As promised, here are the answers to your questions from my Facebook page “What Fermenting FAQs you would like to see answered on a future post.”

Many of these issues/concerns are covered in more detail in my book, Lisa’s Counter Culture: Pickles and Other Well-Bred Foods. So if you don’t already have a copy, I highly recommend you grab one.

A quick assumption is that you are using an anaerobic vessel such as the Probiotic Jar. For issues with mason jars, I would advise you to reconsider changing your jars to something airtight.

Here are some related posts that address some basic fermenting issues.

Ready? Let’s go!

Do I need to sterilize my jars like I do when I can?

The short answer is no. It’s important to have a clean and completely dry jar before adding your ingredients to ferment. The purpose of fermenting is to encourage beneficial bacteria and yeasts to grow and thrive. However if you have issues with mold or fungus in your home or had a previous batch that contaminated your jar, it’s time to sterilize it.

Should I peel my veggies?

Maybe. If you are using organic, pesticide free vegetables from mineral rich soil, than there is no need to peel. As a matter of fact, the outer skin is full of the beneficial bacteria we want to cultivate. If you are using conventional produce or produce of questionable origin, than peeling might be a good choice.

How do I avoid mold despite using sterilized equipment?

Mold can be attributed to a few different scenarios.

  • The mold was already present on the ingredients being added to the jar.
  • The salinity was not sufficient. (You didn’t use enough salt)
  • The airspace was not correct. Fill your jars with no more than 25% airspace at the top to start. I suggest to the shoulder of the jar, but the minimum is 75% full.
  • The container was not properly clean and dry or properly used. In the case of using the anaerobic jar, the seal, the d-ring or the airlock was not used correctly or may have had a piece missing. Don’t forget to add water to the airlock!
  • The temperature was too high or too low.
  • The jar was not protected from direct UV light.

Basic rules for fruit ferments? Like salsa or chutney?

I don’t recommend fruit ferments other than salsa or chutneys. Careful attention to temperature, salinity and duration is critical since fruit ferments can easily go to alcohol.

Here are some basic rules:

  • Leave out the vinegar and/or whey.
  • For every cup of fruit, add 2 tablespoons lemon or lime juice AND 5 grams of salt
  • After you add the mixture to your jar, use a spoon to make sure all the chopped fruit pieces are below the liquid. Remove air pockets by stirring.
  • Ferment at room temperature (if below 74°F) for 5 to 14 hours with the airlock. Move to fridge.
  • If room temperature is higher than 74°F but below 82°F, ferment for 2 hours and finish fermenting in the fridge.
  • Ferment away from direct light.

What do you do if you can’t get ideal fermenting temperatures? Our home is always  too cool so it took my ketchup too long to ferment and I got mold. Is there anyway to ferment in cooler temps? Like 65?

This is a two-part question.  First let’s look at temperature. Ferments are temperature sensitive. I have specified the appropriate temperature ranges with each recipe in my book and on my website. Some ferments like warmer temperatures like dosa and kefir (75°F to mid 80°F) but most vegetables do best around 70°F to 74°F (except cabbage-based should be below 70°F). You will need to pay particular care when fermenting anything with cabbage. If your home temperatures are too cold for some ferments (like dosa and kefir) consider using a seedling heat pad, a year-round heating system with dimmer from Kombucha Kamp or dehydrator to keep your ferments at their ideal temperatures.

Secondly, I wonder if you are truly fermenting ketchup. Please read my post Ketchup Truths. If cooked tomatoes or tomato paste is the base, than you are making ketchup vinegar which is likely why mold can develop.

I tried fermenting salsa last summer, but it was so terribly salty that we couldn’t even eat it. Is there any other way to ferment salsa (tomato) without using 1 or 2 tablespoons of sea salt?

Please see the prior question of guidelines for fruit ferments. Here is a good example why salt should be weighed and not measured. You need 5 grams of salt for 1 cup of fruit. For example, if you were making a liter of salsa with my recipe, the amount of salt added is 5 grams. This is much less than a tablespoon or two. The final product should not taste salty when the ferment is done properly. Be sure to check out my watermelon salsa recipe!

Any issues for fermenting for the dairy sensitive?

Lactofermentation is often confused as being dairy-related because of the prefix “lacto.” This is not accurate. It does include dairy ferments, but the term itself refers to the bacteria that are created, lactobacillus or lactic acid bacteria (LAB). This is an important distinction because this allows individuals who are lactose or casein intolerant to still benefit from lactofermented foods. There are plenty of nondairy options for fermenting. Vegetables, condiments, water kefir are all excellent and delicious options.

A note on being dairy sensitive: If you are lactose sensitive, than starting with a raw milk ferment like kefir (made anaerobically) may be well tolerated since the enzyme lactase (which is what breaks down lactose) is present in the raw milk and the fermentation further reduces the lactose. If you are allergic, than please do not experiment without consulting your health professional.

I’ve had a couple of ferments using whey get thick and stringy (beet kvass and kimchi) Why is this happening?

Whey is a dairy culture, which is not useful or necessary for vegetable ferments. Whey actually interferes with the natural stages that LAB bacteria need to reach the correct pH and nutrient development as well as breakdown and consume the antinutrients. End product LABs are different than initial LAB.
If you were fermenting in a mason jar or another vessel where air is able to get in and out, then the whey serves as an inoculant or vaccine for your ferment. Another negative of using jars that are not airtight is that the salt content has to be higher and the duration of the ferment is cut short to avoid spoilage and mold. But a shortened duration does not allow the ferment to complete all the stages of LAB fermentation.

I’m reading in advance of attempting sourdough–an aerobic process? How do you capture wild yeasts if you ferment anaerobically?

Sourdough can be done anaerobically. I would recommend using water kefir grains to provide the yeasts. KerryAnn from Cooking Traditional Foods has a great recipe for making your starter anaerobically.

I don’t think my ferments are bubbly enough. What am I doing wrong?

I need more information on what specific ferments you are referring to. The absence of bubbling is not a clear sign that the ferment is not progressing correctly. Some ferments tend to be more bubbly than others. Bubbling or fizz tends to be a sign of happy yeasts. Please email me if the other FAQs on this post do not address your questions.

What is Kahm yeast? What does it look like? How do you handle it? Toss? Ignore & eat? What kind of environment favors its production?

Yeast plays an important roll during lactofermentation. Kahm yeast is rare in anaerobic ferments but it does sometimes happen. Kahm yeast looks white, velvety, and powdery. Although harmless, Kahm yeast is something you don’t want to overgrow since it affects the flavor of the ferment. Kahm yeast is typically caused by under salting or exposure to air. If your jars are clean, add enough salt so the ferment is sufficiently acid (primarily when it’s started), and use airtight jars then it won’t happen. If it does, you can safely skim it and add more brine (2% salinity). Kahm yeast is often cultivated for a yeast starter for beer, ale, or bread.

I hope you found this post helpful and please feel free share this post and add comments. I LOVE to hear from you.


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