“You’ll never forget a cultured food that you have made. Even after you eat it, it stays with you – always.”Donna
Every day I receive many emails from people who are new to fermenting and want to do a good job. They are afraid they are going to do it wrong, mess it up, or make themselves sick. I know from their letters how hard they are trying. Fermenting foods feels so different from anything they know. Often it feels difficult, but is not – it’s just new. Fermenting is so safe and easy with no canning involved. It’s great for the summertime, and is the best and coolest way to preserve the summer produce.
Let me put your mind at ease about a few things with some common questions.
What if I don’t ferment foods right? Will I make my family and me sick?
When you ferment foods, the vegetables are submerged under water and acidifying bacteria such as Lactobacillus dominate and control the environment to keep out the pathogens. Also, there is no threat of botulism in fermented foods because of the way they are prepared. Botulism occurs in canned goods because the heat used in canning kills all of the good bacteria. When fermenting food, the healthy bacteria thrive making it impossible for the bacteria that cause botulism to survive. Here is a blog I wrote if you’d like to read more: Can Cultured Foods Hurt You?
Here is one of my favorite videos on this topic from one of my favorite fermentation gurus, Sandor Katz. I went to a fermented foods class that he taught many years ago and he awakened in me a world I had not known.
The process of fermentation preserves the food in such a way that it lasts a very long time in your fridge. I have had all of them (kefir, kombucha, and cultured vegetables) in my fridge for a year, and they were pretty sour, but still good. Remember, fermenting preserves these foods and keeps them safe; and when you consume them, they preserve you. However, if it looks or smells off, by all means, throw it out. If it has green or fuzzy looking mold or smells really awful, you will know that it is time to throw it out.
My kefir looks different compared with the last batch or my ferment didn’t bubble – should I throw it out?
No, don’t throw it out. I hear this question about kefir often. Many think that since their kefir has separated or curdled, it has gone bad. It is just a little over-fermented but is still good for you.
A comment I hear often about cultured vegetables is that they are not as bubbly as they were before. This doesn’t mean they are bad. If the vegetables rise in the jar and then taste sour, you will know they are fine. Bubbles usually occur, but not always. If the vegetables rise in the jar and push the lid up this is fine too. It’s the opposite with canned foods. A raised lid was something to always be alarmed with in canned foods, but in fermentation it is a good sign and means the good bacteria is fermenting and bubbly and doing its job. In canned foods there is no good bacteria it is all dead so a raised lid means danger.
Fermenting foods is an art and it will be unique to you. You have different temperatures and bacteria in your kitchen that are special to you. Fermenting may work slightly differently for everybody, but it still works and you will discover the magic of your own kitchen. In time, your foods will ferment better and better as you grow in your ability and confidence. You have helpers in these unseen microbes that ferment the foods and make it safe for you. They are really doing the work. If you are a Biotic Pro member, there is a great forum for questions.
If you are new to all of this, first try store-bought versions to see what you like. You can buy kefir, kombucha, and cultured vegetables in the refrigerator section of most health food stores. My favorites are Lifeway® Kefir, GT’s Synergy® Kombucha, and Bubbies® Pickles & Sauerkraut.
The journey of learning new things is the best part, so don’t miss it. Be easy about it and, even if you think you have messed it up. Here is a frequently asked question page that can help you too: Frequently Asked Questions