By Keri Glassman, MS, RD, CDN
What It Is
While it may be the cornerstone of the Eastern European diet, sauerkraut isn't a dish that makes most of us cheer and shout.
Sauerkraut (aka "sour cabbage") was invented long ago as a means of preserving cabbage. Kraut is made by mixing together shredded fresh cabbage and salt and pressing down on the mixture, which releases water and causes fermentation. Fermentation brings to life wonderful microbes, which may be enough incentive for you to eat that little pile of kraut that gets served up with your potatoes and kielbasas.
The Dirty Deets
For a mere 27 calories per cup, sauerkraut offers 4 grams of fiber, 35 percent of your daily vitamin C needs, 21 percent of your daily vitamin K needs and 12 percent of your daily iron needs. How's that for a nutrition powerhouse?
- Dutch sailors -- who ate sauerkraut to prevent scurvy, a disease caused by vitamin C deficiency -- brought the dish to the U.S. You already know that vitamin C is a great antioxidant and immune booster.
- Sauerkraut contains far more lactobacillus than yogurt, making it a superior source of this probiotic. A bite or two of kraut every few days -- or whenever your tummy is upset -- may help treat ulcerative colitis and irritable bowel syndrome. It may also treat and prevent eczema.
- Most canned sauerkraut has been pasteurized, which kills off the good bacteria. Purchase fresh sauerkraut (made without vinegar) to reap all the health benefits.
How To Chow Down
It's easy to make your own sauerkraut, which keeps for a while in your fridge. Serve a little spoonful alongside pork or sausages or on top of toasted bread with avocado. If you're going to have a hot dog (which usually doesn't get my seal of approval), top it with sauerkraut, mustard and fresh onions. Yum.
- There is no better make-ahead side for a summer BBQ than sauerkraut slaw. The flavors mature if you refrigerate it overnight -- you'll be asked for the recipe, so bring copies.
- Nothing beats a Reuben sandwich, a classic in its own right. Make a healthy version by replacing the corned beef with turkey. While you're at it, why not swap the bread for a scooped-out baked potato, top it with kraut, and call it dinner?
In The Know
There's so much cancer research related to cabbage (it's a cruciferous veggie, after all, and loaded with isothiocyanates) that I cringe at the thought of abandoned kraut on a plate. If the Eastern European version isn’t working for you, give kimchi, a spicer Korean cabbage dish, a try.