Sauerkraut, the Original ProbioticSauerkraut is so full of vitamins and probiotics that ancient sailors ate it on long voyages to stay healthy.
With the advent of refrigeration and airline flights, getting and storing fresh vegetables year round is not something most people have to be concerned about. But before cold storage and long haul shipping was commonplace, vegetables spoiled very quickly and only creative solutions kept vegetables fresh for more than a few days after ripening. Sauerkraut is one solution to this problem that not only keeps vegetables fresh for months on end, but also confers exciting health benefits in the form of probiotics and nutrients that the plant in its natural form doesn’t have.
Sauerkraut and its spicier Asian cousin Kim Chee are age old superfoods that are beginning to make a comeback due to their unique taste and benefits of ‘good bacteria’. Fresh cabbage is already pre-populated with the bacteria required to lactoferment itself. It’s easy to see how our ancestors might have first discovered this tasty side dish after a forgotten dish of cabbage was found after a few weeks left in a corner. While the process of allowing a cabbage to sit for weeks may not sound appetizing, this fermentation process is accomplished with lactic acid bacteria digesting the sugar of the cabbage in a process similar to how yogurt is made. Like yogurt, the fermentation process makes cabbage healthier and more digestible than the plant in its original form. In addition to creating a naturally occurring probiotic supplement, fermentation adds other nutritional benefits as well. Cabbage in its raw form contains substances called ‘goitrogens’ that can block the production of thyroid hormone, but goitrogens are reduced or eliminated through the fermentation process. Another ‘bonus’ of eating sauerkraut is that it is higher in B vitamins than cabbage, particularly in vitamin B12, making sauerkraut a perfect food for vegans.
Smart sailors and explorers from ancient times, too, used sauerkraut as a shipboard staple that they knew would provide them with vegetables even months into a voyage. Shipboard records from around the world show that scurvy, a painful and deadly vitamin C deficiency disease that was rampant on shipboard voyages, was a nonexistent problem when perfectly preserved casks of vitamin C containing sauerkraut were regularly opened on long voyages. Not only was the sauerkraut a tasty addition to a sailor’s monotonous diet, but the good bacteria likely also protected sailors from getting the digestive complaints that so often plagued these men who boarded in cramped and unhygienic areas below-decks for months, and sometimes even years, on end.
While sauerkraut may be an ‘acquired’ taste for modern peoples used to mostly fresh or cooked vegetables, its tangy taste would have been a welcome treat for those in northern climates enduring long cold winters when all other vegetables had been eaten long before. In any case, it’s a delicious accompaniment to dishes from around the world. But all sauerkraut is not equal and modern processing has created canned and jarred sauerkraut that have been heat treated and pasteurized, destroying the fragile bacteria that are the main reason for eating sauerkraut in the first place. Fortunately, artisan companies are bringing back this ancient superfood in the form of small batches of raw unpasteurized boutique sauerkrauts with unique taste twists such a sea vegetables, detoxifying herbs and even apple and fennel. But make sure that it says ‘Raw’ or ‘Unpasteurized’ in order to make sure that it’s a ‘living’ food with beneficial bacteria. Even better, homemade sauerkraut is a simple and inexpensive way to brew up an effective natural probiotic ‘supplement’ that won’t require taking any pills, powders or potions.
Copyright: arcticle: Food Science Department NCSU
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