Fermented cabbage - otherwise known as sauerkraut - offers remarkable health benefits. When foods such as cabbage are fermented, their digestibility and vitamin levels are enhanced. They produce useful enzymes as well as antibiotic and anti-carcinogenic substances. Fermented foods produce lactic acid, which not only preserves the fruits and vegetables, but also promotes the growth of healthy flora throughout the intestine.
Sauerkraut is high in fiber and Vitamin C, and low in calories. fermentation actually increases nutrient values in the cabbage, especially Vitamin C.
Raw cabbage and other cruciferous vegetables like broccoli and Brussels sprouts are rich in glucosinolates, a class of cancer-fighting compounds. However, these foods also contain chemicals that block the production of the thyroid hormone. Cooking these foods or fermenting them destroys these harmful substances and also increases their levels of beneficial substances. Fermented foods also aid in the breakdown and assimilation of proteins.
Sauerkraut As A Cancer-Fighter
In 2002, Finnish researchers discovered that the fermentation of cabbage produces compounds which appear protective against cancer.
The investigators found that fermenting cabbage produced a number of different compounds, known as isothiocyanates, which have been shown in test tube and animal studies to prevent the growth of cancer, especially in the breast, colon, lung and liver. Isothiocyanates are found in many foods, including cruciferous vegetables like broccoli and Brussels sprouts.
In this study, researchers analyzed compounds in white cabbage that had been fermented to sauerkraut.
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.
Previous studies have found that isothiocyanates encourage precancerous cells in the digestive system to self-destruct, a process known as apoptosis.
"Our study implies that fermented cabbage can be a good source of plant-derived bioactive compounds such as breakdown products of glucosinolates," said the study's lead author to the press.
Sauerkraut As A Digestive Aid
Eating sauerkraut is a great way to protect the balance of bacteria in the gastrointestinal tract. Sauerkraut is one of the few foods that contains the probiotic bacterium Lactobacilli Plantarum. This is one of the lactic acid producing bacteria which helps the digestive system in the following ways:
Fermented foods are beneficial to the digestive system by increasing the healthy flora in the intestinal tract, and helping them to flourish. This beneficial bacteria improves digestion, keep pathogens at bay, guards against infectious illnesses and protects against many diseases of the digestive tract.
How to Make sauerkraut
To make your own sauerkraut, core and shred a cabbage. Mix the cabbage with 2 tablespoons of sea salt, and pound it for about 10 minutes to release the juices. Place the cabbage in a glass jar, packing it in and pressing it down firmly until the juices come to the top of the cabbage. Cover the jar tightly, ensuring it is airtight. Keep the jar at room temperature for 2-4 days and then move to a cool, dark place where you can leave it for a couple of weeks. You can then store in the fridge. The sauerkraut can be eaten immediately, but it improves with age.
Other vegetables, or herbs and spices can be added to the sauerkraut. Vegetables such as cucumbers, beets, turnips, carrots, onion and squash can be pickled, as well as many fruits.
Tolonen M, Taipale M, Viander B, Pihlava J-M, Korhonen H, Ryhänen E-L. Plant-Derived Biomolecules in Fermented cabbage. J. Agric. Food Chem., 2002, 50 (23), pp 6798-6803.