· 2–3 cloves garlic, finely chopped (optional)
· A pinch of wild herbs and spices such as rosemary, thyme, cumin, black seeds (optional)
· 2x 1 kg jars
· Boiled cooled water
Rough Guide:- Salt : Cabbage ratio (1.5 teaspoons salt for each kilo of cabbage)
1. Discard the outer leaves of your cabbage, setting two nice leaves aside. Then, slice the cabbage into quarters, leaving the core in. This makes shredding easier.
2. Shred the cabbage quarters into a large bowl. Add the carrot, garlic, herbs and spices to it.
3. Add salt and massage it into the cabbage mixture for a few minutes until brine starts accumulating at the bottom of your bowl.
4. Pack the cabbage mixture into clean jars, pressing down well to get rid of any air pockets. Use a rolling pin to really press the cabbage down and pack more in.
5. Pour the remaining brine into the jar leaving around an inch gap from the top of the jar.
6. Fold the cabbage leaf you set aside earlier to the size of your jar opening. Place it in the jar on top of the mixture to prevent veggies from floating to the surface.
7. Then, if necessary add the boiled cooled water on top of the cabbage leaf so as to completely submerge everything, keeping your cabbage mixture below the brine. Air in the jar enables harmful bacteria to grow, so make sure the mixture is completely submerged to encourage anaerobic growth.
8. Leave the lid slightly loose if possible, which will allow gases to escape during the fermentation process.
9. Keep it at room temperature (around 21-23 C, 70-73 F) and out of direct sunlight for 3–4 days. Cover with a towel to ensure no light gets in.
10. After this, move the jars to a cooler place (around 15 C/60 F). The longer you leave it, the more mature and better the sauerkraut gets. We normally leave for around 3 weeks.
11. After this you may choose to place it in the fridge in a seal-tight container where it will last for a few months.
Keep in mind that the larger the head of cabbage you start with, the sweeter and better your sauerkraut will taste.
If you’re impatient to taste your creation, you can do so after 7 days. The longer you allow it to ferment, the stronger the taste will be.
You can have a portion of sauerkraut daily on its own, or you can add it to meals to aid digestion.
To Sum Up…
Raw sauerkraut survived the test of time to become a popular side dish and condiment in many cultures. It’s especially appreciated in Germany, where its name comes from.
Sauerkraut is particularly nutritious because it undergoes fermentation, a process during which microorganisms on the cabbage digest its natural sugars and convert them into carbon dioxide and organic acids. Fermentation starts when yeast and bacteria that are naturally present on the cabbage and your hands, as well as in the air, come into contact with the sugars in the cabbage. Sauerkraut fermentation creates conditions that promote the growth of beneficial probiotics, which are also found in products like yogurt and kefir.
Without a doubt, the connection between gut health and all health is strong. Sauerkraut is rich in fibre, vitamins, and minerals. Its probiotics help your body absorb these nutrients more easily, which is what makes sauerkraut more nutritious than raw cabbage or coleslaw. Eating sauerkraut may help you strengthen your immune system, improve your digestion, mood and brain health, reduce your risk of certain diseases, and even lose weight.
To reap the greatest benefits, try eating a little bit of sauerkraut each day.