A traditional fermented beige cabbage that literally means “sour cabbage” in German, sauerkraut can add some gut-friendly zing to a wide range of dishes.
Though most popular as a hot dog topping or a stuffing for Reuben sandwiches, this versatile garnish is being used by chefs in increasingly experimental ways — and customers are lapping it up. Mildly acidic and soft in texture, it’s especially great when paired with meat.
The thought of a dollop of sour cabbage on your plate may not sound particularly enticing for British readers, but sauerkraut is a staple in Germany, Poland and much of central Europe.
Despite being associated with this part of the world (let’s face it — sauerkraut is as quintessentially German as bratwurst or schnitzel), sauerkraut is actually a Chinese invention. In fact, it’s only been eaten in Europe since around 1600.
Kraut is indeed a global phenomenon. If you’re a fan of Korean food, then it’s likely you’ve already had something similar: kimchi, a side dish also made from fermented vegetables. The adventurous among you may even have tried a Salvadoran fermented cabbage slaw called curtido. From the Far East to Latin America, sauerkraut comes in a number of forms and can be used in an even wider number of ways.
While this fermented food may already be a fixture on the menus of some trendy eateries in the UK, it’s set to explode onto the restaurant scene in 2019. As its status grows in the eyes of consumers, chefs with a finger on the pulse will no doubt start to add sauerkraut to their menus. Here are six reasons why sauerkraut is a superfood worth showcasing.
1) It’s incredibly healthy
For modern, health-conscious consumers, the nutritional value of the food they eat is one of the primary motivations for choosing certain options and certain restaurants over others. And because sauerkraut is packed full of goodness, consumers are flocking to places where it’s served.
The fermentation process when making sauerkraut increases the availability of nutrients, fibres and vitamins A, C, K and B. It’s also a great source of iron, magnesium, copper, calcium, sodium and manganese. Sauerkraut contains lactic acid and probiotic microorganisms that can improve digestion and even help fight cancerous cells. In fact, research shows a link between regular consumption of sauerkraut and a reduction in the risk of breast cancer.
2) It goes with almost anything savoury (and sweet!)
Sauerkraut as a pizza topping? Surely not? If you’re stuck in your culinary ways, you may want to avert your gaze for this section. That’s because sauerkraut is being increasingly used in non-traditional ways.
Though most of us know it as a popular flavour-enhancing condiment, it’s equally at home alongside avocado on a slice of toast or thrown in a green smoothie. It even works well as a lifesaving hangover cure. Got a boring ham sandwich? Turn it into a taste sensation but adding a hearty dose of sauerkraut. The options are endless.
Surprisingly, sauerkraut is also a great addition to desserts. Yes, sauerkraut chocolate cake is a thing. That’s because the fermented cabbage adds texture (similar to coconut), moistness and tartness to chocolate’s rich sweetness. If you’ve got a natural sweet tooth, then this really is the icing on the cake.
If you’re looking for an experimental sauerkraut recipe to get stuck into, why not start with pumpkin cranberry kraut or rhubarb lime ginger kraut. These colourful krauts will work in both savoury and sweet dishes — from a Polish casserole to a sauerkraut cupcakes. We told you it was versatile.
3) It keeps for a long time
Like other fermented foods, store-bought sauerkraut usually comes with a sell-by date on the label. If you keep it unopened, the stuff can last literally months — whether you keep it in the fridge or stored in your cupboard.
Once opened, the time it lasts depends on the type of sauerkraut you have. Shelf-stable sauerkraut will last for up to a week, while sauerkraut that’s bought refrigerated can last for months if it’s submerged in brine.
For the best quality sauerkraut, make sure you buy the refrigerated variety. This is fermented cabbage submerged in brine, and it’s a living thing that is full of gut-healthy bacteria. On the other hand, the unrefrigerated variety is usually fermented after pasteurisation, which kills most of the bacteria that make sauerkraut so healthy. So yeah — the refrigerated variety lasts longer and is way healthier.
It’s also worth noting that keeping sauerkraut in the fridge for a long time slows down the fermentation process. Though still edible, this means sauerkraut that’s been sat in the fridge for 12 weeks may not taste as good as one that you’ve just bought.
4) It’s in demand
Any chef knows that there’s no point wasting time, effort and resources on food that customers don’t want to eat. That’s why closely following what’s on trend and what isn’t is super important for any serious restaurant.
For foods that are in demand, there are new opportunities for creative flair. Sauerkraut’s market has skyrocketed in years, and what was once only be found in Polish shops can now be seen adorning supplier lists and supermarket shelves.
Back in 2017, celebrity health food aficionado Melissa Hemsley claimed that sauerkraut was “the next big thing” in clean eating, and her predictions appear to be correct.
High demand means that European sauerkraut brands such as Dobre and Hengstenberg can now be bought from major retailers like Tesco and Asda, as well as from online food services such as Ocado.
5) It’s cheap and cheerful
You may have seen it sold for suspiciously low prices in Polish shops, certain supermarkets and German discount stores, where 900ml jars cost around £1.50. The unpasteurised variety available in organic stores and from online suppliers is pricier but still represents a bargain when you consider the litany of health benefits this superfood offers. Buy from suppliers and it can be even cheaper. Put simply, there are few healthy foods that give you so much bang for your buck.
While the health food industry has caused the price of sauerkraut to increase in recent years, there’s an easy way to get your hands on it for mere pennies...
6) It’s easy to make yourself
Sauerkraut is super easy to make and requires very little special equipment. All you need to do is place some salted, shredded cabbage in a mason jar and stick the jar in the fridge. And that’s it. Seriously. There’s no more to it than that.
When sealed off from oxygen, the cabbage will release liquid and create its own brining solution. After this cabbage has been submerged in the brine for a number of days and weeks, it’ll start to slowly ferment — resembling crunchy, delicious kraut that you can use as a condiment, garnish or centrepiece for any dish.
Other vegetables can also be turned into kraut. Though sauerkraut literally means “sour cabbage”, it can be made from basically any other type of fermented veg, including beet and carrots.
Here’s a great, simple classic sauerkraut recipe from BBC Good Food that’s perfect as a topping for hot dogs.
As always, for more on the latest developments in the world of food, stay tuned to the weekly Blue Arrow Catering Blog.