Is sauerkraut good for you?
Like most fermented foods, properly prepared sauerkraut has several health benefits stemming from the probiotics (live bacteria) created in the fermentation process. The extent of these benefits is contentious due to a paucity of scientific data, however, sauerkraut is at least an excellent source of fibre, potassium, calcium and phosphorus, as well as vitamins C and K.
Sauerkraut: Properties and Benefits
So what is sauerkraut anyway? And why is sauerkraut healthy for you?
Sauerkraut is a German word meaning literally “sour cabbage”. That doesn’t sound too tasty in translation, but in context it really just means pickled or fermented cabbage. It certainly wouldn’t have become a staple of Central European cuisine were it not delicious.
Like other fermented foods, sauerkraut’s distinctive taste is rich in that most elusive yet moreish of flavours – umami.
Umami isn’t just fun to say, it’s also a natural finisher for a plate’s flavour profile. If you think about a few umami-rich foods – such as olives or soy sauce or parmesan – you’ll notice something in common. These generally aren’t the focal point of a meal, but the side, topping or sauce that completes it. (Click here for more food naturally rich in umami).
Likewise, you probably wouldn’t enjoy a small bowl of sauerkraut on its own, but alongside a tender schnitzel and fried potatoes? That’s probably what they serve in heaven. (And we’ll cover a few other divine sauerkraut combos later in this article.)
Anyway, that’s taste. Let’s move onto why sauerkraut is good for you.
When foods are fermented, like sauerkraut, they produce probiotics. These are live bacteria. But don’t worry. Despite the negative connotations of the word, these bacteria are beneficial to your health – the so-called “good bacteria” you may have heard of.
Probiotics are undoubtedly good for you, but the debate surrounding them can get quite contentious. They are frequently touted as a miracle food by unscrupulous marketers and pseudoscientists alike. However, there has simply not been enough research to say for sure just how beneficial probiotics are. There certainly isn’t enough data on the bacteria formed in specific fermented foods, such as sauerkraut.
So here are a few benefits you may experience thanks to the probiotics found in sauerkraut:
- They can help you maintain good digestive health.
- Some people find they relieve troublesome gut problems like inflammation, gas, bloating and constipation.
- They may even help alleviate more serious gut conditions like ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease.
- There is growing evidence to suggest they may play an important role in maintaining overall long-term health.
The good news is that sauerkraut has more concrete benefits too. It is a good source of:
- Fibre, which helps maintain healthy bowels.
- Potassium, which aids many biological functions, but is especially important for heart health.
- Calcium, which is a crucial component of healthy teeth and bones. It should be the most abundant mineral in your body.
- Phosphorus, which aids calcium in the upkeep of teeth and bones, but is also necessary for nerve and muscle function.
- Vitamin C, which is essential for maintaining a healthy and effective immune system, among other things.
- Vitamin K, which is predominantly used by the body for blood clotting.
We can see then that sauerkraut contains several important vitamins and minerals, but it gets even better. It also contains enzymes that help break your food down into even smaller molecules. That means your body can absorb even more nutrients. And not just those in the sauerkraut, but whatever you’re eating the sauerkraut with. That’s right, sauerkraut can even make your schnitzel and potatoes healthier too.
Now, with all that said, it’s also important to point out some of the risks of sauerkraut. Fermenting food is, in a sense, controlling its decomposition in a way that makes it still fit for consumption. While you are unlikely to suffer any adverse effects from eating sauerkraut, it should be noted that fermented foods do contain waste products like alcohol, ammonia and lactic acid. Commercial products will only contain trace amounts, but sauerkraut that’s been improperly prepared in an uncontrolled environment can potentially make you sick. Make sure you do plenty of research before embarking on your first attempt at homemade sauerkraut.
Recipes with Sauerkraut
The classic way to eat sauerkraut is with meat and potatoes, German style. But sauerkraut is a far more versatile creature than you might expect. Here are a few ideas for inspiration:
- Use like salsa. We’re not kidding. Sauerkraut works a treat when scooped up by nachos or stuffed into a burrito. It’s even better if you stir in some chopped jalapeños and coriander first.
- Top your eggs. Ideal for breakfasts and brunches. Sauerkraut goes great with eggs, especially fried or poached.
- Avocado toast. Sauerkraut pairs surprisingly well with avocado. Either stir it into smashed avocado or drop a dollop on top of sliced.
- Salads. Sprinkle some of that sauerkraut on top for added umami. We’re yet to find a salad this doesn’t work with – potato, tuna, coleslaw, and even plain old mixed leaf.
- Baked potato toppings. It makes sense if you think about it. Coleslaw is great on baked potatoes. Sauerkraut is even better.
- Sandwich fillings. OK, so we’re not suggesting just sauerkraut in bread, but merely to elevate your favourite existing sandwich with a little additional sharpness. This goes for wraps, bagels and burgers too, of course.