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While it may not have the most attractive name, sauerkraut has slowly but surely worked its way into the mainstream food-consciousness over the past few years — and for good reason. The popular, slightly-sour superfood boasts an impressive collection of health benefits, and in fact is one of the most nutritious cruciferous vegetables available on the market. Read on to learn more about sauerkraut, and how to start incorporating it into your diet today.

What is Sauerkraut?

Traditionally a finely chopped and lactic acid fermented cabbage, sauerkraut is said to have originated in China over 2,000 years ago and was favored for its cheap preparation and long shelf life, which is a benefit of lactic fermentation. Don’t worry — despite the misleading name, “lactic” acid comes from a plant-source.

Around the 16th century, Germans began pickling the fermented cabbage in its own juices, thus giving birth to the kind of sauerkraut most of us are familiar with today — you know, the stuff that goes in Reubens and tops some people’s plant-based hot dogs.

Benefits of Sauerkraut

They call sauerkraut a superfood for a reason, folks. One serving of sauerkraut (about one-half of a cup) contains 27 calories, 35 percent of your daily vitamin C requirements, 24 percent of your daily vitamin K requirements, 11 percent of your daily manganese requirements, and 12 percent of your daily iron requirements.

Sauerkraut, being a fermented food, is also probiotic-rich, which means it helps break down food easily during digestion and allows your body to absorb its minerals and fiber more readily. In other words, it is extremely healthy for your gut, and also helps your body fight off inflammation.

Additionally, most of our immune system actually exists in our guts, rendering sauerkraut an immune-boosting mega-ingredient.

Buying and Making Sauerkraut

You should be able to find sauerkraut in the refrigerated aisle of almost any grocery store. It’s typically sold in jars for low prices — depending on the brand and provider — and looks like a yellow-beige pile of shredded slaw floating in brine. Is your mouth not watering yet?

If you want to make your own sauerkraut, it’s actually fairly simple to do so. All you’ll really need is a cabbage, some salt, sterilized fermentation jars, and some time. You’ll need to let your cabbage ferment into sauerkraut in a dark space for at least three weeks at room temperature.

Check out this beginner’s recipe for Simple Sauerkraut, and then move on to learning How to Make Raw Sauerkraut. Feeling adventurous? This Lemon Garlic Habanero Sauerkraut is pleasantly spicy, sour, and super savory. Make a huge batch and eat some at every meal!If you’re interested

If you’re interested in going a step further, check out our Master Guide of Materials You Need to Make Homemade Fermented Vegetables.

How to Use Sauerkraut

How do we love to use thee, sauerkraut? Let us count the ways…

As a topping or condiment

If you’re anything like us, once you develop a taste for sauerkraut, you’ll try to sneak it into your diet any way you can.

Plant-based hot dogs are a classic way to start. These Carrot Dogs are topped with mustard and sauerkraut and are bursting with flavor. We also love this crunchy and texturally pleasing Sauerkraut Salad With Apples and Walnuts, as well as this Nourishing Winter Bowl.

As a filling

One of the most popular ways to use sauerkraut is in a Reuben sandwich. This recipe for Mayim Bialik’s Reuben Sandwich pictured above recreates the flavor of a classic deli Reuben with ingredients and spices that mimic the original to a T. It’s packed with veggie bacon, sauerkraut, and deliciously spiced onions. Grilling the rye bread makes all the difference, so don’t skip that step!

If you’re craving warmth and comfort, this Roasted Broccoli and Sauerkraut Quesadilla is surprising and nutritious, while these Chickpea Sauerkraut Salad Wraps are super easy to make, free of oil and gluten, and are perfect for an on-the-go meal!

As a flavor enhancer

Fermented foods help add a boost of salty and umami flavor to most foods, provided you use them the right way. Next time you’re blending up a recipe for vegan cheese sauce (like this Life-Changing Cheese Sauce), but find yourself wanting to dimensionalize the flavor if you find it almost one-note, try adding a splash of sauerkraut brine to your recipe. Believe us — you’ll be amazed at how much of a difference the brine makes!

Try the hack out in any of these Vegan Cheese recipes, and let us know what you think. We’re especially curious to hear your experience with adding sauerkraut juice to veg-forward sauces for the ultimate nutritious, but indulgent cheesy topping. Learn some Different Ways to Make Dairy-Free Cheese Sauce Using Vegetables to find out how.

Remember, if you’ve never eaten fermented foods before, it’s important to not overdose on them right off the bat — take your time and build your tolerance up to sauerkraut if you’ve never had it before. Start by eating a tablespoon a day, then progress to two, until you feel comfortable eating a full half-cup serving.

We also highly recommend downloading our Food Monster App, which is available for both Android and iPhone, and can also be found on Instagram and Facebook. The app has more than 8,000 plant-based, allergy-friendly recipes, and subscribers gain access to ten new recipes per day. Check it out!

Lead image source: Simple Sauerkraut