The name Sauerkraut is borrowed from German and literally means ‘sour cabbage’. Most sour, tangy, pickled tasting cabbage products seem to be described as Sauerkraut irrespective of the way they were produced. Sauerkraut is used indiscriminately to describe cabbage that has been steeped in ascorbic acid or vinegar or has been pasteurised or is actually naturally fermented and unpasteurised. This can lead to a lot of confusion about the nutritional benefits of Sauerkraut products.
The original Sauerkraut, that’s been made for millennia, is naturally fermented and unpasteurised. It is produced by adding a little salt to the raw vegetables which are then left in an air tight container to ferment. The fermentation process allows the good bacteria to thrive. The good bacteria provide the dual benefit of preserving the cabbage and making it rich in probiotics. Unpasteurised Sauerkraut produced through fermentation is naturally rich in probiotics, digestive enzymes and is great for gut health. The tangy sour taste primarily comes from the lactic acid produced during fermentation. In fact, this type of fermentation is called lacto-fermentation because lactobacillus bacteria grow and produce lactic acid.
However, if the product is pasteurised the nutritional and probiotic benefits produced through fermentation will be compromised due to the heating involved in pasteurisation.
If you are looking for Sauerkraut rich in probiotics, don’t buy anything that has been pasteurised as it won’t contain active probiotics. Supermarket shelf-ready Sauerkraut is likely to be pasteurised and won’t contain live good bacteria. However, it is also likely to be a lot cheaper than any Sauerkraut which is naturally fermented and contains probiotics. The pasteurised supermarket Sauerkraut will be much cheaper because the pasteurisation ensures the products are stable and easy to produce on a commercial scale. This type of Sauerkraut isn’t especially good for gut health in the way an unpasteurised naturally fermented Sauerkraut containing probiotics will be.
Equally, Sauerkraut with ascorbic acid or vinegar added won’t have the nutritional benefits of probiotics as the additional acid interferes with the natural fermentation process.
The best place to find unpasteurised naturally fermented Sauerkraut that’s rich in probiotics is in the fridge of an independent health food shop, at farmers markets or online. Price, as has been mentioned, is another indicator about the nature of the Sauerkraut. Unfortunately, properly fermented Sauerkraut is normally a lot more expensive than the pasteurised supermarket products because of the time-consuming process of fermentation.
Ultimately, the Sauerkraut which is best for your gut health is unpasteurised and naturally fermented for a minimum of 3 weeks. Eat a little everyday as a condiment to complement your meal. To get the full probiotic benefits of unpasteurised, naturally fermented Sauerkraut, eat it raw and don’t cook with it. The heat involved in cooking will compromise the digestive enzymes and probiotics. If you want to cook with Sauerkraut then you are probably better off getting the supermarket pasteurised one because the cooking will compromise the probiotic content of an unpasteurised naturally fermented Sauerkraut.