It might not be difficult to guess that Sauerkraut is a popular dish in Germany; after all, it is a German word. But this well-known German dish – which directly translates to “sour cabbage” – is also widespread in the United States, and has been used in American English since 1776.
Sauerkraut is a form of chopped cabbage that has been salted, fermented and often flavored with additional spices and ingredients such as juniper berries. In Germany, it is often served with pork, sausage or potatoes. Traditionally it is also consumed on New Year’s Eve to bring good luck and wealth during the new year.
The origins of Sauerkraut, however, can be traced back to 200 B.C., when Chinese cooks were pickling cabbage in wine. When Genghis Khan invaded China, he allegedly took the recipe for fermented cabbage and modified it, using salt instead of wine. When the Tatars (Mongolian tribes) arrived in Europe not long thereafter, they brought Sauerkraut with them, and the dish became popular in Eastern Europe and Germanic regions.
Sauerkraut was particularly valuable in northern climates because it could be preserved and consumed all throughout the winter. By allowing the dried cabbage to ferment, sugars are turned into lactic acid, which function as a preservative and allow for the long-term storage of the dish. The fermented cabbage also retains many of its nutrients and is a good source of dietary fiber, folate, iron, potassium, copper and manganese. In fact, Europeans have long used Sauerkraut to treat stomach ulcers and soothe the digestive tract.
Although Sauerkraut was not invented in Germany, it became a part of German cuisine and culture, and when German immigrants came to the US, they brought Sauerkraut with them. The dish was particularly useful for long voyages across the Atlantic, since it could be so easily preserved. The Pennsylvania Dutch, which settled in Lancaster County, made Sauerkraut one of their specialties, and continue to serve it on New Year’s Eve as a symbol of good fortune.
World War I led to the development of anti-German sentiment in the US. For the duration of the war, Sauerkraut was referred to as “liberty cabbage.” Today, however, the dish continues to be known by its German name, Sauerkraut.
By Nicole Glass, German Embassy