Best Sauerkraut for Probiotics: Store-Bought or Homemade?

Carrot and cabbage sauerkraut on a white plate

If you want to improve your gut health but don’t want to spend loads on probiotic supplements then sauerkraut is probably your best choice. This fermented cabbage dish has been around for centuries, and for good reason – it’s tangy, crunchy, and a great source of probiotics.

But which type of sauerkraut should you go for if you want to reap the most probiotic benefits? Is store-bought just as good as homemade, or is it worth taking the extra time to ferment your own?

What is Sauerkraut?

Sauerkraut has been a staple fermented food for centuries, originally tracing back to ancient China before later spreading to Europe around the 16th century. Obviously, the Germans loved it. The name itself is German for “sour cabbage”.

When I say ‘loved it’ I mean it was an affordable way to preserve vegetable harvests and provide nutrients during harsh winters, pre-refrigeration. Snowing outside? Nevermind, have some sour cabbage and pretend its bratwurst. 

Fermented foods like sauerkraut were a great way of maintaining a healthy diet while also keeping the bad bacteria at bay. 

The Natural Fermentation Process of Sauerkraut

The best sauerkraut for probiotics would be one that is made through the process of lacto-fermentation. This natural fermentation process begins with finely shredded cabbage being massaged with salt, which encourages the release of water from the cabbage. This creates a brine that the cabbage is then submerged in, creating the perfect environment for the growth of beneficial bacteria.

a jar of fermenting sauerkraut full of probiotics

As the cabbage ferments, lactic acid bacteria, such as Lactobacillus Plantarum, begin to proliferate, breaking down the sugars in the cabbage and producing lactic acid.

This not only gives sauerkraut its unique flavors, but also allows a host of probiotics that are beneficial for gut health to thrive. This highly acidic environment also creates an inhospitable environment for harmful bacteria. So you could keep your cabbage for months after fermenting. What luck.

The sailors were happy at least. No more rickets. Saurkraut was hardy and wouldn’t spoil on long journeys.

You’ll find traditional recipes from Germany, Poland, Russia and other parts of Eastern Europe. Sauerkraut complemented hearty dishes like sausages, roasted meats, and root vegetables. What began as a way to stretch out the cabbage harvest turned into a beloved part of many cultural cuisines worldwide.

The Case for Store-Bought Sauerkraut

Let’s start with the convenience factor. Making your own sauerkraut at home does require some preparation and fermentation time, so if you’re looking for an easy probiotic fix, a good quality store-bought sauerkraut can do the trick.

Most major supermarkets these days carry at least a couple of decent sauerkraut brands in the refrigerated section. I’ve heard good things from my United States friends about WildbrineHawthorne Valley, and Bubbies Sauerkraut. These products are raw, unpasteurized, and packed with live and active cultures. In the UK we’ve got Loving FoodsHurly Burly Raw Sauerkraut and Able & Cole is also a good bet. 

large clear glass jars stacked together containing fermented pickles and cabbage

I’ll be honest, there was a time when the idea of eating fermented raw cabbage sounded a bit, well. Disgusting. But after stocking up on a few different shop-bought varieties, I quickly changed my mind. It’s quite moreish. Plus, it helps that you know you’re doing something good for your gut microbiome.

The main downside of shop-bought is that it’s not cheap. Especially if you go through it quickly. High-quality sauerkraut from small artisanal brands is going to set you back over the long term if you want to make it a regular part of your diet.

​What to Look for When Choosing Sauerkraut for Probiotics

When shopping for sauerkraut to get the best natural probiotics content, there are a few key things to look out for. First and foremost, avoid anything that’s been pasteurized or canned using heat processing. Pasteurization is a high heat treatment that kills off pathogenic bacteria, but it also decimates all the good probiotic bacteria you want in sauerkraut. 

The canning process of heating jars to create a seal also destroys live probiotics. So those shelf-stable jars of sauerkraut, while longer-lasting, will be probiotic-free. Instead, head to the refrigerated section and look for raw, unpasteurized sauerkraut brands that contain phrases like “live cultures”, “raw fermented” or “raw organic sauerkraut” on the label.

Make sure to check the ingredients too – you want just a few simple items like cabbage, salt, and maybe spices, not a long list of preservatives and additives (like sodium benzoate, a potential problem when mixed with vitamin C – of which sauerkraut has oodles). Refrigerated sauerkraut may be a little more perishable, but that’s because it’s still teeming with all those wonderful live probiotics.

The Vitamin Power of Sauerkraut

Groups of carrots, green pickles and other vegetables in bowls

Beyond just supplying your gut with all that good bacteria, sauerkraut is low in calories, high in fibre and full of vitamins and minerals. The fermentation process actually increases the bioavailability of some of cabbage’s key nutrients.

One of the biggest sources of vitamins in sauerkraut is vitamin C. That fermentation process helps retain and even boost the vitamin C content compared to fresh cabbage.

It’s loaded with vitamin K as well, essential for proper blood clotting and bone metabolism. And it’s rich in vitamin B6, vital for energy metabolism, immune function, and brain health.

If that wasn’t enough, the fermentation process also produces other B vitamins like folate, riboflavin, niacin, and thiamine. And you’ll get a good dose of minerals like iron, manganese, copper, sodium, magnesium, and phosphorus from just a serving of sauerkraut. So I think we can safely say it’s well worth adding to the diet.

Whether you make it yourself or buy it from a shop, eating more of this fermented cabbage dish is a fantastic way to load up on vitamins, minerals, and those all-important gut-nourishing probiotics. 

Homemade Sauerkraut Benefits

Which brings us to the homemade route. Yes, it does require a bit more effort, but there are some good reasons to take the DIY approach. Price is one of the biggest advantages. With just a couple of basic ingredients – cabbage, salt, and a starter culture if you want – you can make huge batches of sauerkraut for minimal cost, just like a 16th-century German.  

Or a 21st-century German (let me know if you’re currently getting your fermentation on in Germany).

three glass jars with fermenting sauerkraut and pickles on a table

Unlike shop-bought, you have complete control over the flavour by adding different spices and veggies. Caraway seeds, garlic, and shredded carrots or beets are all great mix-ins. Or you can throw in some juniper berries for an earthy, gin-like flavour.

From a probiotic perspective, you can get really creative with the bacterial strains when making sauerkraut at home. You can use different starter cultures or even scavenge some of the wild kind from the air in your kitchen. I have a friend who swears by leaving her glass jar open for a day to capture the yeasts and bacteria in her home.

Personally, I prefer not to think about free-ranging yeasts, but whatever works for you.

Potential Downsides of Homemade

Of course, there are a couple of potential drawbacks to keep in mind with homemade sauerkraut as well. The biggest one is food safety. When you’re fermenting vegetables at home, there’s always a risk of contamination from bad bacteria if you slack on sanitation.

Stay on top of keeping all your equipment, tools, fermentation jars, and storage containers clean. Any mold, slime, or bad smells means that the batch needs to be tossed. I hate throwing away food, but food poisoning is worse.

There’s also the time factor. While everyone talks about how easy it is to make homemade sauerkraut, it does require some babysitting during the active fermentation stage. You have to regularly skim off scum, press down the cabbage to keep it submerged in brine, and sample for doneness. Miss too many of these steps, and your whole batch could be a failure.

You may find it can be a bit hit or miss in terms of flavour and texture. It takes some trial and error to get the salting, fermenting temperature, and fermentation duration right.

So Which Sauerkraut is Best for Probiotics?

At the end of the day, both store-bought and homemade sauerkraut can be excellent probiotic sources – it really comes down to your personal priorities and lifestyle.

If convenience, consistency, and zero effort are most important, then a good quality store-bought brand has you covered. You’ll be able to enjoy plenty of those crunchy, probiotic-rich cabbage snacks with minimal fuss. Just remember you want unpasteurized, or raw Saurkraut and you’re good to go.

That said, if you want to save money, get creative with flavours, and enjoy that sense of pride from a DIY project, then you may find homemade sauerkraut worthwhile. Just be sure to follow food safety protocols and be patient while you get the hang of it.

Quick Homemade Sauerkraut Recipe

a close up of a green head of cabbage

ingredients:

  • A head of green cabbage, shredded
  • 1 tbsp sea salt
  • 1 tbsp caraway seeds (optional)

Instructions:

  1. In a large bowl, mix shredded cabbage with salt and caraway seeds until well combined.
  2. Pack salted cabbage mixture into a wide-mouth mason jar or fermentation crock, pressing down firmly to release juices.
  3. Cover with a cabbage leaf or weight to keep everything submerged under the brine.
  4. Allow to ferment at room temperature for 4-6 weeks, skimming scum and pressing down cabbage regularly.
  5. Once sauerkraut reaches desired tanginess, transfer to cold storage. Enjoy as a probiotic-rich side or condiment.

Potential Side Effects and Precautions

Whilst sauerkraut is full of health benefits, it’s still a good idea to consume it in moderation, particularly if you’re new to probiotic-rich foods. Some potential side effects of consuming too much sauerkraut include:

  • Temporary Digestive Sensitivities. While your digestive tract gets used to probiotics, you may have digestive issues. Start with small servings of sauerkraut to allow yourself to adjust to the natural fermentation process. Remember to always listen to your body to determine the right amount for you.
  • Sodium Content: Sauerkraut can be high in sodium, which might not be suitable for everyone. Be careful of your sodium intake and opt for low-sodium varieties if you need to.
  • Fermented Food Allergies: If you have a specific food allergy, particularly to fermented products, be careful when incorporating sauerkraut into your diet and as usual, consult with a healthcare professional if unsure.

Conclusion

Sauerkraut stands out as a natural source of probiotics, contributing to a healthy gut and overall well-being. By bringing sauerkraut into your diet, you can support your digestive system and boost your immune function. When choosing sauerkraut for its probiotic benefits, remember to go for unpasteurised varieties to ensure the live cultures remain intact.

If you make it at home instead, it’ll take time but you’ll get full control over the fermentation process. Either way, you’ll be improving your digestive health and overall wellbeing so why not try both? Let me know how you get on!

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