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What’s this on my cultured vegetables?

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Cultured vegetables are so easy to make and almost foolproof with just a few exceptions. First of all, this is one of the safest ways to preserve your vegetables. It is scientifically impossible to get botulism from cultured vegetables. Here is a great video and post on this if you’d like further information. Fermenting Tip: Put a lid on it.

Kahm yeast on the sides of the jar.
Kahm yeast on the sides of the jar.

One of the things that people find most troublesome is what appears to be small areas of white mold growing on the surface of the cultured vegetables. There is no reason for alarm and it is not actually mold but a yeast that they call Kahm yeast. It can be found in cultured foods, but is not harmful. It can look scary and unpleasant, and even smell a little strong, but is not a harmful thing. It should be removed from the jar so it doesn’t impart a strong odor or unpleasant taste. If you can’t get it all removed and a little is left in the jar, it won’t hurt you.

This kind of thing almost never happens to me, so I spent some time this year trying to make this type of yeast appear on my vegetables to see if I could help you figure out why it happens. I have a lot of good bacteria and healthy yeast floating around my kitchen from years of fermenting and found it very difficult to reproduce this kind of thing on my vegetables. I really wanted to discover why this was happening to others and not to my ferments. Here is what I discovered from my many science projects.

Always use fresh vegetables

Fresh vegetables are key
Fresh vegetables are key

This seemed to be one of the fastest ways for this type of yeast to appear on the vegetables. I noticed it most when I used cucumbers and carrots from the store in the winter – when they had sat in my fridge for a while and I hadn’t used them right away. The sooner I used them and cultured them, the less chance I had of developing this Kahm yeast. Using fresh veggies seems to keep this from happening. If you don’t have a green thumb here are a few tips on how to grow tomatoes yourself!

Use a Culture

cutting edge2I almost always use Cutting Edge Culture to culture my vegetables. It is the best veggie culture on the market and gives you tons of good bacteria – even more than using other starters or kefir whey. I met the people who made these starters and they shared graphs and charts explaining how their cultures worked. At first I was skeptical until I witnessed for myself how powerful these starters are. You don’t actually need a packaged culture starter to make cultured vegetables. Just adding salt, water, and submerging the vegetables under the  water will allow acidifying bacteria  to create an environment for the good bacteria to become dominant, creating billions of probiotics. But then, because there is no added starter culture, the bacteria are not as strong. When you add Cutting Edge Culture, the bacteria stays at a higher level longer than other cultures and methods. Again and again I have witnessed the strength of these cultured veggies. Also, I have had very little trouble with this type of white film growing on my vegetables after I started using the Cutting Edge Culture. I love it and will sing its praises. It is my very favorite veggie starter culture.

Keep the vegetables submerged under water

Fermentation causes veggies to float to the top of the jar.
Fermentation causes veggies to float to the top of the jar.

This is one of the ways to keep white Kahm yeast from showing up on your cultured vegetables – keep them submerged under the water where the good bacteria and acidifying bacteria keep this problem at bay. However, I’m gonna shoot straight with you. I never worry about this very much. My vegetables always float up above the water while fermenting and I get a kick out of watching them bubble up and rise. This bubbling means that little microbes are doing their job fermenting my food and I love watching it. It is a thrill to me that unseen forces are making my food powerful and mighty. So what I usually do when I see they are rising above the water is simply open the jar and push them down with a spoon. Then I close the jar and leave them to do their thing. I really don’t worry about it much because my veggies don’t mold very often, and I actually have to work at it to make them do this.

Reusing your brine for another culture

One other time I have seen Kahm mold was when I used the brine from Bubbies pickles to make a brine for some new cultured veggies. They almost always mold when I do this, because they don’t use added cultures and the bacteria are not very strong. Once you begin to culture your own vegetables, you absolutely can use the brine or juice from one cultured veggie to add to a new batch. But keep in mind that over time the levels of good bacteria diminish so this can cause it to develop the Kahm yeast.

Making your vegetables in an airlock vessel

Airlock jar
Airlock jar

This can also help with any Kahm yeast and is very effective but not foolproof. If your veggies aren’t fresh or your culture isn’t strong enough there can still be problems. An airlock vessel gives you less problems than other vessels. The vegetables seem to be protected better from exposure to air which can cause the vegetables to turn brown or develop a white film.

Temperature

Letting them ferment in a cooler temperature is helpful. Cultured vegetables like it a little cooler – between 63 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit. If they do get Kahm yeast on them, simply scrape it off and place them in the fridge. The cooler temperature can often cause the yeast to stop developing.

Time and salt

Only ferment your vegetables the minimum recommended time on your counter, which is six to seven days for cabbage ferments and three days for other veggies like pickles, tomatoes, and carrots. Adding salt also inhibits the growth of undesirable pathogens, including yeasts and other microorganisms. Too much salt won’t allow lactic acid fermentation to occur fully, but too little salt can result in off flavors or mushy vegetables.

So there you have it – my science experiments to help you out with your problems and make it as easy as possible for you. I am at your service when you need my help. Even if it means destroying perfectly innocent vegetables for the sake of science.

P.S. I also hate posting ugly pictures of imperfect cultured vegetables. These are the things I do for you…..



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Log into your YouTube account, then go to http://www.youtube.com/user/CulturedFoodLife and hit the red “Subscribe” button.

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49 Responses to "What’s this on my cultured vegetables?"
  1. looked up this article to assure myself that my lacto-fermented lemonade was safe, as I though, but better safe than sorry. But I want to thank you for trying to see why this happened, it was the first time it happened to me, and I’m pretty sure I know why the lemon juice was not fresh, it was leftover from another recipe, that was going to go bad I feared if I didn’t use it soon so I made a couple of quart jars. But I do have a question, do you have any suggestions on how to ferment a mix of lemon and garlic, should I just do it as usual, and also I like raw honey in it, it’s my go to when I start feeling bad, thinking fermenting, it would make it more beneficial, and also is there a way to do it without all the salt, I have plenty of whey?

  2. I have followed your instructions and successfully fermented several jars of various vegetables. Recently, I used Caldwell’s Culture to ferment 5 half gallon jars of asparagus with a little garlic powder and fresh sliced green onions. All the vegetables remained underwater during and after fermentation. I used airlocks on all the jars. The green onions are strong smelling, but I do not mind.
    1. None of the jars bubbled during or after fermenting. All my other veggies bubbled a little. Is the asparagus okay?
    2. One jar has pale white stuff coating the asparagus UNDERWATER. The jar looks like those undersea movies with stuff covering sunken ships. When I gently shake the jar, the white stuff easily drifts off the asparagus. It does not look like Kahm’s yeast that appears above the waterline. Again, Is the asparagus okay?

    Thank you so much for your assistance. My health is improving and chronic years-long problems are disappearing!

    • Is it cloudy brine? This is a product of fermentation and is fine. These veggies don’t often bubble like krauts because they have less sugar in the veggies.

      • The pale white coating in the one jar drifted to the bottom of the jar after I gently spun the bottle several times. Now after several days, all the contents of the jars look identical and taste potent but okay. (The green onions and garlic powder are strong tasting.)

        Donna, thank you for your reassurance and for sharing your wisdom. I will tackle non-dairy kefir soon.

        Patricia

  3. Donna,
    I just pulled my fermented orange cabbage out of the cabinet. It has about an inch of darkness on top but the bottom 9/10 looks okay. Why did that happen I wonder? Is it okay to eat? I took a bite and it didn’t taste sour enough. What should I do? Eat? Not eat? Leave out or refrigerate? This is my first time fermenting. I do kombucha all the time however!!!

  4. I RECENTLY TRIED MY FIRST BATCH OF CABBAGE CARROTS AND GREEN PEPPER, IT HAS BEEN 6 DAYS I HAVN’T SEEN BUBBLES,IS THIS NORMAL? ANOTHER THING ,THEY DON’ FLOAT, ALSO THE CABBAGE LEAVES ON TOP TO HAOLD THEM DOWN ARE TURNING BLACK, IT SMELLS KIND OF SWEET SOUR,IS THIS NORMAL?

  5. I made cultured veggies for the 1st time, so I’m a little afraid of it. I followed a recipe from Real Food Real Life site with Carol Barringer, using a CULTURE STARTER, 80% green cabbage, then carrots, kale, cucumber, 1 Granny Smith apple, celery pureed in a Vitamix & bottled water. I scalded ALL equipment prior to making except my hands. This made 4+ quarts. The recipe said to barely hand tighten the plastic lids on the Ball jars to allow for overflow & not break the jars. I let it ferment for 8 days (recipe called for 7-10 days) in a water heater closet under the stairs with a 40w light bulb near, keeping the temp between 68-79 degrees. The veggies have turn from the bright fresh look to the pale yellow like kraut. NOW… here’s my question: the overflow turned dark in the glass pan the jars were sitting in. The brine in the jars are clear, EXCEPT near the top it is dark like the overflow. Did I not tighten the lids enough & this is from air getting in? More importantly IS THIS BATCH SAFE to eat? THANKS FOR TAKING TIME TO RESPOND, I know it’s long, but wanted to give all pertinent details. 🙂

    • You have a few things here going on. You don’t need to scald everything because culturing vegetables is one of the safe forms of food preservation. Washing the jar with soapy water is fine. The warm climate with the light bulb has made your veggies culture faster and really was not necessary. It probably cause them to over fermented and the dark overflow is just because the air was exposed to it and nothing to worry about. They will be fine and next time don’t make the environment so warm just leave them on the counter to ferment. I can tell you are nervous and you don’t need to be and here is a blog to help. https://www.culturedfoodlife.com/can-cultured-foods-hurt-you/

      • Thank you so much for responding so quickly! I’d been buying ready-made cultured veggies online from a link from Dr. Mercola, but it was just too expensive & wanted to make my own. I was comparing my results to theirs & mine was different (with the dark brine on top), so I was VERY nervous… scared actually. I DO feel much better now after reading your blog. Thanks again!

  6. Donna, Thank you , thank you, thank you for answering my questions!!! Now I can confidently go and make more cultured vegetables without fear!!! Happy Day!

  7. I made cultured carrots, golden beets and daikon for the first time. They fermented for 5 days. The second day I was very excited to see some bubbling and opened the jar to push down the vegetables. I used a glass jar with a metal lid but covered the lid with a piece of plastic wrap incase liquid touched the lid if it expanded. By the 4th day the whole house smelled horrible and I discovered it was the carrots. I also noticed a white slim on the bottom of the jar. Is the white on the bottom Kahm? The smell was like rotting cabbage and VERY intense. It was so awful I put everything down the garbage disposal. I was sad to do this. I want to try again but would like to know what I did wrong. From reading your blog , I am wondering if the vegetables were not fresh. I did wash everything well before packing the jars. The liquid was also very cloudy. Is that normal? Your photos seem to have clear liquid (water) . I used water from my refrigerator which has a filter.

    • The water is suppose to get very cloudy that is normal. Carrots have a lot of sugar in them and so do beets and they probably over fermented and I would recommend only fermenting for 3 days when doing this combo. The yeast was mostly likely from the veggies not being fresh. A lot of sugar in beets and carrots and they can really get things fermenting and was probably why the strong smell and beets tend to get my kahm yeast more often than other veggies.

  8. Hi Donna, I bought your book and I am making your recipe for cultured veggies Flu prevention. I put them in a crock with a lid but was also concerned it was not tight enough, so I covered it with plastic wrap and then put the glass lid on top. Would that be ok for fermenting? I followed your recipe exactly, but then I read about the crock pot was your least favorite method. My veggies are floating on surface of water and won’t stay deep in the liquid.
    I try to push them down every day. Is that floating normal?

  9. I did green beans using salt and liquid from yogurt, and the fine bubbles were incouraging, and took off some white ( the yeast you mentioned earlier?) After six days I put it in frig. It has been in there a little more than 6 weeks, but have afraid of even tasting all this time because of a case of food poisoning years ago. Should I go ahead and eat it, or should I start a new batch for peace of mind?

  10. I read about fermented cabbage that turned pink. It is supposedly yeast and you should dispose of the cabbage. I have cultured zucchini pickles with red peppers and red onions. They seem to have taken on a pink appearance. Is this yeast or just color from the pepper and onions. Don’t know if I am just paranoid. I am new to this. Thanks

  11. hi donna, My husband has high blood pressure and needs to reduce salt in his diet, how does that work with cultured vegs requiring salt ?
    I,ve begun making Kefir for us both, how do I go about Double brew ?

    Frea

  12. 1. Have you reached your 1000 mark yet for youtube channel? (Don’t think I’ve ever subscribed to a channel!)
    2. I’ve never made fermented food b4 & am scared about failing. If I have just a glass gallon jar with a plastic screw on lid, will that work? I do remember from one of your previous posts that anything hot (garlic, radishes, onions, etc) gets magnified by fermenting.
    Thanks!

  13. I have a 5 L fido jar packed with sourcraut. Opened it after 30 days, and there is an off taste plus the brine is a little syrupy. There was also foam bubbles that came out of the jar through the gasket during the ferment. Wondering if I should throw it out and start over?

  14. I’m the curious type of person. I’m wondering how those good critters in our fermented foods are able to survive the digestive process and end up in the gut at all.

    Can you shed some light on this Donna?

  15. Hi Donna!

    I am new at fermentation and only made Kombucha so far. I started some cucumbers 2 days ago in 4 different containers. 3 glass jars and one crock. The crock is wide and oblong shaped. It has some Kahn yeast on the surface. I am debating if I should put the olive oil on it, which I don’t think goes so well with pickles, the melted coconut oil, or just transfer the whole contains into other jars and containers. The glass jars seem to be doing fine, and are bubbling now, the contains from the crock are not bubbling. Also, the crock has 1 cup of kombucha in it, the glass jars don’t. Can you suggest to me what would be the best thing to do? I also only have a small jar of coconut oil and hate to waste most of it to put onto the crock surface.
    Astrid

  16. I think you have a wonderful website and tons of knowledge that I appreciate your sharing with others who are trying to improve their health. I am fairly new to culturing and have not made a lot of things other than water kefir, salsa and sauerkraut. I was wondering about the statement that cabbage was only the be fermented on the counter for six to seven days. Does this mean cabbage mixed with other vegetables or does it mean sauerkraut also? I fermented my cabbage for a month using a gallon fido jar. It is crispy and no mold, etc. After it fermented we have been storing it in the refrigerator and we have been eating on it for quite some time and it still appears fresh and good. Was I just lucky or were you referring to a different way of doing cabbage. I used the brine method as well as some water kefir for the inoculate rather than using whey. I plan to make some more soon and wanted to find out about the six to seven days question

    • Once it has fermented on the counter for six to seven days and
      this includes any ferment with cabbage the bacteria or probiotics
      start to diminish because at room temperature they ferment at a higher rate and begin to run out of food less the
      Probiotics. If you place them in the fridge the levels
      stay at a higher level longer. It doesn’t hurt to leave them out
      longer you just get more benefits.

  17. When re-using the brine, is there a standard recommendation for how much?

    For instance – I have jars of brine from some cultured carrot sticks and from a green bean salad (used Caldwell starter). I just purchased ingredients and want to culture those same things again — can I just stick the new ingredients in the brine water that I have saved in those jars in the fridge? Or do I just take part of the brine, and use some fresh water and salt? (And if I only use part of the brine – how do I estimate how much salt I need?) — Looking for some basic universal “formulas” here I guess.

    Also – I realize the potency will diminish over time, does it matter how much time goes by though in between subsequent batches? And do you just recycle the starter brine once? Or how many subsequent batches do you get out of it?

    Thanks for your time in hearing my questions.

    • You can use all the brine or just part of it, but make sure you add more water and salt if necessary to fill the jar. The sooner you reuse it the better after a while it starts to lose its potency and it just depends on how strong your bacteria is. You will be able to tell because they won’t get bubbly.

  18. Great info- and I just subscribed to your YouTube channel! I’ve been trying to win for months. Lol!

  19. Thanks for the info about mold. I did indeed scoop off the mold that appeared, and continue to eat the veggies that I had fermented, but I feel safer about doing so after reading your article.
    Thanks

  20. Donna, this post was so timely! I like to think I have tons of “just good” bacteria and yeast in my kitchen due to all the great bread, beer, kombucha and cultured veggies I make. I have seen the Kahm’s yeast you described a few times on my cultured veggies, but this week, my kombucha showed it. I just scraped it off, but is there a difference? Does it hurt the scoby or the resulting kombucha? We use a second fermentation, btw.

    Thanks for all the goodness you impart to the food world! ~Val

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