The benefits of sauerkraut can be summed up in 3 words - lactic acid bacteria - lots and lots of lactic acid bacteria.
And these bacteria are known to have beneficial effects on our health - particularly our gastrointestinal health, so although they may not all be classified as probiotic in the strict scientific meaning of the word, have no doubt that they are good for you.
Lactic acid fermented foods such as sauerkraut have made up a significant portion of food eaten by humans for a long time and still do in many developing countries, eg in Africa. Lactic acid fermentation is the simplest and usually the safest way of preserving food.
There are archaeologic indications that people has always used this technique and therefore our forefathers would have consumed large numbers of live lactic acid bacteria. Archaeological evidence suggests that lactic acid bacteria associated with plant material were eaten before those associated with milk1.
It seems logical to think that the human gastrointestinal tract has evolved to adapt to a more or less daily supply of live lactic acid bacteria. This supply stopped in industrialized countries during the 20th century, which may have led to the enormous increase in gastrointestinal and immunological problems that plague us.
Be nice to your insides and say yes, to the benefits of sauerkraut!
The numbers of different lactic acid bacteria in sauerkraut can reach concentrations of 108 to 109 per gram.2 That will give you as many useful bacteria as a good supplement - the only difference is that they won't all be probiotic. However they will be lactic acid bacteria (which are good for you) AND there would be a far greater diversity than you'll find in any supplement.
This diversity of bacteria extends to each batch of sauerkraut that you make. No two will be identical in microbiological makeup. In my view, this is one of the biggest benefits of sauerkraut - you will consume a wide range of various beneficial bacteria. In a supplement, you only consume what the manufacturer (who of necessity has one eye on the balance sheet) has put in.
Food is always the best way to get your probiotics if you're able to.
During the first week of fermentation there is a rapid rise in the number of bacteria in sauerkraut and the species of bacteria changes constantly.
In the final stages of fermentation (which is more-or-less complete within 2 weeks) Lactobacillus plantarum which is the most acid tolerant species is in the largest numbers3.
Lactobacillus plantarum is renown for it beneficial effect with diseases like IBS and the most valuable strain is found in supplements such as TuZen Probiotic. It helps boost your immune system by increasing the amount of antibodies that help fight off nasties such as E-coli, salmonella, and candida.
So sauerkraut contains all the vitamins, minerals and health giving properites of cabbage and then the fermentation process adds a whole lot more.
If you want to make your own sauerkraut then I can't do better than point you towards my friend Jeff who is an expert at making sauerkraut.
If you still need convincing on the benefits of sauerkraut just take a look at what Lactobacillus plantarum - the biggest group of bacteria in fully fermented cabbage - has been proven to do.
Suffice to say, that sauerkraut has been used for hundreds of years to help cure upset stomachs by increasing healthy flora in the intestinal tract. If that doesn't convince you of the benefits of sauerkraut, I don't know what will!
Are you struggling to get your tastebuds round that sour and salty flavor? Read my personal story of how I learnt to love fermented cabbage.
Or are you curious about the link between bird flu and sauerkraut?
1. Goran Molin. Probiotics in foods not containing milk or milk constituents, with special reference to Lactobacillus plantarum 299v. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Vol. 73, No. 2, 380S—385s, February 2001.
2. ZdenkaSamish, Etinger-Tulczynska R , Miriam Bick. The Microflora Within the Tissue of Fruits and Vegetables. Journal of Food Science Volume 28 Issue 3, Pages 259 - 266.
3. Vethachai Plengvidhya, Fredrick Breidt, Jr., Zhongjing Lu, and Henry P. Fleming. DNA Fingerprinting of Lactic Acid Bacteria in Sauerkraut Fermentations. Appl Environ Microbiol. 2007 December; 73(23).
4. Vanderhoof, J.A. Probiotics and intestinal inflammatory disorders in infants and children. J Pediatr Gastroenterol Nutr 30, S34—S38.
5. Nobaek, S, Johansson, M.L. and Molin, G. Alteration of intestinal microflora is associated with reduction in abdominal bloating and pain in patients with irritable bowel syndrome. Am J Gastroenterol 95, 1231—1238.
6. Walker, W.A. Role of nutrients and bacterial colonization in the development of intestinal host defense. J Pediatr Gastroenterol Nutr 30, S2—S7.
7. Sindhu SC, Khetarpaul N. Effect of probiotic fermentation on antinutrients and in vitro protein and starch digestibilities of indigenously developed RWGT food mixture. Nutr Health. 2002;16(3):173-81.