The 6 Healthiest Staple Foods in German Cuisine
German food is famous for its hearty meals of roasted meat, dumplings, potatoes, pickled vegetables, gravy and breads, and, of course, its beer and sausages (Germany has over 1,500 different types of sausage). Satisfying? Yes. Wholesome? Yes. Extremely healthy? Perhaps on the surface not, but in reality German cuisine is quite good for you.
Take their sausages. Each one has an average of only 280 calories, contains mostly meat (often pork) and no chemicals are used, completely opposite of American sausages, which are higher in calories, contain more fat, water and other filler meats, and are loaded with chemicals and preservatives. On top of that, German sausages are rarely served on a bun, but rather on a bed of sauerkraut or with a dipping sauce like mustard. In America, highly processed white buns are the norm.
So when it comes to German cuisine, there is much more than meets the eye. Here we've compiled six of the healthiest staple foods in Germany, along with a couple of tasty and healthy recipes for you to try at the end.
Sauerkraut is one of the most famous, and most popular, German foods. It's finely shredded, fermented (or pickled) white cabbage, and its tangy flavor is used alongside sandwiches, meat and cheeses, and in warm salads and soups.
Health Benefits: Sauerkraut's benefits are two-fold. First, it's made of cabbage, which is known to fight cancer, treat peptic ulcers and provides vitamin C, fiber, manganese, vitamin B6 and folate. However, because sauerkraut is fermented, it has added benefits over regular cabbage.
Fermenting produces good bacteria known as probiotics, which produce beneficial enzymes, aid digestion and promote healthy flora in the digestive tract. Fermentation also produces isothiocyanates, compounds that have been shown to prevent cancer growth in test tubes and animals.
However, not all sauerkraut, particularly in the United States, will give you these benefits. Most sauerkraut sold in supermarkets is pasteurized, which means all of the good bacteria have been killed. In order to get the health benefits of fermentation you need traditionally prepared sauerkraut, which you can find in some health food stores (in the refrigerated section), in delis that make their own (sometimes sold in barrels) or by making it yourself.
2. Red Cabbage
Red cabbage is another popular dish in Germany and is used much in the same way as sauerkraut, as a side dish to meats and sandwiches and in salads and soups. German red cabbage is sometimes cooked with apples and has a sweeter flavor than sauerkraut. It can be served raw, braised or pickled, hot or cold.
Health Benefits: Like white cabbage, red cabbage has been found to prevent cancer and is an excellent source of fiber and calcium. However, it has six to eight times the vitamin C of white cabbage, as well as significantly more protective phytonutrients. The antioxidant polyphenols found in red cabbage, particularly its anthocyanins, have also been found to help prevent Alzheimer's disease.
3. White Asparagus
In Germany, white asparagus, or weisser spargel, signifies the beginning of spring. From about mid-April to June, festivals emerge to honor the vegetable and restaurants even come out with special asparagus menus. It is served not only as a side dish but also as a main entrée, especially during the spring.
Health Benefits: Asparagus is an excellent source of vitamins K, C and A, and folate, which is good for heart health and helps prevent birth defects. Asparagus also contains inulin, a type of carbohydrate that humans can't digest, however good bacteria in the large intestine can. As such, inulin helps promote the growth and activity of good bacteria in your digestive tract.
Apples are the most widely grown fruit in Germany and they're used to make desserts, such as apple strudel and baked apples, apple pancakes, apple butter and jam and applesauce, a popular sauce for pork and poultry.
Health Benefits: Apples are loaded with powerful antioxidants, including quercetin, catechin, phloridzin and chlorogenic acid, protect against breast and colon cancers, prevent kidney stones, and help to lower bad cholesterol while raising the good kind. Studies have also found that eating at least two apples a week reduces the risk of asthma and type 2 diabetes, and promotes lung health. They're also a good source of fiber and vitamins C and K.
Horseradish and horseradish-based sauces and mustards are popular accompaniments to German meats and cheeses.
Health Benefits: Horseradish contains significant amounts of glucosinolates, compounds that have been shown to increase the liver's ability to detoxify carcinogens and may suppress the growth of cancerous tumors. Broccoli, Brussels sprouts and other cruciferous vegetables also contain the compounds, but horseradish has significantly higher amounts (10 times as much as broccoli).
Horseradish is also said to aid digestion and it also contains compounds known to fight against pathogens in food, such as listeria, E. coli and Staphylococcus aureus.
6. Whole-Grain Rye Bread
Germany is known for having some of the best breads in the world, and one of their most popular is rye bread. Unlike many American breads, German breads are typically made with whole grains and little, if any, added sugar. Rye bread is served with sandwiches and as a table bread.
Health Benefits: Whole-grain rye is an excellent source of fiber, which promotes weight loss, prevents gallstones and fights diabetes, heart disease and cancer.
Rye bread also triggers less of an insulin response than wheat bread, making rye a better choice for diabetics, and contains beneficial phytoestrogens.
Tasty German Recipes to Try
White Asparagus with Black Forest Ham
(Weisser Spargel mit Schwarzwälder Schinken)
1 lb fresh white asparagus
1 large ripe avocado
1/2 cup Basic Oil and Vinegar Dressing (see recipe below)
4 ripe round or plum tomatoes, skinned
4 large fresh Basil leaves, shredded
8 wafer-thin slices German imported Black Forest ham
1 tablespoon chopped fresh chives
sea salt and freshly ground pepper
Trim the bases of the asparagus and peel with a vegetable peeler. Bring a large pan of salted water to a boil and drop in the asparagus. Simmer for 3 minutes and have a large bowl of iced water ready.
Using a large slotted spoon, lift out the asparagus spears carefully. Place immediately into the iced water and leave for 5 minutes, then carefully drain.
Slice the avocado and mix gently with a third of the dressing. Season well. Slice the tomatoes thinly and season. Allow to stand for 10 minutes then drizzle with another third of the dressing and mix in the basil.
Arrange 2 slices of ham on four large plates. Divide the asparagus, tomato and avocado between the plates. Drizzle the last of the dressing over the asparagus and sprinkle over the chives. Season with coarsely ground pepper and serve.
Basic Oil and Vinegar Salad Dressing
Makes 1 1/4 cups
4 ounces rapeseed or vegetable oil
4 ounces olive oil
4 ounces German white wine or German apple
vinegar or half of each
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon German mustard
1 teaspoon German honey (optional)
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
Whisk together all ingredients. Store refrigerated in sealed jar. Whisk again just before serving.
Recipe Source: Germanfoods.org
Red Cabbage Salad with Bavarian Smoked Cheese
(Rotkohlsalat mit Räucherkäse)
1 lb German pickled red cabbage, drained well
1/2 small onion, sliced thinly
1/2 small green pepper, cored and sliced thinly
1 teaspoon poppy seeds
2 Tablespoons rapeseed oil
5 oz Bavarian smoked cheese
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Put the cabbage into a large bowl and toss in the sliced onion, green pepper and poppy seeds. Season to taste then mix in the oil.
Cut the cheese into small cubes and mix lightly in the bowl.
- Line a platter with salad leaves and pile on the cabbage salad. Add croutons if desired.
Recipe Source: Germanfoods.org, courtesy of Roz Denny, Modern German Cooking
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