Fermented cabbage has a long history in many cultures, although well known by its German name it most likely did not originate there as evidence of fermenting cabbage has been documented around the time the Great Wall of China was built. Migrating from China to Eastern and Northern Europe it took root in their culinary heritage, with its literal name of sour cabbage taking hold.
Before frozen foods, refrigeration and exports from warmer climes were available, in Northern, Central and Eastern Europe Sauerkraut was a source of nutrients in the winter along with other preserved foods. Captain James Cook famously took sauerkraut on his long voyages as a way to keep scurvy at bay.
Sauerkraut is fermented using lactic acid fermentation in a similar way to Kimchi as we discussed in our first Pickle on a Plate (if you missed it, come on catch up! ) The cabbage is finely sliced or grated, layered with salt, and left to ferment. Fully cured sauerkraut keeps for many months in an airtight container kept at 15C or below, refrigeration nor pasteurisation is required. Refrigeration will prolong storage life, but pasteurisation comes at a probiotic cost and that’s something we avoid.
The fermentation process has three important phases, in the first phase anaerobic bacteria take hold and produce an acidic environment that favours select bacteria who take hold in the second phase reducing the microflora of more bad bacteria. In the third phase lactobacillus bacteria ferments any remaining sugars into acid further lowering the PH level of the ferment. These 3 phases are crucial in creating a sour and acidic enough ferment to ward off the growth of C. Botulinum which is the root cause of Botulism. Very bad bacteria. We take the time to ensure our Sauerkraut passes through all 3 of these phases, it takes a little longer but stops the possibility of botulism which we feel is a good trade.
Luckily, sauerkraut has plenty of good bacteria and therefore lots of gut health benefits, its high in vitamins C and K, its low in calories, high in calcium and magnesium, and is a very good source of dietary fibre.
The brine is also a traditional hangover cure, with plenty of electrolytes in that salty liquid to sort you out the morning after the night before, or for a hair of the dog kind of situation it can be paired with a shot of whiskey, known as a pickleback.