Lacto-fermention as a Preservation Method
Lacto-fermenting is a great way to preserve your harvest for later. This is one method of food preservation that requires no electricity, refrigeration, or cooking. It’s a great skill to have if you:
- would like to increase the nutritional content of your veggies
- would like to learn a new method of food preservation
- plan to live off grid
- wish to practice age old homesteading skills
- want to be prepared for long term power outages
Lacto-fermenting is the process by which beneficial lactobacilli alter vegetable matter, preserving it and making it easier to digest. These lacto-fermented foods are reputed to have more available vitamins, enzymes, antibiotics, and cancer fighting compounds than the raw foods they were made from.
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Small Batch Versatility
I’ve made lacto-fermented vegetables in a large crock, then transferred them to mason jars stored in my refrigerator. My grandmother used the same method to make pickles in her old ceramic crocks. I love having a big batch of pickles ‘curing’ on the counter in the summer…it makes me think of my Gram.
There are pros and cons to fermenting in large crocks. If you have a large family, or you eat a lot of fermented vegetables, the crock is a great way to preserve in big batches. It’s also pretty cool to use the same vessel used by our ancestors. However, our family of three doesn’t go through enough lacto-fermented pickles, sauerkraut, and other veggies to make this the best method for us. It’s also very nice to have the ability to make small batches of several different recipes at the same time without having big crocks sitting all over the kitchen, basement, or root cellar.
How to Ferment in Small Batches
To create small batches of lacto-fermented foods, you will need:
- non-reactive containers
- non-iodized salt
- food to ferment
- a weight to keep food submerged
- cheese cloth, plastic wrap, or a lid and airlock system to keep your ferment clean
Most recipes will call for prepared vegetables (shredded, chopped, sliced, or pounded), non-iodized salt, spices, and possibly water and vinegar. In some recipes, the brine will be created by mixing the salt with the shredded or pounded vegetables, then mixing and mashing the food to extract the natural juices. Sauerkraut is one such recipe. Other recipes will call for a brine solution made with water and salt, and possibly vinegar. My brine cured pickles are made this way. Once you have your fermentables ready, you’ll need an appropriate container to keep them clean and submerged in the brine until they are ready to eat.
I’ve made pickles and other lacto-fermented vegetables using a glass bowl, plate, plastic wrap, and sea salt. It isn’t difficult to do, but I do find this method to be somewhat messy and the ferment needs to be checked often to make sure the veggies aren’t floating to the top.
You can also create a system from your own canning jars, an airlock from a homebrewing store, a rubber gasket, canning lid with a hole puched for the airlock and gasket, screw band, and a weight to hold the food under the brine solution. You can see the basic set up in my photo of Spicy Carrot-Kraut, in which I used in a fermentation system from a company called Fermentools. This method of fermenting is pretty simple to set up and needs very little attention once the airlock is in place.
Helpful Hints for Fermenting Foods at Home
There are lots of recipes online now for home fermented veggies. Be sure that you follow the recipe and remember the following tips for a succesful fermentation:
- Use non-iodized salt. Iodine kills bacteria.
- Keep it in the dark. Sunshine kills bacteria.
- Different kinds of salt have different weights per volume. You may wish to buy a food scale for accuracy. (Some recipes use grams, percents, or specific volumes of salt for their recipes.)
- Room temperature – until you wish to slow the growth of lactobacilli.
- Keep it submerged – food that comes into contact with the air can spoil.
- Use non-reactive materials – to prevent off flavors.
- Don’t use your fingers – use a spoon to remove food from ferment to check on it’s progress.
- If it smells rancid or food is slimey, toss it out!
Once you learn to ferment your own pickles, sauerkraut, and kimchee you’ll have trouble stopping! Heck, I’ve seen recipes online for fermented ketchup…what will the fermenting crowd think of next?!
Do you ferment food? Do you have a system that you use? What is your favorite recipe?
Disclaimer: I receive advertising funds from Fermentools. If I didn’t like the Fermentools fermenting system, I would not have placed their ad on my site. I hope you like them too!