Fermentation?! Bacteria?! Yeast!? Ahhh… what am I doing?!
Hey, keep your chin up! – We were all beginners at one point.
“FERMENTATION” can be an intimidating word, however, just by following some simple guidelines, you can ensure safe, tasty, bubbling soda-pops and krauts with extraordinary taste. Here are 13 reminders for advanced and rookie Fermenters for when you think your ferment has gone haywire!
First and foremost: Use de-chlorinated water. Chlorine is a bacteria killer, and we need those good bacteria (probiotics) to flourish and successfully “lacto-ferment”. This means (for most North Americans with lots of chlorine in your tap water), your have to boil the water first and let it cool. OR, you can leave the water to sit in a bowl for 24 hours to let the chlorine evaporate. OR, just use natural spring water.
Where are we using water in ferments you ask? To fill up a jar of kraut with insufficient natural juices, to create a ginger-bug, to concoct a soda-pop…. Water, water, everywhere…. but only non-chlorinated will work!
2. KEEP VEGETABLES/FRUIT UNDER BRINE
Brine is the salty-water that surrounds our krauts. Vegetables go through an anaerobic-fermentation process (NO oxygen needed).
When vegetables are exposed to the air they oxidize over time, which means vegetables and fruits (like fresh cut apples sitting out) will turn brown, and eventually turn into compost. This is good for our garden, but not good for us and our picky taste-buds.
So the goal here is to push all those veggies down, under the liquid surface, even when all those bubbles from the natural fermentation are trying to push things up and out! A great way to do this is place a clean rock, a porcelain tea-strainer, a smaller jar, or kraut weights on top of your ferment to keep the fruits or veggies submerged.
Don’t have any of these weight options? Just simply put a plastic bag full of water on top to keep everything down!
3. CLEAN SURFACE AREA
Yes, fermentation is the SAFEST method of food preservation. However, it doesn’t mean you can use the old Nutella jar that the dog just licked out for your next ferment. It’s always important to have a clean surface area, hands, vessels and tools. You don’t need to sterilize your equipment, but practicing good hygiene will help keep molds or yeast buildups away. Hot-soapy water works great!
If your ferment gets a white chalky mold on top, simply scrape it off and clean the sides of the vessel, or transfer the entire ferment into another clean vessel.
This white mold is called ‘Kahm yeast” and is benign, which means it doesn’t harm you to consume it, but it may change the flavor of your ferment – its better not to let it contaminate your entire ferment. If you see other colors like BLUE or PURPLE or ORANGE… I don’t know what you did! But I would throw it away ;).
If you are absolutely scared of mold, consider getting an airlock like ‘The Perfect Pickler’. This tool essentially allows air/carbonation out, but not back in, so any unwanted bacteria’s and yeasts don’t have a chance to enter and proliferate.
Too much / too little: If your kraut isn’t salty enough, simply add more. You can make a salt solution by dissolving salt in warm water and pouring over your kraut.
If its TOO salty, simply drain off some of the brine (I would keep this brine, and use it for flavoring, inoculating and salting other things, as it is chock full of probiotics), and add more de-chlorinated water.
6. MUSHY PICKLES?
Tannins aid in helping keep veggies crispy. Think about adding a grape-leaf, or a black tea bag…. This will keep things crunchy! Also, salt aids in keeping crunch, so if you’re not watching your sodium levels, don’t be afraid to use more salt.
7. NO METAL
As things ferment, the PH (the acidity level) becomes lower, which means it becomes MORE acidic.
Fermenting in metal vessels can be dangerous as the more acidic your ferment becomes; the more metals will corrode and leach into your ferment. This will not be tasty, may change the color of your kraut and is just not good for you. Stick to glass or stainless steel.
8. GINGER BUG NOT WORKING?
Non-organic ginger is often irradiated, thus killing any of the valuable yeasts on its skin. Use organic, non-irradiated ginger for best results.
It’s also important to stir your aerobic ferments to introduce air-born yeasts which will start eating those sugars and carbonate your beverages. So stir your ginger-bug every time you see it until its established and fizzing every time you move it.
I can never caution you enough to be aware of over carbonating your ferments! Ferment bubbling-carbonating ferments in plastic containers. Again, fermentation is the safest method of food preservation, HOWEVER there have been injuries due to exploding jars and bottles.
Ginger-beer is a prime example. After some friends experienced exploding bottles, luckily while they were out of the room, I made sure to bottle my ginger-beer, and other highly carbonated drinks, in plastic food-safe bottles.
I’ve even had the bottoms of the plastic bottles pop out (from concave to convex), and walked into the kitchen to see my bottles mysteriously rolling all over the floor after have fallen from their unstable undersides.
10. KOMBUCHA JUICY!
When you acquire your first kombucha SCOBY and want to start your own brew, it’s important to save some of the previous kombucha to help start off the first batch. The original kombucha, depending on how long its been sitting, will be quite acidic.
Without an initially acidic environment, the SCOBY will struggle to establish itself and leave it susceptible to hostile takeover from bad bacteria, which could kill your poor SCOBY. If you don’t have any of the original kombucha brew, simply add some house-hold vinegar to your new batch to acclimate your SCOBY.
About 2 oz per Liter will create an optimal acidic environment to help it proliferate. Don’t forget to save some brew for the next batch!
11. KOMBUCHA VINEGAR!
Oh no! looks like you’ve fermented your kombucha TOO long to be palatable. No worries! This is now a super-probiotic vinegar. You can add it to salad dressings, use it for cooking, or even cleaning when the sugar is totally digested. I’ve even used mine as a hair-rinse to for sleek and shiny locks.
If you’re brave and looking for a quick probiotic boost, have one shot of your kombucha-vinegar in the morning and one at night. (This super vinegar can be used to prime your next batch).
12. CLASSIC ROOKIE MISTAKE…
When making fermented hot sauces, don’t forget to watch your EYES when blending as spiced vapors in the air can be unpleasant. Also, don’t forget to wash your hands before touching your eyes when working with spicy peppers!
13. FERMENT DOESN’T TASTE THE SAME AS LAST TIME
Remember that your working with natural bacterias and yeasts and everything from the microbes on your hands to the microbes in the air will interact with your personal ferment and change the taste according to your environment, the temperature, the surface area, and even the moon cycles.
So instead of being concerned about the flavor difference, celebrate in it! Every ferment is different…just like people… just like snowflakes.
How about you? Any classic rookie mistakes you made in your early fermentation days? Let us know in the comments below!
52 thoughts on “13 Fermentation Mistakes You Might Have Made Yourself”
I got lucky, never really had any major problems, and I ferment about everything! LOL!
Explosion is a real issue even with plastic bottes! My whole kitchen was flaoting in ginger beer, after a very loud “BANGKABOOM” in the middle of the night. It was dropping from the ceiling and flowing from every wall. The bottom of the plastic bottle was still in place, whereas the rest of the bottle including the ginger beer have been catapulted to the ceiling, to rain down onto the floor. BEWARE! 🙂
YES! BEWARE indeed! the power of fermentation is real – i also had the bottoms pop out from the underside of very hard plastic bottles. keep eyes on your projects ginger-beer makers! :D!
I just made a Ginger bug, feed Ginger and sugar daily, during first 3 days it was perfect with bubbles forming, but on forth day, no bubbles seen and some white powder/coat kind of substance on top of bug and on edges of bug. When picked by spoon and rubbed on finger it kind of dissolves, even when shaken and stirring it dissolved in the bug.
Do any of Friends have knowledge what is it, is in mold or fungus of any type, should I continue with it out throw it away.
sounds like you got a good ginger bug going! usually once my ginger bug is bubbling strong, i pour it into a plastic food-safe bottle to capture the action and also preserve its life. that means from an aerobic (breathing) environment, to a anaerobic environment (no air/ closed). then i can use the living ginger bug whenever i need.
the white on top could have been a ‘kahm’ yeast. its not harmful but also not really helpful. it comes from wild yeasts in the air getting at your ginger bug. this can be avoided with a more Fermentation activity, i.e. adding more sugar, water and ginger to feed it, or closing it from the outside air.
at this point you will most like just have to start again 😛 but it should be quick!
I am up to attempt 5 on making ginger-bug and since my first attempt I havent been able to get the bubbling going past very tiny bubble if you move it and I have persisted each attempt up to about 5-6 days before starting again and always the bubbles go away and dont come back.
I have tried organic/non organic ginger, chlorinated/non-chlorinated water, feeding with varying amounts of ginger and sugar, covering with a cheese cloth vs sealing lightly with a lid, stirring regularly vs only when I put more ginger and sugar in. I have tried putting in a warm environment and in light(not sunlight) vs dark environments
my best result so far was my first attempt which used chlorinated water and irradiated ginger so I just don’t know what to do, i am dedicated to get it to work but its getting fairly disheartening. I should also note i tried to use this first one to carbonate a ginger beer I made that had cooled to room temp but it did nothing
there is so much conflicting information out there and everyone is quick to put there hands up and say you should have done this or that but none of it seems to work and some people dont have to do any of it to get it to work
I want to keep the bug indefinitely to make regular ginger beer should the bubbles keep going forever?
id say best to use non.chlorinated water. try grating your ginger fine rather than in big chunks so there is more surface area. keep the jar aerobic so the bug can use the airborne yeasts to get started. room-temp is fine. stir everyday or as often as you see it (i.e. more than 1x daily). add small amounts of ginger and sugar each day. once it is bubbling, pout it into a plastic food-safe bottle to seal in the carbonation. pour more sugar (1/4 cup per liter) and water in and the bottle will create a self-sustaining pressure to be used for more sodas. add 1/4 cup of ginger bug per 3/4 new sweet ginger water. seal tightly and get a super sparkling soda! after using most of your starter – keep 10% and add to it again to refuel the bug.
Like your site.
My last two attempts at making ginger i noticed that a scoby had grown .any idea why this is happening
This can sometimes happen if your kombucha is close by to your ginger bug i have found! but sometimes a SCOBY just grows on ginger bugs and water kefir and this starts making a more vinegary taste, which in my opinion is not so wanted but it is not considered bad. this is basically an imbalance of bacteria and yeast. make sure to clean your jar once in a while and use fresh sugar and ginger to feed it. it mostly happens when its really warm i also found!
use an airlock or tube from brew to bottle water vent gas
I’ve been boiling my water to remove chlorine and then immediately adding to my sauerkraut, kimchi or chili pepper mash. Nothing spoiled, but no outstanding flavors and few visible signs of macro fermentation like bubbling.
adding hot water immediately to your veggies will kill off all the good yeasts and bacterias that your want to start working to ferment your veggies. Best to allow the water to cool to at least 35°C or less and then add it to your veggies with salt. try that and let us know!
I made a ginger bug that is working great. But when I added room temp ginger tea and 100% cranberry juice, the ferment died. I’ve fed it both raw honey, sugar, and additional ginger bug but still nothing is happening. Tastes great but isn’t fermenting. Ideas on why?
hmmm – was the tea hot? as soon as things get hot, bacteria and yeasts arnt happy to live there. maybe the cranberry juice didnt have enough sugar? or perhaps the raw honey had many antimicrobials which fought the ones you were working with. as always, with wild ferments, they are highly unpredictable and are a product of our environments. trial and error. try, try, try again! 🙂
Hello, this is my third attempt to do a ginger bug in order to do ginger beer, but somehow something is happening and I don’t know what. The first couple of days I see the bubbles on the ginger bug, but from the third or fourth day they disappeared. First, I thought that it was because some room temperatures changing but now that I have that under control is happening again. I read somewhere that maybe I’m not using enough water and that might be the reason. I started with 500 ml of water, two table spoons of sugar (brown sugar) and two table spoons of ginger (not organic), every single day I feed it with one table spoon of each (sugar and grinded ginger). Can someone help me please?
Last question do I have to mix the ingredients when feeding or just put it in the water?
hey there nicolas -a could things here. first, its so important to stir the ginger bug everyday and multiple times of the day. without movement the sugars cannot reach the yeasts. i put my ginger bug in a place where i see it at eye level when i walk into the room so i know i should stir it. second, try organic ginger. often ginger is irradiated when it comes through boarders and kills all the yeast we are wanting to make the bubbling happen! try that 🙂
I made a ginger bug myself and it looked good, so I made ginger beer with it. But now both the beer and the bug smell awfull. I tried the beer and it tastet so bad. Now I don’t know, if I made something wrong or if I just don’t like the taste!?
usually our senses tell us something. your senses are probably saying it has gone off and you shouldnt drink it. ginger beer is pretty pleasant. not exactly like the store bought variety with pumped in bubbles and lots of sugar and flavoring, but still enjoyable. i would say, try again and make sure the bottles are clean and the ginger is fresh. sometimes things are simply strange one time and great the next 🙂 the wonders of fermentation 😀
I recently mixed up a batch of veggies into a ferment – garlic, jalapeno, yellow onion, carrot, daikon, a little bit of grated horseradish and mostly red cabbage (and salt, of course). I put it into a clean 2 quart jar and tamped each layer down, and at the end poured in the brine that was left over in the bottom of the bowl I had used to mix up, crunch, squish, all-around mash up those veggies. I didn’t notice until a few days later that there were air pockets in various locations toward the bottom of the jar. However, the whole thing has never been without liquid covering the entire top. Is it possible that anaerobic baddies could be growing down below in there, even though the top is completely under liquid?
hey Hillary – sounds like you have done everything perfectly! in fact those bubbles at the bottom are a result of the fermentation process. they will build up all around and in the kraut and wander their way up. I make sure to keep the jar closed for the first 5-10 days (outside the fridge) and then i open up the jar and once again push everything down. it will be bubbly (i.e. the sign of success!). you night have to add some more water or salt-water to make sure they are still covered if lots of liquid escapes. but keep up the good work!
My husband and I have been fermenting kombucha for five years now and loving it. When we first started though, I let some of my second ferments go too long with too much sugar. They went kaboom in the refrigerator. It was so violent that it blew the refrigerator door open and broke all of the glass shelves in my refrigerator. It was an expensive lesson but no-one got hurt.
yes! one of the few but very serious dangers of fermentation – explosions! glad you are safe while learning this lesson x
I made my own ginger bug a few weeks ago, used it and than left it in my kitchen counter for a week without touching it. I check today and it looks like a created a kombucha scoby (I mean it looks like it) will this be safe to use or what is this? Or does it actually mean I can make kombucha now :P?
a SCOBY on ginger bug is not totally uncommon. it will gear the direction of your ginger bug more in a sour, vinegary taste than a beery yeasty taste however. the SCOBY is also protecting other unwanted yeasts to grow, but can also mean it wasnt stirred quite enough. my suggestion would be to keep it and start a new controlled ginger bug and see the difference in taste. the SCOBY is surely not dangerous! its rather protecting your ginger bug 😀 its also different than kombucha but again, feel free to experiment and as its always changing, growing and morphing, it could perhaps accommodate tea and sugar!
Hello! I tried my first ginger beer from a homemade ginger bug. I was using glass bottles and let the ginger beer sit out on the counter. After day six, I went to burp the bottles and no fizz. I thought I had a dud! I let it sit on the counter and forgot about it. I went to try another brew and was opening to pour out the bottles and it fizzed out like a volcano! It was sitting on my counter for 18 days. It tasted ok, but curious what the science is. Is it safe to drink a ginger beer that was sitting on my counter for 18 days at room temperature? It wasn’t sweet, but that’s ok. Thanks for any advice!
the fizz is a really good sign that it is alive and no bad bacteria or molds are growing in there. the non-sweetness is a sign that all the sugars were eaten up and converted into bubbles! you may have some alcohol content built up in there, so if that is a concern be careful, otherwise you probably have a lovely ginger beer 😀
Hi I’m trying to make my ginger bug and very confused. I’m on day 2 and there are 0 bubbles. I used an airlock cover and now I’m thinking that might be the mistake? I’m reading some places that it needs to be tightly sealed during this process and some are saying covered with a cheesecloth which I thought works like an airlock? Also not sure if the issue is that my beer bug is in a 64oz mason jar not 32oz causing to much air space?
My place is pretty cold so I know that doesnt help so i covered the jar with 2layers and then wrapped a heating pad around the jar on low. I kept it like that all day with the airlock cover still on. But
after reading more I decided to just set it on my counter as is and I sealed the jar tightly removing the airlock. Please tell me what I’m doing wrong. Should i start over? Theres 0bubbles. I also used filtered water.
Also when I make sourkrout can u leave it in the bein with the airlock cover?
hey there, during the primary fermentation, the ginger bug needs to breath – i.e. no air lock – rather air flow (i.e. aerobic). a cloth on top, and stirring at least twice a day to help get those natural airborne yeasts into your mix. once bubbling, then bottle. sauerkraut is another story, in where you can use an airlock on directly from the beginning (i.e. anaerobic)
I made a ginger bug with strawberry sodas, put it in a glass bottle and have not burped it in 2 days (I didn’t know!). I stuck it in the fridge because I’m scared to open it. What should I do? Open slowly while pointing it away from me… outside…? Help!
it should be fine. if you are really afraid, which i can understand, put a sock over it in case it ‘may’ explode. then open it with glasses or something on your eyes, and point away from you… but to be honest, i think it should be fine after only a couple days and in the fridge. this is for extreme measures, but then again, in a glass bottle, you cant ever really tell how extreme the pressure is and better safe than sorry!
For those concerned about explosions, put your bottles/jars in a cardboard box, and put that in a trash bag. If it goes kaboom, it’s all contained without shrapnel damage, and you don’t have to worry about clean up.
yes! great idea! i had mine in a crock. others i put some old socks around 😀
Hello! I’ve been following your site for a while now
and finally got the courage to go ahead and give you a shout
out from Porter Texas! Just wanted to tell
you keep up the good job!
I made 2 jars of Giardiniera at the same time, using the same veggies, same amount of salt and water. Only difference is one is a half gallon jar (2TBS salt), the other is a quart (1TBS salt). The half gallon jar “behaved” as I believe it should. Started fizzing after a couple of days. The quart jar never really started bubbling. I used a jam jar to weigh down the veggies so they are completely submerged in the brine in both jars. Do you think the quart jar that never really bubbled is any good?
I am using a chest/cooler for my glass bottles with first attemp on ginger beer. In case there is an explosion, the cooler will keep it all in, maybe… Also came here with a concern with the film on top of one of them. I made one 1 lt bottle with only ginger and sugar plus the bug and the another one I added lime to the mix. The one with lime has no carbonation at all the other one had by the first 24 hr, I burped it and it fizzed nicely but by the next 24 hrs. it had a white film and white bubbles. The one with lime, with very little film, no bubbles and also clear liquid, sediment at the bottom, while the one with only ginger , was not sedimented. I really dont know if I should discard or keep them another day then the fride and drink them. help!
there should be an amount of fizz. if it is flat or slimey then its gone in the wrong direction. make sure you didnt use chlorinated tap water
Hey i made a ginger bug and today was its 3rd day..Till today afternoon it was bubbling but after I fed the bug today the bubbles started disappearing and by evening there was no bubble but i poured it to my ginger juice..will my bug still work in it?
sounds like youve done everything right. you can use it as soon as its bubbling or capture the bubbles in a plastic bottle for future use 🙂
as its aerobic for most of hte fermentation process it doesnt build up alcohol but goes over that step into vinegar sour. i do store mine in the fridge or if there is a lot, in the cellar – under earth temperature
I am preparing ginger beer using a ginger bug that I started a week back. I find some cloudy stuff settling below a transparent layer. When a burp the glass bottle the cloudy stuff tends to float up. What is it? It is third day today after bottling.
hi Tamal, sounds like that is just sediment (yeast poop) that sits at the bottom. totally harmless. like wine lees but from ginger 🙂
Sorry if asked already. I’m trying to make fermented tumeric.
I put peeled tumeric and brine in a glass bottles with stoppers.
Can I just seal and forget about it? Or does it need air
leave the peel on (thats where all the useful yeasts are) and start it AEROBIC (i.e. no lid) 🙂
Hi Alexis. By reading the comments I’m pretty sure I fucked my bug up🤦🏽♀️. Is there a way to revive it again?
either add more ginger, sugar and water OR start a new one. if there is any blue / green colours in there (i.e. mold) then definitely a new one 😉
I did as you said and second batch it great! A lil kahm yeast but I got it off… but how long goes ginger beer take to ferment? Is it okay to add alil more sugar and teaspoon of the ginger bug in bottles if I see no heavy fermentation by 2nd or third day?
you can keep on feeding it to build bubbles if you think it is necessary, but often in a closed bottle it builds up nice bottles anyways. in an open environment it needs constant feeding / refreshing. it can stay in a bottle for months in the fridge and keep the fizz
Hi, My first ever ginger bug was great! It made excellent ginger beer. However since then my bugs have become opaque/white and thick…almost like slime This can start to happen after the second day. Sometimes they may still have bubbles…. I use non chlorine water…
it could be from the ginger you use, or too much sugar in the mix.
Are used distilled water from the baby section of Walmart, was wondering why my ginger bug was not fermenting. Turns out they put a chlorine in the water it killed my bug
Thank you so much for all these tips 🙂 I didn’t know you’re supposed to stir your bug regularly. I have a bubbling ginger bug and tried to turn it into ginger beer. Now the bottles have been sitting on the counter for 3 das already and there is zero carbonation. Is that normal? It feels like nothing is happening. Should I add some more ginger bug?
stirring the bug at the beginning stage is important to introduce airborne yeasts to make a healthy bug. once its bubbling you can bottle it or use it to make ginger beer. just like sourdough, the big (or starter culture) must be active. a weak starter culture makes a weak result. try shaking your bottles to distribute the yeasts around your bottles. place them somewhere warm and watch out for explosions 😀