Sauerkraut is a fermented vegetable made from cabbage. It’s been a staple of European diets for centuries. And it’s not the only popular fermented cabbage dish out there – Korean kimchi has also been a dietary staple for centuries, and is only growing in popularity. But did you know how good fermented cabbage is for your health?
Here’s some information on how sauerkraut is made, why you should make it a part of your dietary regimen, and a delicious recipe you can make at home.
Why Fermentation is Important (Good Bacteria!)
Preparing a fermented vegetable takes time and effort. Fermentation converts sugars and other carbohydrates into acids and alcohols, including lactic acid. This helps inhibit the growth of harmful bacteria during fermentation, while helping beneficial bacteria thrive.1 As a result, sauerkraut and other types of fermented food are great sources of probiotics. These are the “good” bacteria that help keep the digestive system working properly.2
Health Benefits of Sauerkraut
It’s important to know just how beneficial this fermented food is for your health. Here are eight reasons why you should consider eating sauerkraut on a regular basis:
1. Improved digestive health – Sauerkraut is rich in Lactobacillus bacteria. This group of microbes help the “gut,”or gastrointestinal tract, in many different ways. For example, a Lactobacillus strain known as L. rhamnosus can help reduce the severity of digestive issues.3 Fermented food also helps promote regular bowel movements. It helps with the proper absorption of nutrients, and plays a role in weight management.4
2. Immune system benefits – Your gut plays a major role in helping to keep your immune system strong. This, in turn, helps to protect you from several major illnesses..The lactic acid produced during the fermentation process can also help boost the immune system, and may also help manage risk of allergies.5, 6, 7
3. Improved cognition – Cabbage is high in vitamin K, which has been associated with improved brain function.8 But the good bacteria in sauerkraut may also have a positive impact on cognitive skills, such as learning, memory, and organization. Researchers are still investigating the connection between the brain and the gut. Early indications are that the health of the digestive system can have a major effect on cognition. Much of this interaction has to do with the vagus nerve. This nerve provides an important communication link between the intestinal nerves and the nerves in the brain. Different types of bacteria in the gut, researchers believe, can affect this communication.9
4. Improved mood – The good bacteria in a fermented food such as sauerkraut and kimchi may also help boost your mood. Research suggests that good bacteria play a role in producing enzymes and other substances that work with chemicals found in the brain, such as dopamine and serotonin, to control moods. Beneficial bacteria can help fight stress, increase energy, and may help improve the quality of your sleep.10
5. Helping with weight management – Research indicates good bacteria can reduce the amount of fat we absorb from the food we eat by increasing the amount that leaves our bodies via waste.11 In addition, beneficial microbes are thought to play a role in helping to increase the feeling of fullness after eating a fermented food, such as sauerkraut. Specifically, these microbes play a role in releasing a hormone known as GLP-1, which helps reduce appetite.12
6. Antioxidant properties – Cabbage is full of antioxidants, which can help the body fight diseases caused by oxidative stress. Oxidation creates harmful molecules known as “free radicals,” which are missing an electron. Whenever a free radical is created, it will roam the body, trying to find the electron it’s missing. Free radical damage is also known as oxidative damage, and can lead to the death of cells and an increased chance of developing a serious disease.
7. Rich in vitamin C – Cabbage is also rich in vitamin C. The vitamin C in cabbage helps the body in a wide variety of ways. For example, it helps repair damaged tissue. It also helps produce collagen – a type of protein that is key to the formation of healthy ligaments, blood vessels, tendons, and cartilage.13
Making Sauerkraut at Home
Now that you know some of the benefits of sauerkraut, you’ll want to know how to best enjoy it. If you want to make a great batch of this fermented food on your own, here’s an easy-to-follow recipe:
The process of making sauerkraut is relatively fast, but you’ll need to wait a while – about a month – to see the results. First, you’ll need to gather five pounds of cabbage (shredded cabbage, preferably, to make it easier), two tablespoons of pickling salt or sea salt, and a teaspoon of caraway seeds. This should be enough cabbage to make about a gallon of sauerkraut.
Mix the cabbage, seeds, and salt in a large bowl and let the mixture sit for about 10 minutes. Then, put the salt/seed/cabbage mix into a large glass container, and seal it with a lid. Put a jar of water on top of the container to make sure the seal is tight. Put the jars in a cool place, and then let the mixture sit overnight.
The next morning, check to make sure the cabbage and other ingredients are submerged in liquid. You’ll need to skim any scum that might form on the top of the cabbage every couple of days for two weeks. After four weeks, take out the mixture, and place it in an airtight jar. You should be able to enjoy it for as long as six months.
Stay on the Safe Side
Before you start including sauerkraut as a part of your regular diet, talk to your doctor. You want to make sure you don’t have any sort of food allergy or other health issue that could pose a problem. Once you get the “all clear,” enjoy this fermented food – and be ready to reap the benefits.
For a Korean version of sauerkraut, try this kimchi recipe.
For more helpful information, keep reading: