Cultured Sauerkraut and Vegetables

Sauerkraut originated in China, where it is known as "kimchi", about 2,000 years ago, about the same time the Great Wall of China was being built. The laborers who built the Wall got their nourishment from rice and a type of cabbage pickled in wine.

It wasn't until 1,000 years later that Genghis Khan brought back the recipe for pickled cabbage, which his hordes then transported to Europe.  The Austrians coined this word, from sauer (sour) and kraut (greens or plants). ") then learned to omit the wine in the recipe, replacing it with salt. Which gave us sauerkraut as we know it today.  But we call them raw cultured vegetables, because we don’t want you to mistake them for the pasteurized sauerkraut sold in supermarkets and even some health food stores. That kind of sauerkraut is pasteurized. The pasteurization (heating) process destroys precious enzymes, and the added processed salt eliminates any health benefits.

Food preservation was done by the process of lacto-fermentation, rather than canning or freezing. Lactic acid is a natural preservative that inhibits pathogenic bacteria. Sugars and starches in vegetables and fruits are converted into lactic acid by lactobacilli, which include many species of bacteria, like acidophilus. The living lactobacilli in fermented foods enhance digestibility and increase vitamin content. They produce many helpful enzymes, antibiotics and anti-carcinogens. Lactic acid, their by-product, promotes the growth of healthy flora throughout the intestine as well as preventing the growth of harmful bacteria.

Lactobacilli and lactic acid contribute to the digestive process in two ways: by supplying digestive juices that help break down the foods we eat and by activating the metabolic events that transform them into new usable substances for the body. Lactobacilli and lactic acid also provide benefits such as stimulating the pancreas, reducing blood pressure, promoting healthy sleep and helping alleviate constipation, just to name a few.

Our modern diets in which everything has been pasteurized, our heavy reliance on antibiotics, and our consumption of commercial (non-organic) animal products that are high in antibiotics have compromised the health of our intestines. Recent increases in viruses, pathogenic yeasts and intestinal parasites are telling us something: it's time for a return to the health-promoting foods of generations past that restore our intestinal flora and boost our immune systems.

Since they are an excellent source of Vitamin C, Dutch seamen used to carry them to prevent scurvy. For centuries, the Chinese have cultured cabbage each fall to ensure a source of greens through the winter (if they have no refrigeration). Cultured vegetables are a favorite food of the long-lived Hunzas. Yogurt ads lead us to believe that eating yogurt ensures a long life, but it’s really the active cultures of friendly bacteria (lactobacilli) in the yogurt that are responsible for the health of these people. Similarly, the friendly bacteria, the enzymes, and the high lactic acid in raw cultured vegetables add to health and longevity. 

Rsearchers found that the process of fermenting cabbage produces isothiocyanates, a class of compounds that have been identified in previous studies as potential cancer-fighting agents. In animal studies, the compounds appear to prevent the growth of cancer, particularly in the breast, colon, lung and liver, they say. No one knows yet whether the compounds, which are not found in raw cabbage, have a similar effect in humans. Further studies are needed.

"We are finding that fermented cabbage could be healthier than raw or cooked cabbage, especially for fighting cancer," says Eeva-Liisa Ryhanen, Ph.D., research manager of MTT Agrifood Research Finland, located in Jokioinen, Finland. "We are now working on ways of optimizing the fermentation process to make it even healthier so that consumers will eat more [sauerkraut]."

In the current study, the researchers analyzed a variety of biologically active compounds in sauerkraut. Their samples were derived from white cabbage that was fermented.

Although raw cabbage is normally rich in a compound called glucosinolate, the researchers found that during the fermentation process enzymes are released that completely decompose the compound into several breakdown products. The majority of these products are cancer-fighting isothiocyanates.

Evidence for sauerkraut's anticancer effect is growing. Previous epidemiological studies have reported that Polish women who move to the United States have a higher incidence of breast cancer than those who remain in Poland, a statistic that some scientists attribute to a higher consumption of cabbage among the Polish women compared to their American counterparts.

At least one study found evidence that compounds in sauerkraut could inhibit estrogen, a hormone that can trigger the spread of breast cancer. The specific compounds have not been identified, however.

Currently, the researchers are investigating the effect of different starter cultures on the breakdown of glucosinolate. They hope the research may lead to sauerkraut with a greater abundance of healthy compounds, boosting its status as a functional (nutritious) food.

Besides anticancer compounds, the fermentation process also produces other healthy compounds not found in raw cabbage. These include organic acids such as lactic acid, which makes cabbage easier to digest. Although some loss in nutrients may occur during fermentation, sauerkraut is still a good source for vitamin C, certain minerals and dietary fiber, the researchers say.

Their work also adds to a growing number of studies demonstrating that similar cruciferous vegetables (including broccoli, cauliflower and Brussels sprouts) contain anticancer compounds.

The Benefits of Cultured Vegetables
  • Raw cultured vegetables help reestablish your inner ecosystem.
  • The friendly bacteria in raw cultured vegetables are a less expensive alternative to probiotics....
  • They improve digestion.
  • Knowing the benefits of raw foods, you may have decided to include raw vegetables with each meal. Cultured vegetables eliminate this concern, since they are already pre-digested. This means that even before they enter your mouth, the friendly bacteria have already converted the natural sugars and starches in the vegetables into lactic acid, a job your own saliva and digestive enzymes would do anyway.
  • The enzymes in the cultured vegetables also help digest other foods eaten with them.
  • They increase longevity.
  • You could think of the friendly bacteria in raw cultured vegetables as little enzyme powerhouses. By eating the vegetables, you will maintain your own enzyme reserve and use it to eliminate toxins, rejuvenate your cells, and strengthen your immune system—which all adds up to a longer, healthier life. 
  • They control cravings.
  • Homemade cultured vegetables are ideal for appetite control and thus weight control. The veggies help take away cravings for the sweet taste in pastries, colas, bread, pasta, dairy, fruit, and other expansive foods not on the Diet.  
  • They are ideal for pregnant and nursing women.
  • Pregnant women should eat cultured vegetables to ensure their ecosystems will be rich in friendly bacteria. The vegetables also help alleviate morning sickness during the early part of the pregnancy. Once the baby is born, the mother should continue eating the vegetables and drinking the juice. And the liquid from the cultured vegetables can be fed to the baby in tiny spoonfuls to relieve colic.  
  • Raw cultured vegetables are alkaline and very cleansing.
  • They help restore balance if your body is in a toxic, acidic condition. Because they do trigger cleansing, you may have an increase in intestinal gas initially as the vegetables stir up waste and toxins in the intestinal tract. Soon, however, you will notice an improvement in your stools. To ease the discomfort of the gas, colonics and enemas are very useful during this period.
  • Babies love the juice or liquid found in salt-free cultured vegetables....A child who is fed in this manner never has digestive problems. 
  • One way to combat your sweet tooth [is to eat] lots of cultured vegetables. Besides providing an abundance of friendly bacteria, these enzyme-rich foods are a high-quality, alkaline, expansive food, which balances out the more contracting animal proteins and salty foods that make us crave acid-forming sugars.
  • If you find yourself craving sweets, try the following before giving in to the demands of your yeast: ... Eat one-half cup cultured vegetables. 
  • Vitamin and mineral supplements also can be mucus forming. It’s better to spend your money instead on raw cultured vegetables. 
  • Pregnant women would do well lots of cultured vegetables....Nursing mothers of colicky babies have gotten relief from many sleepless nights just by eating raw cultured vegetables....All babies (especially necessary for bottle-fed babies) can be fed finy spoonfuls of the juice of cultured vegetabes. 
  • Raw cultured vegetables are excellent because they are cleansing and easily digested. 
  • Raw cultured vegetables [are] an excellent expansive food....These enzyme-rich vegetables greatly enhance digestion of protein.  
  • Unsalted raw cultured vetetables...provide these important plant enzymes. Remember, foods properly used balance our bodies. 
  • Menu Tip: Try oil-free, blue corn chips with...cultured vegetables to reduce the drying, contracting effect of the chips. 
  • If you’re cultured vegetables. 
  • Include at least 1/4 cup of cultured vegetables with your morning meals. Animal protein foods and grain dishes always digest better when eaten with these enzyme-rich vegetables. No medicine can replace the benefit of the friendly bacteria they create. 

This page was last updated: October 6, 2012
Cultured Sauerkraut
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