Pasteurised vs Unpasteurised Sauerkraut: How Heating Destroys Good Bacteria

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Pasteurised vs Unpasteurised Sauerkraut: How Heating Destroys Good Bacteria

fermented food box with miso

People ask us questions like  “Why is raw sauerkraut better?” and “What’s the effect of pasteurisation on sauerkraut?” This week we’ll answer why raw, unpasteurised sauerkraut is better for our gut health as well as our overall health and wellbeing.

The humble sauerkraut has been with us for centuries. In pre-refrigeration days, our ancestors fermented the remains of the summer crop. This was to ensure there was no hungry gap during the winter. 

The ability to store foods helped these communities survive lean times. In colder climates, the ability to store successfully over long periods was often the difference between life and death.

Unpasteurised sauerkraut: an ancient lifesaver

The Ancients understood the benefits of fermenting. To them, it must have been a mysterious process. They would’ve observed the bubbles form in the brine, caused by carbon dioxide, and noted the enhanced taste. Most of all, they would see how it was highly effective in keeping food, such as cabbage, fresher for extended times during storage.

We now know this was the tireless work of species of bacteria that the fermentation method encouraged. In the case of fermented vegetables, it was usually the lactobacillus family. The species thrived on being submerged in a brine solution without oxygen. Recently science has discovered the link between lactobacillus and better gut health. 

Cabbage, because of its versatility and durability, has always been a favourite vegetable to ferment. The end product was called sauerkraut (in German) because of its slightly sour taste. The spicier Korean version is known as kimchi. 

The more we ingest these beneficial microbes, the better the balance of our gut microbiome.  Recent scientific studies have shown that our gut health plays a key role in our overall health and wellbeing. Eating fermented foods such as sauerkraut, kimchi or yoghurt, or drinking fermented drinks such as kvass, will boost our levels of the “old friends”.

Fast forward to today. Sauerkraut has become one of the most popular fermented foods to eat as part of a probiotic diet. But there’s a caveat. Not all sauerkraut products are the same. Indeed, it’s very likely that imported, mass-produced, pasteurised sauerkraut may have little, or no, probiotic bacteria at all!

Let’s examine why:

What does pasteurisation do to sauerkraut?

pasteurisation method

Pasteurisation is a heating process, invented by French microbiologist Louis Pasteur. Heating of the food kills harmful bacteria, which cause illnesses and extends the shelf life of products. There is no doubt that pasteurisation has had a beneficial role to play in curbing outbreaks of disease caused by dangerous bacteria in our society. It has saved many lives throughout the world.

But what’s the effect of pasteurisation on good bacteria? The type our bodies need for optimum physical and mental health.

Pasteurisation doesn’t discriminate. It will kill all bacteria, including the probiotics. While eating pasteurised sauerkraut means we still have some of the nutrient benefits of the cabbage, even this is reduced through the process. 

To replicate the famous sour taste, vinegar is often used in mass-produced sauerkraut products. They also contain preservatives (as there are no bacteria to preserve the food) and added sugar.

The Fermenting Revolution: “embracing” microbes

Research shows that gut bacteria may take up to a year to four years to return to a healthy balanced state. However, some studies show lost families of good bacteria may not recover in full and the effect on our gut  — and wider physical and mental health —  is still being studied.

The use of antibiotics has played an immeasurable in controlling the spread of bad bacteria and therefore saved countless lives. To embrace the beneficial bacteria in our food and environment has been the goal of the fermentation revolution. Not trying to destroy them.

According to author, teacher and fermentation revivalist, Sandor Katz, pasteurisation has been part of a wider societal war on bacteria. As he says in his groundbreaking book Wild Fermentation: 

“Western culture is terrified of germs and obsessed with hygiene. We live in the midst of the war on bacteria, and our bodies are major battlegrounds. We are taught to fear exposure to all forms of microscopic life…”

The Gutsy Ferments alternative

The good bacteria proliferate in the conditions. This colonisation outnumbers any bad bacteria and will not give them the chance to grow. We ferment our sauerkraut and kimchi for up to six weeks. Meaning you get the tangy, full-flavoured and probiotic product.  

Our unpasteurised sauerkraut is raw and wildly fermented in traditional oak barrels. This means no addition of artificial cultures. In addition, we source our products locally and are certified as being 100 percent organic. 

No wonder our customers rave about our sauerkraut!

Interested in hearing more about how we supply raw, organic, locally-sourced and unpasteurised sauerkraut? Contact us here or at our Instagram or Facebook pages.