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Is my homemade 'kraut supposed to smell/taste like this?
August 17, 2010 6:55 AM   Subscribe

I made homemade garlic beet sauerkraut (using green cabbage) and it smells a bit old gym sock (but does not taste like it). Is this how sauerkraut is supposed to smell? It also tastes mostly salty and not very sour even though I let it ferment for well over a month. Is homemade 'kraut just milder than store bought?
posted by radioaction to Food & Drink (13 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
 
I'd say the smell is about right. Man, I've had some pickled radish that smells just awful, but tastes great. I'll let others opine about the sourness issue.
posted by MrMoonPie at 7:03 AM on August 17, 2010


The sourness is going to be a function of fermentation temperature as well. I've never made kraut but I make sourdough all the time and it is the same sort of lactobacillus that make both things sour. I think current wisdom at the moment is that the cooler the fermentation temp the more lactic acid the bugs will produce, as it gets warmer they make more acetic acid (at least in bread) which makes the dough smell shaper but it cooks off once you bake the bread.
posted by JPD at 7:09 AM on August 17, 2010


I'm sorry I have it reversed. high fermentation/high moisture encourages lactic acid production. Post from "The Fresh Loaf" here. Of course this bread specific. I'm sure there are lactic fermented pickle folks who are equally obsessive.
posted by JPD at 7:20 AM on August 17, 2010


Couldn't tell you about the smell, but if it's been going for a month and was fermenting anywhere near room temp it should be plenty sour. If you put it in a fridge it probably wasn't warm enough to get going.
posted by cog_nate at 7:39 AM on August 17, 2010


Cog_nate: It was fermenting out in my kitchen, not in the fridge. There were a few hot streaks where I had the AC on for days at a time, but the 'kraut wasn't by a vent or anything and shouldn't have gotten below what's considered room temperature.

JPD: Thanks for the article! Fermentation is super interesting. :)

Also, one thing I just thought of is would having added too much salt impeded the fermentation? I know that the brine is supposed to keep the bad bugs at bay, but if it's too salty would that impede the good ones too?
posted by radioaction at 7:45 AM on August 17, 2010


Yep, the smell is about right. In fact, that sounds good!

With regards to the flavor, you may have used too much salt. Too much salt can inhibit the growth of the lactobacilli and give you a mild, salty kraut. What recipe are you using? (Sandor Katz recommends approximately 3 tablespoons to 5 lbs of cabbage; Michael Ruhlman recommends a 5% brine [50g salt per 1L of water], but has recently revised his ratio to a 30% brine for pickling.) Maybe try dialing back on the salt on your next attempt.

Also, to differ a bit with JPD above, my experience with pickling is that temperature functions directly with lactobacillus growth: the higher the temperature, the faster is grows and the quicker things get sour. Acetic acid is a product of acetobacter, which makes vinegar. In my mind, these are two different things which produce different results. (I could be wrong about this, though!)

(On preview: when I say "pickle" I'm referring to fermenting vegetables in a brine solution, like sauerkraut. The "pickling" people do with vinegar isn't picking at all; it's curing vegetables with vinegar.)
posted by slogger at 7:47 AM on August 17, 2010 [2 favorites]


Also, Wild Fermentation (Sandor Katz' website) has great info on 'kraut making.
posted by slogger at 7:48 AM on August 17, 2010


Slogger: I think you're right. I was using a combination of the Wild Fermentation recipe and Alton Brown's recipe in the episode "Eat this Rock!" Both call for the same amount of salt, but I think I was too cavalier with my salting and went a bit overboard. It also might have been on the cool side in my kitchen. Next time I will make a smaller batch and be more precise with the salt and see if I can find some place a little warmer.

Thanks all for your help!
posted by radioaction at 8:08 AM on August 17, 2010


Ruhlman's ratio is for brining, not fermenting. I consider those two very different things.

Yes knowing what temperature you fermented at may add some insight. I find my homemade is more sour and delicious than store bought by far. So no, that generalization is not true (that it should be milder).

I'm not sure of what recipe you used so it's tough to judge, but it may be the beets. Honestly that sounds awful to me. But I'm not much of a beet person. I've never added garlic either . . if you really want beet/garlic flavors, you may consider adding them at the end and not part of the fermentation process.

Here is what I always use and it's plenty sour and doesn't smell too offensive (although my wife may disagree). I've fermented from room to warm temps (72-81) and a duration anywhere from 2 weeks to 3 months and it's usually consistent.

x pounds shred cabbage (I use an OXO mandolin and a 5 gallon crock which I usually put 6-7 pounds in)

then per pound of cabbage:
1 teaspoon pickling salt
.5 teaspoon whole caraway
3 whole dried juniper berries (pick out when done, they taste awful if you chew one but they have a preserving effect)

I don't mess with the salt, if you don't have pickling salt, order it (I can never find it at the stores here in Chicago). I tired using kosher as a sub once and did some math from Morton's web site, but it's not the same.

Mix in batches in a big bowl with clean hands, as salt is added, liquid will be extracted, make sure this goes in the crock as well. This helps the brine. Fresher cabbage = more brine. Allow to rest after mixing. Mix one more time.

Put in clean crock or jar and pack down, if not enough brine to cover, add spring water.

I use big plastic zip lock bags filled with water to seal. Then I don't have to skim the crap off.

Ideally you want warm for 3 days (70-78F) then cooler for 2-3 weeks (68-70F) . . if you container is clear, make sure it's in a dark place.

Have fun!
posted by patrad at 8:14 AM on August 17, 2010


Also, to differ a bit with JPD above, my experience with pickling is that temperature functions directly with lactobacillus growth: the higher the temperature, the faster is grows and the quicker things get sour. Acetic acid is a product of acetobacter, which makes vinegar. In my mind, these are two different things which produce different results. (I could be wrong about this, though!)


Read that fermentation article it really is interesting I promise. There are two types of lactobacillus - one produces lactic acid and ethanol or co^2, but the most common sort used in lacto-fermentation can produce both acetic acid and lactic acid in various ratios depending on temperature, moisture, etc.
posted by JPD at 8:31 AM on August 17, 2010


As an aside: Ruhlman once used the same ratio for both pickling and brining--5%. But he has recently revised that ratio to 3%.
posted by slogger at 9:37 AM on August 17, 2010


As another aside, I highly recommend The Joy of Pickling. Lots of good fermented vegetable recipes in there, as well as advice on when to use a 3% or 5% brine.
posted by mudpuppie at 10:32 AM on August 17, 2010 [1 favorite]


A sweaty socks smell in a fermented food could be Brettanomyces. It's generally a defect if it shows up in wine or beer at any noticeable level, but for sauerkraut, I'd say enjoy the funk.
posted by AkzidenzGrotesk at 10:53 AM on August 17, 2010


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