Learn how to ferment EVERYTHING and ANYTHING by following these basic fermentation rules. Whether you want to ferment vegetables, dairy, sourdough or beer, follow these rules for FERMENTATION SUCCESS!
Try to embrace any ounce of OCD nature that you may have. You need to keep everything as clean as possible to avoid contamination. If you’re planing on keeping your ferments for long-term storage then this is even more important. Aim for sterile and you won’t fail.
I’m the first to admit that I am far from sterile; so I’ve had to throw away sauerkraut, sourdough and kefir. And I once accidentally grew a mother on top of my yogurt (something that was not expected, I assure you). Learn from my mistakes and keep it clean.
Fermenting at the right temperature is one of the main ways to keep the good bacteria in and the bad bacteria out. I generally specify somewhere warm or somewhere cool.
Somewhere warm means that the culture is happiest around 21 C (70 F). Stash those ferments near your hot water heater or above the fridge. In general, grain likes to ferment at 21 C.
Somewhere cool means that the culture is happiest around 18 C (65 F). Vegetables like to ferment at 18 C.
Take into consideration seasonal variations in temperature. In the winter you might need to culture your sourdough a wee bit longer because of the cold. And in the summer you might need to only ferment your sauerkraut for a few days rather than weeks because of the heat.
Once you’re done fermenting, always store your ferments somewhere cool. Traditionally this was a cellar or cold room, but I store my ferments in the refrigerator. Rule #1 cleanliness still applies during storage. So don’t double dip your pickle fork.
Check out this amazing fermentation fridge from Tracebridge.
If your ferment looks funny, smells funny or tastes off, then don’t eat it. Every ferment walks the line between the yummy yeasts and bacteria that we want to grow, and those that cause food poisoning.
The goal of fermentation is to create an environment that favours a healthy culture. If a culture is thriving, then any invaders won’t be able to take hold. This generally involves keeping your fermentation at a particular temperature, keeping it anaerobic, and/or balancing the salinity and pH of the fermenting environment.
It is also important to have a happy and vigorous starter. Many cultures start with a “mother“, a SCOBY, grains, etc. Treat your culture like a pet (because they are alive and like to be loved). Take good care of your culture (regular feeding, exercise and attention) so that your culture will do a good job of keeping unwanted bugs out of your fermentation. You should even consider naming your culture, because if you do a good job of taking care of it, then it will become a family heirloom.
Cultures can cross contaminate each other. So if you plan on keeping several different types of similar cultures (ie, yeast cultures, or lactic cultures), then either don’t have them out of the fridge at the same time, or if you do, ferment them in separate rooms.
The reason why my yogurt grew a mother is because I had milk kefir sitting out on my counter at the same time. The kefir culture decided to colonize my pots of yogurt. The result, though edible, wasn’t exactly what I was looking for.
All of this leads to my disclaimer: if you choose to eat something weird, like pink kefir or molding sauerkraut, and it makes you sick… then that is YOUR fault… not mine. I am in NO WAY condoning bad food! Fermented food is delicious. If it’s not delicious then it’s probably not fermented… it’s just gone bad.
What should you do with bad food?
Sigh. Throw it out. And try again.