How to Choose the Best Sauerkraut on Shelves (& What to Avoid)

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Written By

Rhea Dali

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Expert Reviewed By

Dr. Lauryn Lax, OTD, MS

Dr. Lauryn, OTD, MS is a doctor of occupational therapy, clinical nutritionists and functional medicine expert with 25 years of clinical and personal experience in healing from complex chronic health issues and helping others do the same.

Choose Best Sauerkraut

Fermented foods, like sauerkraut, yogurt and kombucha are so hot right now. However, be warned… Not all  sauerkrauts and other fermented foods are created equal. Here are my top 5 essentials for how to choose the best sauerkraut on shelves (and what to avoid).

 

Sauerkraut & Fermented Foods 101

Fermented foods, like sauerkraut, are nothing new.

People have been consuming them for thousands of years, dating back to at least 5000 B.C., to preserve food at home when refrigeration was non-existent.

Known for their probiotic (healthy bacteria) properties, fermented foods were also considered medicine by ancient physicians like Hippocrates, Galen and Avicenna advocating their use for the treatment of gastrointestinal ills. And, beyond probiotics, fermented foods actually have more nutrients overall. Fermentation enriches the essential amino acids (proteins), essential fatty acids, vitamins and minerals in the food itself, while breaking down “anti-nutrients” and toxins in the foods—such as agricultural chemicals, phytates and lectins.

Sauerkraut Served, Choose The Best Sauerkraut

The process of fermentation involves both de-oxygenating food (depriving food of oxygen) and adding a “starter”, culture, yeast or sugar to the food in order to preserve the food for weeks, months and even years. At the same time, beneficial bacteria (probiotics) are also formed.

Sauerkraut—fermented cabbage—is one of the best known fermented foods, but other foods include:

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  • Beet Kvass/Kvass
  • Condiments (ketchup, mayo, mustard, relish)
  • Fermented Fruits
  • Fermented Vegetables
  • Kefir (water, coconut, milk)

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  • Kimchi
  • Kombucha
  • Olives
  • Dosa
  • Pickles
  • Yogurt

 

Although most people used to make their own fermented foods—like sauerkraut—at home, today, you can buy them at a farmer’s market or grocery store too.

In fact, walk into any grocery store and you’ll find tons of different brands of sauerkraut, yogurt and kombucha all proclaiming benefits like: better gut health, improved digestion, weight loss and a fast metabolism!

However, be warned…Not all  sauerkrauts and other fermented foods are created equal. If you’re buying sauerkraut from a store, use these 5 essentials for how to choose the best sauerkraut on shelves:

 

5 Essentials to Choose the Best Sauerkraut 

Sauerkraut Shopping Essential #1: Go Refrigerated

The good stuff at the store is sold in the fridge. Once sold in a big box store, refrigeration helps keep the active bacteria cultures dormant, ensuring maximum freshness. Exception: If you buy your fermented foods at the farmer’s market, they typically don’t need to be refrigerated until you open ‘em at home.

 

Sauerkraut Shopping Essential #2: Alive & Unpasteurized

Look for words like “raw,” perishable, unpasteurized, “naturally occurring Lactobacilli,” “naturally fermented” and “keep refrigerated” on the label (The RIGHT STUFF is NOT cooked, canned, pasteurized or heated in any way). Pasteurization is a process that kills bacteria—both good and bad alike. You have to be very careful if you wish to choose the best sauerkraut.

Additionally, if the jar or pouch of food looks a little cloudy, that’s a good thing—cloudiness is a sign that the sauerkraut is a living product packed with probiotics.

 

Sauerkraut Shopping Essential #3: Additive Free

For sauerkraut, you should NOT see funky ingredients, like sodium benzoate or added sugar on the label. Ideally you just want cabbage, salt, and  maybe some herbs, veggies or natural spices like celery seeds, caraway, carrots, ginger or garlic. Although other fermented foods like kombucha or kimchi may contain a little bit of added sugar as a “starter”, the less sugar the better.

 

Sauerkraut Shopping Essential #4: Buy Local When You Can

Often times, local natural grocers, pharmacies, farmers markets and even Whole Foods sell ferments from local vendors. The less processing, also the better. For example, there’s is a huge nutritional difference in the broccoli you buy directly from Farmer Joe at the Saturday farmer’s market, compared to the broccoli at Kroger’s, shipped in from Mexico, and delivered three days ago before making it to your grocery cart and plate. Generally, the same thing goes for fermented foods that were cultivated with a little more care, love and precision.

 

Sauerkraut Shopping Essential #5: Zing

This one is completely anecdotal and from experience—most fermented foods should have a “zing” when you eat them that you feel in your mouth or belly. You know that belly flop you get if you drink some apple cider vinegar or eat a sour lemon? That is the zest or warming sensation you’re going for in your belly. Note: A little bit of fermented foods goes a long way. All you need? 1 to 2 condiment sized servings per day with meals.

 

Disclaimer: Not All Fermented Foods are Potent Probiotics

Although fermented foods do contain bacteria cultures—especially when they are raw and unpasteurized, it still doesn’t mean that all fermented foods are potent, scientifically researched, validated probiotics.

Different Types Of Probiotics, Choose The Best Sauerkraut

Probiotics technically are clinically researched strains of bacteria administered in a selective amount (CFU’s) that is beneficial to the host microbiome. For this reason, to be called a “probiotic food” today, fermented foods—like yogurt—actually have additional probiotics added to them to stand by their claims.

That said, fermented foods still can contribute to a balanced inner ecosystem, and on top of containing bacterial cultures, they also contain pre-biotic qualities—fermentable fibers that encourage the growth of natural healthy bacteria in your gut.

 

Top Picks

My favorite brands for sauerkraut on grocery store shelves include:

When in doubt, you can always make your own with this simple recipe!

 

Gut Love Sauerkraut

Ingredients

  • 1 medium head green cabbage (about 3 pounds)
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons kosher sea salt
  • 1 tablespoon caraway seeds (optional)

Equipment

Directions

Cabbage On Chopping Board,Choose The Best Sauerkraut

  1. Sanitize and wash everything. Wash your hands. Wash and rinse your mason jar and jelly jar with soap and water, and remove soap residue. Wash your cabbage and dry it.
  2. Slice cabbage. Remove wilted, limp outer leaves of the cabbage. Cut cabbage into quarters and carve out the core. Slice each quarter down its length, making 8 wedges. Slice each wedge crosswise into very thin ribbons.
  3. Mix cabbage and salt. Place the cabbage in a large bowl and sprinkle the salt over top. Massage the salt into the cabbage and squeeze the cabbage with your hands. At first it might not seem like enough salt, but eventually the cabbage will become watery and limp — more like coleslaw than raw cabbage. This will take 5 to 10 minutes. If you’d like to flavor your sauerkraut mix in the caraway seeds.
  4. Pack your jar. Pack the cabbage into the canning jar. If you have a canning funnel, this will make the job easier. Pour any liquid released by the cabbage while you were massaging it into the jar.
  5. Cover the jar mouth. Cover the mouth of the jar with a cloth and secure it with a rubber band. This allows air to flow in and out of the jar, but prevents dust or insects from getting into the jar.
  6. Press down cabbage over 24 hours. During the following 24 hours, push down the cabbage. As the cabbage releases its liquid, it will become more limp and compact and the liquid will rise over the top of the cabbage.
  7. Add liquid. If after 24 hours, the liquid has not risen above the cabbage, dissolve 1 teaspoon of salt in 1 cup of water and add enough to submerge the cabbage.
  8. Ferment for 3-10 days. Ferment the sauerkraut for 3 to 10 days. Place in a cool, not-turned-on oven, pantry, or other spot away from direct sunlight and at a cool room temperature — ideally 65°F to 75°F. Check it daily and press it down if the cabbage is floating above the liquid.Because this is a small batch of sauerkraut, it will ferment more quickly than larger batches. Start tasting it after 3 days — when the sauerkraut tastes good to you, remove the weight, screw on the cap, and refrigerate. Note: Sauerkraut should last for 2-3 months once in the fridge.

 

This article was scientifically reviewed by Dr. Lauryn, PhD. She is a Doctor of Occupational Therapy, Nutritionist, & Functional Medicine Practitioner with over 20 years of clinical and personal experience. 

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