The health benefits of sauerkraut

The Classic Reuben is shown.

Fall always reminds me of sauerkraut, because that’s when my Romanian grandmother would bring home the large heads of cabbage.

Some she would parboil, then peel the leaves off the core and fill with meat for stuffed cabbage. Others she would grate into large piles, which she would then place in containers to ferment into sauerkraut.

When it had fermented weeks later, she would serve it with stuffed cabbage or a Romanian sausage similar in taste to Polish sausage.

Of course, adding sauerkraut as a topping for a brat in a bun is common at football games, but my grandmother never served that.

For all of my enthusiasm about sauerkraut, I didn’t realize until recently it is considered a super healthy food. Reading a WebMD article, I learned sauerkraut contains much more lactobacillus than yogurt – making it a superior source of this important probiotic.

A few bites of sauerkraut everyday are said to help those with ulcerative colitis and irritable bowel syndrome. The healthy aspects of sauerkraut are due to the fermentation process, which is thought to create certain plant compounds that might destroy precancerous cells.

It’s also low on calories, though when you use it in a Reuben or grilled cheese sandwich, it isn’t exactly a low-calorie meal.

There are caveats to buying sauerkraut, and one is to make sure it isn’t pasteurized, because that destroys the benefits of fermentation.

Discovering all this positive sauerkraut information was surprising. And so was finding it no longer is just an old-fashioned Eastern European or German dish.

Cleveland Kraut, a relatively new company, sells a variety of sauerkraut in flavors such as Whiskey Dill, Roasted Garlic, Classic Caraway, Curry and Beet Red.

Its Gnar Gnar – a spicy mixture of green cabbage, green bell peppers, jalapenos, kosher salt, leeks, Sriracha, garlic and red chili, is similar to kimchi, the fermented Korean condiment that can range in heat from mild to fiery hot.

Cleveland Kraut, which comes in pouches, is best eaten raw. It’s crunchy and tasty. Once cooked, the heat destroys the probiotic value, though it still retains its other healthy benefits. That’s one reason why canned sauerkraut doesn’t have as many health benefits.

The following recipes are from www.clevelandkraut.com.

Classic Reuben

2 slices rye or sourdough bread

4-6 ounces corned beef

2 slices Swiss cheese

1/4 cup Whiskey Dill kraut

Thousand Island dressing

Assemble the bread, beef and cheese, and toast open-faced in a 350-degree oven to melt the cheese.

Top with kraut, the other slice of bread and Thousand Island, or use the dressing as a dip.

Chili con Carne with Roasted Garlic Sauerkraut

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 medium yellow onion, diced

2 cups Roasted Garlic Kraut

1 pound ground beef

3 tablespoons chili powder

2 tablespoons tomato paste

1 1/2 teaspoons salt

1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

1/4 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper

1 1/2 cups beef broth

1 (15-ounce) can petite diced tomatoes

1 (16-ounce) can red kidney beans, drained and rinsed

1 (8-ounce) can tomato sauce

Parsley or cilantro, diced (optional)

Sour cream (optional)

Shredded cheddar cheese (optional)

Add the olive oil to a large pot, and place it over medium-high heat for 2 minutes. Add the onion and the Roasted Garlic Kraut. Cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Add the ground beef to the pot. Cook for another 6-7 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Add the chili powder, tomato paste, salt, pepper and cayenne. Stir until well mixed.

Add the broth, diced tomatoes, drained kidney beans and tomato sauce. Stir well.

Bring the mixture to boil. Then, reduce the heat to medium-low and gently simmer the chili uncovered for 20-25 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Remove the pot from the heat. Let the chili rest for 5-10 minutes before serving.

Serve warm, and garnish with desired toppings.

Jane Ammeson can be contacted via email at janeammeson@gmail.com or by writing to Focus, The Herald-Palladium, P.O. Box 128, St. Joseph, MI 49085.