Fermenting 101

Fermenting 101


Fresh produce all has good bacteria (and some bad) growing on it.  Helpful digestive enzymes are also abundant in fresh produce.  The nutrient content of produce actually decreases exponentially for each day after it has been harvested.  So we either want to eat it soon after harvesting it, or preserve it.

Hot water bath canning is done at very high temperatures, and is time consuming, and labor intensive.  The hot temperatures of this method kill many of the good bacteria on your produce, and render the digestive enzymes inactive.  Pressure canning is done at even higher temperatures and under pressure, but often for shorter amounts of time-so there is debate on if pressure canning is actually better than hot water bath canning due to the shortened time the food is exposed to high temperatures.

Fermenting on the other hand is done at warm, ambient temperatures of your home, is usually pretty quick and easy to do.  Fermenting preserves the nutritional density of your produce-even increasing it!

One pro to canning-the jars of home canned food can be stored in a cooler area of your home and do not need refrigeration.  I generally recommend finished ferments go in the fridge.  I will go into more detail on this later.


Sally Fallon author of Nourishing Traditions describes the process of lacto-fermentation.  “Lactic acid is a natural preservative that inhibits putrefying bacteria.  Starches and sugars in vegetables and fruits are converted into lactic acid by the many species of lactic-acid producing bacteria.  These lactobacilli are ubiquitous, present on the surface of all living things and especially numbers on leaves and roots of plants growing in or near the ground.  Man needs only to learn the techniques for controlling and encouraging their proliferation to put them to his own use, just as he has learned to put certain yeasts to use in converting the sugars in grape juice to alcohol in wine.   …the proliferation of lactobacilli in fermented vegetables enhances their digestibility and increases vitamin levels.  These beneficial organisms produce numerous helpful enzymes as well as antibiotic and anti carcinogenic substances.  Their main by-procuct lactic acid, not only keeps vegetables and fruits in a state of perfect preservation buy also promotes the growth of healthy flora throughout the intestine.”  -Nourishing Traditions, p. 89.

As beneficial bacteria consumes sugar in the ferment, it’s also producing mountains of B vitamins and probiotics which we desperately need in the winter time especially!  70% of our immune system is based on our gut flora.  Probiotics help multiply our good bacteria in our intestinal system, which in turn keeps the bad bacteria at bay.  We dump massive amounts of b vitamins daily through stress, pollution, etc.  These need replacing and have important jobs in keeping moods stable, and aiding in wellness.

B vitamins are a family of 8 vitamins that help drive processes your body uses for making energy from foods we eat.

Deficiency of these vitamins could include the following symptoms:  fatigue, abdominal pain, numbness, depression, anemia, respiratory infections, etc.

Here are just a few of the functions of B vitamins:


B7 catalyzes steps necessary for metabolizing cholesterol, fatty acids, and amino acids.

B9 and B6 drive chemical reactions that metabolize amino acids

B5 Metabolizes drugs and toxins

B2 processes carbohydrates, fats, proteins, iron, and other B vitamins

B1 produces energy from food, metabolizes glucose.

Probiotics are live bacteria and yeast that are beneficial to your body.

So basically you are strategically nurturing beneficial bacteria, that will in turn populate your gut, and your family’s guts with good bugs, and enhance their immune function!  It’s a really good thing to include a variety of fermented products in your diet including fermented dairy, and fermented fruits and veggies.


Fermenting needs no other equipment than wide or narrow mouthed Mason jars and lids, some sort of weights, and the ingredients you are fermenting, along with pure water, salt, and any spices you wish to add.

HOWEVER, there are certain pieces of equipment that I’ve found to make the process MUCH easier!  I have collected an assortment of these things over the past year or so.  I actually asked for a kraut hammer for Christmas, and Air locks for my birthday this year!


-Utility or Fermenting- FOOD GRADE crocks

-Variety of sizes available

-Utility crocks can have heavy stoneware lids that fit the top

-Traditional fermenting crocks have a well around the top that holds a bit of water…when the lid is set on the top the water in the small well locks out oxygen which is very important in the fermenting process.

-Ohio Stoneware at ACE hardware

2 galon Ohio Stoneware Crock



You will need to keep all of your ferments below brine at all times during the fermenting process.  If any is above brine you risk mold.  Some say scraping mold off the top is fine, and that you can still eat your ferment.  I highly encourage you not to eat it if you see any mold.  I’ve had to toss a few of my ferments, which made me sad…but I don’t want to risk serious illness either.  Some say you can scrape off a mold cap, but this just sounds gross, and you risk having little mold tendrils down into your ferment, and still eating the mold.  So I don’t encourage keeping a ferment that has had mold in it.

Here are the different options for weights:

-Crock weights are handy-same company Ohio Stoneware, and they were around 15 dollars for this set.  Available through ACE hardware as well.   They fit right inside the crock.

These are 2 gallon sized crock weights from Ohio Stoneware

-You can purchase weights especially made for fermenting in Mason Jars.  They are nice, but they are expensive.

-Marbles-sanatized in dishwasher, and in a ziplock

-Pie crust weights work well too, but they are metal, so you would need to put them in a ziplock before weighting your ferment with them.

-Some people I’ve talked with say that you can use river stones that you have washed well.  I’m hesitant, because I just don’t know how porous certain rocks are, and I don’t want bacteria inside those pores getting into my ferment.  So you can use rocks at your own discretion.


Wide mouth or narrow mouth


I do not like to use a meat hammer on ferments because the metal can be reactive with your food.  Before I had a kraut pounder I used a wooden spoon to pound the cabbage with.  When I make Sauerkraut, I cut the cabbage into shreds, salt it, allow it to sit at room temp for about an hour in a big plastic bowl,  and then you pound the heck out of it with this handy hammer.  It helps if you have another willing person to pound cabbage.  Arms and shoulders wear out pretty quickly unless you are pretty buff!   This hammer also helps you to pack the sauerkraut, or kimchi into your crock tightly!

This tool makes this task much easier! I highly recommend getting one of these!


These are helpful because they are somewhat self-burping.  Your ferment will naturally produce carbon dioxide.  If you are using regular Mason Jars for your ferments, you will need to check the tops daily and if tight, you will need to turn the ring on the lid about a quarter turn until you hear the hissing noise of the carbon dioxide escaping, and then re-tighten the lid to keep oxygen out.  If you neglect to do this your jars can explode.  I’ve known a couple people to keep their ferments in a plastic tote…this way if they forget, and it does explode the mess isn’t so bad to clean up, and you don’t have glass shards everywhere.  I’ve known other people to say the pressure has built up and formed a fermenting rocket of sorts, and their bottles and jars have put holes in their ceilings and walls.

A FIDO jar releases some of the pressure through the gasket.  I still flip the clasp occasionally to just make sure.  Plus, these look really cool lined up on your countertop!


If you come to the next workshop we will be learning to make KOMBUCHA (Fizzy fermented tea that is delicious and good for you!)  We will be learning more about Grolsch Bottles at that workshop.

-Great for storing Kombucha, homemade fermented ketchup and sirracha

-Tight seal helps achieve carbonation in fermented beverages

Grolsch Bottles
Kombucha: 2nd ferment in Grolsch bottles


-Many different kinds of Air Locks out there.

-Installed in the lid of your fermenting vessel and they are also self burping-more reliable burping than the FIDO jars.

-They do not allow oxygen in, but allow carbon dioxide out.

Fermenting Air Lock
Fermenting Air Lock

Another interesting product to check out is called a pickle pipe.  These are another form of air lock, and are super easy to use!  I believe a 3 pack is around 19.00.

It’s important not to allow your ferments to be exposed to oxygen.  If you ever have a ferment that is discolored, smells funky, is moldy…toss it.  When in doubt throw it out!

Ferments may have a white cloudy substance in them and this is called Kahm Yeast.  It’s normal, and not harmful.  Kahm Yeast can alter the end result taste wise tho, and for this reason I normally cover my sauerkraut with plastic wrap to avoid the formation of this.  Also if you see it forming in your pickles try to skim it off the top with a plastic spoon.

FUZZY GREEN OR FUZZY BLACK IS BAD!!!  THROW IT OUT!! If you just aren’t sure, take a picture and post it to WILD FERMENTATION!  You will have about 40 answers within an hour!  Which is GREAT!!


The kind of salt you use is also important.  Salt is involved in the preservation of food and helps the pH of your brine that your ferments are bathed in.  If your pH is off, then your ferments will begin to putrefy.  If it is just right then it inhibits the bad bacteria and helps the good bacteria to take over and proliferate!  I normally use Himalayan Pink Salt in my ferments.  I’ve heard you can use pickling salt, and Celtic Sea Salt as well.  DO NOT USE:  iodized salt, table salt, rock salt…I even heard of a guy using road salt which I would not recommend.  One lady was using lemon salt and smoked salt which seems interesting but I’ve not yet tried it.  Your salt needs to have NO chemical additives

-I will caution you to use recipes as you are first getting started into this-it helps reduce the waste of tossing ferments that go bad due to improper salt concentrations.


I normally use organic produce for the quality and nutrition.  I do not want to go to the effort to make super healthy food, only to also be eating fermented pesticides and GMO produce…seems kinda counter productive.  Also inspect the produce you plan to ferment.  Do not use the parts that are looking rough…cut those out and you can use the rest.  I try to ferment soon after harvesting/buying the produce, because It’s also not good to use produce that’s “on it’s way out”…if it is then juice it or compost it if it’s really far gone.  I hate wasting good produce…

Sometimes farmers at farmer’s markets offer “seconds”.  This is fruit or veggies that don’t have aesthetic appeal…warped looking, maybe some bird pecks, or hail damage.  They offer these at a reduced price and it’s still WONDERFUL for fermenting!  The produce doesn’t have to be pretty-just organic, and not rotting!


-Spring water vs. Distilled or RO (reverse osmosis)

-You can ferment with either kind.  I do advise you not to use tap water tho due to the contaminants like chlorine found in tap water.  Chlorine and fluoride can kill off the good bacterias.


pH strips are pretty essential in my mind.  I keep this brand in my kitchen. (Hydrion-short range pH strips) I pH test ALL of my ferments, and if the pH is above 4.6 I toss it.  Ferments with a ph above 4.6 are unsafe due to the  conditions being right for botulism toxin growth.  For added safety, I make sure that all of my ferments are below 4.0 before consuming.

pH test strips
These are the pH test strips I use.
You can get them here:


I’ve read that back in the day people used to use oil or fat caps to keep oxygen out of their ferments..however I would not recommend this practice today unless you have read, researched and learned ALOT about how to do this!!  None of the fermenters I know of endorse the practice of fermenting anything in oil.  It’s pretty dangerous, so just don’t.

Also, if your food is discolored (pinkish hue, and your food was not red or pink) Toss it.  Slimy, toss it, smells bad…you guessed it…toss it!

SO, Finally-on to the instructions on fermenting!

  1. I always wait to ferment until my kids are in bed.  Make some tea, and enjoy the process! I always begin by gathering the equipment I’ll need.  I place all the mason jars and lids, cutting boars, and knives I’m going to use in the dishwasher on a hot wash (you can do this step before the kids are in bed, so it’s all ready to go! :)).  I wash out crocks by hand (using a soap that’s NOT ANTIBACTERIAL).   Also clean hands are a given in this process!  If I stop to let the dog out or anything I wash before I begin again.
  2. I wash and rough chop all veggies I’m using.
  3. I mix up the brine in a clean glass pitcher.
  4. Put any spices/garlic you are using into the jar first. This helps prevent floating spices/garlic pieces.
  5. Pack your veggies in on top of the spices
  6. Pour your brine over the top of it all
  7. Wash and pack any leaves you are using i.e., grape leaves, raspberry leaves  These leaves impart different flavors that are fun to experiment with and also add tannins which aid in keeping your veggies crunchy (like pickles).  Pack these over the top to keep floaters under the brine
  8. I use a ziplock, marble baggie as a weight
  9. Top off with brine if need be to submerge your produce, making sure to leave about a 1 inch headspace.  This headspace allows for the carbon dioxide to make your ferment fizzy which is part of the fun of a ferment.
  10. Place the lid on your mason jar.  Some say fingertip tight, but I crank mine down…I don’t want oxygen in my ferments. If you crank it down, be sure you have some method of remembering to burp your jars..ie alarm on your phone.
  11. Place your jars in a warm spot in your house out of direct sunlight.  I put mine in my office, or on a top shelf in the closet, where they won’t be disturbed by curious little boys.
  12. The ideal fermenting temperature is between 70-85 degrees F.  The cooler the temp the slower your ferment will go.  The warmer it is the faster your ferment will go.  If the spot you choose is any cooler than 70 or any warmer than 85 I would advise you to find a different area that is in the ideal range.  Too cool or too warm can spell disaster for your ferments because it produces an advantageous environment for bad bacteria to take over and spoil your ferment.
  14. Any veggie/fruit with high sugar content will ferment QUICKLY!  Salsa for example contains tomatoes which ferment very quickly.  In the summer my salsa is ready in about 2 days in the winter it takes more like 3-4 days .
  15. Peppers are best left to ferment for at least 3-6 weeks.  I have had to toss several jars because I didn’t allow them to ferment at room temperature long enough…be patient!  And test your pH especially on peppers!

An extra fridge is very helpful because when your ferments are done, you will need to store them in cold storage.  Our ancestors probably did this in a root cellar.

Refrigeration slows the fermenting process WAY down, but doesn’t stop it completely.  Thus, things like Sauerkraut are best tasting when eaten about 6 months after you jar them, and place it in cold storage.  This time frame allows it to fully mature.  You can eat sauerkraut after just 6 weeks of fermenting too!

If you are doing multiple ferments-especially any that are covered only with a cheesecloth, be sure to keep all different ferments 4 feet away from each other to prevent cross contamination.

Lacto-fermented vegetable condiments will keep for months in cold storage, but lacto-fermented fruits ( like chutneys) and preserves should be eaten within two months of preparation.

Lacto-fermented veggies and fruits/condiments are not meant to be eaten in large quantities.

Certain veggies are Self Brining-meaning you will not need to add additional water…just salt.  One of those veggies is cabbage.

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