Russian superfood: 6 scientific facts about the benefits and harms of sauerkraut

Russian superfood: 6 scientific facts about the benefits and harms of sauerkraut.


In winter, when there are no seasonal vegetables, the body especially needs vitamins. Before the advent of refrigerators, our ancestors saved themselves with sauerkraut, a simple but very useful dish

Together with a gastroenterologist we tell about the benefits and harms of sauerkraut, and together with the chef we explain how to cook it correctly.

- What you should know

- Benefits

- Harm

- How to cook

Sauerkraut is prepared by fermentation, using lactic fermentation. Bacteria that are on the cabbage itself, as well as in the air and on human hands, begin to multiply in it, absorbing carbohydrates. Thanks to their activity, the shelf life of the cabbage is increased to several months and its taste becomes more sour. In addition, the bacteria saturate the dish with organic acids and other beneficial substances. Roughly the same thing happens when you ferment yogurt.

What you need to know about sauerkraut

Sauerkraut is one of the oldest and most common ways to ferment vegetables. It was prepared as far back as the ancient Romans. The writer Pliny Secundus, who lived in the early first century AD, wrote: "Cabbage helps nursing mothers give more milk, helps with blurred vision, eliminates headaches and probably acts as a medicine for alcohol poisoning." His observations proved correct.

Sauerkraut is most popular among the peoples of Central and Eastern Europe - Germans, Poles, Czechs, Russians, and Balts. In other countries it is known primarily under the German name sauerkraut.


Different peoples make sauerkraut in their own way. The Germans and Northern Slavs shred it finely, while the Balkans salt it whole in large barrels. Poles, Balts and Russians add other fruits to the cabbage, such as carrots or apples, and cranberries. Germans and Austrians sour it with cumin and juniper.

Sauerkraut has many culinary uses: it is fried, stewed or eaten raw, added to soups, pies and meat dishes. In the national cuisine of each country in Eastern or Central Europe there is a unique dish with sauerkraut. Here are the most popular and interesting of them:

- Sour cabbage szi - a traditional dish of Russian cuisine, undeservedly forgotten and partially superseded by Ukrainian borsch;

- Polish-Lithuanian bigos - sauerkraut, which is stewed with meat, prunes, mushrooms and spices for a long time;

- Sarma - a Balkan variation of dolma, which uses whole cabbage leaves instead of grape leaves;

- Jewish-American Reuben sandwich - a rye bread sandwich with corned beef, cheese, and cabbage;

- Tyrolean sauerkraut - cabbage stewed with bits of bacon and onions in beef broth;

- German casserole of cabbage with sausage.

In South Asia and the Far East, sauerkraut has many distant relatives. Korea and Japan cook kimchi - fermented Chinese cabbage in a spicy brine. Nepalis hoard gundruk - sauerkraut for the winter. The Burmese marinate vegetables, including cabbage, in rice wine, a dish called monhin tjin.


Nutritional value and calories of sauerkraut

Sauerkraut is a dietary product rich in minerals and vitamins. One cup (140 g) contains:

- calories - 27;

- fats - 0;

- carbohydrates - 6 gr;

- fiber - 4 g;

- Protein - 1 g.

Minerals and vitamins (as a percentage of daily allowance):

- Sodium, 41%;

- Vitamin C - 23%;

- Vitamin K1 - 15%;

- iron - 12%;

- manganese - 9%;

- vitamin B6 - 11%;

- folic acid - 9%;

- copper - 15%;

- potassium - 5%.


The benefits of sauerkraut

Sauerkraut contains probiotics that improve intestinal function as well as vitamins and minerals that boost immunity and strengthen bones. Studies show that sauerkraut and other products with probiotics can have a positive effect on a person's mood and help fight depression.

Good for digestion

Sauerkraut is good for the gut and improves its overall microflora. The bacteria that ferment cabbage are called probiotics. These same bacteria are also found in our intestines, and they play a first-line defense against toxins, inflammation, and harmful microorganisms [3]. In addition, as Alena Potasheva notes, sauerkraut contains a lot of fiber, thanks to which this pickle effectively prevents constipation.

A good source of iron

Iron is an important element for our body. It is necessary for blood production and metabolism. Iron deficiency impairs the immune system and leads to loss of strength. We get most of this mineral from meat. It is also found in many plants, but in this form it is much worse absorbed. A study by European scientists showed that bacteria in sauerkraut and other fermented vegetables improve iron absorption by increasing its bioavailability.

Protects the nervous system and improves the mood

There is an old saying in Austria, "Sour makes happy" - it means that sauerkraut increases the appetite and adds pleasure to any meal. But recent research brings new meaning to this saying. Probiotics in fermented foods affect the brain and nervous system, improving mood and helping treat depressive symptoms.

A recent study by Chinese scientists found that the state of gut microflora affects the risk of developing Alzheimer's disease, and probiotics from fermented foods can reduce the likelihood of developing it.

The exact mechanisms by which these effects work are poorly understood. Scientists talk about the existence of a "signaling system" that links the gut microbiota to the brain and acts through immune, endocrine, neural and metabolic pathways. But the exact principle of its operation is unknown.

Strengthens the immune system

A century ago, several barrels of sauerkraut could always be found on any ship. Sailors ate it to avoid scurvy, because it contains a lot of vitamin C, which is very important for the immune system and many organs of our body. It participates in the production of white blood cells, stimulates cell regeneration and promotes the formation of collagen, essential for the elasticity of skin and many other tissues. And probiotics, according to a recent study by German doctors, enhance the beneficial properties.

Helps maintain strong bones

The combination of vitamins and minerals found in sauerkraut make it an almost ideal food for maintaining healthy bones. Vitamin K regulates the production of proteins that regulate their mineralization. Manganese, potassium, phosphorus and magnesium make bones stronger.

Helps with hangovers.

"Both cabbage itself and the brine from it are a great hangover cure," says gastroenterologist Alena Potasheva. - This is due to the fact that it contains succinic acid, which helps neutralize harmful acetaldehyde, and various salts."

The harm of sauerkraut

The main danger of sauerkraut is the high salt content used in the preparation of this product. Excess salt leads to water retention in the body and edema, increases blood pressure, increases the risk of urolithiasis and other kidney diseases, heart attacks and strokes.

Another disadvantage of this product is the high concentration of histamine. It is this substance that is released into the blood during allergies. Because of this, sauerkraut increases the risk of reactions to other products.

Finally, it is important to remember that everything is good in moderation. Studies show that sauerkraut improves digestion, but only if you eat it in small portions. And in large quantities it can cause diarrhea.

How to cook sauerkraut: tips from the chef

To ferment cabbage is very simple. For the simplest recipe, you will only need cabbage and salt.

First, it is worth checking the cabbage for freshness - whether it has no damage or signs of rottenness. The salt should be about 2-2.5% of the cabbage weight, which means that for 10 kilos you need 200-250 grams. Peel the cabbage from the outer leaves, and then finely chop or grate it with a special grater. You can add carrots, but not much - 10-15% of the weight of the cabbage.

Mix the cabbage with salt and squeeze it with your hands so that it gives juice - so it will ferment more quickly and evenly. Put this mass in a clean jar or other container. You can put a burden on top. Cabbage should sour for 3-4 days at room temperature or slightly above. Several times a day it should be pierced with a knife, to release carbon dioxide, otherwise it will be bitter.

How can sauerkraut be harmful, especially in large quantities?

With all the useful properties of sauerkraut, not everyone can digest it well. Therefore, it is better to start eating cabbage in small quantities. It can cause excessive gas formation in the intestines, leading to bloating and flatulence.

Who should not eat sauerkraut?

Patients with inflammatory bowel disease should be especially careful with sauerkraut - it can provoke a flare-up.

Most likely, it will be difficult to eat for patients with gastritis or duodenitis, and even more so for those with peptic ulcer disease, as cabbage fiber is quite coarse. If sauerkraut is sauerkraut with added sugar (and there are such recipes), then it should not be enjoyed by patients with insulin resistance and diabetes. If it has too much salt, then patients with heart disease may have problems.

If sauerkraut gets "sour," can it be poisoned?

"Over-fermentation" of cabbage is a violation of the rules of its preparation or storage. In such a cabbage can "grow" not only useful bacteria. If mold appeared in it, the brine became cloudy or the smell - unpleasant, then such a cabbage is not worth eating, of course. Simply "over-oxidized" cabbage is simply unpalatable rather than harmful, so it is often subjected to heat treatment (stewed or added to cabbage soup).


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