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Feb 4, 2009 07:46 PM

Sauerkraut disaster!

Working from a recipe in Michael Ruhlman's Charcuterie, I chopped a head of cabbage, and submerged it in brine, placing cheesecloth over the cabbage, with a plate on top to keep everything packed down. I left this in my garage, initially uncovered; after a few days I placed a cover over it just to keep it dust free. I took the cover off after 9 days, and the container with ringed with green, malodorous mold. While dumping out the vile concoction, I did take note of the fact that actually the cabbage was intact and not decomposing. If I had been able to stomach it, I probably could have salvaged the cabbage, but there was no way to avoid the irresistible urge to cover my nose and dump the whole thing out.

Where did I go wrong? Did I need to tightly seal the container to begin with? Could the cabbage have been too old, causing it to be seeded with mold which blossomed in the bowl? Was the solution not salty enough?

Help! I was dying to have homemade sauerkraut and am willing to try again despite this fiasco.

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  1. Did you follow the recipe to the letter? I don't own that book, but does he go by weight? I think the salt:vegetable:water ratio is the key. You have to keep the cabbage way under the top of the water. Also, I don't know where you live, but temperature is one of the most important aspects. The recipes I know say you have to keep it in the 60s or below. How warm was your garage?

    I rarely ferment anything. One of my best high school friends had a Korean grandma who had a "kimchi fridge" in the basement that was NOT to be opened. Woe to us the day our friend James got too curious. Korean food is among my favorites, but that smell still sticks with me today!

    3 Replies
    1. re: dmd_kc

      I've made kimchee using Napa cabbage several times in a large-mouth closed glass jar place in my garage during the winter. Because my wife cannot tolerate the wonderful aroma of the stuff, I cannot use the indoor refrigerator. I assume that making sauerkraut is a similar process.

      I've never had a mold problem, probably because the fermentation takes place in a closed environment.

      Just Googled 'making sauerkraut' and the 2nd hit that came up was...

      Take a look, but watch out for the the word 'scrum' instead of 'scum.'

      I still believe that a large closed jar will work better than covering a crock with cloth and plate will work better.

      1. re: ChiliDude


        I'm picturing a blob of rugby players pushing on the kraut keg. ;D

        1. re: ChiliDude

          Chiledude (sic), I don't want to sound like an alarmist, but is your closed jar a screw top? If it is it could crack or "explode" from the CO2 gas build up in the fermentation process. I make both kim chee and Kapursta (Ruskkie kraut), but only use an inverted close fitting plate w/ a heavy sterile rock to hold it down over the cabbage. I cover it immediately w/ cheese cloth to keep out unwanted mold spores.
          Jono, In cabbage fermentation, brewing and wine making it is important to cover the product to keep out the little wild spores floating around in our environment (Oh my god !).

      2. sounds like you need more salt in that brine to inhibit the mould growth. DON'T eat things with mould on them, you could get poisoned by the toxins moulds produce.

        1. Ive never read Ruhlman's books but I don't know how you could ever get cabbage to ferment with just a brine. Sauerkraut is dirt simple to make with just shredded cabbage and a box of kosher salt in a ceramic or glass crock.

          I watched my mother and grandmother make kraut by layering 6" of shredded and cored cabbage with generous amounts of kosher salt and the covering the crock with a plate that is weighed down with a clean brick. The container is placed in a cool dark area and left to ferment for a few weeks. You only need to skim off the foam that forms and make sure the kraut is always submerged, but that is all you need to do.

          BTW, a single cabbage doesn't make enough kraut to bother with.

          1. I've had sauerkraut mold before, and I've just thrown it out and tried again, with good results. I've even had it mold just using salt and no brine. My husband was wondering if maybe the crock or plate I had on top were dirty, but I was extra careful after the first mold problem. So I don't know what caused it, but try it again, and you'll probably have better results.

            1. I have been making sauerkraut all my life (well, almost--about 40 years) and there are several things that might have gone wrong. You should be using a ratio of salt to cabbage that equals 3 Tbsp. salt to 5 lb. cabbage. You are correct to keep the cabbage entirely submerged in brine; I have had most luck weighting my kraut by using an extra-large ziplock bag full of water. I use 3-gallon food safe containers and the bag will sort of "spread" to cover all the cabbage if you squeeze out any extra air. (This is hard to describe but much easier to demonstrate.) It is my habit to cover the entire pail with a large flour-sack type dishtowel, but any thin cloth should work. Also, be aware of your temperature--the best temp is about 70 degrees; any hotter and your kraut will rot. Any cooler and the kraut will not ferment. You don't have to worry about minor variations in temperature, but if it gets sunny in your garage, it could get much warmer than you think. Kraut is still usable if you get a minor amount of pink or tan discoloration but I would be very reluctant to use any kraut that had mold--it can go into the compost pile, and try again. It is best not to disturb the kraut, or do so as little as possible, for the first few days. OK to lift up your weight to check on the progress; you should see some bubbling (it may even bubble over, but that's OK) but it should never be slimy or smell bad. You do not need to cover the container you are fermenting in tightly--in fact that is a bad idea. The fact that your cabbage was not "decomposing" may be one hint. It is possible you packed it too tightly or did not distribute the salt completely enough. I know in Pennsylvania the state has county "extension services" which will give free advice (check on line) about canning and preserving, also I would caution you not to use a glass jar to try to make kraut in. My mother did it successfully once, but she was the type to scrape mold off something figuring "You have to die of something" (!) I'd rather not chance it.

              3 Replies
              1. re: dberg1313

                the pink or tan discolouration is a yeast growing and it's likely part of the fermentation process.

                1. re: Bryn

                  pink or tan are definitly no go areas - I am a pretty wild fermenter but I do toss any pink or beige...

                2. re: dberg1313

                  dberg, I come from Ruskkie Pennsy coal mining stock and I too have been making kapusta for eons. Grew up making 300 lbs worth with grand parents, ants & uncles and parents, powered by Yuengling! We now even grow our own cabbages.
                  I agree w/ everything you've said.
                  Good work.
                  Sosh Passadumbrowsky