Sauerkraut

Appears in

Oxford Companion to Food

Oxford Companion to Food

By Alan Davidson

Published 2014

  • About

sauerkraut because the name is German (although now adopted into English too), is usually supposed to be a German invention of considerable antiquity. In fact, it appears to have evolved gradually from earlier forms of pickled cabbage, and not to have attained its present style until the 17th century. The historian Joyce Toomre (1992), however, sees sauerkraut as originating in China and being brought west by the Tartars who introduced it to Russia and E. Europe.

In the West, the history of pickles goes back to the 3rd century bc, but all early pickles were ‘wet’ types made with brine or other liquids. The distinguishing features of sauerkraut are that it is dry salted, all the liquid in the resulting product being drawn out of the cabbage itself by the salt, and that it is preserved and flavoured by fermentation. The Romans had introduced dry vegetable fermentation with their development of silage as cattle feed, but the process was not extended beyond this for many centuries.