What you need to know about basic German grocery items

What you need to know about basic German grocery items

by Jenny Dietrich, Brend Dietrich and Sandra Erb
WIC Overseas

Grocery shopping off base can be one of the most intimidating experiences after moving to Germany. Here's what you need to know about purchasing staple items in host nation stores.


Why is most milk bought on the German economy shelf-stable? Milk bought on the German economy is usually ultra-pasteurized. Pasteurization is simply a process where milk is heated to a high temperature for a certain period of time and then quickly cooled to destroy the microorganisms that cause disease and spoil the milk. Ultra-pasteurization undergoes this same process but the milk head to a higher temperature for a shorter period of time to kill more microorganisms. It is no sterile but will not spoil as quickly as the milk that must be refrigerated. The milk’s expiration date will be listed on the box and is usually at least three months into the future. This heating process does not significantly affect the nutrient content of the milk but it does change the taste slightly.

Milk on the German economy is typically sold in one liter tetra containers. European refrigerators, and kitchens in general, tend to be smaller than those found in the U.S. or on post/base. The smaller containers that can be stored without refrigeration for longer periods of time are more convenient than larger containers of fresh milk. Fresh milk is also available in the refrigerated section of most German grocery stores.

German milk is not fortified with vitamin D unlike milk sold in the commissary or in stories in the States. Vitamin D helps with calcium absorption.

More varieties of milk are found in Germany than those in States, however, in the German stores, you will usually only find the last four that are listed in the chart. The U.S. equivalent is listed in parenthesis bellows the German Type. Notice that there is not a 1% fat and 2% milk as we have in the States. The German stores will have milk which falls between two at 1.5-1.8%.

Below is a list of the different types of cow’s milk found in Germany:

Type of Milk Fat Content Info
Rohmilch (raw milk) 3.5-5.0% purchase at farm only
Vorzugsmilch (raw milk, treated) 3.5-4.0% like raw milk but filtered
Landmilch min 3.8% natural fat content, pasteurized
Vollmilch (whole milk) min 3.5% pasteurized
Fettarmemilch or Halbfettmilch (low-fat milk) 1.5-1.8% pasteurized
Magermilch (skim milk) max 0.3% pasteurized

Other types of milk you can find in German stores includes goat’s milk (ziegenmilch), condensed milk (kondensmilch) and soy milk (sojamilch).


Eggs typically come in packages of 10 in German stores. The variety is large. You can buy white or brown, organic or non-organic, or small, medium, large or extra-large eggs.

Eggs are stamped with a code. If the first number is a “0”, the egg is organic. If it is 1-3, it is not organic. (Please see the first table below for numbers 1-3).

First Part of Egg Code German  English
0 Ökologische Erzeugung Organic
1 Freilandhaltung Free Range
2 Bodenhaltung Chickens raised on the ground
3 Käfighaltung Chickens raised in a cage

The next two letters refer to the country of origin. Please see the list below for the abbreviation. The last number is the expiration date, however, due to the way it is listed, it is hard to decipher. Although, eggs have an expiration date, they can be consumed after that date although they may lose quality. Eggs should always be refrigerated once you get them home.

Country of Origin German English
AT Österreich Austria
BE Belgien Belgium
DE Deutschland Germany
DK Dänemark Denmark
ES Spanien Spain
FI Finnland Finland
FR Frankreich France
GR Griechenland Greenland
IR Irland Ireland
IT Italien Italy
LU Luxemburg Luxembourg
NL Niederlande Netherlands
PT Portugal Portugal
SE Schweden Sweden
UK Großbritannien United Kingdom


To tell whether a fruit or vegetable drink is 100% juice or not, you just need to look at the name. Below are a few definitions:

Saft – juice

Fruchtsaft – fruit juice – must be 100% juice for this label

Gemusesaft – vegetable juice – must be 100% juice for this label

Most – Cider – 100% juice but not treated so the juice will turn to alchol. Examples include Apfelmost (apple cider) and Traubenmost (grape cider).

Fruchtsaftgetrank ­­— fruit juice drink – contains less than 100% juice and probably contains added sugar. 

What is Quark?

Found in the dairy department of German grocery stores, quark is a type of soft, white, un-aged cheese sold in tubs. It originated in Central Europe. The texture and taste is a cross between cream cheese and sour cream. Quark varies in firmness depending on how it is made. It can be used as a spread, served with fruit or used to make cheesecake. In Europe, Quark is usually made with non-pasteurized milk so pregnant women should avoid it or look for pasteurized varieties. Quark can be found in full fat or low-fat varieties and is a good source of protein. Calories for the full fat variety fall between that of cottage cheese and cream cheese for 1 oz: cottage cheese 29, quark 47, cream cheese 99 calories. Like sour and cream cheeses, quark is not a good source of calcium. 


As in the States, flour comes in a variety of options; however, flour is numbered in Germany rather than given use names such as “all purpose” or “cake” flour. The lower the number, the more processed the flour and the higher the number, the more whole grain the flour. The following is a partial list of the different flours:

Type 405 – all-purpose white flour

Type 550 – baking flour

Type 812 – bread flour

Type 1015 – bread flour, darker bread

Type 1050 – white, whole wheat

Type 1600 – bread flour, whole grain


Starting the day with a walk down to the local bakery is part of the German culture. Many German grocery stores have their own bakery offering freshly baked bread daily while others offer prepackaged bread only. If the stores does have a bakery, it is usually at the front of the store. Freshly baked German bread is usually inexpensive. Most bakeries are closed on Sundays.

Many of the German brotchen (German for bread roll) are made with white flour. This is the same flour as in white bread. Vollkornmehl means whole grain. If a bread states, “vollkornmehl” it must be at least 90% whole grains. Remember that just because a bread is brown does not mean that it is whole grain.

Fruits, vegetables and pesticides

Consumer testing agencies in Germany look at the amount of pesticides on fruits and vegetables at different grocery stores. The following chart shows which stores consistently have fewer pesticides on their produce. Not all German grocery stores are represented. The stores on the left have fewer pesticides, the ones on the right have more.

The consumer testing agencies also looked at which fruits and vegetables grown and sold in Germany usually have the most and least pesticides. This information is depicted in the charts below. 

Fruit with the Least Pesticides   Fruit with the Most Pesticides  
English German English German
Banana Bananen Papaya Papaya
Blueberries Heidelbeeren Red Currants Johannisbeeren
Kiwi Kiwis Gooseberries Stachelbeeren
Blackberries Brombeeren Grapes Trauben
Lemon Zitronen Raspberries Himbeeren
Orange Orangen Melon Melonen
Pineapple Ananas Apricot Aprikosen
Mango Mangos Orange type fruit Kaki/Sharon
Apple Apfel Cherry  Kirschen
Pear Brinen Plum Pflaumen
Mandarin Orange Mandarinen Grapefruit Grapefruit
Peach Pfirsciche  Strawberry Erdbeeren 

Vegetables with the Least Pesticides  
English German
Broccoli Broccoli
Chicory Chicoree
Endive Endivien
fennel Fenchel
Asparagus Spargel
Onion Zwiebeln
Potato Kartoffeln
Iceberg Lettuce Eis(berg) salat
Garden Grown Mushroom Zuchtpilze
Spinach  Spinat
Cauliflower Blumenkohl
Carrot Karotten

Vegetables with the Most Pesticides   
English German
Parsley Petersilie
Rucola Lettuce Rucola
Pepper Paprika
Celery Staudensellerie
Zucchini Zucchini
Kale Grunkohl
Eggplant Auberginen
Radish Radieschen, Rettich
Lettuce Salat
Field Salad-Type of Lettuce Feldsalat
Cucumber Gurken
Green Beans Bohnen, Grun
Jenny Dietrich, Brend Dietrich and Sandra Erb contributed to this article.

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