Kefir and kapusta kiszona – heroes of Polish cuisine

Kefir kefir or kephir and kapusta kiszona pickled cabbage or sauerkraut are two recent additions to the popular superfood league. Both are essential for keeping a healthy gut, both have been around for years and both are part of a staple diet in Poland.

Kiszenie pickling and fermentacja fermentation are one of the oldest ways of preserving żywność food known to man. In Poland it’s particularly popular because of geographical, historical and climatic reasons. Winters are long and severe. Any vegetables, fruit of the forest or other fruits gathered in the autumn need to be preserved in order to last for the whole winter.  Pickled or fermented food is cheap, nutritious and widely available.  In Poland, under communism when food shortages were not uncommon, almost everybody either had a small allotment or relatives living in the country who could provide food to help supplement their diet. Pickling, fermenting, making homemade cheese, jams and kompot compote was a normal part of life in any Polish kitchen.

The first recipes for pickled and fermented food can be found in Compendium ferculorumpierwsza książka kucharska po polsku the first cookery book in Polish – written by Stanisław Czarniecki, head chef of the Lubomirski family and published in 1682.

Kapusta cabbage, buraki beetroots, ogórki cucumbers and jabłka apples were the most common food used for fermentation. Fermented food is full of witamina C Vitamin C and contains kwas mlekowy lactic acid which acts as a probiotic. Surówka z kapusty kiszonej sauerkraut salad is one of the most popular winter side salads to accompany mięso meat or ryba fish.










To make the salad you need the following składniki ingredients:

kapusta kiszona sauerkraut

marchewka carrot

cebula onion

jabłko apple

oliwa olive oil

łyżeczka cukru teaspoon of sugar

sól salt

pieprz pepper

For the recipe in Polish click here

For the recipe in English click here

Talking about kapusta kiszona, apart from the culinary aspects, it also offers some linguistic points worth discussing.

Kapusta kiszona, ogórek kiszony, jabłko kiszone, kwas mlekowy, książka kucharska are all very good examples of a noun + adjective combination.

Adjectives describe nouns, and in Polish they may appear before or after the noun they refer to, depending on what function they perform.

Typically, the most common combination is adjective + noun where the emphasis is on the noun. For example:

To jest nowy samochód. This is a new car.

To jest interesujący film. This is an interesting film.

To jest ciekawa książka. This is an interesting book.

To jest zatłoczony autobus. This is an (over)crowded bus.

To jest trudny problem. This is a difficult problem.

The order can be changed if we want to emphasise the adjective more than the noun. For example:

Ten samochód jest nowy. This car is new.

Ten film jest interesujący. This film is interesting.

Ta książka jest ciekawa. This book is interesting.

Ten autobus jest zatłoczony. This bus is (over)crowded.

Ten problem jest trudny. This problem is difficult.

However, adjectives like kiszony, mlekowy and kucharska in the examples above have a slightly different function here – they classify the noun, in other words they describe one of many kinds of cabbages (red, white etc.) cucumbers, types of acids or books. In this case the adjectives follow the noun. See the following examples: ciekawa książka vs książka kucharska, świeża kapusta vs kapusta kiszona.  The difference is subtle but important.  The best way to learn is to look at lots of examples such as: aparat fotograficzny or aparat słuchowy, kościół katolicki or kościół protestancki, gabinet dentystyczny or gabinet lekarski, salon samochodowy or salon fryzjerski etc.

Now, back to the culinary matters.

The second hero of the Polish cuisine is kefir. Kefir is a cultured and fermented milk drink packed with nutrients and friendly bacteria which help maintain a healthy gut. Originated in the Caucasus Mountains on the border between Europe and Asia about 3000 years ago, kefir was brought to Warsaw (then under Russian occupation) in the 19th century. In 1886 Polish naturalist Maksymilian Heilpern published in Warsaw a book “Kefir, jego pochodzenie i własnościKefir, its origin and properties which described the numerous health benefits of drinking kefir and contributed to the huge popularity of this drink in Poland.










[source: – digital library administered by Biblioteka Narodowa]

Kefir was elevated from a humble drink of Caucasian shepherds to a fashionable beverage in Warsaw salons. Produced and distributed by pharmacists, kefir was sold in some of the most popular places around Warsaw – in ulica Królewska Royal Street and in a small kiosk in Ogród Saski Saxon Garden park. Some spas were even offering terapia kefirowa kefir therapy. Ever since, kefir has remained part of the staple diet in Poland – as a drink in its own right, as well as an ingredient for making soups, pancakes and cakes.

In Poland in the 1970s and 1980s, there was a wide network of bar koktajlowy cocktail bar, which contrary to what you might think, did not sell fancy alcoholic drinks but ice cream, ice cream based desserts and milkshakes and smoothies made of frozen fruit, a dash of honey and milk, cream or kefir.










Today kefir enjoys a thoroughly deserved popularity beyond Poland.

Polish tutor tips

Try to find some more recipes for kapusta kiszona and kefir (for example soups, pancakes or cakes) – preferably in Polish and study the vocabulary used.

Have you ever tried kapusta kiszona and/or kefir? Do you like or dislike kapusta kiszona and/or kefir? Write a short comment why.

Find some articles in Polish about cooking with kapusta kiszona and kefir and practice reading comprehension.