The Probiotics of Sauerkraut

scrambled eggs are topped with sauerkraut and chopped tomato

Probiotics are the darlings of “food-ceuticals” these days so it’s no surprise to see sauerkraut makers touting the probiotics contained in their products.

Are these the same probiotics that live in yogurt? And whether the answer is “yes,” or “no,” could this help the digestive issues I’ve experienced in the last few years?

A Gut Made of Iron

Let’s start with some history.

I’ve pretty much always been able to eat everything. The joke was that there were only two food options I ever declined: liver and lima beans.

I think both had to do with texture (and one with smell).

I could eat spicy, garlicky, onion-filled foods, unlimited dairy, anything pickled, and wheat gluten out the wazoo. No problems.

Then, something happened on the way to age sixty and post-Covid.

I started to get acid reflux and stomach aches.

By limiting certain foods (dairy, spices, and garlic) my stomach aches lessened but the acid-reflux didn’t resolve.

I couldn’t fathom giving up cheese, ice cream, salsa, curry and all of those other yummy foods.

Lactose-free versions of foods or taking a lactose supplement didn’t help.

I wanted to test out probiotics but I couldn’t bring myself to pay $30 for a two week supply of dust in a capsule. I’m a firm believer that food provides us with better nutrition than a pill.

The problem was that I couldn’t stomach the foods containing probiotics – or so I thought.

Then, sauerkraut caught my eye.

All Sauerkraut Probiotics Are Not Created Equal

The sugars in cabbage provide food for microorganisms (yeast and bacteria which are always around in the air we breathe, on our hands, and on the cabbage) to gather, feed, and grow.

The controlled growth of microorganisms to produce a chemical change in certain foods is called fermentation.

When we eat fermented cabbage, we are eating these microorganisms in large numbers. The particular strains of microorganisms fed by cabbage have been found beneficial to human health.

That’s where the name “probiotic” comes from.

That got me wondering whether canned sauerkraut (in cans or sealed jars sold on grocery store shelves) contains the same probiotics.

I learned that sauerkraut probiotics are killed by the heat of the canning process and do not confer the benefits of unpasteurized sauerkraut.

This is where the phrase “live, active cultures” originates from to distinguish foods that are still fermenting from those that are not.

You need to look for sauerkraut sold in bags in the refrigerated sections of your market. It’s also good to find sauerkraut with no added sugars or vinegars because these additives will interfere with the production of the beneficial bacteria.

We have a local brand that contains only cabbage, salt, and caraway seed. Perfect!

Successful Experiment

At first, I wasn’t even sure that I could “stomach” the sauerkraut. I tried just a forkful at a time.

No bad effects.

Then I got braver. I ate several forkfuls.

In very little time (less than a week?) I started feeling better and my acid reflux was greatly reduced.

Since then, I’ve included eating some fermenting sauerkraut every few days. So far, so good.

I still get some tummy rumbles if I eat a lot of ice cream or if I go for too many days without sauerkraut, but the bad stomach aches and persistent acid reflux are no more.

What Are the Probiotics In Sauerkraut?

My next question was why sauerkraut helped my abdominal pain while yogurt did not.

I learned that sauerkraut contains a wide variety (at least 28) of probiotics while yogurt generally contains only 4 to 6 varieties.

So why is yogurt the popular “go to” when people want to add probiotics to their diets?

The answer is taste. After all, yogurt tastes a lot different than sauerkraut.

But from my own experience, sauerkraut worked for me while yogurt did not. My microbiome must benefit from some probiotic in sauerkraut that I wasn’t getting from yogurt.

Cooking Up A Plan

I’ve tried my probiotic sauerkraut many ways but my favorite is to add it to scrambled eggs!

Just make a scrambled egg and put some fermented sauerkraut on top. It’s that easy.

It’s also delicious to roll up the eggs and kraut in a warm tortilla, plain or with ketchup, salsa, fresh veggies, and/or a sprinkle of cheese.

What a great way to start the day!

Probiotic Supplements

If you can’t tolerate probiotic food sources or for some other reason want to get your probiotics in pill form, is that going to be an effective route?


There are many caveats.

The consideration of active cultures is the same for supplements as it is for food sources of probiotics. Meaning that if you are swallowing a pill that is largely made of dead organisms, you aren’t doing yourself any good.

Remember, supplements are not considered drugs in the United States. They are not regulated.

Probiotic supplements must be labeled with the amount of probiotics contained therein by weight.

This doesn’t mean that the supplements contain only viable probiotics. Depending on how old the capsules are, the probiotics may be dead.

According to Researcher Gail Cresci, from Cleveland Clinic Children’s Department of Pediatric Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition,

“There are challenges to keeping microbes viable in encapsulated tablets,” she said. “It’s also very, very important to know that each strain of bacteria is not the same as the next. For example, lactobacillus has hundreds of different strains, and each one may behave differently. People like to use supplements because they like to think one size fits all, but it doesn’t.”

Her advice: “Take in prebiotics and probiotics through food sources. Yogurt with added probiotic bacterial strains is much better to consume than supplements also because as it’s been waiting for you to eat it, it’s been producing more beneficial metabolites. When you eat it, you get all that.”

“As fermented foods rise in popularity, here’s what experts say,”
By Michelle Hiskey, American Heart Association News, March 24, 2021

What About You?

Medical research is quick to say that probiotics seem to help people with various medical issues, but the science just doesn’t exist yet to tell us which probiotics help which conditions and how the probiotics do it.

So for now it is largely a “try it and see what happens” endeavor.

And the medicine is not just for digestive issues, but has implications for immunity and diseases as well.

The present advice is for people to include a wide variety of probiotics as is possible from food sources.

And of course to check with your own doctor before making any lifestyle changes.

It’s almost as if the next frontier is not just “Space,” as Star Trek would have you believe but also the microscopic, single cell universe we are just beginning to explore.

Author: A. JoAnn

Here is where I share the beauty I find in everyday life; and the humor, too!