I’m convinced that the next “it” food won’t be an ancient grain, leafy green, or any kind of “milked” nut – sauerkraut is what it’s all about! That’s right, fermented cabbage has my heart, and I’m sure it’ll win yours over too. Need some convincing? Read on for sauerkraut health benefits, an awesome sauerkraut recipe, and ideas for using sauerkraut!
What is Sauerkraut?
Essentially, sauerkraut is fermented cabbage. The process of fermenting dates back thousands of years, when it was used as a form of preservation, long before there were refrigerators to keep food from going bad. Sauerkraut hails from Germany, where cabbage was mixed with salt and set aside to ferment, preserving it and making a delicious and healthy condiment!
image: jules via Flickr
Sauerkraut Health Benefits
Like all fermented foods, sauerkraut is great for gut health. The fermentation process allows probiotics (“good” bacteria) to grow. When you eat foods rich in probiotics, you’re adding healthy bacteria to your gut, which improves immune health, helps improve your metabolism, and keeps things running smoothly in your digestive system.
The healthy bacteria in sauerkraut also have antibacterial properties that protect against harmful bacteria, like those that cause food poisoning. They’re also antifungal, which means sauerkraut is your best friend if you’re facing a yeast infection, fever, or common cold – there’s even some evidence that eating probiotics can reduce the duration of your cold. All around, eating sauerkraut can keep you from feeling under the weather!
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On top of all the benefits that come along with the probiotics in sauerkraut, it’s also full of health benefits from the cabbage itself! Sauerkraut is full of vitamin C, an antioxidant that further supports immune function, vitamin K, which promotes healthy blood clotting, and fiber, which helps keep you fuller longer and lower the risk of cardiovascular disease.
If you’re shopping for sauerkraut, make sure to pick up a version with live & active cultures so you get the probiotic goodness. Some brands skip the fermentation (and the resulting probiotics) and add vinegar as a shortcut for the sour flavor. The cans or jars you find on shelves at room temperature are typically the shortcut ones, while those with live & active cultures are usually refrigerated in order to keep those cultures alive! Grab a jar of the fresh stuff with probiotics, or better yet, make your own!
image: kentsheridan via Flickr
Easy Sauerkraut Recipe
The best thing about sauerkraut? It’s so easy to make! You won’t have sauerkraut in your hands for a few weeks, but most of that time is totally hands-off. Check out my super simple recipe for making your own sauerkraut here.
Even though making sauerkraut is a slow process, most of the time is hands-off. All you need to do is shred cabbage, rub it with salt, and let it sit until the liquid has been released. Then just store the cabbage at room temperature, making sure it’s always submerged in liquid, until it reaches your desired level of sourness – anywhere from 2-6 weeks! Once it’s there, you can stick it in the fridge and enjoy it for months!
Are There Any Risks to Eating Sauerkraut?
Even though sauerkraut is full of good-for-you probiotics, fiber, vitamins, and minerals, it can also be pretty high in sodium. A ½ cup serving of sauerkraut can have upwards of 600 mg sodium, but it varies greatly by brand – so check the nutrition label!
Other than the high sodium content, you likely won’t run into many risks eating sauerkraut. Making your own may seem risky, since the pressure is on to only cultivate the good bacteria and not the bad, but not much can go wrong there! As long as the cabbage remains submerged while it’s at room temperature, oxygen can’t get in to feed the “bad” bacteria – so your home fermenting experiment is pretty darn safe.
Eating sauerkraut is safe, and even encouraged, during pregnancy. I’d check with your doctor if you have a suppressed immune system, since the influx of bacteria might not bode well, but otherwise, eat away!
How to Use Sauerkraut
So you’re convinced that sauerkraut needs to make it’s way into your diet, but you’re not sure what to do with it? I’ve got you covered!
Keep in mind that cooking it does kill some of the good bacteria that results from fermentation, so use it raw as much as possible! Here are some of my favorite uses for sauerkraut:
- Use it on a sandwich. It makes a perfect crunchy & tangy topping, adding lots of flavor (and health benefits) to your sandwich! One of my favorites is chicken, avocado, greens, and sauerkraut.
- Put it in a salad. I love adding sauerkraut to green salads or grain salads with a bunch of chopped veggies. The sauerkraut adds tons of flavor and means you don’t need to douse everything in dressing! Sauerkraut would be a great addition to my Roasted Beet and White Bean Power Bowls or Green Bean Tuna Salad with Artichokes and Red Onion!
- Top your fried eggs with it. There’s something so satisfying about a decadent runny yolk topped with tart and crunchy sauerkraut to cut through the richness. It’s a super simple upgrade for weekday mornings!
- Blend it into a smoothie. I know, it sounds weird. But the tangy flavor is delicious in a smoothie that’s already got some tartness going on – like my Kiwi Lime Green Smoothie! Blend a few tablespoons in and you’ll reap the benefits without noticing a difference.
- Top your pizza with it. Just like sauerkraut cuts through the richness of runny egg yolks, it is an awesome addition to a gooey, cheesy pizza – like my best-ever Keto Pizza!
- Make it into a slaw. Add a bunch of other shredded veggies and make sauerkraut “coleslaw” – it’s awesome on tacos, grilled chicken, steak, or salmon, or just as a super healthy side dish. I love it as a topping on my Balsamic Baked Chicken Breasts and Baked Lemon Dijon Salmon to spruce up a simple meal!
Are you a fan of sauerkraut? What do you use it for? Let me know in the comments below!