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!