In 200 BC, the Chinese were pickling cabbage in wine. Under Genghis Khan the Mongols used salt instead of wine. They brought it with them as they went to battle. In 1776, Germans in America were making sauerkraut. It became a specialty with the Pennsylvania Dutch. The Pennsylvania Dutch were people from Germany and Switzerland who settled in the state of Pennsylvania. Dutch is a corruption of the word Deutsch, which is German in English. My personal connection to the Pennsylvania Dutch is that one of my ancestors immigrated from Switzerland and his descendants settled in Columbia County Pennsylvania. Later my third great grandfather and his family moved to Michigan.
Sauerkraut provided an important source of vitamins and nutrients, during the winter months, to northern and central Europe, before they were readily available from the Southern Hemisphere and before frozen foods came into existence.Captain James Cook never forgot to take sauerkraut with him on sea voyages, because he learned from experience that it prevented scurvy. German and British sailors did likewise and the Germans continued the practice long after the British switched to eating limes. That is why the British were given the nickname “limey” and the Germans were given the name “kraut.”
Sauerkraut (pronounced sour-krout in English and ZOW-er-Krowt in German) is finely shredded cabbage that’s been fermented by assorted lactic acid bacteria, including Lactobacillus, Leuconostoc and Pediococcus. It has a distinctive sour taste and a long shelf life. Both these attributes are the result of the lactic acid that forms when the bacteria ferment the sugars in the cabbage.
The pickling process that makes sauerkraut is called lacto-fermentation and is comparable to how traditional pickled cucumbers, not the heated kind, and kimchi are made. Completely cured sauerkraut will keep for several months in an airtight container if it’s stored at 15 degree Celsius (59 degrees Fahrenheit). Neither refrigeration nor pasteurization is required but both will prolong the shelf life. The problem with pasteurization is that it kills the beneficial bacteria, digestive enzymes, lactic acid and vitamin C contained in the sauerkraut, which greatly reduces the nutritional value.
Lactic acid bacteria are naturally present in the cabbage so no special culture needs to be added. If the fermentation temperature is too high soft sauerkraut is produced, because of the natural presence of yeast. Fermentation takes place in three phases. The first phase is the phase where anaerobic bacteria such as Klebsiella and Enterbactor start the fermentation and begin producing an acid environment, which is favorable to the later bacteria. The second phase is when the environment is too acid to support most bacteria and Leuconostoc mesenteroides and other species of Leuconostoc dominate. The third phase is when various Lactobacillus species, which include L. plantarum and L. brevis ferment any remaining sugars and the pH is lowered.
Raw sauerkraut is exceptionally healthy. It’s an excellent source of vitamin C, lactobacilli and other nutrients. Despite it being so healthy, the acidity and the abundance of healthy lactobacilli may upset the digestive tract of some people if they aren’t used to eating acidic foods. In that case, they need to only eat small amounts until they become accustomed to it. There have been studies that suggest that fermented cabbage is even healthier than raw vegetables, because it has increased levels of isothiocyantes, which are ant-cancer agents.
Sauerkraut is also a source of biogenic amines such as tyramine, but people who are sensitive could have an adverse reaction. Sauerkraut juice has been credited by some with flu prevention, and in treating various GI conditions such as ulcers, constipation and diarrhea. It has also been credited in treating bronchitis and other respiratory diseases and anemia.