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Akron's favorite appetizer: the crispy sauerkraut ball
A tradition for the holidays or a bar snack that few people outside Akron know.
by WKSU's MARK URYCKI


Senior Reporter
Mark Urycki
 
Or Derv Inc. and its predecessor Bunny B Foods has been making sauerkraut balls for 50 years.
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In The Region:

Different ethnic groups have their own specialty foods and different regions have their favorites – especially around the holidays. One delicacy found almost exclusively in Akron is the little fried sauerkraut ball. WKSU’s Mark Urycki visited the company that has been making them for 50 years.

The Akron appetizer

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Of course, sauerkraut is a popular item for New Year’s. But the ping-pong-sized sauerkraut ball is a specialty of the Rubber City – at New Year’s or any time of year. Listen to what traveling food writers Jane and Michael Stern told Lynn Rosetto Kasper on our Sunday show the Splendid Table.

"Sauerkraut balls were invented in Akron, Ohio, and a in many restaurants around Akron a favorite hors d’oeuvre is a sauerkraut ball. It’s a small sphere of sauerkraut and ground up meat that is breaded and deep fried, ... a wonderful kind of tangy, tart savory hors d’oeuvre." 

Going back to at least the early '60’s, crispy fried sauerkraut balls have been a favorite appetizer at Akron bars and restaurants. 

Keith Kropp, the CEO of Or Derv foods in Akron, says "sauerkraut balls are to Akron like Buffalo wings are to Buffalo and Philly sandwiches are to Philly. “ 

Origins a mystery
His company has been the leading producer of sauerkraut balls going back 50 years, when it was known as Bunny B foods. Kropp bought the company eight years ago and doesn’t know how the snack came to Akron.

“Some people say it’s German, some people say it's Polish but I’m not real sure on the true origin. I’ve never been able to find out. But Akron and Northeast Ohio seems to be the place where they’re sold. You go outside this area and not many people know what a sauerkraut ball is.

Or Derv sells a couple different versions. Ham is most common, but ground beef is also used.

People commonly eat them as bar food with no condiment or with shrimp cocktail sauce, but Kropp says some people prefer mustard. Deep frying makes them crispy, but they can also be baked on a cookie sheet.

The main supplier
A few Akron restaurants make their own sauerkraut balls, but most get them frozen from Or Derv. The company also makes them for Acme and Heinen’s. It all comes together in a very loud kitchen in Akron that the company calls the “ballroom.”

Or Derv’s Quality Assurance Manager Sadie Dietrick shows us how the balls are rolled from a mixture, breaded and then dropped onto a conveyor belt.

“They make their way through a fryer which is about 350 degrees. It’s about 2 minutes in the fryer, so it’s a par-fry -- it’s not fully cooked -- because the consumer is going to fry them again before they eat them. 

This equipment was turning out as many 30,000 sauerkraut balls an hour to meet the demand for the holidays. Dietrick says their Connoisseur brand is a newer, larger ball.

“The Bunny B is the original Akron sauerkraut ball back when they were founded in 1964. This one is a little smaller and has more parsley flakes in it.”

The company also makes a Reuben version with corned beef rather than ham.

New headquarters
After the balls are fried and inspected, they are carried along the conveyor to a tunnel cooled by liquid nitrogen.

“They go from a 350 degree oil to being frozen in five minutes. “

The company isn’t trying to spread the word about sauerkraut balls outside Northeast Ohio.  They have other products to sell like falafel balls and meatballs  In fact, Or Derv’s recently landed a contract with Olive Garden restaurants.  It also is bottling sauces and salsas for other companies.

With a recent investment from Bob Shearer, former CEO of Shearer’s potato chips, the Or Derv company is moving into a new 20,000 square foot building in the Ascot Industrial Park near Blossom Music Center.  Keith Kropp says he’ll definitely increase payroll from the 18 employees he has now.  And maybe someday word about this Akron snack food  will spread even further.

(Click image for larger view.)

Listener Comments:

I have been making sauerkraut balls for at least 50 years and you are correct outside of Akron not many people know this product. I was born in Akron and lived there for 33 years and now we are in Fl for the past 34 years. My son every New Years requests the sauerkraut balls. My mother in law gave me her recipe and I have passed it down to my children. It's funny people who do not like sauerkraut love these.


Posted by: Donna (Fort Myers, FL) on June 30, 2014 8:06AM
My Parents were German, Mom had a recipe from my Fathers Mother and it was old and carried to America by Her, then Passed down. I never could make them but I get from a local Chicken/Pizza palace and they are the Best, they told me they were Bunny B's, and that I could buy them at the store but I do not have deep fryer, so I order them from the Pizza place. Any Bar or restaurant I go to I ask if they have them for appetizers and Enjoy them often.


Posted by: Joseph (Cuyahoga Falls) on April 4, 2014 11:04AM

I havn't had these in years but the article sent me to my bookcase where I found "THE STOUFFER
COOKBOOK" OF GREAT AMERICAN FOOD


Posted by: Bud Whisler (Columbus Oh) on January 29, 2014 6:01AM
Love Them! But dam. A hell of a lot of work.. I buy yours.


Posted by: Vince Bond (Akron) on January 21, 2014 6:01AM
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