What Does Sauerkraut Taste Like? A Cook's Breakdown
Sauerkraut has a distinctive sour taste characterized by an acidic almost salty flavor. This description, however, does not do this dish any justice as sauerkraut can have a wide range of flavors ranging from tangy to a complex combination of vinegar-like punchy taste. This is all attributed to the specific ingredients used in its preparation.
While sauerkraut refers to sour cabbage in German, the dish is originally from Asia. The Chinese relied on rice wine to preserve the vegetables over the winter. This would later on spread across Asia and Europe during the conquest of Genghis Khan.
The rice wine was replaced with brine, a mixture of water and salt, which was locally available in Eastern Europe. This change allowed the vegetables to be reserved for a more extended period and made it more acceptable to these communities.
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Why The Acidic Taste?
The distinctive acidic and sour taste that most people describe while eating sauerkraut is as a result of the lactic acid, which is produced by the fermentation of sugars found in the cabbage cells. This also gives it a vinegar-like smell. By the time it is fermented, the vegetables should in fact not taste salty but sour.
When packing your kimchi or latest ferment into a jar you'll need to pack it down, squishing it below the waterline.
We developed a unique solution to this, by making the 'pounding edge' jagged it mushes and squishes your vegetables with ease.
Does It Taste Like Kimchi?
No, sauerkraut does not taste like kimchi. While both dishes have the same primary ingredient (fermented cabbages), their tastes are rather unique due to the secondary ingredients. In fact, the only trait that can be said to be almost similar is the slightly sour taste (link).
Kimchi is more spicy with the level of spiciness varying from one maker to the other. The fermented fish sauce is also distinctive. This gives kimchi a characteristic crunchy pungent pickle-like flavor that sets it apart from sauerkraut.
5 Ways To Influence The Taste Of Sauerkraut
1. Use Fresh Ingredients
The taste of your home-made sauerkraut is heavily influenced by the quality of the ingredients you use, the cabbage primarily. When making sauerkraut always rely on fresh cabbage, especially late winter cabbage. Such vegetables not only contain a high sugar content but are also juicy enough for making the right amount of brine.
When picking the cabbages always go for full heads (no hollow spaces in them, you can test this by lightly pressing the top of the head) and those with brittle leaves as they are much juicier and will give an even sweeter taste. (link)
2. Extra Ferment Time
It has been 2 weeks and you taste your sauerkraut only to realize that the taste is not right. Well, this may be a case of a short fermentation period.
Sauerkraut only gets better with time for at least the first month. So, if your ferment has not achieved that crisp sour taste give it more time to ferment. Re-seal the jar and check in on the progress 2 weeks later. (link)
3. Fermenting Variables
Sauerkraut taste is heavily dependent on the fermentation process. For this reason, adjusting the ferment variables is bound to give a different taste and texture.
Temperature: The optimum temperature for fermentation is 65-72 degrees F. If your kitchen is experiencing a significant variation from this range, then you should move your sauerkraut jars to the pantry or any other temperature-controlled environment and ensure that such variables are within the optimum range.
Light: The storage area is another fermentation variable that will influence the final taste of your sauerkraut. The fermentation process usually slows down if exposed to direct sunlight as the ultraviolet rays significantly reduce the bacteria colonies responsible for fermentation. Store the jars away from direct sunlight, and you should notice improvements in the taste. (link)
While preparing the brine, one might get the salt to water ratio mixed up, resulting in either too salty, or tasteless and soggy sauerkraut. To fix such issues, you can either drain and rinse the vegetables or prepare extra brine using Himalayan pink salt.
However, it's recommended to get the salinity right from the word go as it plays a critical role in preventing the growth of toxic bacteria in the sauerkraut.
5. Add Extra Ingredients
As a last result, you can change your sauerkraut recipe to include sugary/tasty ingredients. Some of the traditional ingredients that are known to alter the taste of sauerkraut include apples, cranberries, grapes, anise, and even horseradish. (link)