Sauerkraut 101: Nutrition Facts and Potential Benefits

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Sauerkraut is a fermented vegetable dish widely used as a condiment and made through the lacto-fermentation of cabbage.

Similar to other fermented foods, there are many claims of health benefits surrounding sauerkraut.

However, which of these have scientific backing behind them?

This article provides a guide to the nutrition benefits of sauerkraut.

Pile of Sauerkraut (Fermented White Cabbage).

What Is Sauerkraut?

Sauerkraut is a popular side-dish and condiment, and it is especially famous in Germany.

In fact, sauerkraut is a German word which translates as “sour cabbage.”

Despite common belief, the origins of sauerkraut lie outside of Europe, and it appears to have originated in China.

Due to the lactic acid fermentation process it undergoes, sauerkraut is a source of various strains of lactic acid bacteria.

The dish has a slightly sweet, sour and vinegary flavor and a refreshing taste.

How Is It Made?

The production and fermentation process of sauerkraut is relatively straightforward.

First of all, producers shred cabbage into finely cut slices and then cover the cabbage in salt.

Following this, the sauerkraut is left to ferment until it reaches the desired state of maturity.

This natural fermentation requires only cabbage and salt, and it follows a similar production process to other fermented foods like kimchi.

However, in some instances, a probiotic starter culture, such as Lactobacillus plantarum, can be added to the mixture to accelerate the fermentation time (1).

Key Point: Sauerkraut is popular condiment made by the lactic acid fermentation of cabbage.

Nutrition Facts

Aside from the extra salt (as sodium) content, sauerkraut has a very similar nutrition profile to regular cabbage.

The following tables show the full nutritional values per 100 grams (2).

Sauerkraut Nutrition Facts (Per 100g)
Calories/NutrientAmount% DV
Calories19 kcal
Carbohydrate4.7 g
  Fiber2.9 g
  Sugars1.8 g
Fat0.1 g
  Saturated Fat0.0 g
  Monounsaturated Fat0.0 g
  Polyunsaturated Fat0.1 g
    Omega-3 Fatty Acids33.0 mg
    Omega-6 Fatty Acids34.0 mg
Protein0.9 g
Vitamins
Vitamin C14.7 mg24 %
Vitamin K13.0 mcg16 %
Pyridoxine (B6)0.1 mcg6 %
Folate24.0 mcg6 %
Choline10.4 mg1.9 %
Pantothenic Acid (B5)0.1 mg1 %
Niacin (B3)0.1 mg1 %
Vitamin E0.1 mg1 %
Thiamin (B1)Trace1 %
Riboflavin (B2)Trace1 %
Vitamin ATraceTrace
Minerals
Sodium661 mg28 %
Iron1.5 mg8 %
Manganese0.2 mg8 %
Potassium170 mg5 %
Copper0.1 mg5 %
Magnesium13.0 mg3 %
Calcium30.0 mg3 %
Phosphorus20.0 mg2 %
Selenium0.6 mcg1 %
Zinc0.2 mg1 %

Benefits of Sauerkraut

Here is a summary of the health benefits (and potential benefits) that sauerkraut can offer.

1) A Good Source of Vitamin C

Per 100 gram serving, sauerkraut offers approximately 14.7 mg of vitamin C, which is equal to 24% of the recommended intake.

Vitamin C is an important vitamin that has antioxidant properties, and research suggests it has a protective effect against oxidative stress in the body (3, 4).

In addition to this, vitamin C also plays an important role in the synthesis of collagen and improves the effectiveness of vitamin E (5).

Key Point: Sauerkraut provides a moderate amount of vitamin C.

2) Provides Probiotic Bacteria Such As Lactobacillus

Since sauerkraut undergoes a lactic acid fermentation process, it provides a range of probiotic bacteria strains.

According to tests undertaken on commercial sauerkraut samples, there is a wide range of bacterial species present. These “beneficial bacteria” strains include (6);

  • Lactobacillus brevis
  • Lactobacillus curvatus
  • Lactobacillus plantarum
  • Lactobacillus sakei
  • Lactococcus lactis
  • Leuconostoc citreum
  • Leuconostoc fallax
  • Leuconostoc mesenteroide

Research into the gut microbiome is ongoing. However, researchers believe probiotic bacteria may have benefits for gut health, and this could potentially help to influence overall immune health (7, 8, 9).

Canned Sauerkraut Is Different From Fresh Sauerkraut

However, it is worth bearing in mind that these bacteria strains are only present in fresh sauerkraut.

Fresh sauerkraut is perishable, and it will usually be refrigerated at the point of sale.

On the other hand, most canned/jarred sauerkraut products will have been pasteurized.

Unfortunately, this pasteurization process also kills the beneficial bacteria, so it will not be present in such products. Heating (via cooking) can also destroy these probiotic bacteria (10).

Key Point: Sauerkraut contains a range of probiotic bacteria which may have a beneficial effect on gut (and immune) health.

3) May Improve Symptoms of IBS

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a gastrointestinal condition that can lead to a broad range of symptoms.

Although the exact cause of IBS is not fully understood, it affects anywhere from 7% to 21% of the world’s population (11).

Symptoms of this condition may include abdominal pain, bloating, constipation, and diarrhea, among others (12).

On the positive side, some recent research suggests that sauerkraut may potentially help to manage symptoms of this chronic condition. For example, a recent randomized controlled intervention trial gave two groups of participants with IBS either fresh probiotic sauerkraut or inactive pasteurized sauerkraut (13).

Each group supplemented their daily diet with this sauerkraut for six weeks. At the end of the study period, both groups experienced “significantly improved” gut microbiota changes. Furthermore, the self-reported symptoms of IBS declined in severity.

Since both groups experienced benefits, the researchers stated that the results “can be attributed to the potential prebiotics (fiber) in lacto-fermented sauerkraut” rather than the probiotics.

However, this was only a small study, and more research is necessary.

Key Point: Sauerkraut may potentially have benefits for irritable bowel syndrome, but more extensive research is necessary.

4) High In Fiber

Fermented Sauerkraut In a Clear Glass Jar.

As shown in the nutrition profile, sauerkraut offers approximately 4.7 grams of carbohydrate per 100 grams.

Of this carbohydrate content, 2.9 grams comes from fiber (2).

Fiber has several potential benefits, and it can help to reduce the postprandial glycemic response (post-meal rise in blood sugar) to carbohydrate (14).

Additionally, microbes in the gastrointestinal tract can metabolize fiber into beneficial compounds like butyrate (15).

Dietary fiber also seems to have a beneficial impact on the overall health of the gut microbiota (16).

Key Point: Sauerkraut contains a source of prebiotic fiber, which may have benefits for gut health.

5) Contains Isothiocyanates and Ascorbigen

Sauerkraut is a source of two chemical compounds called isothiocyanate and ascorbigen.

All cruciferous vegetables contain isothiocyanates, and ascorbigen develops during the fermentation of white cabbage (17).

Both of these compounds are thought to have cancer-protective properties (18, 19, 20).

That said, we should note that these findings are mainly from observational studies. In other words; correlation does not infer causation.

This means that although an association exists, the studies cannot prove that isothiocyanate and ascorbigen have this effect within the human body.

Some mouse studies do show that isothiocyanate extracts can offer cancer-protective effects (21).

However, higher-quality human studies are necessary to confirm these claimed benefits.

Key Point: Sauerkraut contains various chemical compounds that some researchers believe may have anti-cancer properties

6) Contains (Small Amounts) of Vitamin K2

Another important vitamin that sauerkraut provides is vitamin K2.

Vitamin K2 is thought to play an important role in skeletal health and may help to direct calcium toward bone and away from arteries (22, 23).

Not many foods contain vitamin K2, and we can primarily find it in fatty animal foods and fermented soy products.

Although sauerkraut does provide a source of this nutrient, it is only a small quantity.

For instance, research reviewing food sources of vitamin K2 shows that the Japanese fermented dish natto, hard cheese, and certain cuts of meat offer higher amounts (24).

Key Point: Sauerkraut provides a small amount of vitamin K2.

Potential Drawbacks of Sauerkraut

In addition to the potential benefits of sauerkraut, adverse effects are possible in some situations.

1) Sauerkraut Is High In Salt

First of all, due to the fermentation/pickling process, sauerkraut is a significant source of salt.

Per 100 grams, sauerkraut contains 661 mg of sodium, which is equivalent to approximately 1.65 grams of salt (2).

Although the dangers of salt have been somewhat exaggerated in the media, high amounts of salt can be harmful to certain individuals.

For instance, high intakes of dietary salt can cause significant increases in blood pressure for people with hypertension or salt sensitivity (25, 26).

Observational and animal studies also suggest that high salt intake could be problematic in the presence of H.Pylori, which is a type of stomach infection (27).

Key Point: Sauerkraut may not be suitable for individuals following a low-salt diet.

How To Use Sauerkraut

There are many different ways to use sauerkraut, and people usually eat it as a side alongside meat-based foods.

For example, people enjoy using sauerkraut alongside BBQ food as well as unhealthier options like hot dogs. With these foods, sauerkraut is typically served raw.

However, there is also a wide range of cooked sauerkraut dishes that enjoy popularity.

For a large variety of ideas, you can find a big collection of sauerkraut recipes here.

Final Thoughts

All in all, sauerkraut is a tasty and refreshing side dish that offers several potential benefits.

Although it is a little high in salt, the benefits likely outweigh the drawbacks for the majority of people.

As a bonus, sauerkraut also makes an excellent food pairing and has an enjoyable taste.

For more tasty condiments, see this guide to salsa or this in-depth look at hummus.

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Michael JosephKevin HandreckCold City Recent comment authors
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Kevin Handreck

I add salt at 1% of cabbage weight, so the sauerkraut is not too salty

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I have been making sauerkraut for years for its probiotics. I add probiotic ferment and decrease the quantity of salt by 1/4. The added probiotics prevent bad microorganisms from growing, but allow the natural beneficial microorganisms to grow. In fact I observed that the probiotic properties of sauerkraut remain for about 3 weeks in the refrigerator.