They Can’t All Be Winners! 5 Fermentation Recipes That Really Stink

Fermented Garlic Scapes are gross

While I was writing my book, an unexpectedly enjoyable thing happened; I discovered that finding out what I completely and totally hated (fruit in kraut? Pretty much never for me, thanks) was actually fun! I tested many hundreds of recipes to get to the final recipes that are in Ferment Your Vegetables and most of them didn’t make it into the book.

There are a lot of reasons certain recipes didn’t make the cut. Some were too similar to others that were better. Some I knew I needed to test and tweak more and there simply wasn’t time.  A very few, falling into a distinguished category, were just truly gross. All of those, I retested several times before giving up, because I thought something must have actually gone wrong in fermentation. As it turned out, nope. They were just epic recipe fails.

Whether or not the final product of fermentation is tasty can be subjective. So maybe you’ve tried something similar to one of the below and loved it (you’ll even find some hedging in what I wrote about these bad guys!). If so, that’s awesome. We probably can’t be friends and I’d like to not eat dinner at your house one day, but still, to each her own. For the rest of you, I thought you might enjoy sharing in the strange pleasure that can only come from a truly spectacular recipe failure.


Here are 5 recipes that never made it to the tasters or recipe testers:

Kale-chi – (Notes on the recipe: “What’s new bitterness, woah-oh-oh-oh-oh?”) I’ve fermented kale before and it’s fine when it ferments with friends, but on its own, it can get crazy bitter. I thought maybe, just maybe, kimchi fixins would temper the bitterness. Then I thought if I found the right number of days to ferment, the bitterness might not be an issue at all. Turns out, nope. The only thing that tasted kinda good was the unfermented version, and Phickle doesn’t not ferment fermentable things. (Come on now).

Fermented kale recipes aren't good

Turns out, even kimchi-fying kale doesn’t make it a good ferment in my book.

Garlic Scape Pickles – (Notes on the recipe: Jake-“Never serve these to anyone.” Me-“Flavor amazing. Texture, string-like and terrifying.”) I wanted so badly for this to work. Mostly because I had what I thought was a stunning idea for the photo. Yes, yes, mock if you will, but I was really excited about how beautiful these would look wrapped in the jar when a pro photog got her hands on it.

Since the photo was so important to me, I only tested this recipe with whole scapes, which I just learned was at least partially responsible for their horrible texture. Carly and Dave over at Food & Ferments just released a limited edition garlic scape pickle that is off the charts awesome. Their method—smaller pieces, longer fermentation—makes for a killer pickle. So when the next scape season rolls around, make sure to chop first and go long on fermentation and you’ll be a happy, stinky camper. Just goes to show that a little flexibility can go a long way in fermentation.

Garlic Scapes Fermented

The reason I have these photos? I wanted the photog to see how they looked beautifully wrapped in the jar. Too bad the texture was the worst and these should never be eaten by anyone. Ever.


Guaca-kraut – (Notes on the recipe: “When the avocado amount is small enough to avoid the rancid smell/flavor, you can no longer really name this anything related to guac.”) Guacamole is my fat of choice. I could honestly, easily eat a bowl of it or a salted avocado every day and still crave more.

I’ve had mixed results incorporating fats into kraut in the past. They tend to go rancid quickly and make for some pretty off smells. I was determined, though, to get the ratio right so that it would work as a thing that could sit in my fridge for a good long while and serve as a tasty, protbiotic guac substitute when I didn’t have the time to whip up a batch. My determination did not pay off. Anything other than the negligible addition of avocado led to gross texture, unpleasant colors and rancid flavors.


Mustard Seed Carrot Kvass – (Notes on the recipe: “Farts. Just farts. Why is this farts?”) If you checked out the table of contents on my book launch day post, you may have noticed that there’s a whole chapter on vegetable kvass. I spent a lot of bandwidth testing kvass recipes. I developed some herb kvasses that I really loved, and I thought, hey, why not a spice kvass? I tried a couple that were okay but needed more tweaking, but I thought a mustard seed kvass (mustard seeds are great additions to krauts and pickles!) with a little carrot would work out wonderfully. I was wrong. It wasn’t wonderful. It was traumatic.

Sometimes when the smell is off in a veg ferment, it may just need a couple more days of fermentation, or maybe a little time in the fridge before it’s ready. Sometimes the smell isn’t great (I’m looking at you, pickled Brussels sprouts), but the taste is. In this case, the smell and the taste were both horrifically farty. I regret all four sips I took before this went down the drain.


mustard seeds for fermentation

I love mustard in SO many ferments. Mustard seed kvass was a big party pooper, however.


Piña Colada Kraut –  (Notes on the recipe: “NOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!) I saved the worst for last. In the sauerkraut chapter of my book, there are several recipes that I affectionately, and privately refer to as my “weirdo krauts.” If you’ve got the book, these include favorites like Sauerkraut Satay (page 90) and Mediterranean Kraut (page 87). The weirdo krauts in general are some of my very favorite recipes in the book, and tasters and testers have strongly agreed with me, so it’s not like I regret the experiments. Some of these attempts, however, were nearly as successful as a Trump combover.

The worst of the lot was the Piña Colada Kraut. Every bite—every thing—was wrong with this kraut. I tried with a lot of different kinds of coconut (fresh, dried, shredded, sweetened, unsweetened, milk, water, etc) and the results either tasted not at all like coconut, had a really not good (slimy) texture or had a super oxidized, unpleasant flavor. The pineapple experiments were worse: dried, candied, fresh; it didn’t matter. All efforts produced a sulfuric, nose-destroying funk that brought tears to my eyes. This was definitely the worst fermentation experiment I’ve ever done, and that’s coming from the person who has grown some pretty impressive moldscapes in recent times.

Coconut Pineapple Sauerkraut Recipe

The absolute worst vegetable ferment I’ve ever made is Piña Colada Kraut. There isn’t enough “nope” in the world for this one.


I promise, I’m not telling you not to try this at home. Although these were some of the worst things I’ve ever tasted, I don’t regret my efforts for a minute. The spirit of fermentation (and the spirit of my book) is about finding what works for you, and quite literally, playing with your food. Sometimes spectacular failure is the most fun you can have in the kitchen.

So, what’s the worst thing you’ve ever made? Share your pain in the comments.

Dukkah Kraut

If you aren’t familiar with Dukkah, you’re in for two kinds of treat today. Dukkah is an Egyptian spice blend that I put on just about everything. It’s pretty hard to go wrong with toasted nuts and warm spices, especially toasted cumin. I’m a huge sucker for toasted cumin.

Dukkah Spices in kraut

The smell tempts me, but I try not to eat Dukkah with a spoon.

I’ve tried a lot of dukkah recipes, and a couple store bought brands and they’ve almost all worked really nicely in sauerkraut, so feel free to use a store-bought version instead of making your own. If you do want to make your own (way cheaper), though, these two recipes (one from Bon Appetit and one from The Kitchn (I use almonds in the latter recipe)) have done me well.

This is very likely to be the last kraut recipe you see from me for a while. The farmers’ markets are about to open, and we’ll be seeing asparagus, strawberries and rhubarb in no time at all.  Enjoy!

Finished Pink Dukkah Sauerkraut

I used 1/3 pound red cabbage to give me this mauve shade.

Dukkah Sauerkraut


Lemon Ginger Sauerkraut Recipe

See those pretty yellow lines? They're soon-to-be-delectable lemon slices. Big, dark pieces are kombu and ginger is spread throughout.

See those pretty yellow lines? They’re soon-to-be-delectable lemon slices. Big, dark pieces are kombu and ginger is spread throughout.

Sandor Katz’ nickname and best-known fermentation habit (that would be SandorKraut and sauerkraut, for those still unfamiliar) inspired me to share my favorite sauerkraut du jour while the contest to win his book Wild Fermentation is on-going! I’m sharing my very favorite sauerkraut recipe.  It isn’t the wackiest sauerkraut I’ve made and the ingredients are far from funky.  It is, however, consistently delicious, pretty, and simple to make.  If you’re looking for a pretty gift option, this would be a good one.  Unfortunately it needs a month or more of fermentation, so you’d have to put a “best after” date on it, or perhaps start a tradition of giving the kind of gifts that are perfect for supporting those new year’s resolutions.


Yields one quart sauerkraut.

One of the best parts about this kraut is that at the end of fermentation, you have preserved lemon slices! Chop them up, peel and all, and throw them in just about anything from salads to grain dishes for an amazing flavor boost (or you can just eat them in your kraut, of course).


2 lbs cabbage

5 organic*, thin-skinned lemons (Meyer lemons are fine), unwaxed.  (If you can only find waxed, scrub them before use).

5 inches of fresh ginger rhizome

1 tablespoon mustard seed (optional)

4-5 inch piece of kombu (optional)

6 teaspoons salt, divided

How To

  1. Wash cabbage and remove the core and any outer leaves that are less than attractive. Set aside outer leaves. Grate or shred cabbage.  I usually use the slicing blade on my food processor.  Remember that the pieces will shrink during fermentation, since they’ll shed their water.  Make them larger than you want them to be when you eat them.
  2. Place grated/sliced cabbage in a large bowl and thoroughly toss with 4 teaspoons of salt. Set aside.
  3. Grate ginger.  I use the grating blade on my food processor.
  4. Remove the ends from your lemons then slice the lemons very thinly.
  5. Check on your cabbage.  Is there liquid in the bottom of your bowl? Is the cabbage looking soft?  Work the cabbage with your hands, until there is quite a bit of liquid in the bottom of the bowl, and the cabbage is looking and feeling pretty limp.  If you knead it for a while and you aren’t achieving a softer texture, add the remaining salt, toss, and let it sit a bit longer before working it again.
  6. By the time you’re ready to pack your jar or crock, the cabbage should be fairly limp, and the bowl should have at least 1/2 cup of liquid in the bottom.
  7. Incorporate the grated ginger, mixing it in thoroughly.  If you’re including mustard seeds and kombu, mix them in now.
  8. Get ready to pack your jar.  If you’re doing this right, you should look at the contents of the bowl and think, “No WAY is all of this going to fit in there.” Get ready to pack! Grab a handful of kraut and push it into the bottom of your jar.  Push it into the corners of the jar, press tightly.  Make sure you see some liquid rise out of that layer.
  9. Grab a few lemon slices and place them inside the jar, completely covering the cabbage layer. I like to get the lemons as close to the jar sides as possible, so they’ll be a pretty little yellow layer once the jar is packed and viewed from the outside.
  10. Repeat this process, some kraut, some lemons, some kraut, some lemons, until your jar is completely full.  Space it out so that the top layer is cabbage and not lemons, and pack tightly after placing each layer.  When you’ve finished, the lemon slices should form just a thin line when viewed from outside the jar. You want this  TIGHTLY packed. There should be a layer of liquid over the top of the cabbage.  If there isn’t pour some of the brine from the bowl over the top.
  11. Leave one to two inches of headspace.  The CO2 that is created during fermentation will push the liquid and the cabbage up, and could cause overflow.  Fermentation is most vigorous during the first few days, so you might want to be a little vigilant about pushing things back down during that time. I keep mine on a plate, in case there is overflow.
Kraut in jars

Sorry this isn’t the clearest photo (current batch is in my crock, so not super photographable). The trick is to keep the riib of the leaf in tact, but rip around it, so it is slightly larger than the diameter of the jar shoulders. Then place the cabbage rib on top of the kraut-to-be and tuck it down on the sides. Push until liquid covers it and then place your weight on top. Cover or seal, depending on your submersion method of choice

  1. Use one of the reserved outer leaves as a kind of shelf for your weight.
  2. Let it sit, checking brine levels periodically, for four weeks. I usually push my top jar down a few times in the first week, then leave it alone for another week or two before I start regularly checking brine levels, to make sure that the cabbage is still submerged.

*It is very important to use organic citrus for this process.  Lemons are very porous and they will be soaking in your kraut brine for a month. Also, since you’ll be eating the peel at the end of fermentation, you want lemons that are not loaded with toxic pesticides.

The Right Way to Ferment

Kimchi in a jar

Egads! Kimchi fermenting in a jar! Send in the troops!

You know what I hate? When someone ferments wrong. Just kidding!  What I actually hate is when someone decides that they way they ferment is the only right way to do it, and then invalidates the way other people have successfully done it for years or months (or even once). I’m not saying anything goes, there are principles that apply, and there are techniques and tweaks that can make the difference between something decent and something delightful.  To assume one path to success, though, is to disregard thousands of years of history, in-home evolution and personal taste.

These naysayers generally get pretty mad if a fellow fermenter says they had success in a “unapproved” way. I have, unfortunately, had encounters with some of these fun* folks on a few occasions (never here though, thank you, lovely readers).  So I’m here to tell you that they’re wrong (heehee). You can be empowered, make your ferments the way you’ve been making them, experiment with different techniques you’ve heard about, try different salt levels and different containers and different ingredients.  So cast off the shackles of the Negative Nellies out there and enjoy the process.  Empower yourself to use your brains and the senses with which you’ve been endowed.  That is a luxury that fermentation allows us all.

Here are a few things that I have heard and read recently that make me completely nuts:

1. Your sauerkraut must be in a perfectly anaerobic (airless) environment or horrible, terrible things will happen to you – Nope! Sandor does open crock fermentation, and guess what? My grandma wasn’t using specially-made, $95 jars with airlocks to make hers either.  Yet my mother and her sisters somehow managed to live to reproductive age!  A miracle? No, as Mr. Katz points out in this wonderful response to fearmongers and naysayers, our lactic acid bacterial friends are anaerobic yes, but they are facultative, which means that the presence of oxygen doesn’t keep them from doing their thing.

Sauerkraut in a mason jar

I made this kraut in a mason jar. I somehow lived to tell the tale. Weirdly,* I magically had NO MOLD on this, or any other mason jar kraut I’ve made.

2. You must have a vinegar mother or that thing you made that tastes exactly like vinegar is actually some other substance. And it will kill you. – Too many sighs to count.  Various eye rolls.  Numerous shrugs. Lemme tell you: I’ve made a lot of vinegars over the years and the good ones beat almost anything store bought (except the really, really pricey stuff, like true balsamic) with a heavy stick.  Using living vinegar to start is completely sufficient.  And any home winemaker knows that you can probably can skip that ingredient too, since accidental vinegar is often the (fantastic) consolation prize when winemaking goes wrong.

3. If there is a speck of mold on your veggies you will die bad. – Anyone who has ever take a class with me has heard me say three things about vegetable mold:

  1. Avoid it (aka submerge well and it is extremely unlikely to be an issue).
  2. If you get mold, skim it off. What’s underneath is fine.
  3. I know it’s fine because for you, dear reader (or class-taker), I’ve intentionally eaten some moldy, fermented vegetables. I don’t recommend actually eating the mold, but I do recommend skimming and eating what lies beneath. (Do avoid molds on grains, meat, or dairy unless it’s intentional mold  that you’ve added and you know what you’re doing. I know very little about those types of molds).
mold jar snap peas

I made three quarts of snap pea pickles. One quart had a moldy rim. The pickles themselves were amazing, but I had to eat the whole jar myself because, um, that mold looks seriously gross and my husband declined to partake. As is his (and your) right.

Never eat a ferment that smells bad to you or looks off.  This is truly the time to employ your senses. In my self-experiements, I’ve never had so much as mild stomach discomfort.  Yes, I know this anecdotal experience isn’t scientific evidence, and I didn’t say it tasted good. But skimming mold has long been a part of vegetable fermentation (like almost certainly thousands of years long) and the human race has somehow persisted.  As always, I would encourage you to TRUST YOURSELF.  If you don’t like how it looks, smells or tastes, ditch it.  The beauty of fermentation is being empowered to trust your senses; so do that, whether it means skimming mold or composting your pickles.

To pull a quote directly from The Art of Fermentation:

“As far as I know, there has never been a documented case of food-borne illness from fermented vegetables,” states Fred Breidt, a microbiologist for the US Department of Agriculture  who specializes in vegetable fermentation. “Risky is not a word I would use to describe vegetable fermentation.  It is one of the oldest and safest technologies we have.”

4. Only certain vegetables can be fermented.  Others won’t get acidic enough.  In other words, cabbage is fine, but never ferment a turnip! Or you will die. –  I read a whole article from a famous chef explaining why you needed to use vinegar to pickle most vegetables, but that cabbage will get acidic enough on its own. Huh? The natural pH of the unfermented vegetable has nothing to do with its fermentation.  When given the right conditions (submerged, some salt, room temp) any vegetable will ferment, due to the lactic acid bacteria that are present on everything that grows in the earth.  Obviously, some vegetables don’t ferment as easily or perfectly as others, but that has to do with water content, cell walls and stuff, not with their acidity.

5. Kimchi must be buried in the ground in your backyard or else how dare you say you’ve made kimchi?  – Question I get all the time: “Oh, so you make kimchi? You’ve got the big thing buried in a hole in your backyard, then?” Wink wink. Nudge nudge.  First, I live in Philly.  I don’t have a yard, I have an “area” behind my house.  Second, there are lots of kimchis and many of them were never buried.  Yes, kimchi onggi (crocks) were/are traditionally buried for some kinds of kimchi-making.  Some people still do it this way in Korea.  Others, use kimchi refrigerators, crocks, jars, plastic bins, you name it.  Since fermented food traditions are very old, I always think it’s safe to assume that people have been making them by making do for a long time.  And making do, in my book, means clever use of whatever resources one has on hand.

6. This is what worked for me, therefore this is the right way. You will die if you do it another way. – I’m not saying it’s always easy to accept, but just because your way works for you, it doesn’t mean it will work best for everyone, or more importantly, that there aren’t other ways that work just as well.  I once had someone tell me that because I was brining some pickles and not making them in a pickl-it, I was going to get sick.  This was about three years in to a fermenting habit that usually had me brining and never had me using a pickl-it almost every day (nothing against pickl-its, I just don’t have one).  I’ve had people tell me that Continuous brew kombucha is way “harder” than single batch. For me it was and continues to be exactly the opposite.  Yes, yes, I may be a hypocrite.  I’m always telling you about the way that I ferment.  Honestly, though, I’m telling you how I do it because that’s how I do it.  If you have a way that you prefer or that works better for you, more power to you, my friend. More power.

7. Whey or some other probiotic starter is necessary to ferment vegetables. I think this is a particularly common though not particularly pernicious fermentation rumor. As I cover (I think) ad nauseum on this blog, the vegetable fermentation process happens not as a result of anything you add, but as a result of the bacteria that are naturally present on it when it grows in the earth. One thing that I absolutely adore about fermentation is that it makes me into a shepherd.  I’m not actually doing a whole lot.  I’m keeping watch and letting the little creatures do what nature intended for them.  It’s a pretty neat thing.  Whey can help some ferments along, as I’m sure is true for other starters, but for vegetable fermentation, it is unnecessary, and can sometimes leave you with slimy or unappealing veggies.  Furthermore, the bacterial strains dominant in whey aren’t the same as those dominant on veggies, so you’re getting a whole different microbial experience than you may have planned for.

I’m not saying there are no rules to fermentation.  You do want to let veggies ferment long enough to reach an acidity that prevents c. botulinum from livingfor example.  You do want to add salt to your vegetable ferments and sugar to your yeast ferments (although both are actually  optional in some cases).  You do want to provide your ferments with an appropriate temperature for their processes.  Otherwise, the rules differ by ferment, and by preference.  I’m not saying to go all cowboy, but experimentation is a good thing! Also, one virtue of our era is that books and solid information resources are widely available for reference if your experiments fail and you want to know why.  I find that Sandor Katz’ books are the most reliable sources of fermentation information, but thoughtful googling can get you some solid answers as well.  The most important thing you can do is just start fermenting, and leave your fear (and any fear-mongers you may know) behind.