So, you want to get into lactofermentation, but are a bit resentful towards the whole bacteria thing, well here is a guide to create your first batches of lacto fermented vegetables step by step. But first, lets have a bit of a history lesson
Fermentation & Preservation: a short history
While fermentation is definitely on the rise within the last couple of years thanks to people like Sandor Katz or Kirsten K. Shockey & Christopher Shockey, it is been around for millennia. Everywhere there was crops at one point the people asked themselves: how can i preserve this for moments when i don’t have crops growing. Well fermentation was the solution and it created wine, beer, bread and other products we consume daily.
But with the arrival of the refrigerator and shopping malls after WWII, people lost that connection to canning and preserving food, because everything was in direct access. So why start fermenting again? Not only do we have nutritionists talking about the benefits of fermenting about conserving because all the nutrients are preserved, but also because it just taste more interesting. Next to that we have the possibility to waste less when fermenting. Some products have a second and even third life. Say YES to fermentation!
What is (Lacto)Fermentation?
When discussing and preparing fermentation it’s good to have a more clear view of what is meant with fermentation. Unfortunately each guide / book will have a slightly different approach. Is Pickling fermentation: well yes and no, is tsukemono fermentation: well yes and no… If you want to know what we see as a fermentation process, lets have a look here
Now when we talk about lacto-fermentation, based on what we learned before we are creating an environment where mostly vegetables & fruit will be transformed through the added salt that will work as activator. Give too much salt and the bacteria will not know where to start and do a lousy job, give not enough salt and other bacteria will still be able to fight their way through and you could get mold or other infections. Fermentation is about balance and knowing the factors in which you play: temperature, contact with air, food for the bacteria, light,… How better you understand these factors how better your ferments will do what you ask them to do.
Don’t worry, no dairy product is produced in the process of lacto-fermentation, it’s only a term borrowed from the lactic acid bacteria creation that is done through the fermentation process
Which tool for which use?
Once you have the basic knowledge of the art of (war &) fermentation you can start choosing your vessel to work with. While classic ceramic pots are a beauty & have worked for centuries, a weck pot works as fine and is better suited for small kitchen level batches. You can find special ones with airlocks for example, or go even to old school jam pots that work as fine. But a weckpot, combined with a good knife and a scale (as precise as possible, to calculate the salt %) and you are ready to go to start your own hobby ferments.
Technique 1: Dry Salting
Before we dive deep into the first technique of fermentation, we need to do a little parenthesis about the salt. Which salt should you use? I like to incorporate mineral-rich salts into ferments to stay away from salts with unnecessary additives. It can be mineral-rich salts from the land or the sea for my part. It can be expensive Himalayan salt, or bought by bulk Sel de guerande, all these work fine and are from my experience not that different. The only not to go route i would say is highly iodized salt, it’s industrial salt that can be processed and will give inherently less « good stuff » to your ferment. It is the same for your vegetables and fruit: choose unprocessed, straight from the farmers(market) and you will give your ferment much more chance to thrive. You could make a good ferment with supermarket products, but it will simply have less chance to succeed.
When thinking dry salting, think sauerkraut, one of the basics of our western fermentation. With this methode any type of the cabbage family can be fermented, look also into Kimchi, for it’s Korean Grandfather. Before you start it’s best to create a good habitat for your future ferments: wash your hands with regular soap and warm water, just rinse your vegetables and clean your equipement with a basic soap and not the antibacterial variant, because it will also kill our friends the lactobacilli.
To understand what lactofermentation stands for, there is one mantra i found in Fermented Vegetables that works pretty good: Submerge in brine and all will be fine.
Get that in your head, the vegetables and fruits you want to ferment don’t like to be in touch with air, so keep it at a distance by creating a liquid in between.
When making a kraut type of fermentation, it’s all in the handwork, you will be violently ripping apart the cabbage, massaging it with salt and drowning it in it’s own juices. It’s a fun hobby!
If you don’t want the violent version, have a look at this friendly little video
In short it’s the following steps:
- Shred your cabbage, cut it in small pieces or use a mandoline to make little pieces
- Start adding the salt (i would go for a 2% of the total weight of the cabbage to start with) and massaging the cabbage with it, some juice will start to flow. When there is enough fluids, taste. If it isn’t salty enough to your taste at a bit and start massaging it once again
- Add flavoring, fruits, spices and start packing your vegetable
- Start packing it in your pot, and try to not have to much air pockets, nor to much air at the top. Top it off with a cabbage leaf that will hold all the other cabbage underneath. Ferment it for a couple of weeks, but check daily in the beginning and you will have a nice ferment at the end!
Technique 2: Brine Pickling
For this i invite you to check out our other poste
Another good video for brine based pickling:
General Checklist: Clean all work surfaces, tools and your hands with warm, soapy water, rinse vegetables in cool water, keep everything below the brine, but your jar in a relatively constant temperature, once ready, store your ferments in the fridge.
Oversalting / too sour: Sometimes it happen, you will have an oversalted sauerkraut, or a kimchi that became to sour. If it doesn’t smell weird, or looks bad, hold onto it, you still can use it as a relish in dishes instead of sauce or mix it with a good stew to create that little kick for example
Thick Brine: sometimes brine can become a bit thick, specially with red beats where it’s quite normal, but in other cases it means that the ferment was in a to hot environment. Don’t worry, put it in a cool place and let it rest for at least a month, it will be possible to save it.