Where does the world-famous dish, sauerkraut actually originate from? This article takes you on a journey to explore the history of sauerkraut.

Sauerkraut, one of the best-known national dishes in Germany, is a rich and distinctive fermented cabbage with a long and fascinating history spanning centuries and continents. From its origins in ancient China to its popularity in Europe and North America, sauerkraut has played an important role in culinary and cultural development worldwide.

The origins of sauerkraut can be traced back over 2,000 years to ancient China, where it is said that the workers who built the Great Wall of China consumed cabbage preserved with yellow wine. This method of preserving cabbage spread throughout the East and eventually made its way to Europe, becoming a popular food in Germany.

The initial intention of the Chinese in making sauerkraut was to extend the shelf life of vegetables, but it eventually became an important source of nutrition on the Northeast Chinese table. Sauerkraut can be served as an appetiser, or side dish, or used as a seasoning to create various Northeastern dishes. Sauerkraut and vermicelli noodles are also a beloved combination among the Chinese. 

Sauerkraut with vermicelli noodles

In Germany, sauerkraut became a staple during the winter when fresh vegetables were scarce. The fermentation process not only preserved the cabbage but also made it more nutritious by breaking down fibres and releasing vitamins and minerals. It was also believed to have medicinal value and was used to treat various ailments, from indigestion to scurvy.

Several studies in Germany and Europe have shown that sauerkraut, during the salted fermentation process, produces various lactic acid bacteria that can inhibit tumour growth and reduce the risk of cancer. German sauerkraut has a beneficial effect on various organs, especially the digestive system. Sauerkraut is an important dish for Germans to entertain guests.

There are many ways to enjoy German sauerkraut. It can be stewed, served cold in salads, used in soups, or used to make sandwiches. The most famous way to enjoy it is with German pork knuckles or German sausages and mustard sauce. This dish can be enjoyed on almost any occasion, such as while watching a German football match, and is particularly refreshing and morale-boosting. Germans especially love to eat sauerkraut in winter.

German pork knuckles with sauerkraut

German sauerkraut is made from round cabbage, while Chinese sauerkraut uses Chinese cabbage. In terms of preparation, Chinese sauerkraut involves placing the entire cabbage in a jar for fermentation and then slicing the cabbage into strips when ready to eat.

German sauerkraut, on the other hand, involves picking the round cabbage from the garden and shredding it using a shredder or cutting it into very thin strips. The cabbage strips are then pounded until soft and watery. The cabbage strips are then fermented in a container together with salt and pressed juice.

In the 18th and 19th centuries, sauerkraut became popular among European sailors who relied on fermented cabbage to prevent scurvy during long sea voyages. German immigrants brought this dish to North America, where it became a staple in their diet and eventually spread to other regions of the continent.

Sauerkraut also played an important role during World War I and World War II. During World War I, due to anti-German sentiment, sauerkraut was renamed ‘liberty cabbage’ in the United States. However, this did not diminish the popularity of the dish, and soldiers from both sides continued to consume it.

In World War II, sauerkraut once again served as a source of nutrition for soldiers, and the German military even developed portable sauerkraut-making kits for frontline troops.

Overall, the curious history of sauerkraut demonstrates its enduring appeal as a fermented cabbage. Sauerkraut has played an important role in the culinary and cultural development worldwide. Whether enjoyed as a side dish or as a main ingredient in recipes, sauerkraut is a food with a rich and captivating history.