It's long had a bad rap as a sidekick to greasy sausages or significant chunks of a pig's leg, but sauerkraut is not just a boring accompaniment to the heavier types of German food, as aficionados are trying to prove.
Not exactly haute cuisine
The kraut itself, of course, is actually quite healthy, as producers of the delicacy will gladly point out. It contains few calories and a lot of vitamin C and is even supposed to aid digestion as the "intestine's broom."
Too few people seem to accept this, however, and 40 sauerkraut connoisseurs from Germany, France, the Netherlands and Italy recently met to come up with ways to change that. Meeting in Marlenheim, just east of Strasbourg in the Alsace region of France, chefs and kraut makers exchanged ideas to lift pickled cabbage to new heights as a peppermint sauerkraut sorbet or a basis for sushi.
It's a difficult undertaking, according to Eckart Hengstenberg, a member of one of Germany's leading sauerkraut dynasties and president of the European Association of Sauerkraut Producers. "It's just not that easy to change eating habits," he told AFP news wire.
Hengstenberg and his colleagues have every reason to push kraut as a tasty delicacy. The average Frenchman for example only eats about 800 grams (28.2 oz.) per year -- one fifth less than a decade ago. Germans, on the other hand, have remained faithful to their alleged national side dish (which was actually imported from China): They're still eating about 3.2 kg (112.8 oz.) a year.
Come May, the EU's new Eastern European member states might help to boost kraut business again. But a touch of haute cuisine seems unnecessary there: Poles, Czechs and Slovaks don't seem to have a problem with enjoying their cabbage with a deliciously greasy fried sausage. Or two.