Along with Scottish haggis and Japanese clam jerky (seriously), the beverage known as kraut juice appears to have been created on a dare. Essentially, a can of kraut juice delivers exactly what the label says, the juice created during the making of sauerkraut, perhaps the most well-known fermented shredded cabbage product known to mankind.
The cabbage used to make sauerkraut already contains most of the bacteria and other essential enzymes and yeasts needed to pickle itself. All it really needs is a quiet dark place to collect its thoughts while the bacteria, yeast and enzymes drain it of most of its fluids, break down its structure and finally feast on its sugar until it ferments. Salt is also added to speed the process along. The result after a few weeks or months is the familiar sauerkraut and kraut juice.
The kraut juice is separated mechanically from the sauerkraut itself and is processed into a drinkable beverage. For the uninitiated, the term "drinkable beverage" may be a loose translation from the original German. Some varieties of processed kraut juice may contain the essence of pickling spices, most notably caraway seed and salt. Kraut juice can often be found on grocery store shelves or in European specialty stores It is not uncommon to find 6-packs of canned kraut juice tucked away on the top shelves near other fruit and vegetable juices.
Some may wonder what the point of saving kraut juice, let alone keeping it cold in the refrigerator for special occasions. The tradition actually started with German immigrants who settled in the Midwest and western Pennsylvania, also known as Pennsylvania Dutch territory. Some people drink kraut juice straight out of the can, perhaps with a stalk of celery for added interest. Others mix kraut juice with tomato juice, vodka and a celery stalk to create a cocktail known as a Kraut Mary. The non-alcoholic version is still a popular health drink among those in the know.
Another popular method of serving kraut juice involves adding it to a serving of the blended vegetable drink V8®. When the kraut juice is added to the V8® in this way, the drink is often called V9.
Some people believe that kraut juice contains helpful enzymes and cultures which can aid digestion or relieve intestinal distress. A few sips of kraut juice taken before breakfast is said to work like an aperitif to settle the drinker's stomach. A non-alcoholic beverage made with kraut juice is also rumored to be a good morning-after treatment for a severe hangover.
Kraut juice can also be used as part of a marinade for different meats, especially pork. The traditional Thousand Island or Russian dressings used as condiments for Reuben sandwiches may also be mixed with a little kraut juice for additional flavor and a suggestion of rye bread through the essence of caraway seeds.
So the next time you spot that lonely can of kraut juice sitting on the shelf watching the V8®s and Ocean Spray®s come and go, remember that somebody somewhere will eventually give it a good home.