I had a few messages from readers on my Making Sauerkraut post from earlier this week in regards to the 'mold situation'! I thought I would try and shed some light on this disgusting matter since, lets face it, even my husband is not convinced and refuses to eat the Sauerkraut!
I too was skeptical. My first try at naturally fermented foods were a batch of pickles this summer. Initially, the first few days, they smelled AWESOME! Like those wonderful, garlicky deli pickles you love! But, by the time it was time to try them out, I instantly spit them out and pretty much gaged at the same time. Something went oh so wrong and it was clear they weren't ok to eat. It was the complete opposite with the Sauerkraut. After skimming away the mold, it still looked, and tasted, oh so good. I knew it was ok. You know - sometimes you just know these things. And I figured as much with the pickles, but tried them anyways to be sure. Should have went with my hunch on them :)
Here are a few references I have pulled from the Internet that I thought I would share to help alleviate some concerns. I have read up on it enough to know that mold is ok to just be skimmed away and it is only there because air was able to reach those areas. But, the kraut tucked in its nice brine is safe from any nasty-ness! I realize though, that is not enough assurance for most - so check out these references below before you forgo making your own kraut!
This excerpt comes from Sandor Ellix Katz's site, Wild Fermentation. He has a book by the same name. The man is nicknamed 'Sandorkraut' for crying' out loud! -- Check the kraut every day or two. The volume reduces as the fermentation proceeds. Sometimes mold appears on the surface. Many books refer to this mold as “scum,” but I prefer to think of it as a bloom. Skim what you can off of the surface; it will break up and you will probably not be able to remove all of it. Don’t worry about this. It’s just a surface phenomenon, a result of contact with the air. The kraut itself is under the anaerobic protection of the brine. Rinse off the plate and the weight. Taste the kraut. Generally it starts to be tangy after a few days, and the taste gets stronger as time passes. In the cool temperatures of a cellar in winter, kraut can keep improving for months and months. In the summer or in a heated room, its life cycle is more rapid. Eventually it becomes soft and the flavor turns less pleasant. (Wild Fermentation)
This is another excerpt I found from a website that, I think, is pretty cut and dry to help set your mind at ease! -- If you're skittish about leaving food at room temperature for weeks at a time, know that fermentation is one of the oldest and simplest methods of preserving foods. It's safe and reliable, as long as you follow directions. In the case of sauerkraut, salt draws juices out of shredded cabbage and encourages the growth of healthy bacteria already present in the vegetable. While the microbes turn sugars into lactic acid, a natural preservative, the salt and lack of oxygen inhibit spoilage....Problems can develop, but things normally won't go south if you use the proper amount of salt, keep hands and tools clean and the cabbage submerged in the brine. That said, you should check the sauerkraut a few times a week and skim any scum (a harmless white mold) that appears on the brine surface. The sauerkraut itself is protected from the mold as long as it's submerged. (OregonLive)
For Safety's Sake....Pickle and Pickle Product Problems This pdf from the North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service spells it out pretty clear - cut & dry. And I tend to trust any information that comes from an extension office. They say the 'white scum' that appears when making Sauerkraut is simply a layer of yeast and/or mold that is perfectly safe to just skim off. They then go on to tell you what should make you concerned that the kraut may not be safe. I would definitely check this link out!!
Trust me, I was turned off by the idea at first too of eating something that had mold on it. Naturally, anything with mold we tend to think UGH - BAD! But hey, look at Blue Cheese. Or Gorgonzola. I love those cheeses! The bottom line, there is good mold and bad mold and you just need to learn to identify between the two. Mold on that nasty white, bagged bread from the store - that's bad. Pitch it. And you should probably pitch the loaf before it molds anyways...but that is a whole other topic for a whole different post :)