Simone Gabbay, RNCP
Some of the humblest foods are our greatest nutritional treasures. Sauerkraut is one of them. Loaded with health benefits, it's a potent nutritional medicine.
Some of the humblest foods are our greatest nutritional treasures. Sauerkraut is one of them. Loaded with vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals, and beneficial bacteria that strengthen digestive power, it’s both a nourishing food and a potent nutritional medicine.
Traditionally produced by lactic acid fermentation, sauerkraut has a long tradition of use in cultures around the world. It’s a staple in Asian and Eastern European diets, where it’s well known for its medicinal properties. Sauerkraut takes its name from the German sauer, meaning sour, and Kraut, meaning cabbage.
Lactic Acid Fermentation
Before the advent of refrigeration, people relied on lactic acid fermentation to preserve foods. Lactic acid-producing bacteria (LAB) occur naturally in fruits and vegetables, most abundantly on those growing close to the ground. Under certain conditions, the bacteria initiate a chemical process in which starches and sugars in the plant are converted to lactic acid, thereby enhancing the plant’s digestibility and nutrient values.
Lactic acid inhibits putrefying bacteria in the intestinal tract and promotes the proliferation of healthy flora. LAB-fermented foods also balance stomach acid levels and stimulate the pancreas, thus fortifying overall digestive capacity.
Health Benefits of Sauerkraut
Sauerkraut, the most popular LAB-fermented vegetable, combines the anticarcinogenic properties of cabbage with the benefits of lactic acid fermentation. A study conducted at MTT Agrifood Research Finland and published in the October 2002 issue of the Journal of Agricultural Food and Chemistry confirmed the cancer-fighting properties of sauerkraut.
Also noteworthy is sauerkraut’s high content of the antioxidants lutein and zeaxanthin, both associated with preserving ocular health. Other nutrients in sauerkraut include calcium, potassium, magnesium, and vitamins C and K.
To reap the benefits of sauerkraut, it’s not necessary to eat a lot of it. A few tablespoons daily, taken as a side dish with meals or added to salads, are easy to incorporate into the diet. Raw and unpasteurized sauerkraut, available in the refrigerated section in health food stores, is preferable to the canned, pasteurized variety, because heat pasteurization destroys enzymes and water-soluble vitamins such as vitamin C.
Make Sauerkraut at Home
You can make sauerkraut in your own kitchen by mashing shredded raw cabbage, mixing the pulp and juice with salt and water, and packing it all tightly into a glass canning jar. Letting the mixture stand at room temperature for several days allows the bacteria to initiate fermentation. Natural food stores offer books, information, and supplies to help you succeed in this rewarding adventure.