Sauerkraut, Germany’s superfood, has been a staple in the German diet since the 1600s, earning Germans the unflattering ‘Kraut’ moniker, one they have come to accept with humor. Yet, contrary to common perception, sauerkraut did not originate in Germany. Sauerkraut, a term which is made up of the German words sauer (sour) and kraut (cabbage), it is a Chinese invention and as much a French/Alsatian specialty as it is truly Irish.
It was, in fact, the Chinese who first fermented cabbage in rice wine over 2,000 years ago. Not until the 16th century did the Europeans adopt this habit of fermenting cabbage in its own juices, thus creating what we know today as sauerkraut. While declining in popularity as a side dish in modern German cuisine, its health properties and versatility have caused sauerkraut to experience a culinary revival all over the world. With the migration of large groups of Germans to American shores in the 18th century, sauerkraut became an American transplant, favored first among the German immigrants, then becoming part of the American cuisine. After all, what would the Reuben sandwich or hot dog be with a generous serving of sauerkraut?
Aside from its versatility and great taste, sauerkraut, is as a well-known ‘superfood,’ recommended atop the list of foods to include in a healthy diet. At 27 calories per cup, it is a low calorie food and it’s loaded with folate, vitamin B6, riboflavin, thiamin and vitamin K. It provides one third of the recommended intake of vitamin C and is also rich in minerals such as iron, potassium and magnesium. Fermenting the cabbage actually INCREASES its nutritional benefits, making it more digestible and creating a probiotic effect in the gastrointestinal system. And, as if all this wasn’t enough to qualify it as a superfood, sauerkraut is purported to have an effect on reducing the risk of breast cancer among women. A study by the University of New Mexico found that the consumption of sauerkraut could lower breast cancer risk by 74% and according to the American Association for Cancer Research a Polish Women’s health study also found a link between sauerkraut consumption and a lower risk of breast cancer.
Did the Germans really ever deserve the moniker “Kraut” first coined in World War I? Back then, the slur was used by British and American troops to describe their German enemy combatants, but after the war it continued to be used as a uncomplimentary nickname for Germans as a whole.
While still a staple in homes and restaurants, the consumption of sauerkraut in Germany has been declining. Today the average per capita consumption of sauerkraut is approximately 2.6 pounds, down from 4.4 pounds 40 years ago. Compare that to the 3.75 pounds of sauerkraut per person consumed by the French and the whopping 49 pounds per person of kimchi consumed in Korea, and Germany is no longer King of the Kraut! (Although, arguably, the best tasting sauerkraut in jars and cans is produced in Germany.)
These days, Germans are apt to poke fun at themselves and the stereotypical “Kraut-Eating Kraut.” A reporter for Deutsche Welle set off on a quest to find out ‘How much Kraut is there really in the Krauts?’ Watch the video to learn what he found out in this “Truth about Germany” clip: