Sauerkraut – or fermented cabbage (plus a recipe)

Posted on 21st February 2017

In August 1768 Captain Cook left for an expedition on board of his ship “Endeavour” in quest of discovering just another new, rich and beautiful land, thus ascertaining himself glory and historical immortality. The expedition proved to be very successful, not only because of the discoveries, but also (and most likely this had a huge impact on the discoveries in the first place) because this time he did not lose most of his crew to scurvy and various infections – an unfortunate, but very common occurrence in previous naval expeditions. And the secret to such a fortunate outcome was… fermented cabbage (or sauerkraut, which in German means exactly that – fermented cabbage). The Captain carried on board of his ship a total of 7,860 pounds of this exceptionally wholesome food (1) that was – and still is – cheap, easily available, exceptionally simple to prepare and store. So – where exactly does “The Enigma of SAUERKRAUT” lie?
The basic recipe (I call it “basic” because one can always add some caraway seeds, grated apple, carrot, some lingonberries or cranberries to the preparation) includes only white or/and red cabbage and salt. The absence of any other pickling additives such as wine vinegar allows Lactobacillus Acidophilus, a type of bacteria that populates our intestines and huge impact on our health (2) to multiply and produce that typical slightly acidic taste of fermented foods.  This Lactobacillus A. caused fermentation increases already high vitamin contents of cabbage and adds new nutritional qualities to the food because of by-products of the bacteria (3). Lactobacillus is especially beneficial for our immune system (4) because up to 80% of our immunes system cells “reside” in the gut (small and large intestines) (5).
Therefore, going back to that Captain Cook’s expedition: vitamin C helped to avoid the epidemy of scurvy – a disease that used to reap entire ship crews and expeditions to North and South Pole. In addition, the above mentioned positive effects of sauerkraut on the health of the digestive and the immune systems made seamen much more resistant to other infections and diseases that were lurking where crowded environment, hard work, tough climates and tiredness were “on the agenda”.
Other examples of fermented foods are: miso, kimchi, dairy or non-dairy (such as coconut or soya) yoghurt or kephir, kombucha, fermented gherkins and soya sauce.
(Makes full 2 l jar)
  • 2 middle sized white cabbages
  • 3 heaped tablespoons of salt
  1. Finely shred the cabbages.
  2. Mix them with salt and caraway seeds.
  3. “Massage” the shredded cabbage for 15-20 min. (you may leave it for some 10 to 20 min. after 10 min. of massaging and repeat the procedure for another 10 min. or until you notice that the cabbage has become softer and there are juices produced).
  4. Tightly pack the shreds into a 2 l jar (I use a clip top type jar), trying not to leave any air inside.
  5. Close the jar and leave it in dark and cool (13-18º C; 50-66º F) place for 5-7 days.
No need to keep in the fridge when opened, but try to keep the jar in the cool.
1.       Lamb J. BBC - History - British History in depth: Captain Cook and the Scourge of Scurvy [Internet]. 2011 [cited 2017 Jan 19]. Available from:
2.       Gill H, Prasad J. Probiotics, Immunomodulation, and Health Benefits. Bioactive Components of Milk. New York, NY: Springer New York; 2008. p. 423–54.
3.       Chun OK, Smith N, Sakagawa A, Lee CY. Antioxidant properties of raw and processed cabbages. Int J Food Sci Nutr. Taylor & Francis; 2004 May 6;55(3):191–9.
4.       Corthésy B, Gaskins HR, Mercenier A. Cross-talk between probiotic bacteria and the host immune system. J Nutr. American Society for Nutrition; 2007 Mar;137(3 Suppl 2):781S–90S.
5.       Perdigón G, Fuller R, Raya R. Lactic Acid Bacteria and their Effect on the Immune System. Curr Issues Intest Microbiol. 2001;2(1):27–42.
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