Why Do So Many People Eat Pork and Sauerkraut on New Year’s Day?
Find out the reasons pork and sauerkraut are enjoyed by many on January 1.
Each year, the holiday season brings with it a variety of traditional foods: turkey on Thanksgiving, latkes for Hanukkah, candy canes around Christmas. And as for New Year’s, there are actually a whole bunch of New Year’s Eve lucky foods from customs all around the world. In some parts of the United States, pork and sauerkraut is a culinary staple on New Year’s Day. Why pork and sauerkraut? Here’s why some people eat this dish on the first day of the year. Plus, check out more of the best New Year’s traditions to try when ringing in 2022.
The origin of the pork and sauerkraut tradition
The tradition, and the now-classic food pairing, can trace its origins back to Germany. Germans and other pig-raising cultures have been eating these dishes for centuries, with immigrants bringing the tradition to the United States in the 17th and 18th centuries. People of Czech, Hungarian, and Polish ancestry enjoy the food pairing as well. That’s why this tradition is concentrated in areas with higher populations of these cultures, like the Midwest and Pennsylvania Dutch country. There’s no grand deeper meaning for eating these specific foods together, other than the fact that “rich, fatty, and salty pork is the soulmate of tart and lean kraut,” as Serious Eats puts it. But as for the specific foods and their connection to New Year’s, there’s a lot more to it!
Why pork for New Year’s?
Pork isn’t eaten on New Year’s Day only because it’s delicious—it is also thought to be good luck. The first reason for this goes back to the pig itself: In order to find food, a pig roots going forward, according to Linda Pelaccio, a culinary historian and host of “A Taste of the Past” podcast. “It’s good to always go forward into the next year—you don’t want to go backward,” she tells Reader’s Digest. “For instance, we would not eat lobster for luck in the new year because lobsters walk backward.” Similarly, we’d skip the chicken because they scratch the ground going backward.
In addition, Pelaccio says that pork is considered good luck because it is so rich in fat, and the fat signifies prosperity. Some people eat pork on the first day of the year in the hopes it will bring a lucky and prosperous year.
Lastly, round foods are also thought to be good luck, Pelaccio explains, because the shape signifies coins and good fortune. Many traditional ways of preparing pork—including an Italian dish called cotechino which is ground pork stuffed into a casing—are cut into round pieces when served. If you want to pick up some last-minute grub for your pork and sauerkraut New Year’s tradition, these are the stores open on New Year’s Day.
Why sauerkraut on New Year’s?
Even though sauerkraut is served in strands, the cabbage it originated from was round, which, as Pelaccio mentioned, is a shape thought to bring good luck. It’s also green—a color associated with financial prosperity. “Symbolically, as many shreds of cabbage from the kraut is the amount of wealth you’ll have in the new year,” Drew Anderson, co-founder of Cleveland Kraut, tells Reader’s Digest.
There are also logistical reasons why we eat sauerkraut this time of year. According to Anderson, October and November are peak harvest times for cabbage in Germany and Eastern Europe, where sauerkraut is especially popular. At that point, the cabbage is chopped and put in barrels to begin the fermentation process.
“Usually around New Year’s [Day], fresh produce is scant, so these fermentation barrels are tapped and the good stuff begins to flow,” Anderson says. “The underlying health benefits of eating kraut also contributes to this tradition, as historically, fermented foods were a big source of vitamin C and nutrients when fresh produce wasn’t available.” In other words, people want to start the year out with a healthy meal and sauerkraut fits the bill. Next, here are some New Year’s jokes that’ll have you laughing into 2022.
- Linda Pelaccio, a culinary historian and host of “A Taste of the Past” podcast
- Drew Anderson, co-founder of Cleveland Kraut
- Serious Eats: “The True Story of Traditional New Year’s Lucky Foods”
- Wildbrine: “WHY YOU SHOULD EAT SAUERKRAUT ON NEW YEAR’S DAY”
- Heritage Radio Network: “Good Luck Round Foods for the New Year and Mochi making with Hiroko Shimbo”
- Times Union: “Sauerkraut on New Year’s a Pennsylvania tradition”