Fermented Foods & Drinks Tips

Here’s a little sneaky peak of some pages in my new book coming out in a few months time; Fermental – The Art & Obsession of Fermented Foods & Drinks.

There are a few things to consider when fermenting and to get the most from each batch you make and here are the one’s I personally think are most important…

Sterilise – In some instants when fermenting you don’t want things to be sterilise as you are using the wild yeasts to super charge your fermentation process.  And, then in other circumstances you want everything sterile as you don’t want any other yeasts to interfere with the one(s) you are growing.  Most of the time however you want something in-between.  So, you want your equipment sterile, and you would want to remove any mouldy parts from your vegetables, but you want to harness the bacteria on your vegetables to grow yourself some probiotics.  Note:  When sterilising equipment, remember to do this to any weights you may be using to weigh your vegetables down.

What To Ferment In – There are so many different jars/crocks we can ferment in.  Glass is great, but so are purpose made clay crocks, I love both.  What I would not recommend is plastic or metal.  Plastic is obviously full of additional chemicals and metal will slowly corrode from the acidity of the ferments.  Plastic is OK for a short fermenting time if BPA free and also for any taps on your fermenting vessels, but other than that I would avoid them.

Organic – Where possible and in an ideal World what you ferment would be organic so that you are not consuming pesticides etc and so that you have a maximum number of good bacteria in your ferments.  Unfortunately, this is not always possible, so just do what you can where you can.  Some people suggest washing your vegetables in vinegar in this instance, but as this can remove bacteria as well as other things I don’t go by this rule of thumb and instead would recommend soaking them in 1 part vinegar to 9 parts water (not tap water) before using.

Less is More – Resist the urge to mess about with your ferments after you have put them in the jar.  It’s very tempting to want to add things in afterwards or change it in some way, but every time you do this (unless the recipe suggests it’s needed) you open your jar up to contamination.

Don’t Over Fill – Resist the urge to over fill your jars.  Some recipes will call for filling a jar right to the top but mostly this just becomes a messy experiment.  I only ever fill jars to just below the shoulder of the jar.  As the fermentation process begins the vegetables and liquid in the jar will move up.  I recommend leaving space for this to happen and also putting your ferments on a tray or plate to catch any over-spill.  If you over fill you will waste as lot of that beautiful probiotic liquid/brine from your batch.

Burp – You’ll notice many recipes call for ‘burping’ your jar.  These are because many fermenting recipes create a lot of gases as the vegetables ferment and these gases need to be let out.  If you think you’ll prefer to be a ‘lazy’ fermenter then simply leave the lid on loosely instead or with mason jars you can just remove the rubber and close the lid.  Nothing should be able to get in, but the gases can get out.

Discolouration – Often once the air gets to your ferments they will discolour, this is perfectly OK.  You can just mix the top part that’s discoloured because of the air into the rest of it and eat as normal.  There is nothing wrong with your ferment and is has not gone off!

Salt – Salt is an important part of many fermented dishes.  Make sure to pick a good quality salt and one that has not been tampered with like table salt.  I have seen many recipes online that call for huge amounts of salt, as a rule of thumb; 1 medium cabbage should need about 1 heap tablespoon of salt.  Or, if you have a set of kitchen scales then cut up all your ingredients and weigh them.  Then the amount of salt you add should be somewhere between 2 and 2.5% of the weight of your vegetables.  This differs if you are using very watery vegetables or high sugar fruits that ferment very quickly.  I have used up to 6% salt for courgette kimchi for instance as it was mainly water.  A quick note on salt; If we use a good quality salt (like a sea-salt for instance and not table salt) then it’s super good for us.  Most people are salt deficient (especially if you are stressed or anxious), so don’t be scared of this, we need it!

Caffeine & Sugar – I often get asked about these being in fermented foods and drinks, as people feel they must be unhealthy then.  What actually happens when these are added to our ferments is they are there to feed the ‘starter’ of the ferment.  Meaning that unless you over fed your ferments with these then the ferment will eat them all up whilst going through the fermentation process.  A quick note on Kombucha; It does not need a caffeine tea to grow, it needs the tannins from the tea instead.  So you can (as I do), grow your kombucha on olive-leaf tea instead or any other plants with tannin’s like raspberry or oak leaves.

Mould – Most of the time your ferments are not mouldy.  And, even then, sometimes they can be saved.  The thin white powdery stuff that you often see on olives and some other ferments is just Kham yeast and can be mixed back in, as it will do you no harm.  As I mentioned earlier, sometimes ferments discolour and this may look like it’s gone off, but it has not, just mix it back in.  Unless you get a thick green or black mould on your ferment it’s usually OK and even then some people just scarp the top inch off and clean the edges of the jar (this happens a lot with miso) and then see if it grows back, if it does not they use it, if it does then they compost it.

Make It Swim – For most ferments you want all your vegetables etc below the surface of the brine in the jar.  This helps it not get contaminated and go off.  People do this with many different objects, like stones (boiled), bags of water, crock weights (boiled), wax paper, plastic wrap, a cabbage leaf or a combination of a couple of the above.

Fermenting PH – Some people are worried about botulism is their ferments (or any preserving).  It’s highly unlikely this will occur in your ferments, but if it does worry you then there is a way to test for this.  If you check the PH of your ferment when it is ready to serve it should be 4.6 or below, then botulism could not of grow there.

Don’t Throw It – So often I get comments, messages and emails that say that they have ruined their ferments.  However, most of the time this just isn’t true.  As I mentioned above, sometimes your ferment will discolour or get Kham yeast on it and these are fine, in fact normal.  And, sometimes your ferments will turn out too salty, again this is OK.  If it’s too salty to enjoy then you can mix some of it with another ferment (like my cashew cream cheese, instead of adding salt) or mix it through a salad or even cook it (it won’t have probiotic any more but still full of nutrients).

Temperature – It’s always difficult to tell fermenters how long to leave their ferments, but it depends so much on the temperature of their home.  In the summer months your ferments can take half as long to be ready as they do in the winter.  If your home is generally quite cold then kombucha could take up to 10 days to be ready and kraut a month.  If your home is generally hot then kombucha could be ready in 4 days and kraut 1 week.  So, basically you have to experiment and allow more or less time depending on what time of the year it is.  Ferments will also not keep ‘good’ for as long in summer months.  Usually I use up fermented vegetables within a month in the summer if I cannot fit them in the refrigerator.

Expiring Date – When you buy shop-bought ferments they must give an expiring date, which is usually not very long.  However, what I have found is that most ferments (generally not the one’s with fruit in or most of the drinks) will keep for a year or more if kept cold.  Just on this note too, A lot of shop-bought ferments are pasteurized (cooked) and as such have no probiotics and these one’s probably have a longer expiry date and are sat on the shelves and not in the fridge.

What I Use to Ferment – I like to use very large glass jars (between 12 & 20L jars) with plastic lids that allow the gases to escape themselves.  I fill them ¾ of the way and place reusable wax sheets (like the one’s used in dehydrators) that I have cut to size.  I leave my ferments for a medium of two weeks before decanting them into smaller glass jars and storing them somewhere cool.

Don’t Heat them Up – When you heat fermented foods and drinks you will lose all or at least most of the probiotic value.  You can use them in cooked foods for a deeper flavour (many tops chefs now do this), but there won’t be any probiotics left in them then.  Kimchi juice is great in omelettes and such like and it will still have a lot of nutrients in it, but the probiotic will be gone once you eat it.  If you’d like to have the optimum amount of probiotics then eat it cold, on the side of cooked foods instead.

Ferments do Detox – One word of warning about fermented foods and drinks; Many people think they are allergic or intolerant to fermented foods and drinks (because they find themselves running off to the toilet after consuming them).  However, for the most part this is not the case.  One of the amazing benefits of fermented foods and drinks is that they detox you.  So, if you are new to them, have been on a course of anti-biotics or had a tummy bug then you may find yourself running off to the toilet if you consume too much too soon.  The reason for this is that they are detoxing you of bad bacteria and toxins.  So, start off with a small amount and slowly build up.  This way they do there job, but without the hidden surprises for you.

Seaweed – I love adding ground seaweed to most of my ferments.  It’s highly nutritious and even easier to uptake once fermented.

Cooking it – Many years ago, when I first got into fermenting I did not understand why people would want to cook these super-charged probiotic foods and drinks.  Because, then most of the probiotic value and some of the nutritional value it lost.  However, it seems with the years I have mellowed a little bit with this view and I now understand we can create some intense and deep flavours by fermenting and then cooking the ferments. By adding Kimchi to omelettes or soups we create some amazing flavours, or milk kefir to rice flour to pre-rise a cake, we create a light, fluffy alternative to a wheat-based cake. Have a play around and swap out some ‘normal’ ingredients for some ferments and see what happens, you’ll be surprised and also I am sure quite pleased with the results.

If you are interested in any online fermented food and drinks workshops check out my events page here.  Live and recorded sessions can be found here.  

And, for more support with your health check out my online membership site here, it’s free to join for a month and totally rinse all the resources in that time and come along to our live sessions too.

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