Frequently Asked Questions
What is Fermentation?
Fermentation occurs when vegetables and other foods are submerged in a brine solution. At this time, harmful bacteria and pathogens are killed. These bacteria cannot handle much salt and needs oxygen to survive. After the bad bacteria is gone, the good bacteria (lactobacillus) changes lactose and other sugars into lactic acid and CO2. This is what creates the flavor and tang that we are familiar with, as well as preserving the food that is being fermented. Lactobacillus, a strain of bacteria found on the surface of plants, is able to convert sugar into lactic acid. It was discovered during the study of milk ferments (which accounts for its name), but dairy products are not needed for the process to work. Lactic acid helps prevent harmful bacteria from growing and preserves the food naturally. Digestibility is improved and vitamin and enzyme levels are increased, which have been proven to contribute to the health of those that eat the fermented products.
Why Should I Ferment?
There are several health benefits of fermentation:
● Probiotics: The vitamins and minerals that are normally found in foods are increased from the presence of live bacteria, which brings their own vitamins and enzymes. Specifically, vitamins B and C, folic acid, riboflavin, niacin, and thiamin are all often found in fermented foods.
● Digestion and absorption: With the increase of probiotics, the body is better able to absorb and digest nutrients found in food. The more fermented foods eaten, the better able the body is to accept the vitamins and minerals in all foods. Common digestive problems such as IBS, acid reflux, and indigestion are often aided by fermented foods.
● Detoxing: Fermented foods introduce good bacteria and enzymes to your gut, which continues to clean out your system long after digestion. Fermentation reduces sugar
cravings, which lowers carbohydrate consumption and aids health problems including diabetes, weight loss, and inflammation.
Why Do I Need to Use Special Salt?
When it comes to fermenting, table salt is not ideal. Decades ago, iodine was added to table salts to balance an iodine deficiency found in most Americans. However, iodine neutralizes the yeasts and bacteria needed when fermenting. Other anti-caking agents dry out the salt which makes it easier to remove from a salt shaker. But when used in fermenting, it can cause a sediment or cloud in the brine. It is best to steer clear of any salt that has iodine or other added agents. Another type of salt to avoid is pink sea salt. The color is created due to the bacteria that thrive in a high saline concentration. The bacteria in the salt cultivates competition which is something that you don’t need or want during the fermentation process. Before fermenting, a brine needs to be made for submersion. When using sea salt or mined salt, there is an additional process that is necessary for the salt to dissolve. This process includes mixing salt in boiling water until it completely dissolves, then waiting for the mixture to cool. Instead, we recommend using our powder salt that is specifically formatted for fermenting. Additionally, our salt includes a conversion chart to make the perfect brine solution.
Can I Use Tap Water?
Tap water is not ideal. Although chlorine will evaporate by boiling, fluoride will remain. Also, the water would need to be cooled before use. The best water to use is unchlorinated and fluoride-free.
How Much Room for Air Should There Be in the Jars?
Do not overfill your jars. When submerged in water, thousands of bubbles filled with oxygen are next to the veggies. As the food ferments, CO2 and other gases released displace this oxygen and cause expansion. If there is not enough room left in the jar for this process, there could be an overflow. On the flipside, you should not under fill your jars either. There is a variety of jar sizes that can fit your needs and the amount of product that you have available. If you don’t have enough for a large jar, use a smaller size that will allow for the right proportions. Quart sized or smaller jars need 1-inch of space. Half-gallon jars need about 2-inches of space. If all else fails, add weights to the top to displace the air. The weights will raise the liquid, keep the vegetables submerged, and displace the air. If you have other questions regarding the fermenting tools, check out these blog posts for in depth answers.
Where Should I Store the Fermenting Foods?
Keep the jars in a warm, dark place, ideally with a temperature of 70-80 degrees. Sunlight is a disinfectant and prevents bacteria from growing, including the good bacteria needed during fermentation. The jars should be kept in the dark space for a minimum of one week to one month, but it can stay there for three months or longer. After one month, it is ideal to move to a cooler space at around 50 degrees, or in a refrigerator which is around 40 degrees. Room temperature is the least desirable option, but the process will still continue although the ferment will not age as gracefully. The process is tolerant. Anyone can do it and you can use what you have, including storing in room temperature if needed.
What is the Shelf Life of Fermented Foods?
Unlike canning, fermentation will not last forever. Fermenting was originally used to get from harvest to harvest instead of storing food in perpetuity. Six months after fermenting has started your ferment will be at it's best, the food will slowly start to degrade and the taste will change after that. Think of this the same way the flavor of cheese and wine change as time progresses. Unfortunately, the veggies will begin getting mushy and not have an appealing taste after a year.
Where Can I Get More Information?
Check out our safety tips and other tips and tricks to help you prevent common mistakes and missteps. When you’re ready to get fermenting, give our recipes a try.