Fermented veggies and pickles should taste sour and pickled; they should taste…good. Most people love these flavors right away. A ferment that has been left too long will always show the signs: it will have a colorful mold and its smell will be cheesy, musty and moldy rather than fresh, sour and funky.
The ‘off’ smell and colors are an indication that you have let your veggies ferment too long or too little. Of course, apart from time period of fermentation, there are other factors to consider as well. After all; fermentation is an art as much as it is a science.
So let us discuss some FAQs asked about fermentation so you can tell for sure if your sauerkraut (or other fermented veggies) is ready or not:
When will my pickled veggie batch be ready?
This is a common question asked by newbies to fermentation. There is no standard answer. It is done when you feel it is done.
Your sauerkraut/kimchi or pickled veggies are ready to eat when you feel that their aroma and flavor and acidity feel just right.
Your recipe will usually mention a specific time period of fermenting but you have to be the judge of the actual time. So feel free to ferment the batch longer. Your ambient temperature is of course a crucial factor: the warmer it is, the faster the process.
Fermentation is a dynamic, live process…
If you have tried the fermented pickles from a real kosher deli you will find that they are so much more flavorful than the ones you eat from a jar bought at a supermarket.
Expect to taste something different each time you try out different batches of your fermented veggies. Even after you have put your jar in the refrigerator, the fermentation process will continue – it never really stops. So your pickles or sauerkraut will taste different each time you taste them.
What to do when the brine is cloudy or there is sediment at the bottom of the jar?
Cloudy brine is quite normal. It has nothing to do with the amount or type of salt used. However, cloudiness usually factors in when you ferment vegetables like snap peas and hot peppers. So do not worry if your brine appears cloudy – you need not throw the batch away.
Help! There’s mold on my ferment!
Mold on top of the batch is normal. However, if the mold is black, pink or bluish green, then you must toss the batch away.
If, on the other hand, the batch has developed white mold, skim it away immediately before it sinks to the bottom. Then use a pH strip to ensure that the pH is below 4.0. If yes, the batch is safe to consume.
You can also ‘sniff test’ and taste test the ferment. If it tastes like a regular, sour ferment, it is safe to consume. So remember: small amount of fuzz (white or beige color) is normal. Still, to be on the safe side, use a pH strip to ensure that no undesirable secondary fermentation has occurred. This will usually not happen if you have followed the recipe well. Remember: over-fermenting is usually rare.
Sometimes, if you do keep your veggies out for too long, then they tend to turn mushy.
However, this is not necessarily only due to longer time period of fermentation. You might have simply used too little salt, or the fermenting temperature may have been a bit high.
Sometimes, the use of a starter can also result in mushiness. Even in this case, taste-test the ferment. If it tastes like regular ferment and has a normal, sour smell, then it is okay to eat. If the texture is weird then you could consider pureeing the batch into a sauce or a dip or even add it to your stews or soups.
Help! My sauerkraut cabbage has turned pink!
Pink color indicates that you used too much salt that did not get distributed thoroughly through the veggies. It is best to discard the batch right away.
Veggies get slimy if you use a starter. Some sweet veggies also develop yeast fermentation (undesirable) over lactic acid fermentation (desirable) and become slimy. Examples include beets and carrots. Next time, use larger chunks of these veggies so that their natural sugars become less available during the fermentation process.
Bubbles in the jar
Formation of bubbles is a natural process and indicates formation of carbon dioxide. This is a normal, natural process during fermentation.
There is no bubbling!
Some veggies do not bubble too much. However, lack of bubbling could also mean that you used water with disinfectants, or irradiated produce or perhaps the environment was chilly.
Taste and sniff the ferment. If it tastes off, it may be time to throw it out and start over. Bubbling could stop later as most vegetable ferments are more active during the early days of fermentation.
Naturally, there are notable exceptions to this too; so if it continues to bubble too, do not worry. Things often quiet down in the later stages of fermentation when the bacteria that were active earlier produce more CO2 than the bacteria that are active later.
Ideal temperature for fermentation
Experts recommend an ideal temperature range of 64-75 F (17.8-24 C) but this is just a range.
The temperature of ideal fermentation can vary from one ferment to another, by one bacterial strain to another and even on your taste preferences.
Most ferments placed on the boundaries of this temperature range end up very tasty. Take a survey of your home. You will find warmer or cooler microclimates around, including spots near your AC vent, on top of the refrigerator, and even inside a turned-off/unused oven.
Even if you cannot find a spot within this range, give it a shot anyway. If temperatures are warmer, add less salt, cut the fermentation time and check regularly for mushiness. If the temperature is too cool, (but still above 50 F), allow longer fermentation time.
How long should I ferment my sauerkraut?
Traditional recipe of sauerkraut asks to be fermented for 3-4 weeks. However, there is no fixed time as the actual time depends on other factors like ambient temperature, bacterial strains and even the amount of salt you use.
Always taste or sniff the ferment; it should taste sour and fermented –not off and moldy. If needed, double check using pH strips to ensure that the value is less than 4.0.
I hope the above tips help you with your fermentation process.