What Is Sauerkraut and Why Is It Essential on a Hot Dog?

There’s a lot of regional debate about what should and shouldn’t go on a hot dog. In Chicago, they never use ketchup, but they do put tomatoes and pickled peppers on their dogs. On any street corner in New York City, your dog is probably going to have yellow mustard and steamed onions. There’s even an old tradition in my beloved Philadelphia that puts fish cakes on a dog. For me, all dogs are created equal, but my favorite topping—and, perhaps, the most iconic—is sauerkraut.

What is sauerkraut?

Sauerkraut is a condiment/side dish hybrid made of finely chopped, fermented cabbage. Americans most often associate it with German cuisine—and rightfully so, it is a national dish of Germany—but many Central and Eastern European countries have their own sauerkraut varieties, including Poland, Russia, Ukraine, Austria, Slovakia, and Czechia, to name a few.

Sauerkraut often accompanies meat dishes like bratwurst, or is used on Reuben sandwiches or the aforementioned hot dog. It’s also very popular with pierogies (with a dollop of sour cream; if you know, you know). Some places will mix it into mashed potatoes or mayo-based salads. Or, we have a few ideas of our own on what to eat with sauerkraut

What does sauerkraut taste like?

The taste is in the name, even if it’s spelled the German way. Good sauerkraut has a sour punch, backed by acidic and salty notes. It’s not sour like Sour Patch Kids or Warheads; it has a far more natural taste (close to the flavor of a pickle) that is quite delicious in big heaping doses.

best sauerkraut

Best Sauerkraut to Buy

What’s the best sauerkraut at the grocery store? We tasted a bunch of the top brands on the market to find the best sauerkraut for your next brat.

How is sauerkraut made?

Sauerkraut is made with three simple ingredients: cabbage, salt, and time—not the herb, thyme, but the arbitrary unit of measure that we’ve collectively agreed on as a society.

To make sauerkraut, finally chop cabbage into strips and then pack with salt. After letting it all sit for a half hour, mash the cabbage in order to extract the water. Put the whole shebang into a container and press down so that the water rises above the top of the cabbage. Seal the container and then wait—the longer you let the cabbage sit, the more “sauer” it becomes.

Why is that? Fermentation. Bacteria eat the natural sugars in the cabbage, creating lactic acid which accounts for the sourness. At minimum, the fermentation process should last a week. If you simply can’t wait that long, there are plenty of pre-packaged sauerkraut options in your grocery.

How long does sauerkraut last?

Sauerkraut can last for four to six months in the refrigerator. Compare that to other pickled vegetables, which usually only last four to six weeks. You get a lot of mileage out of your kraut!

Is sauerkraut probiotic?

It is! The bacteria that creates the fermentation is called lactobacillus, which is a major part of our gut biomes. So not only does sauerkraut taste good, it’s good for you. Apply liberally to your next dog!

About the Author

Luke Field

Luke Field is a writer and actor originally from Philadelphia. He was the former Head Writer of branded content at CollegeHumor and was also a contributing writer and actor to the CollegeHumor Originals cast. He has extensive improv and sketch stage experience, performing both at The Upright Citizens Brigade Theater and with their Touring Company. In addition to writing, he also works as a Story Producer, most recently on season 4 of Accident, Suicide, or Murder on Oxygen. Keep your eyes peeled for his brief but impactful appearance as Kevin, the screaming security guard, in the upcoming feature The Disruptors, directed by Adam Frucci.

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