Sauerkraut: Benefits & How to Make

by John Staughton (BASc, BFA) last updated -

Although sauerkraut is almost a national dish in Germany, its origins actually lie in China. Historical records show that it was brought to Europe at some point during the Roman Empire. Pickled or fermented foods like sauerkraut were very valuable in the era before refrigeration, as it allowed food to stay fresh during long journeys. It has today acquired the legend of superfood with fans swearing by its many beneficial properties. Research shows that it is indeed good for our gut, heart, bones, and immune system.

What is Sauerkraut?

Sauerkraut is made from chopped fermented cabbage and spices, which give it a slightly sour taste. It is popularly used as a side dish or as a condiment in sausages or hot dogs. The fermentation process is similar to that of kimchi or pickles, meaning that there is no exposure to heat during the process, as it will kill the bacteria that make the fermentation possible. [1]

Nutrition Facts

Sauerkraut, canned, solids and liquids
Serving Size :
NutrientValue
Water [g]92.52
Energy 19
Energy [kJ]78
Protein [g]0.91
Total lipid (fat) [g]0.14
Ash [g]2.15
Carbohydrate, by difference [g]4.28
Fiber, total dietary [g]2.9
Sugars, total including NLEA [g]1.78
Glucose (dextrose) [g]0.14
Fructose [g]0.04
Calcium, Ca [mg]30
Iron, Fe [mg]1.47
Magnesium, Mg [mg]13
Phosphorus, P [mg]20
Potassium, K [mg]170
Sodium, Na [mg]661
Zinc, Zn [mg]0.19
Copper, Cu [mg]0.1
Manganese, Mn [mg]0.15
Selenium, Se [µg]0.6
Fluoride, F [µg]7
Vitamin C, total ascorbic acid [mg]14.7
Thiamin [mg]0.02
Riboflavin [mg]0.02
Niacin [mg]0.14
Pantothenic acid [mg]0.09
Vitamin B-6 [mg]0.13
Folate, total [µg]24
Folate, food [µg]24
Folate, DFE [µg]24
Choline, total [mg]10.4
Betaine [mg]0.5
Vitamin A, RAE [µg]1
Carotene, beta [µg]8
Carotene, alpha [µg]5
Vitamin A, IU [IU]18
Lutein + zeaxanthin [µg]295
Vitamin E (alpha-tocopherol) [mg]0.14
Vitamin K (phylloquinone) [µg]13
Fatty acids, total saturated [g]0.03
8:0 [g]0
10:0 [g]0
12:0 [g]0
16:0 [g]0.03
18:0 [g]0
Fatty acids, total monounsaturated [g]0.01
18:1 [g]0.01
Fatty acids, total polyunsaturated [g]0.07
18:2 [g]0.03
18:3 [g]0.03
Tryptophan [g]0.01
Threonine [g]0.03
Isoleucine [g]0.02
Leucine [g]0.03
Lysine [g]0.03
Methionine [g]0.01
Cystine [g]0.01
Phenylalanine [g]0.02
Tyrosine [g]0.01
Valine [g]0.03
Arginine [g]0.05
Histidine [g]0.02
Alanine [g]0.03
Aspartic acid [g]0.09
Glutamic acid [g]0.21
Glycine [g]0.02
Proline [g]0.03
Serine [g]0.04
Sources include : USDA [2]

Nutritional Value of Sauerkraut

Sauerkraut is low in calories and rich in protein and dietary fiber. It contains vitamins like vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin K, and various B vitamins like vitamin B6, and folate. It is also a good source of minerals like iron, manganese, copper, sodium, potassium, magnesium, and calcium. The fermentation of the cabbage also promotes the growth of beneficial probiotics that aid in improving gut health. [3] [4]

How to Make Sauerkraut?

Sauerkraut needs nothing but cabbage, salt, and loads of time. We have also included caraway seeds and peppercorn in our recipe. But these are optional. The secret, like any other fermented food, is time. This is not food to be made in a jiffy. You have to let it ferment at its own pace.

You will need a couple of 1-quart mason jars or any glass jars with a wide mouth. You will also need a large mixing bowl to work the salt into the cabbage. The cabbage should be cut quite finely. We would recommend a mandolin or a slicer. If you are slicing the vegetable by hand, try to shred it as finely as you can.

A wooden bowl of sauerkraut on a red kitchen napkin

Homemade Sauerkraut Recipe

Give a little time to your sauerkraut every day. You will have a wonderful jar of sauerkraut at the end of five days. 
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Course: Side Dish
Cuisine: German
Keyword: Sauerkraut
Appliance: Mason Jar, Mixing Bowl, Mandolin
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Fermentation Time: 5 days
Servings: 2 Jars
Author: Paromita Datta
[5] [6]

Ingredients

  • 14 cups cabbage shredded
  • 3 tbsp flaky sea salt or
  • 6 tbsp coarse crystal salt
  • 1 tsp peppercorn optional
  • 1 tsp caraway seeds optional

Instructions

  • Start with sterilizing everything. Clean your hands, mixing bowl, and mason jars thoroughly. We recommend rinsing your bowl, chopping board, and the jars with hot water once and letting them dry naturally before beginning. You will need a bowl that is large enough to take all the cabbage with plenty of room on top. You will also need two one-quart jars with wide mouths. 
  • Put the cabbage in the bowl. Now put the salt on top, spreading it over the cabbage. Massage the salt thoroughly into the cabbage for 10 minutes. Wait 5 minutes and then repeat the massage for 5 minutes. 
  • The cabbage should soften and reduce by now. You will also have a briny liquid. Mix in the caraway seeds and the peppercorns. 
  • Transfer the cabbage to the mason jar, pressing down firmly with a wooden spoon (make sure it is sterilized). The brine will come on top. Make sure that there is an inch of space on the top. 
  • Seal the jar and keep in a dark, warm place. While the cabbage is fermenting, check on it once day. Open the lid to allow the air to escape. You will see air bubbles coming to the top. Press down the cabbage with a sterilized wooden spoon or glass. Reseal and put it away.
  • Ideally, you should leave it for as much as 5 weeks. But it will probably be ready by 5 days to 2 weeks. You will know it's done when you don't see bubbles on the top when you open the jar.
  • Your sauerkraut is ready! Serve it with the classic combination of sausage and mustard.  

Notes

  • The salt to cabbage proportion should be 3 1/2 tsp salt to 1 pound shredded cabbage. But we would recommend that you do a taste test after your cabbage has softened. Keep in mind that it is supposed to be briny.
  • Look out for any signs of mold or discoloration. It's a sign that your sauerkraut is going bad.  
  • Fermentation depends on the environmental temperature, ideally above 65 degrees Fahrenheit. Too cold and it will not ferment, too hot and it will develop mold. 

Health Benefits of Sauerkraut

Sauerkraut packs plenty of health benefits. Let’s have a detailed look at them

Possibly Good For a Healthy Gut

Adding sauerkraut can help your digestion, thanks to its fermented nature. Fermentation causes microbial communities composed of beneficial bacteria to form. A 2018 study, published in the journal Foods showed that even the commercially packed product contains these bacteria. This is a live culture that as a Harvard study explains, helps in restoring a healthy microbiome in the gut, which is essential for our health and digestive system. The probiotics that may be present in sauerkraut can help balance the harm caused by an otherwise unhealthy diet. [7] [8]

Possibly Rich in Iron

The possibly high iron content in sauerkraut helps boost energy as it increases metabolism and blood circulation. More significantly, a study published in the European Journal of Nutrition found that the fermentation process in its preparation increases the bioavailability of iron. In other words, your body absorbs a higher amount of iron from sauerkraut than many other iron-rich foods. [9]

A wooden bowl of sauerkraut on a red kitchen napkin

Sauerkraut is finely cut raw cabbage that has been fermented. Photo Credit: Shutterstock

May Improve Heart Health

Sauerkraut is a Lacto-fermented food and hence, has probiotics, which are very beneficial for our cardiovascular health. It can help in lowering LDL cholesterol, reducing the risks of cardiovascular diseases. However, as a Harvard article pointed out, it is best to eat it in moderation as it is also quite high in sodium. Pick raw, unpasteurized versions wherever you can because pasteurization reduces the probiotic content. [10] [11]

May Help Weight Loss

It is a possibly low-calorie food that may be high in fiber and probiotics. All these factors can help you manage weight and shed extra pounds if there are any. Probiotics are also known for reducing fat absorption by the body and giving a slim waistline. [12]

May Improve Brain Health

The probiotics in sauerkraut can relieve stress and social anxiety. Probiotic-rich foods keep the gut healthy, which may lead to improved mood and brain health. Although research in this area is still ongoing, several human and animal studies have shown that probiotics have a significant impact on our central nervous system. [13] [14] [15]

May Improve Eye & Skin Condition

There is anecdotal evidence of people using sauerkraut to improve their skin, although there is very little research on the subject. It improves our gut health which that in turn, means good skin. It also contains antioxidants like carotenes and vitamin A. These antioxidants eliminate free radicals from the body, reducing signs of aging. [16] [17]

May Boost Immunity

The stories go that Captain Cook sailed with sauerkraut to prevent the dreaded sailor’s disease, scurvy. A cup of sauerkraut contains 35 percent of the daily recommended intake of vitamin C, which is important for a healthy immune system. Vitamin C stimulates the production of white blood cells, increases cellular regeneration/repair, and promotes the formation of collagen. The fermented nature of sauerkraut adds to its immune-boosting properties. A 2019 research revealed that the presence of lactic acid bacteria in sauerkraut triggers the movement of immune cells in the body. [18] [19]

Potentially Anti-inflammatory Properties

There are certain organic compounds found in sauerkraut that work as anti-inflammatory agents. Phytonutrient antioxidants can double as anti-inflammatory agents, reducing the pain and discomfort of joints, muscles, or other inflamed areas. [20]

May Help Maintain Strong Bones

The minerals found in sauerkraut make it ideal for building strong bones and preventing osteoporosis. A high level of vitamin K2 is important for maintaining the integrity and strength of your bones, as vitamin K produces the proteins that regulate bone mineralization. This vitamin may also aid in delaying the onset of age-related bone loss in post-menopausal women. [21] [22]

Word of Caution: Sauerkraut is very high in sodium, Hence, caution is advised for people with cardiovascular and renal diseases. Speak to your doctor about an appropriate level of sauerkraut consumption if you suffer from these types of health concerns. [23]

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About the Author

John Staughton is a traveling writer, editor, publisher and photographer with English and Integrative Biology degrees from the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana (USA). He co-founded the literary journal, Sheriff Nottingham, and now serves as the Content Director for Stain’d Arts, a non-profit based in Denver, Colorado. On a perpetual journey towards the idea of home, he uses words to educate, inspire, uplift and evolve.

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