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Captain Cook and Vitamin C

February 15, 2016 , , , , ,

Captain James Cook

Captain James Cook

The famous British naval captain James Cook lived from 1728-1779. He was in command of the HMS Endeavor sailing in 1768 to Tahiti to investigate the Venus transit and explore.  On board he stocked 7,860 pounds of sauerkraut for the voyage.  He devised a system to keep the crew healthy that promoted new practices on board ship for the British Navy.  The crew was required to exercise on deck in the fresh air daily, and wash themselves and their property.  In addition to the hygiene regulations Captain Cook fed the entire crew sauerkraut and lime juice regularly.  Those serving in The Royal Navy are still known today by the nickname Limeys because of the Cook cure for scurvy.  He stopped at any port where he could purchase fruits and vegetables to include in the crew’s diet.   Since his voyages were much longer than any that had been attempted he brought sauerkraut to fill the long gaps without fresh produce.  At first the sailors were refusing to eat the kraut, so he used an old trick.  He served the sauerkraut only to officers until the sailors saw it as a desirable addition to the diet.  The ship’s medical doctor used cabbage as a poultice on wounds to avoid gangrene.  Cabbage truly saved the day.

Although the discovery and isolation of vitamin C as a nutrient was not made until 1932 sea captains had been experimenting with dietary changes to avoid the dreaded problem of scurvy at sea for many years.  Cabbage contains vitamin C but the fermentation process releases extra C, creating a true superfood.  Sauerkraut made long voyages at sea possible without risking the lives of the crew and passengers.  This regimen changed the world and man’s ability to explore it.  Today there is a renewed interest in raw fermented foods.  The health benefits of eating probiotic foods are becoming more widely known.  There are many people interested in reviving this valuable art of food preservation.  In the 1700’s sauerkraut made the world smaller.  Today the same fermented cabbage has the potential to make the world much healthier.

Cook's Voyages

Cook’s Voyages

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I remember learning about scurvy, limes and Capt Cook when I was in elementary school I thought it was fascinating. I never heard about saurkraut and Captain Cook until now! Great information.

Liked by 1 person

Stevie Wilson (@LAStory)

February 17, 2016

Thank you for this very informative article. I had known that Capt. Cook did have sauerkraut on board his ships, but I didn’t realize that he had it in such quantity. I also didn’t know that the fermentation process of sauerkraut releases much greater amounts of Vitamin C than is available in unfermented cabbage.


Jeffrey C. Hunt

February 22, 2022

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