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homemade sauerkraut--is it supposed to smell like this?!

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So I'm fermenting cabbage in my pantry based on a recipe I found--cabbage, ginger, miso. water. This is the 4th day in the pantry and it smells like sewage if I come close and handle the jars in anyway. It's been smelling like this throughout the process. Is this normal? Anyone else made this and had this experience? i'm not sure if I should just throw this out...Help?!

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  1. I never made sauerkraut with miso. If it smelled bad from the beginning and you don't see a lot of mold or slime growing on it, maybe it's supposed to smell like that. In any case, it's not going to smell any better, so you might as well toss it.

    1. Are you making sauerkraut or kimchee?

      1 Reply
      1. re: porker

        Well...I think closer to sauerkraut based on the ingredients. Doesn't kimchee have spices? Basically I'm trying to make something healthful containing probiotics and enzymes. The recipe calls it "probiotic and enzyme salad" and it has only those 4 ingredients I listed above. I'm just not sure if it's supposed to smell so bad. I mean it's a contained smell--it doesn't waft unless you're right next to it and move it around. But still...

      2. Sauerkraut is generally pretty smelly stuff, but I couldn't say for sure if yours is the wrong kind of smelly or not. Maybe give it a small taste? If it's off, you'll know pretty quickly.

        1. "Sewage" is never a good smell descriptor for ferments, lol. But we all experience smells differently.

          Most helpful would be, could you detail your recipe? Also please describe your fermentation vessel/setup.

          5 Replies
          1. re: DuchessNukem

            I love kimchee, but Mrs. Porker says its smells vile - it disgusts her. Whenever I come home to a boiled dinner dish with cabbage, the first whiff reminds me of sweet fart (in a good way)...
            So, either you have an acute aversion to the odor of fermenting cabbage or your concoction went horribly wrong (spoiled). Difficult to say sitting on my couch.
            Just a coupla questions, did you salt the cabbage? What kind of jars/lids/headspace do you have?

            1. re: porker

              I used large mason jars--sterilized in boiling water before filling them. Ingredients: shredded cabbage, unpasteurized miso, ginger, water. Packed cabbage in tightly, filled liquid brine up to top of cabbage (no salt b/c of miso). 2" space left at top--Packed in rolled up cabbage leaves at 2" space. Sealed jars and let sit in pantry--this is 5th day. Yesterday, when I smelled the odor, I tightened the lid a tiny bit--I think there was a little bit of air escaping. Today I don't smell anything but I have not opened the jars yet....kind of scared to. Anything to look for appearance/taste wise that would indicate I should throw it out? Thanks for everyone's help so far!

              1. re: sb123

                I only have a passing knowledge of fermenting cabbage and made kimchee only a coupla times. With that said...

                The salt is supposed to help retard the growth of nasties (but not too much as it'll stop the good organisms from starting up). I assume your recipe takes this into account with the miso - but I don't know.

                But in general, no salt means easier spoilage.

                Exposure to air should also be minimal.

                I'm not sure if you're supposed to start the fermentation in sealed jars - the cabbage releases CO2 which (I think) should be allowed to escape. This concerns me a bit. However, you should see bubbles coming outta the brine - this is normal.

                I also think that room temp helps with the good guys fermenting the cabbage. If held too long at this temp, the likelihood of nasties taking over (spoilage) goes up. Does your recipe suggest refrigerating at some point? When I made kimchee, it was 4-5 days @ room temp, then into fridge.

                I would suggest easing back on the lids (allowing building gasses to escape) and put in fridge. The fermentation will slow down and spoilage (if not already in full swing) will be delayed.

                Maybe tomorrow, take cold kraut outta the fridge, remove the lid, allow the CO2 to escape (its carrying the bulk of the odors), put a bit on a plate (the krauit from the brine, not the rolled up leaves - those are suspect to me) and give it a sniff test. If its smells bad like rotting garbage bad, well then its probably trash. If it smells bad like fermented cabbage bad (or stinky cheese), its likely good. Taste a teeny bit like gilintx suggests. That should tell you alot and go from there.

                With all that said, maybe its the rolled-up, non-salted, air-exposed cabbage leaves which are the culprit - perhaps they are spoiling and the kraut (in brine) is just minding its own business? I dunno.

                Do you have any east European stores or Korean/Japanese. They sometimes carry fresh sauerkraut in bins sold by weight, or homemade kimchee. Give these items a whiff. It will likely be a lighter aroma as its past the initial strong fermentation stage, but at least it'll give you an idear.

                1. re: porker

                  I appreciate all of the suggestions! I think you are right about the rolled-up cabbage being the culprit. As today was the 5th day, I opened up the jars and took out the cabbage (smelled awful) as per the instructions in the recipe, but the actual sauerkraut part smelled pretty normal (my husband thought it was gross, but he's not a fan of cabbage). So I put them in the fridge to taste later. I have a feeling they're ok--but man was I worried based on the smells coming out of them earlier! But great suggestions everyone--I knew I could count on this board for reassurance :) Thanks!

                  1. re: sb123

                    Unless you are working off of a specific kimchee recipe that calls for using miso and no salt I'd seriously recommend that you go with a well known recipe for either saurkraut or kimchee and withhold the miso if you have to. You can always add miso to the finished product to spice it up when you are cooking with it.

                    The salt is THE one ingredient you have to get right or you are basically creating a bacteria and mold cocktail. If you don't use the proper amount of salt you WILL have spoilage. Deciding not to add salt because miso is salty was a mistake unless you are SURE that there is the same amount of salt in the amount of miso you added to be equivalent to a standard sauerkraut or kimchee recipe.

                    Typically you don't add water to saurkraut at all. All of the water is pulled out of the cabbage by the salt and some mechanical manipulation. In the case you have to add some liquid so that the cabbage is all under the surface you never add water...you always add brine with a specific salt content to emulate the natural brine formed from the salty cabbage.

                    Edit: after reading more of the comments it appears you were working (loosely?) off of some kind of recipe. The recipe sounds suspicious to me since it breaks most of the rules about making kimchee or saurkraut...both of which basically start with salted cabbage. I'd take that recipe with a grain of salt...so to speak.

          2. Have never made anything like your recipe, but I have made kimchi and sauerkraut the more "traditional" way.
            In addition to Meadandale's accurate comments regarding salt, I thought I'd post a couple of thoughts that came to mind while reading the thread:

            1. One should avoid using tap water that contains chlorine because it will inhibit the fermenting process - filtered or bottled water is best.
            2. Any store bought ingredients (in your case that appears to just be the miso) should not contain any preservatives for the same reason.