Friday, July 18, 2014

Q: What Invention Enabled Long-Range Ocean Voyages?

A: Sauerkraut.

I'm currently enjoying The Great Age of Discovery, Volume 2: Captain Cook and the Scientific Explorations after having made my way through the superb Treasure Island. The Great Age of Discovery is fascinating and it begins with one of the most interesting facts I've heard in a long time.

The book starts with a hideous, detailed description of scurvy, written by a mariner from the 18th Century. The author then goes on to describe various unsuccessful hypotheses and treatments developed by the British and the Continentals to deal with the problem. After a long period of study and experimentation, they discovered that the Scandinavians never contracted scurvy and that they always brought barrels of sauerkraut with them on their voyages.

Lieutenant Cook (later Captain Cook) made his first voyage to the Pacific with plenty of the stuff on board and lost no one to scurvy. Until that point, a ship's master could expect half of his crew to die from the malady on a voyage of that length and the remainder to be weakened or crippled.

So there you have it. Just as it did in the World Cup, pickled cabbage wins again.

Sauerkraut. Is there anything it can't do?
Addendum: Natural News calls sauerkraut the original probiotic superfood. Endorsed by rugged, manly seamen and hairy-legged, granola-munching, feminist crazies, you can't go wrong with a big bowl of sauerkraut!

1 comment:

tim eisele said...

I was going to comment on how sauerkraut also has the advantage that it can be made in large quantities ("silage" is essentially sauerkraut made from chopped green corn or wet hay, and we used to make several hundred tons of it every year to feed our cattle over the winter), but Wikipedia beat me to it.