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Sauerkraut is a fermented cabbage preserve widely thought to be of German
origin, though it has been used throughout Europe. Basic sauerkraut is made
by cutting fresh cabbage into fine strips, and packing it into an airtight
container while mixing in a certain amount of salt. Traditionally, a
stoneware crock is used. The crock is kept in a cool area.
The cabbage undergoes lactobacillus fermentation, and is preserved by the
lactic acid this formed.
There are variations. Sauerkraut can be made with whole cabbages instead of
shredded ones. Sometimes other vegetables are added. Sometimes spices are
added. There are other vegetables that have been preserved by a similar
process. Also, silage, a feed for cattle, is made the same way.
For preparation at home, the various methods are somewhat controversial. The
USDA recommendations call for a greater amount of salt than is traditional,
making the sauerkraut unpalatably salty unless rinsed before eating. Such
rinsing removes a good deal of the flavor. When traditional amounts of salt
are used, temperature control becomes more critical, because food poisoning
can occur if the fermentation temperature is too high.