My son Wilson researched and wrote this up. Thought it was interesting.
"If life gives you cabbage, make sauerkraut." - Dale Carnegie
German for 'sour cabbage', the art of making sauerkraut was probably first practiced in the Far East thousands of years ago. The builders of the Great Wall of China fermented their cabbage in rice wine to create a durable food source for the cold season. Believed to have been introduced to Europe through the marauding hordes of Genghis Khan, sauerkraut has maintained its popularity in China, as well as in much of North and Eastern Europe.
Sauerkraut underwent the glory of its first public relation success in the 1770's. At that time scurvy was 'the plaugue of the Sea, and the Spoyle of Mariners', and is estimated to have been responsible for some two million deaths between 1500 and 1800. The affliction cost Magellan 80% of his sailors.
Today we know that scurvy is an extreme deficiency of vitamins, notably vitamins C and B. This deficiency produces a breakdown in the collagen, the main structural protein in the connective tissue of animals (making up 25%-35% of our bodies' protein content). The gradual loss of collagen brings about the symptoms known as scurvy- blackened skin, ulcers, loss of teeth, and night blindness.
In 1753, Scottish naval surgeon James Lind linked scurvy to severely restricted diets. The British Empire then began experimenting with different foods, and in 1775 Captain James Cook was awarded the Great Copley Medal (the oldest surviving scientific award) for his observations of scurvy prevention through the consumption of sauerkraut.
Sauerkraut, fermented cabbage, is the bacterial digestion of parts of the cabbage. The by-products of the bacteria's metabolism include vitamin C and certain B vitamins. The bacteria, similar to those found in yogurt, convert sugars in the cabbage into lactic acid, which has a preserving effect on the vegetable. The fermentation process actually increases the bioavailability of nutrients within the cabbage- making sauerkraut healthier than raw cabbage.
Sauerkraut had its dark days as well. A 1918 article in the New York Times noted a rather sudden 75% decrease in sauerkraut sales. The combination of the Great War and the Germanic sounding 'sauerkraut' prejudiced American consumers against the fermented cabbage. Sauerkraut conglomerates rallied in a failed campaign to rebrand sauerkraut as 'Liberty Cabbage', the original 'Freedom Fry'.