It's not hard to figure out that I love fermentation. Bread is one of the most common ferments in my life, been doing it for years, and I make bread often. But there are many other forms of fermenting that exist and although I've experimented, I really want to expand in that area of the food world. Doing a lot of studying and trying new things, I want to start creating more ferments in my life for sustainable purposes and for the health benefits.
The holidays brought a couple new tools into my life, one of which is a water seal fermentation crock. These types of fermentation vessels originated in Asia. They use a little moat of water where the lid sits creating a seal to prevent air from getting in while also allowing any build up of gas to escape safely. I've done a couple lacto ferments before in mason jars and they work great but you do have to burp them, or release the gas 1-2 times a day. This is easy enough but by using the water seal I don't have to do this and I can effectively keep any air or more specifically oxygen from getting in.
When lacto fermenting, ideally I want a oxygen free environment. The idea is to allow lactobacilli to ferment the fruits and/or vegetables into a stable and healthy food. Lactobacilli are anaerobic, meaning they live without the presence of oxygen. If there is some oxygen they still are there but this allows other molds or yeasts to potentially grow on the surface of the ferment. At the end of the day they aren't always harmful but again I specifically want the lactobacilli to do the work I need them for. Plus I don't want to lose a top layer of a ferment to yeast growth.
Like I mentioned, I have done this before. I started like probably most people with the common ferments, kimchi and sauerkraut. Both in mason jars. Both turned out well. But since making them I have learned more about how lactobacilli work and how you can use this simple method for a multitude of different fruits and vegetables to get delicious flavors of fermented foods, get gut healthy bacteria in your diet, and this breaks down the food slightly to allow more nutrients to be absorbed. Lactobacilli naturally live on most fruits and vegetables so it's a lot easier than you may think to do this at home. The one thing you need to add is salt!
Salt is going to create the best environment for lacto fermentation. First off, salt is hygroscopic so it takes water out of its environment. Think of how lumpy it can get over a humid summer. When salt is applied to plants it will pull the water from the cells themselves. When this happens it creates its own brine for the produce to then sit and ferment in. Lactobacilli just so happen to be one of the few members of micro-life that survive in salty environments! The salty brine allows lactobacilli to flourish, taking over the ferment. As long as the produce stays under the brine the lactobacilli will have control and ferment it the desired way.
When making these ferments you may need to add additional brine to the ferment if the produce doesn't have enough water to cover itself. This is also the method of fermenting full vegetables like a head of cabbage or whole cucumbers into pickles. Chopping the produce exposes more surface area, more surface area means more water available for the salt to make a brine. I like to always include some type of cabbage or water heavy produce to make sure this happens and use other fruits and vegetables to play with the flavor along with spices and herbs. This is where you can really have some fun and play with your ferment!
The recipe for lacto fermentation is super simple. You need a mixture of vegetables and/or fruits, spices and herbs you want to use, and then salt. This can be as simple as just salt and cabbage for a sauerkraut or throw things together and make a nice mix of different flavors. Once you know what you want to ferment, weigh it all together to figure out the salt content. When you do this, WEIGH EVERYTHING. Spices, herbs, all of it. Then take 1.5-2% of that weight and add that amount of salt. Here's an example: say you have a mixture of green cabbage, carrots, dried peppers, and a little ginger. All together it weights 250g....... 250g x 0.015 = 3.75g salt on the low end. Always start low, mix together, taste, and adjust adding more as you feel necessary. Let's talk more about the first fun ferment I did with my new crock.
Recently I signed up for a Misfits Market box. I am just starting out with it so I won't say how I feel about it so far until I spend a few more weeks to get a better idea of how it is. Anyway, the produce in the box is great but it does have to be used up fast. This first box I got some pears and cucumbers. Cut them up and put them in a bowl. I also added come red cabbage to help start that strong lactobacilli work and an orange just to see how it goes with citrus in a ferment. To add some extra flavor I used some fresh rosemary that I had, some peppercorns and to finish off the more pickle flavor a little dried celery flake and fennel seeds. It was a lovely mixture to toss and just look at.
Like I mentioned before, I like a cabbage or water heavy veggie to help make sure to get a lot of brine. I chopped up all the produce and tossed it in a bowl together. Once it was all prepared I weighed it into a new bowl to get a final weight of 323g. I added a little extra rosemary and and peppercorns to get it to 325 for an easy and even number. From there multiplied it by 0.015 and added 4.9g standard kosher salt. I have a few fun salts but don't want to play with those yet. I do want to point out that you should NOT use any iodized salt as the iodine can reduce the activity of the lactobacilli. After tossing and tasting I wanted a bit more salt so added a pinch (probably about 0.3 grams, honestly don't know) and it was perfect.
Once mixed together the salt doesn't pull water immediately. It takes a little time. I helped jump start this by beating up the mixture. You can do this multiple ways. Some will use a wooden pestle, you can simple squeeze the produce. I like the punch method, literally punching down into the bowl to bruise and help break down the cell walls. If you do punch just be safe not to break anything. It's not a lot of force but enough to start breaking open and releasing the water. I wanted to make sure I got enough brine so after punching I let the mixture sit in the bowl for about 10 minutes. I checked it again and it had a lot more juice so I packed it into the crock and pressed it down to make sure as much juice and brine was coming out.
My crock also came with ceramic weights. When I did the jar method I used a smaller jar filled with water to weigh down the produce to keep it under the brine. This is another reason a crock is helpful. I did read online that it's best to soak the weights prior to use so they don't soak up the brine itself. After everything was in and weighed down, it was time to place the lid and fill the moat with water. It doesn't take a lot but it's a simple step and make sure it's as full as possible. Also make sure it's where you want to store it a few days so you don't spill water! Learned that the hard way....
I started with a daily check to see how it was going. It started to ferment pretty quickly and had some bubbling when I peaked inside after the first night! I also check the water level at this point to make sure it's seal well and won't all evaporate by the next day.
On Day 5 I decided to do a taste test. The crock had a nice fermented smell similar to sauerkraut but was not as strong as the last time I made it. I'm a believer in sampling to see how it's doing since it can sometimes take a few days and sometimes take weeks. It's all an experiment based on environment and the ingredients inside so sample it and see how it's doing! On this first sample it was okay. Not super strong in flavor and had a strong bitter flavor, probably from the orange peel. I covered it back up and let it keep going.
Day 7 I did a another taste test. This time the bitter flavor had started to weaken. It was stronger and similar to a pickle in flavor but since the bitterness was starting to go I wanted to see if it would disappear. I did notice a but of something growing on one of the weights. Since they are exposed to more air this can happen so I took them out for a quick wash and put them right back. The ferment seemed to be slowing down and since I hadn't had many issues with things growing like in the past I figured this crock with a water seal was a great method and decided to just let it go for a few more days without checking on it. The only thing I did was check the water so that it was nice and full. Other than that I just let it sit in the corner of the kitchen and ferment away.
When Day 10 rolled around I wanted to check in again. At this point the flavor was pretty much the same from Day 7. There was a lot of bubbles so I knew it was still making some magic but thee flavor had developed and wasn't really going anywhere. I decided at this point to jar it up and get the crock washed. During the removal process I double checked the crock, no growth of mold or yeasts and it looked really good. I took the oranges out during this time since they were there for flavor and not really to consume. The centers had lost their juices and didn't have much else to offer that I could think of.
Overall this was a great first round in my new crock. I'm already thinking about what I should do next so keep an eye out for that. I'll keep it open to discuss and learn more about ingredients that work or not. This time I will say the orange was not the wisest decision. Next time I'll leave citrus out or if I do want to use some I'll use just the meat or peel it. The important thing is that white pith that is super bitter. Have to to keep that out to avoid bitterness in the final flavor.
If you decided the do some lacto fermenting at home leave a comment and let me know what you did! It's always great to see what others try to ferment and how the overall flavor and experience go for you too!