Capturing foods in season and transforming them into something entirely different, shelf-stable, and nutritious is part of what we love about the fermentation process.
Fermentation is the microbial transformation of raw or cooked foods to a more preserved state that has a complex, unique flavor profile. These microbes, mostly bacteria and yeast, convert sugars into acids, gases, and sometimes alcohol. Microbes make up a diverse bacterial community and have an enormous impact on the flavors of the foods we eat.
Beneficial bacteria help to promote health in our own bodies and throughout our communities. A diet rich in fermented foods helps to regulate the immune system and metabolism as well as support mood and brain function. No wonder everyone is interested in fermentation.
Having the right fermentation tools makes this time-honored method of preserving vegetables easier and more fun for everyone. Here are some of our favorite fermentation tools and tips.
To get started fermenting vegetables and making other cultured foods and beverages at home, check out Sandor Katz’s book The Art of Fermentation.
Before transferring prepped vegetables into a fermentation vessel, it helps to have the larger surface area of a bowl to prepare the salt brine. Ceramic, glass, or metal bowls won’t absorb the brine and are easy to clean and maintain. Generally speaking, one tablespoon of salt will suit 2 to 3 pounds of vegetables, and the vegetables should be massaged for up to 3 minutes to fully incorporate the salt.
Cotton towels are a versatile way to cover ferments while keeping dust and bugs away. Make sure to secure with string or rubber band.
Fermentation crocks are perfect for making sauerkraut, kimchi, and pickles. The jars utilize a water seal to create an oxygen-free environment during fermentation. Any oxygen originally in the jar is displaced when carbon dioxide, naturally created during fermentation, bubbles through the water seal.
After preparing vegetables for fermentation, leave a few inches of space below the very top of the jar and use weights to make sure all ingredients are submerged in brine water. Fill the water seal rim ¾ full with water and continue to replenish during fermentation. Do not open jar until you think the ferment is ready — some people prefer quick ferments (5-10 days), while others prefer longer ferments (3+ weeks).
Glass jars are helpful for beginners to be able to see the process and timing of fermentation. This will also allow you to make sure the vegetables stay fully submerged in brine to avoid mold growth.
A good knife is an essential tool in any kitchen. Keeping your knife sharp will help with chopping, dicing, and slicing your vegetables to be fermented.
Keeping vegetables under brine facilitates the anaerobic environment preferred by lactic acid bacteria. Smooth, non-porous rocks work as pickling weights — just make sure to scrub and boil them before each use.
The Pickl-It is a versatile jar that includes an airlock filled with 1 ½ tbsp of water that helps to release excess carbon dioxide. Just add salt brine to sliced, whole, or shredded vegetables, top with the included weights, add water to the airlock, and wait desired amount of time.