What are fermented foods and what are their health benefits?
Fermentation is a metabolic process in which microorganisms covert carbohydrates into alcohol or acid in the absence of air. It's long been used as a food processing method to alter the longevity, taste and texture of dairy, meat, fish, vegetables, fruits, soybeans and legumes. Aside from the foods used, there are a range of different variables in fermentation process that alter the outcome including the microorganisms involved (like bacteria, yeast or fungi) and the environmental conditions. Popular fermented foods include kimchi, sauerkraut, kefir, kombucha, miso, sourdough bread, pickles and tempeh.
Fermented foods have seen a huge growth in popularity (pun intended) due to slated probiotic properties and other health benefits. But a recent review published in the journal Nutrients found that there is extremely limited evidence for the role fermented food has in digestive health and disease. Probiotics are live microorganisms which, when administered in adequate amounts, offer benefits to digestive and immune health. However, most fermented foods don't meet these criteria and might not give you similar benefits to a probiotic supplements.
What is sauerkraut?
Sauerkraut is combination of finely shredded cabbage and salt, which has been fermented by various lactic acid bacteria like Leuconostoc spp., Lactobacillus spp., and Pediococcus spp. It originated in the fourth century BC and is popular in European countries like Germany and Poland.
Types of sauerkraut
There are many different kinds of sauerkraut using additional ingredients, spices and herbs. When it comes to flavours if you can dream it, you can do it – chilli, ginger, curry, carrot, fennel and even fruit.
What does sauerkraut taste like?
If you've never tried sauerkraut before, it can take some getting used to. Plain sauerkraut tastes slightly sour, sweet, spicy and salty with a touch of fermented funkiness. It's traditionally eaten with European dishes like pierogies, stews and slabs of meat, but it works amazingly in salads, sandwiches and tacos.
What are the health benefits of sauerkraut?
As mentioned earlier, despite the hype around sauerkraut as a gut health-friendly food, there's no hard and fast science backing up its benefits. But that doesn't mean it shouldn't have a place on your plate.
So while there's no proof it's beneficial at this stage "there is a chance," Marika says. "Plus it is delicious."
Nutritional properties of sauerkraut
Sauerkraut is a great source of fibre plus vitamins A, B, C, and K. One cup (142 grams) of sauerkraut offers:
- Calories: 27
- Fat: 0 grams
- Carbs: 7 grams
- Fibre: 4 grams
- Protein: 1 gram
- Sodium: 39% of the RDI
- Vitamin C: 35% of the RDI
- Vitamin K: 23% of the RDI
- Iron: 12% of the RDI
- Manganese: 11% of the RDI
- Vitamin B6: 9% of the RDI
- Folate: 9% of the RDI
- Copper: 7% of the RDI
- Potassium: 7% of the RDI
What are downsides of sauerkraut?
Some side effects of overdoing it on the sauerkraut include bloating, gas and digestive discomfort. While raw cabbage is generally low in FODMAPs, sauerkraut is high in FODMAPs. This can cause issues for anyone sensitive to FODMAPs. Head here for more information on that.
How do you select and store sauerkraut?
Before you select any old jar of sauerkraut off the shelf, some options are better than others.
For sauerkraut to retain potential probiotic properties (sheesh, mouthful much) it needs to be kept at a stable, cooler temperature, and not subject to the high heat used in a pasteurisation process.
"When it comes to choosing one the biggest factor in looking for a product is to make sure it isn’t pasteurised," Marika says. "This means it will need to be kept cold or stored in the fridge."
What is the average cost of sauerkraut?
While proper, unpasteurised sauerkraut can cost upwards of $15 a jar, you can make your own at home from a minute fraction of the cost.
It is SO easy to make sauerkraut at home, here is a d sauerkraut recipe.
- Half a green cabbage, shredded
- One and a half teaspoons of salt
- Optional additions – grated carrots, chilli, caraway seeds, cumin seeds, coriander seeds, fresh herbs, fresh turmeric and fresh ginger.
- Chop your cabbage or shred it in a food processor. Place it in a bowl and add salt.
- Use your clean hands to thoroughly massage the cabbage and salt together for at around 10 minutes. You’ll notice more liquid in the mixture as the salt draws water out of the cabbage.
- Let it stand for anywhere between 15 to 60 minutes.
- Spoon the cabbage mixture its liquid into a clean jars and pack it down hard. You need to leave around two inches of liquid above the compacted cabbage. Any cabbage exposed to oxygen will grow mold and ruin your sauerkraut. You can use a spare cabbage leaf to keep the rest of the mix under the brine liquid (you'll bin this leaf after fermentation).
- Seal your vessel and store it on a plate in a dark spot at room temperature. Leave it to ferment for three to four weeks. "Burp" your sauerkraut by removing the lid briefly to let built up CO2 escape – be sure to not let the cabbage move above the brine.
- Occasionally check for signs of mold – dark, black and fuzzy. White growth is totally fine.