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Fermentools Blog

  • Mold or Yeast?

    I have six quarts of pickles in my fridge. They are the first pickles I have ever made that are as crisp as store-bought. And the flavor, well, they're delicious. But every time my son opens the fridge, he says, "Mom, you have mold on your pickles!" Well, do I? Let's read Kristi's post to find out.

     

    Post by Kristi

     

    What is the difference between mold and yeast? The main difference is that yeast is a single-celled organism and mold is multi-cellular filaments. The yeasts found in ferments are not usually very harmful, but can make a ferment taste a little off. Mold ruins ferments, and must be thrown out. Yeast is colorless, usually it looks to be white or translucent depending on the reflection of the colors in the ferment. I have seen yeast in beet kvass that looks pink, but it is from the brine dying the yeast a pretty pink color. Mold can be many different colors. The colors most often seen in ferments are white, black and green. Below are a few facts to help you further determine if you have mold or yeast and understand what you are dealing with.

    MOLDS:

    • Mold colors can be white, black, brown, grey, blue, green, yellow, pink, purple and/or orange.
    • Mold grows in dark damp areas.
    • Mold can become airborne (http://www.niehs.nih.gov/health/topics/agents/mold/).
    • There are many different strands of mold. The different variations can look fluffy, fuzzy, slimy, moist and glossy. (http://www.cdc.gov/mold/faqs.htm)
    • Health hazards of a bad mold are allergic reactions and respiratory problems.
    • Use fresh, organic ingredients.
    • Mold has a very distinctive smell. You may be able to identify it by smell alone.

    Foods that contain mold: Tempeh, Natto Miso, soy sauce and cheese!

     

    Following are several photos of mold growing on ferments.

     

    Mold on a Ferment | Fermentools.com

    YEAST:

    • Yeast is usually white, and described as colorless. Sometimes the brine color may make the yeast appear to have color.
    • Yeast likes to grow where it is moist and has plenty of sugar and/or amino acids. (http://archive.bio.ed.ac.uk/jdeacon/microbes/yeast.htm)
    • Yeast needs sugar and starch to grow.
    • Smells funny. Yeast has some very distinct smells. You may know the smell from making a sourdough starter, or if you use nutritional yeast, and sometimes it smells downright cheesy!
    • Yeast can be flat in appearance, sometimes thready. It can be flat or branching except where bubbles have formed. The bubbles form from gases that are made from the fermentation process which are trying to escape.
    • Yeast may be an indicator that mold will follow. Sometimes yeast forms because of conditions that were not favorable for the ferment such as high temperatures, or maybe there was not enough salt.
    • There are many types of yeasts. Kahm yeast is the one we mostly experience when fermenting. Although usually considered harmless, kahm yeast can make a ferment taste bad. There are certain vegetables that form kahm yeast in fermentation (http://research.omicsgroup.org/index.php/Yeast), when exposed to air.

    Foods that use yeast: Wine, beer, mead and sourdough breads
    Fermentation is made with bacteria, more specifically the good kind!

     

    Following are several photos of yeast growing on ferments.

     

    Yeast on a Ferment | Fermentools.com

    How to deal with yeast:

    Skim off the layer of yeast. Remove the weights and followers* and replace with clean ones. Then, sample the ferment to see if the flavor has been affected by the yeast. If it has, remove the top layer of food and taste the layer under that. If it tastes good, it is best to eat it as soon as possible.

    If it needs more time to ferment, you can try to add some more brine, and/or salt. Adding more salt will make it saltier. Saltiness does not lessen in ferments over time. If the entire container tastes bad, throw it out.

    After finding yeast in your ferment, wash your tools and jars/vessels and weights with vinegar and very hot water, to help minimize any transfer from previous batches.

    Use clean hands, don’t use anti-bacterial soap that can transfer onto the foods you chop up.

    Using an airlock will help cut down on the air exposure, and will eliminate the need to “burp” the vessel, which introduces more air. Airlocks let gasses escape while keeping oxygen from getting in.

    Minimize floaters* by using a follower and a weight. A follower can be a cabbage leaf for example.

    Cut food into smaller pieces, the yeast will need a lot more time to form on smaller pieces. This is because there is less surface area, and it is easier for the brine to penetrate into the food.

    Try to ferment at room temperature which is around 65º F to 70ºF. Keeping the temperature steady is helpful also.

    Use fresh, organic food. Using the freshest possible food items will help immensely.

    How to avoid mold:

    First, there is a lot of controversy about whether you can scrape off mold in a ferment and then eat it. Many say this is fine. It simply is not. Let me explain. If you find mold on a hard cheese, you simply cut off an inch and eat the rest of the cheese. The moisture content is very low in hard cheeses and that is why this is acceptable. The mold has a harder time reproducing because it needs moisture to live. Now, soft cheese has to be thrown away if it has mold on it, because of the higher moisture content.

    Usually the USDA says that fruits and vegetables that have mold on them can be saved by cutting an inch off around the infected area, but this only pertains to low moisture fruits and veggies. So food submersed in liquid is, in fact, very susceptible to spreading the mold to the entire container of food.

    What about the salt, doesn’t it help keep bad bacteria at bay? It does, but if you already have mold, then something in the environment of the ferment is already off. For example, the salt content might be too low, allowing mold to grow. Throw out the entire contents of the vessel, and try, try again!

    Use only fresh, organic ingredients. Do not use anything that already has mold on it.

    Rinse your food with water before cutting into it. This will help wash away any impurities that we don’t want in the ferment.

    Wash your fermenting vessels before each use with vinegar and water.

    Use clean hands. Don’t use anti-bacterial soap that can transfer onto the foods you chop up. You don’t want to use anti-bacterial soap because it affects the good bacteria too, and that is what we are trying to grow in our ferments!

    Use an airlock. Airlocks are designed to keep the oxygen out. Mold can be airborne so this helps immensely to cut down on the amount that can enter the ferment.

    Don’t use table salt or pickling salt. These have preservatives that may hinder the good bacteria from growing, introducing mold in its place. I use Himalayan sea salt.

    Use the correct amount of salt. Different food items will need different amounts of salt. Use the handy Fermentation salt calculator as a helpful guide!

    Temperature also comes into play with fermentation. It is best to keep a steady temperature no less than 65º F to no more than 70º F.

    Keep food under the brine, by using a follower such as, a cabbage leaf. Anytime I have experienced mold, it was when the brine was too low or from floaters. Keeping the food submerged under the brine is one of the best ways to keep mold at bay.

    Even using all these wonderful tips, you may still encounter mold or yeast. It happens to the best of us. Don’t get discouraged! Keep trying. Now get out there and ferment something! Why not try to fermented carrots? Or maybe you could make some kimchi!

    If you have any questions, leave us a comment!

    ****************************************

    So, after reading this, I inspected my pickles more closely. And, I am sad to say that they had mold growing on them. BUT, only one jar--the one we were eating out of. Obviously, someone introduced something to the opened jar that caused the mold growth, I think because the pickles were floating. So, if after your ferments are done and you want to keep the food submerged, don't remove the glass weight. You can always buy extras in the Fermentools store.

    ******************************************

    Kristi is the blog owner of HomesteadWishing.com She is a wife and mother of three wonderful boys. She loves to write about food, children & parenting, tips and tricks, and survival information.
    . . .
  • A Brine Salt Calculator

     

    Ever come across a delicious-sounding recipe that you want to try but you're not sure how to make it because it calls for 3% brine and you don't know how to create 3% brine? Well, this post is for you. Kristi has taken all the mystery out of the equation by providing charts and step-by-step instructions. Read on for help.

     

    Posted by Kristi

     

    This post will help you calculate the exact amount of salt you need to make your fermented foods. The charts were designed specifically for use with fine-grain Himalayan sea salt. Himalayan sea salt is perfect for use in fermented foods.

     

    Salt Calculator | Fermentools.com

     

     

    Below, you will find three tables, which when used together make up our salt calculator. In the first table, find the food you plan to ferment. Look at the suggested brine percentage. Use the second table to determine how many grams of salt is needed. Take the gram amount to the third table, and determine how many teaspoons or tablespoons of salt that converts to. Add your salt measurement into your measured water, and stir it up. Now you have brine!

    Some food items can have salt added directly to the food and it will make it’s own brine. Sauerkraut and beets will make their own brine. If you get stuck, just leave us a comment. We will try our best to help you!

    Use the table below to find the brine percentage that you will need for the food you are fermenting. Go to the next table for more instructions.

    Salt Calculator | Fermentools.com

     

    On the table below, find the brine percentage you will need for your ferment. Choose how much brine you will need to make, and select the corresponding number of grams. 

    Brine Percentage | Fermentools.com

     

    Find the number of grams you need in the left-hand column of the next table. The corresponding teaspoon or tablespoon measurement will be in the right-hand column.  For example, if your measurement of grams is 13, you will need 1 TBSP & 1/4 TSP.

    Salt Calculator | Fermentools.com

     

    If you need help calculating your brine or don’t see your food on the list, just leave us a comment. We would be glad to help you!

    Try some of these awesome recipes that are already calculated for you.
    • Kimchi
    • Sauerkraut
    • Pickles 

    ******************************************

    I feel so much better about calculating brine now that Kristi has made it so clear for me. If you need some salt, Fermentools' Himalayan Powder Salt comes with the charts on the bag so you always have them handy. Now, to find how to convert my ancient recipe that calls for "brine to float an egg." 

    ******************************************

    Kristi is the blog owner of HomesteadWishing.com She is a wife and mother of three wonderful boys. She loves to write about food, children & parenting, tips and tricks, and survival information.
    . . .
  • Canning vs Fermenting

    If you want the healthiest option for food preservation and have cold storage available that does not require electricity, you just might want to consider fermentation as your method of choice. Read on for a great comparison of canning vs fermenting.
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  • Fermenting with Dead Sea Salts

     

    Ever read the "How Things Work" kind of books? I love them. This post is one of those types of posts. If you are intrigued by science, and how things come about when you don't have what is prescribed on hand, keep reading. You'll be glad you did.

     

    Posted by Sarah

    It is comfortable to stick with a known, and successful, salt when fermenting. Whether that is a fine-grind Celtic sea salt, or the pink Himalayan salt, a known salt can often guarantee a successful ferment. At the same time, sometimes it is fun to experiment, particularly when you don’t have easy access to the salt you would normally prefer, or you’re just curious.

    While in Israel, I decided to use my easy access to the gourmet Dead Sea salts to see how they worked in natural fermentation. I chose two salts, a plain white Dead Sea salt, and the low-sodium salt version. The low-sodium salt has a higher magnesium chloride content compared to the regular salt version.

    Fermenting with Dead Sea Salts | Fermentools.com

    Knowing how my regular salt behaves, I decided not to have a control jar, and just had my two Dead Sea salt jars going at this time.

    Method of Testing:

    I sliced up one green cabbage and filled two pint jars with a mix of the sliced cabbage. To keep the jars even, I alternated adding cabbage to each jar so that each jar would have an even mix of inner/outer cabbage leaves and a mix of slices.

    With each jar half full, I added one teaspoon of each respective salt to the jar. I kept the salt types beside their respective jars to avoid mixing up which jar was which. Then, I added more cabbage, and another one to one-and-a-quarter teaspoon of salt. For a total of two-and-a-quarter teaspoons of salt per pint jar. Then, the jars were inoculated with two teaspoons of juice from a successful ferment.

    Both jars were set up with standard glass weights and airlocks, and set on plates side-by- side on the counter.

    Ferment Observations:

    The standard Dead Sea salt jar started fermenting within 24 hours. The Low Sodium jar took 36 hours before the first signs of ferment were obvious.

    Within 56 hours, the Dead Sea salt jar was nearing a complete ferment. The Low Sodium did not reach that stage until 72 hours had past.

    The regular Dead Sea salt jar finished fermenting by 72 hours, the low sodium salt did not finish its ferment until roughly 96 hours had past.

    It seems that a higher sodium content is necessary for an efficient ferment. While the Low Sodium can be used for fermenting, it takes longer and is less efficient. This also means that a low-sodium ferment can have more chance of bad bacterial contamination compared to a regular salt ferment.

    After the jars were both fully fermented and chilled, I also did a taste and texture test. The regular Dead Sea salt ferment tasted like the standard cabbage lacto ferment. The texture was crisp, with just the right balance of tangy and salt tones.

    The low-sodium ferment was softer by comparison and less crisp, though it was still tangy. It also tasted quite bland and not quite like a standard ferment. There was, however, no off taste or off texture, it was just not quite as nice as a standard ferment.

    Conclusion:

    You can use Dead Sea cooking salt for fermenting without an issue.  The specific salt I used was in a grinder, and had to be manually ground before I used it in the ferment. There was no issue with the salt dissolving however, and it worked well.

    I would not recommend using a low-sodium salt unless you wanted to watch your ferment very carefully, or use more salt than I did. Using more salt would keep the ferment crisper, but would also defeat the purpose of using low-sodium salt. Blandness could be combated by adding spices like ginger, dill or garlic. However, I would recommend sticking with a standard sodium level salt. If keeping your sodium intake low is important for your health, just make a standard ferment and consume it in small quantities. That will insure you get the benefits of naturally lacto-fermented foods, while keeping sodium consumption in check.

    ***************************************

    In addition to salt, Fermentools sells a complete kit of tools that turns your ordinary Mason jar into a fermenting vessel. Visit our online store for a complete catalog of products.

    *************************************

    Sarah Dalziel is passionate about DiY skills, knowledge, and self-sufficiency. She was homeschooled K-BSc, and enjoys questioning, researching, and writing about hands on skills and preparedness. Ethnobotany, natural dyes, and self-sufficiency fascinate her. If she isn't writing about them, you'll find her dipping yarn into a steaming dye pot, or stirring up a batch of woad pigmented soap. Sarah blogs at wearingwoad.com, a natural dye and fiber skills blog, and also at sarahdalzielmedia.com, an interdisciplinary skills and writing blog.
    . . .
  • Fermenting Pearl Onions for Zesty Pickle Trays

    Traditionally, fermented foods were served with each meal to aid in digestion and to provide necessary vitamins and minerals in the winter, when fresh foods were not available. Fermenting pearl onions will produce a nice change from the usual dish of sauerkraut or pickles. Read on for even more of Chris' ideas.
    . . .
  • Moonshine! -- A Book Review

    In an effort to help educate folks in the art of fermentation, we like to include book reviews on the subject. After all, fermenting foods goes well beyond the head-of-cabbage-to-sauerkraut realm, as this review demonstrates. If fermented beverages (or how to make moonshine) are your thing, read on for Ashley's insightful review of Moonshine! by Matthew B. Rowley.
    . . .
  • Fermented Foods for Depression

    The last time I took a child to the doctor for an ear infection the doctor suggested I let the infection run its course. A shocker after 28 years of parenting. But in those 28 years we have learned that over prescribing of antibiotics is causing more harm than good. Killing our healthy gut flora is one such harm. Read on to see what Abigail has discovered about the side-effects of an unhealthy gut.
    . . .
  • Fermented Salt Cured Egg Yolks

    If you keep chickens, you probably have periods that you feel overrun with eggs and wish that there were some way to easily preserve them. Now there is. However, fermented salt cured egg yolks are not a substitute for fresh eggs. They are a completely new food you will want to try after reading this post.
    . . .
  • 16 Fermented Foods for Back to School

    Do you have kids going back to school right about now? This post is chock full of ideas for foods you can add to that lunchbox that will bring variety and added nutrition to your child's day.
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  • Is raw fermented meat safe to eat?

     

    I remember my home ec teacher, as well as my mom, driving home the point of well-cooked meat. So much so, that today, I have trouble looking at a rare hamburger or steak. Then, I started reading about traditional foods and how some cultures actually eat raw meat. If this topic has your head spinning, too, keep reading. Ashley will answer the question, "Is raw fermented meat safe to eat?"

     

    Posted by Ashley

     

    “The start of fermentation is nothing else but a war declaration by all bacteria residing inside the meat, and the stuffed sausage becomes the battlefront. (1)”  Our ancestors have helped beneficial bacteria gain the upper hand to produce safe raw fermented meat for generations.  What’s the secret?  Water and acid.

    raw, fermented meat | Fermentools.com

     

    Water

     

    Though it seems hard to believe, salting meat as part of the fermentation process works to preserve foods in much the same way that freezing does.  Harmful spoilage bacteria such as E.coli, Botulism, Listeria and Salmonella have certain requirements for life, and all require the availability of water for survival.  The availability of water, however, is not the same thing as the presence of water.

     

    When you freeze meat or salt cabbage for kimchi, you are not removing water.  True, salt does cause cabbage cells to break and release water, but the water remains in the fermentation vesicle, still present in vast quantity for spoilage.  Rather than removing water, salt and freezing work to change the “water activity” in a food, or the available water to be used by bacteria for spoilage.

     

    Water activity is the scientific way of denoting how tightly water is bound inside a food product, and how much water is available to be used by micro-organisms for either spoilage or fermentation.  Adding salt, or freezing foods, binds the water and reduces the amount of available water.

     

    Though you don’t often think of it, freezing food causes the water in a food to turn into ice crystals, effectively binding them and preventing that water from being used by bacteria to spoil the food.

     

    Water activity is measured on a scale of 0 to 1, with 0 being completely dry and 1 being pure water.  Freshly ground meat to be used in fermented sausages has a water activity of 0.99, which is a perfect breeding ground for just about any sort of unpleasant bacteria to reproduce.  Adding salt immediately reduces the water activity of ground meat, and for fermented sausage, the salt can reduce the water activity to around 0.96 instantly.  This may not seem like a lot, but in the world of bacteria, a little change in water activity goes a long way.

     

    Almost all pathogenic bacteria cannot survive at a water activity level less than 0.91, so that initial addition of salt is only the start to creating unfavorable conditions.  The next step is acid.

     

    Acid

     

    The initial addition of salt retards, but does not stop, the growth of pathogenic bacteria.  Beneficial lactic fermentation bacteria can thrive at a much lower water activity than harmful pathogenic bacteria, and once salt has been added it’s time for them to go to work to win the war.

     

    Lactic acid producing bacteria such as Lactobacillus and Pediococcus can live and reproduce in conditions that are between seven and 13 percent salt, depending on the strain.  Fermented foods are generally started with three percent salt, both for palatability and to ensure the optimum growth of the lactobacillus while retarding the growth of other bacteria.

     

    Since these lactic acid bacteria actually produce acid, their tolerance for acidified foods is much higher than less desirable bacteria.  After being given a leg up with the initial salting, these lactic acid bacteria metabolize sugars and produce acid, creating a sour tangy flavor that gives lactic acid fermented foods some of there characteristic zing.  Once a pH of five is reached, pathogenic bacteria can no longer reproduce and the lactic acid bacteria have won the war.

     

    To be extra careful, some fermented sausage makers add both powdered lactic acid and starter cultures of lactic acid producing bacteria to ensure that the meat is properly acidified and safe for consumption.  Historically, however, fermented sausage producers relied on technique and an ambient atmosphere of beneficial bacteria present in centuries old curing rooms.

     

    Water and acid are also the key to non-meat ferments in exactly the same way.  Salt is added to lower the water activity of sauerkraut so that the naturally present Lactobacillus can do their work to acidify the cabbage to turn it into a tasty fermented food.  Starter cultures, or a bit of the liquid from the last batch, can be added as an insurance policy, and should be added if you intend to use less than the recommended amount of salt.

    ***************************************

    One key to a successful ferment is the salt. The Himalayan powder salt that Fermentools sells is made to dissolve quickly in cool water. It also has more than 80 trace minerals. Save time and up the nutrition of your ferments with Himalayan powder salt. You can find it in the Fermentools store.

    ***************************************
    Ashley is an off grid homesteader in central Vermont. She is passionate about fermentation, charcuterie and foraging. Read more about her adventures at VermontMangoPlantation.com.

     

    (1) Marianski, Stanley, and Adam Mariański. The Art of Making Fermented Sausages. Seminole, FL: Bookmagic, 2009. Print.

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The information on this website is not intended to replace professional medical diagnosis, treatment or advice. Health claims on this website do not warranty, guarantee, or predict the outcome for others. Fermentools strongly recommends readers consult a trusted healthcare professional for any medical condition. All information and links to other resources are posted in good faith. We cannot guarantee the accuracy or validity of any information shared from other publications. Fermentools accepts no responsibility or liability whatsoever for the use or misuse of the information contained on this website.