Sauerkraut is finely-sliced white cabbage fermented with lactobacillus bacteria. The sugars in the cabbage are thereby converted into lactic acid and serve as a preservative.
Sauerkraut is thought to have originated in the north of China among the Mongols and was introduced in Europe by migratating tribes. Eastern Europeans, in particular, consume a large amount of sauerkraut. Jews adopted sauerkraut as part of their cuisine and are thought to have introduced it in the northern countries Western Europe and the United States. Sauerkraut is a staple of the winter diet in Germany and the Netherlands. While sauerkraut is customarily prepared with pork, Jews customarily use goose or duck meat.
Basic sauerkraut is made by cutting fresh cabbage into fine strips, and packing it into an airtight container while mixing in a certain amount of salt, approximately 1.5%. Traditionally, a stoneware crock is used. The fermentation vessel is kept at 23C for three days, then left in cooler temperatures for eight weeks.
Variations include sauerkraut prepared from whole cabbages instead of shredded ones. Sometimes other vegetables are added. Sometimes spices and/or wine are added. There are other vegetables that have been preserved by a similar process. Also, silage, a feed for cattle, is made the same way.
For preparation at home, the various methods are somewhat controversial. The USDA recommendations call for a greater amount of salt than is traditional, making the sauerkraut unpalatably salty unless rinsed before eating. Such rinsing removes a good deal of the flavor. When traditional amounts of salt are used, temperature control becomes more critical, because food poisoning can occur if the fermentation temperature is too high.
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