Stripping back to the basics and uncovering the truth about a distinctly un-German dish
The naked truth of sauerkraut, is that even though the direct translation from German is ‘sour cabbage’, the delicious dish wasn’t actually invented in Europe at all!
In fact, it’s widely believed that Chinese laborers toiling away on the Great Wall of China all those years ago were the real inventors of this unique dish. Made with rice wine and cabbage, this fermented food would’ve been a real staple during the seasons where food stores were dwindling.
Preservation and longevity are always a common theme when discussing the origins of sauerkraut and kimchi – although today we’re more likely to promote its health benefits (and taste!) back in the day it would’ve been widely appreciated for the fact that it didn’t spoil after a few days. Life had to be pretty tough without modern refrigeration.
But how on Earth could this Chinese dish become known widely as being so very quintessentially German? In fact, how did we come to associate it with Germany at all?
The answer lies, surprisingly (or unsurprisingly, depending on your grasp of Chinese history) with Genghis Khan.
Not generally known for his interest in food, or his generosity with sharing cultural cuisines, nevertheless Genghis Khan’s travelling group of men decided to try their hand at the culinary arts instead of simply the colonisation arts, and created the new and improved fermentation process of replacing rice wine with salt.
A game changer.
This process helped dry out the excess water in cabbage, and kickstart the healthy fermentation process, which not only ensured the dish would last for ages without refrigeration, but it would also be a healthy dose of vitamin C (not that they knew that yet!)
During their wide travels this dish became introduced to Western Europe, where Germany claimed it as its own – although the exact moment it became their specialty is unknown. What would your guess be as to how or why it became a German specialty?
Nevertheless, it does go incredibly well with bratwurst.