A bowl of sauerkraut brings back memories of Oktoberfest, but this sour vegetable has enough nutrition to be enjoyed all year long. The main component of sauerkraut is cabbage, a natural superfood packed with vitamin C and antioxidants. The fermenting process of sauerkraut also adds extra benefits to digestive health, making sauerkraut a healthy option for your menu.
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Traditional sauerkraut is made from green cabbage, a cruciferous vegetable related to Brussels sprouts, kale and broccoli. One cup of raw cabbage provides 2 grams of fiber. Cabbage is a good source of vitamin C, which powers the immune system and protects against disease. It also contains beta-carotene, an antioxidant that promotes vision and skin health. Cabbage is an excellent source of vitamin K, which maintains bone health and promotes blood clotting.
Fermented cabbage dates back at least 2,000 years ago to China, where it was used to make rice wine. Sauerkraut can be canned and stored without refrigeration for several months. To make sauerkraut, cabbage is first preserved in a brine solution and stored for several weeks. Bacteria on the cabbage reproduce and allow for fermentation. These bacteria are known as probiotics and are beneficial to the human digestive system. The digestive tract naturally contains good bacteria to aid with digestion. Probiotics may be used to treat gastrointestinal conditions and restore balance of good bacteria in the digestive tract.
Sauerkraut can be high in sodium. There are lower-sodium varieties, so read the nutrition label. The fermentation process of sauerkraut creates an acidic environment that gives sauerkraut its signature sour flavor. This acid environment can create a hospitable environment for botulism, a rare but serious food-borne disease. The largest risk is home canning. Follow canning directions carefully and dispose of any can of food that has dents by the seal or bulges. Throw out food that has an unusual smell.
Sauerkraut adds a boost of flavor to many different dishes. Add a scoop of sauerkraut to your hot sandwich. Mix sauerkraut into your mashed potatoes or try a sauerkraut soup. Bake a pasta casserole by mixing sauerkraut, whole-wheat pasta, beans, mushrooms and onions. Sauerkraut adds flavor to many different meals, so reap the benefits of this tasty vegetable all year long.
Jennifer Dlugos is a Boston-based writer with more than 10 years of experience in the health-care and wellness industries. She is also an award-winning filmmaker and screenwriter who teaches screenwriting and film production classes throughout New England. Dlugos holds a master's degree in dietetics.