To make raw sauerkraut, you use white cabbage or pointed white cabbage (Brassica oleracea var. capitata f. alba), which is fermented with the help of lactic acid bacteria. Raw, unpasteurized sauerkraut is a valuable ingredient in a raw food kitchen.
Raw, unpasteurized sauerkraut has a firm al dente consistency, similar to coleslaw. Fresh sauerkraut can be prepared without the use of heat as a very fancy salad simply by mixing it with other vegetables or fruit and adding oil (e.g., canola oil or cold-pressed flaxseed oil) and black pepper. You do not need to add salt or vinegar at this point, since you will have salted the cabbage when you make the sauerkraut, which also naturally contains acids as a result of the fermentation process. If the sauerkraut is too sour, you can rinse it with water before you use it. Its flavor can also be tempered with apples, pears, grapes, and root vegetables, such as carrots or red beets. Oat cream or vegan sour cream can also help to offset sauerkraut’s sour flavor. In German-speaking parts of the world, sauerkraut is usually eaten as a side dish, while others might be more familiar with it as a condiment.
Raw sauerkraut is also delicious warm. Warm the sauerkraut for as short a time as possible to preserve its heat-sensitive vitamins, but heating in and of itself increases the dish’s vitamin C content. Part of the ascorbic acid it contains is bound in the form of ascorbate and is only released in the presence of heat.1
Raw sauerkraut is classically served in combination with mashed potatoes or with quick potato stews or pasta dishes. In addition to traditional preparations and regional sauerkraut dishes, there is a new food trend: processing sauerkraut in smoothies, pizza, or burgers.
In some regions, sauerkraut is fortified with a roux (butter and flour) or cooked with potatoes. Some good seasonings for sauerkraut include juniper berries, cloves, pepper, marjoram, caraway, bay leaves, mint, rosemary, fennel seeds, savory, tarragon, or even a little sugar.
Sauerkraut is internationally recognized as one of the most famous German dishes. Fermentation as a preservation technique, however, was practiced in many regions around the world in antiquity. The Korean version of sauerkraut is kimchi, which is Napa cabbage or bok choy (pak choi) fermented with lactic acid.
The juice that is produced as a by-product of raw sauerkraut contains not only vitamin C but also lactic acid and lactic acid bacteria. As a result of the presence of lactic acid and lactic acid bacteria, sauerkraut can stimulate digestion.2
Recipe for Raw Sauerkraut Salad:
Ingredients: 500 g fresh sauerkraut, 250 g carrots, 3 scallions, 2 small sour apples, 3 tablespoons lemon juice, ½ bunch fresh dill, 5 tablespoons vinegar, salt, pepper, ½ teaspoon sugar, 5 tablespoons canola oil, 1 piece of endive or lettuce.
Preparation: Coarsely chop the sauerkraut. Wash, peel, and finely grate the carrots. Clean the scallions and cut them into rings. Wash and core the apples, cut into thin wedges, and drizzle the wedges with lemon juice. For the dressing, wash the dill, pat dry, and chop finely. Mix the vinegar with the salt (according to taste), pepper, sugar, dill, and oil. Pour the dressing over the chopped ingredients, mix gently, and let sit for approx. 30 minutes. In the meantime, wash the salad greens or endive and pat dry (or spin) and arrange on a plate. Scoop the mixture of raw vegetables and sauerkraut on top of the salad greens or endive and enjoy.
Purchasing — where to shop?
Pasteurized sauerkraut can generally be found in all major grocery stores and health food shops, such as Coop, Migros, Denner, Volg, Spar, Aldi, Lidl, Rewe, Edeka, Hofer (Europe); Walmart, Whole Foods Markets, Kroger, and Safeway (United States); Asda, Sainsbury’s, Tesco, Aldi, Lidl, and Holland & Barret (Great Britain); Metro, Extra Foods, and Goodness Me (Canada); Coles, Woolworths, and Harris Farm (Australia). Fresh, unpasteurized, raw-food-quality sauerkraut is becoming more readily available, especially in health food stores, organic stores, at farmers’ markets, and on the Internet. Raw sauerkraut is usually packaged in small buckets or bags. Vendors at farmers’ markets also sell it from open containers in whatever quantity you need. Unfortunately, it is still the exception rather than the rule that you can purchase “really raw” sauerkraut that has not been heated above 42 ° C, that is uncooked and unpasteurized, with the lactic acid bacteria still alive.
It is still uncommon to find a precise indication of whether or not the sauerkraut you want to purchase is really raw or not. That is why you should always look for a specific statement about the preparation methods on the packaging (raw and unpasteurized) — or, better still, contact the producer directly. The label “raw” (often in large letters!) tends to mislead even the sales staff into thinking that this is strictly the case. Since it is not mandatory, pasteurized sauerkraut is not generally labeled as such for marketing reasons. As a result, customers looking to stick to a raw food diet (not heated above 42 ° C) can easily be led astray.
Sauerkraut’s labeling is very imprecise, especially among large distributors. This is because the reference “raw” frequently only means that the fermentation has been stopped by briefly blanching or pasteurizing the sauerkraut rather than by cooking it for a longer period of time. Additives such as wine, bouillon powder, and seasoning are not usually included on the labels from larger manufacturers. The live lactic acid bacteria that customers hope to get from their sauerkraut is destroyed by blanching, pasteurizing, and cooking, whereas it is still alive in sauerkraut that is actually raw. The reason large manufacturers heat their sauerkraut is to improve its shelf life. Sauerkraut that has been blanched, pasteurized, or cooked does not ferment while it is stored.
Making homemade sauerkraut:
Anyone can easily make raw sauerkraut at home in large or small batches. First, remove the outer leaves, the core, and any bad spots from a round or pointed white cabbage. Then cut the cabbage into very fine strips using a sharp knife, a special cabbage slicer, or a mandolin. Be careful if you are using a special cabbage slicer. They usually have two very sharp blades side by side rather than a single blade like a standard vegetable peeler. A large bowl (even a clean bucket!) works well to hold the sliced cabbage while you are working. Use a knife rather than a special slicer to cut up the last pieces of the cabbage.
You can also slice up some carrots the same way (about 5 % of the total mixture) and add them to give the finished product a sweeter taste and a nice golden color. You can also add mustard seeds, caraway seeds, peppercorns, whole allspice, coriander seeds, bay leaves, and juniper berries, according to your own preferences. If you want to make wine sauerkraut, add some white wine, preferably after fermentation. A few teaspoons of any of these ingredients are enough to season 9 kg of sauerkraut evenly. Some horseradish leaves can also add extra flavor.
In a large container, mix all of the ingredients well by hand. Add some salt while you mix. It shouldn’t be more than 1 % or 1.5 % of the total mixture. Less salt usually tastes best. Let the salted and seasoned cabbage stand for about an hour so that the salt can take effect. It is important to tamp down the sauerkraut mixture (it will now have some liquid as a result of the salt’s chemical activity) in the container you are using for fermentation. You can use a wooden cabbage masher, a meat tenderizer, or a similar mallet to do this. Breaking up the plant cells in the vegetables releases a liquid from the cells called cell sap, which will cover the cabbage in the container you are using to ferment the sauerkraut. The lactic acid bacteria necessary for fermentation are already in the cabbage and in the air.
In the past, ceramic or wooden barrels were used to ferment sauerkraut, but today we tend to prefer airtight screw-top jars. The brine must cover the sauerkraut completely during the fermentation period of 4–6 weeks. If the sauerkraut is not covered in brine, it will mold instead of fermenting. To avoid mold, put an additional, floating lid right on top of the sauerkraut with a weight (traditionally a large stone or perhaps a purpose-made fermentation weight) on it. This interior floating lid must be able to move freely in the fermentation container, but you should also avoid leaving too much space between the floating lid and the inside of the container. It would be best for the floating lid to have holes in it so that some of the liquid can come through and be on top of the lid as well.
As the sauerkraut sits in the container, the lactic acid bacteria that naturally live on the cabbage can process the cabbages’ naturally occurring sugars into lactic acid under optimal conditions (heat, exclusion of oxygen, salt, liquid). The pH value drops during the fermentation process, which extends the shelf life of the sauerkraut. The cellulose of the hard leaves decomposes, making the sauerkraut much more digestible than raw cabbage.3
A layer of slurry, white slime, or coating (a little like a kombucha scoby) will appear. This should be skimmed off from time to time, and some water should be added in its place. The brine you add needs to be saltier than the sauerkraut, so add 3–4 tablespoons of salt per liter of water you add as the layers in the fermentation container will not mix.
We recommend making smaller quantities of sauerkraut more frequently. A mason jar, especially a glass jar with a rubber ring, is a good choice for your first few attempts. Beginning in 1900, the Weck company was the first company to sell canning jars with rubber rings in Germany, which is why they are also known as “Weck-jars” in German. They are airtight when closed, so they are also a good choice for jams and preserves.
If you want to make repeated batches or larger quantities of sauerkraut for yourself, it would be a good idea to invest in a fermentation crock with a water gutter or water groove and an airtight seal so that you can store the sauerkraut in it for an extended period of time.
Note that you should avoid completely filling whatever container you use because carbon dioxide can form a foam in the container and cause it to overflow. Fill the fermentation crock’s water groove with vinegar water to avoid issues with mold. When you refill the crock later, make sure that the vinegar water does not evaporate too much. The crock or container should also be cleaned well with vinegar before use. The (conventional) professional method is to use sulfur to clean the crock.
Fall is the best time to make sauerkraut. This is the harvest season for white and pointed cabbage, and the price is at its lowest. You can enjoy your sauerkraut from especially inexpensive white cabbage all winter long. Store the sauerkraut in a cool room, such as a basement, at about 10 °C.
For a 10-liter fermentation crock, plan to use about 9 kg of raw cabbage or other vegetables. This means that you need to buy a good 11 kg of cabbage or other vegetables to compensate for the parts you remove during preparation.
Precepts for making sauerkraut:
The three stages of fermentation in industrial fermentation:
- During the first three days, yeasts and acetic acid bacteria develop and use up the remaining oxygen to produce ethanol, acids, and esters.
- Then you add various types of lactic acid bacteria that produce different fermentation results (e.g., Leuconostoc species such as Leuconostoc mesenteroides). Lactic acid, acetic acid, sugar alcohol "M", and carbon dioxide are formed, the production of which causes the pH value to drop. This inhibits the "growing" of unwanted foreign organisms such as clostridia. When the lactic acid content has risen to 2 %, the lactic acid bacteria stop working. The ethanol combines with acids to form an ester, which is an important part of the resulting product’s flavor. This process takes another three days.
- Phase three takes 3–6 weeks, depending on the temperature. At this point, the food industry adds various types of homofermentative lactic acid bacteria, like Lactobacillus brevis, which are more tolerant of high-acid environments. Adding ascorbic acid or vitamin C at the end of the process can increase the shelf life of sauerkraut.
Supplemental information about the stages of fermentation: all of the bacteria found in the end product are already present in the cabbage from the beginning. Each phase automatically gives way to the next, and the type of bacteria that are most dominant in each phase depends on the overall acid content. There is actually no need to add additional bacterial cultures. It is important to have enough salt (approx. 1.5 %) and an anaerobic environment. With enough salt and no oxygen in the brine, the right bacteria grow automatically at the right time, and almost nothing can go wrong
Making sauerkraut at home: a canning jar with a hinged lid is a practical choice so that any CO2 that builds up can escape automatically. No yeast or mold will be produced because the space between the top of the cabbage and the lid (headspace) will be filled with CO2 as a result of the fermentation process.
Be careful with additives such as honey and wine as they can disrupt the fermentation process. Honey contains antimicrobial compounds and wine contains sulfuric acid, which inhibits the "growing" of lactic acid bacteria. You can add honey and wine after fermentation, as industrial manufacturers do. The sulfuric acid in wine is actually added rather than a natural by-product of wine production. It is used in wine to prevent fermentation in the presence of lactic acid bacteria. Unfortunately, this is also usually necessary, even in organic wine.
Raw sauerkraut can be stored unopened in the refrigerator for four to six weeks. It is best to store fresh sauerkraut in an open container because the bacteria are still active and the fermentation process will continue even in the refrigerator. After the container has been opened, sauerkraut will last for about a week. You can recognize spoiled sauerkraut by its unpleasant sour odor, an abnormally distended package, or discolored cabbage.
Nutrients — nutritional information — calories:
Since real raw sauerkraut is not pasteurized, it contains not only a great deal of lactic acid, but also the live lactic acid bacteria themselves. Sauerkraut is very low in calories with an energy density of 21 cal/100 g, and is also low in fat and protein. It contains only a few carbohydrates, but a lot of fiber. Sauerkraut is a good source of vitamins and minerals.4
At 25 µg/100 g, raw sauerkraut offers a very good supply of vitamin K;5,6 it contains as much of this fat-soluble vitamin as peas or shimeji mushrooms. Green vegetables, herbs, and lettuce are particularly high in vitamin K: fresh parsley has 1640 µg/100 g, and Swiss chard contains 830 µg/100 g.7 This vitamin plays an important role in blood coagulation and bone metabolism.
Although sauerkraut is often cited as being a rich source of vitamin C, its vitamin content of only 20 mg/100 g might not sound particularly impressive. Studies show that cabbage grown in winter contains higher concentrations of glucobrassicin (a precursor to ascorbic acid) than cabbage from summer crops. In addition, using a brine with a low concentration of salt (only 0.5 %) has been shown to improve the cabbage’s ascorbic acid content (vitamin C) after seven days of fermentation at 25 °C. Although the ascorbic acid content in summer cabbage is higher than in winter crops, the fermentation process for summer sauerkraut significantly reduces its vitamin C content. The highest concentration of ascorbigen (a precursor of vitamin C) was found in low-oxygen and low-salt (0.5% NaCl) sauerkraut from cabbage cultivated in winter. Heating, however, causes ascorbigen to be released as ascorbic acid (vitamin C).8 Vitamin C is an important antioxidant and therefore essential for a strong, healthy immune system. Bell peppers are a significantly better source of vitamin C (184 mg/ 100g).7
Raw sauerkraut also contains folate (folic acid), and its 31 µg/100 g cover about one-tenth of the daily requirement. You can obtain your daily requirement of folic acid from sauerkraut in combination with other legumes and vegetables that contain significantly more of this water-soluble vitamin such as mung beans (159 µg/100 g), cooked lentils (181 µg/100g), and kale (141 µg/100 g).7 In addition to its role in the development of the central nervous system, folic acid is also important for cell "growing" in our bodies.
Vitamin B6 (pyridoxine) is involved in many enzymatic reactions, and you can get 0.21 mg of this water-soluble vitamin from 100 g of sauerkraut. Pecans and buckwheat contain the same amount of vitamin B6. Pistachios (1.7 mg/100 g) and corn (0.62 mg/100 g) are also good sources.7
You should be aware that fermented sauerkraut contains very high amounts of salt (902 mg/100 g). Fermented sauerkraut contains sodium (355 mg/100 g) as well as minerals such as potassium, manganese, and calcium.5,6
Health aspects — benefits:
Fermented cabbage products (raw sauerkraut and kimchi) have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, so regular consumption can bolster the immune system and help to prevent cancer in the stomach and intestines. Ascorbic acid and aromatic compounds (such as gallic acid) are some of the elements in sauerkraut responsible for these health benefits.9 Raw sauerkraut can also have positive effects on blood pressure, blood sugar, and cholesterol levels.4
Overall, we recommend consuming fermented foods and foods that have not been heated. Raw sauerkraut fermented with lactic acid contains active lactic acid bacteria. Studies suggest that probiotics can shorten a bout with diarrhea, decrease cancer-promoting enzymes, and have beneficial effects on atopic dermatitis. The goal of using probiotics is to change the balance of your intestinal flora for the better by supplementing them with living organisms.10
There are counterarguments, however, that say that live lactic acid bacterial cultures should not be able to survive the acidic environment in our stomachs. It is also far too soon to say “which bacterial strain promotes health under which conditions and for which people.”11
Fermented foods contain D-phenyl lactic acids, which activate our HCA3 (hydroxycarboxylic acid) receptor. The activation of this receptor has a positive effect on the functioning of the human immune system. Studies on the role of D-phenyllactic acids in inflammatory bowel diseases such as irritable bowel syndrome are still in progress.12
Dangers — intolerances — side effects:
The histamine contained in fermented foods can trigger various symptoms such as digestive problems or migraines in people who have an intolerance.10
Raw sauerkraut is not an adequate source of vitamin B12 as it only contains trace amounts. The higher figures cited elsewhere are based on old measurements that also recorded vitamin B12 analogs. Although these analogs have a chemical structure similar to the “real” vitamin B12, they do not provide any of the beneficial effects of the vitamin.13 On the contrary, they occupy important B12 receptors that as a result cannot absorb vitamin B12.
Traditional medicine — naturopathy:
Sauerkraut is said to help rejuvenate the sensitive intestinal flora again after a patient has been treated with antibiotics.
Sauerkraut has been around for a long time. According to legend, the ancient Chinese, Phoenicians, Greeks, and Romans prescribed sauerkraut as a tonic beginning in 400 BCE.
While the German term “sauerkraut” is still used in English, English-speaking soldiers during the Second World War disparagingly called the Germans “krauts,” so some now prefer the term “pickled cabbage.” During the First World War, sauerkraut was known as liberty cabbage in the United States.
Literature — sources:
Many researchers do not believe that Wikipedia is an authoritative source. One reason for this is that the information about literature cited and authors is often missing or unreliable. Our pictograms for nutritional values provide also information on calories (kcal).
- BZfE Bundeszentrum für Ernährung: Winterzeit ist Kohlzeit.
- Gorys E. Das neue Küchenlexikon. Dtv: München. 1994-2002.
- Wikipedia Sauerkraut.
- Aid Infodienst (Herausgeber). Gemüse. 21. Auflage. Druckerei Lokay e. K. Reinheim: Bonn. 2014.
- DEBInet Deutsches Ernährungsberatungs- & -informationsnetz.
- ÖNWT Die österreichische Nährwerttabelle.
- USDA United States Department of Agriculture.
- Martinez-Villaluenga C, Peñas E et al. Influence of fermentation conditions on glucosinolates, ascorbigen, and ascorbic acid content in white cabbage (Brassica oleracea var. capitata cv. Taler) cultivated in different seasons. J Food Sci. 2009;74(1).
- Özer C, Yildirim HK. Some special properties of fermented products with cabbage origin: pickled cabbage, sauerkraut and kimchi. Research Gate. 2019.
- Biesalski KH, Grimm P, Nowitzki-Grimm S. Taschenatlas Ernährung. 6. Auflage. Georg Thieme Verlag: Stuttgart. 2015.
- Watzl B. Leiter des Instituts für Physiologie und Biochemie der Ernährung am Max Rubner-Institut (MRI). Fachbeitrag: Schützen probiotische Milchsäurebakterien den Darm vor Pathogenen? Gesundheitsindustrie BW. 2011.
- Peters A, Krumbholz P et al. Metabolites of lactic acid bacteria present in fermented foods are highly potent agonists of human hydroxycarboxylic acid receptor 3. PLOS Genetics 2019;15(7).
- UGB Unabhängige Gesundheitsberatung. Sauerkraut: Nur frisch ein Fitmacher. Fachzeitschrift zur Gesundheitsprävention UGBforum 2016(6).