Fermentation 101

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Making sauerkraut.

Books upon books have been written about fermentation. This is by no means meant to be an exhaustive post on the subject; this is a basic overview of fermentation and the science/art (scart?) of fermenting.

I hope to lure you into the wonderful world of friendly bacteria and yeasts with words of infectious excitement and mouth-watering pics of the delicious and nutritious foods we get when we put the little microscopic critters to work!

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Fermented honey garlic.

Vocabulary:

  • Fermentation – the process that takes place when we create an environment where bacteria and yeast that are good for our health can thrive. Lactobaccilli and yeast partially digest foods for us, which makes more phytonutrients bioavailable. Fermentation slows in cooler environments.
  • Salt – for our purposes, when I refer to salt for fermentation I mean salt with no iodine added. The more natural, the better. Canning or pickling salt will work. I prefer pink Himalayan salt.
  • Water – when I mention water for brine, I mean pure water. Distilled, filtered, or good spring water all work. Never use tap water from a municipal source; we don’t want chlorine in our ferments.
  • Brine – a combination of salt and water that is the medium for most of our ferments. Some “non”-brine ferments include honey fermentation or self brines. Salt-to-water percentages for safe brines range from 2-4% by weight. To calculate a 3% brine, multiply the weight of your water by .03. Add the product in weight of salt to the water and stir until dissolved. Pour that brine over what you intend to ferment. Make and add more brine if necessary.
  • Self brine – for these ferments, we use liquid from the vegetables and/or fruits we ferment for the water content. Examples include cabbage, peppers, lemons, or tomatoes. To calculate a safe percentage of salt to add, we weigh our vegetables and multiply their weight by 2-10% for the weight of salt to add. I add 2.5-3% salt by weight to cabbage for sauerkraut; I add 7-8% salt by weight to pepper mash.
  • Headspace – the space between the top of the ferment and bottom of the container lid. This space needs to be small (1/4 to one inch), as the presence of oxygen makes our ferments susceptible to mold growth. A healthy ferment produces CO2 that displaces oxygen in the headspace. Too small of a starting headspace, depending on the ferment, can result in the ferment expanding into an airlock and out of the container.
  • CO2 – active ferments produce carbon dioxide. This gas can be seen as bubbles rising through the fermentation medium. CO2 needs to be released, while oxygen needs to be kept out. That’s why we use airlocks or finger-tight lids. If using finger-tight lids, you need to “burp” the jar 1-2 times a day. Simply loosen the lid to the point it is almost completely loose, then finger-tighten it back again.
  • Yeast – wild yeast is present on all non-irradiated vegetables and fruits and in raw honey. Locally-grown produce with more local yeast might be best for us. However, most yeast/alcoholic ferments use store-bought yeast introduced for its characteristics. Special yeasts ferment faster, more effectively, withstand higher alcohol levels, and produce a better tasting product. The only yeast ferment I do for food is sourdough, which is a short 8-36 hour process.
  • Lactobaccilli – these bacteria are also present on non-irradiated produce and in raw honey. As with yeast, I also say the more local the better for bacteria for your gut health. Bacteria form colonies on produce, with many dominating and regressing in cycles depending on the acidity, temperature, and nutrient levels in ferments. The most useful for us is lactobaccilli. This bacteria produces lactic acid and gives us common foods like yogurt, cheese, and sour cream.
  • Processing – processing ferments is necessary to stop the fermentation process and/or make some fermented foods ready to eat. Heating a ferment to 185* for ten minutes kills all bacteria. Vinegar, in the proper concentration, also stops fermentation. Some foods, like sauerkraut, I never process so I can get all the good bacteria for my gut!
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Pressing juice as I prepare preserved lemons.

What you need:

  • Container – always use a glass, a ceramic, or a food grade, BPA-free plastic container for fermentation. NEVER USE METAL. Fermentation creates an acidic environment, and acid corrodes metal. If you only have metal lids for Mason jars, you can use them. However, keep the ferment from contacting the metal lids as much as possible. You can place a coffee filter between the ferment and the lid, but remove or replace it once it gets wet. I use Mason jars of all sizes, preferably wide-mouth, for my ferments. For larger ones, I prefer plastic buckets (food grade!).
  • Airlock – airlocks are designed to let gas escape from a ferment while keeping oxygen out. They are inexpensive and safer than a finger-tight lid, cheesecloth, latex glove, or other means. I have about a dozen.
  • Salt
  • Water
  • Produce – you can ferment just about anything: peppers, tomatoes, garlic, carrots, beans, cucumbers, okra, cabbage, lemons, ginger, mustard seeds, and honey are just a few!
  • A kitchen scale – I wholeheartedly recommend a digital scale that weighs in grams. They are inexpensive (<$20) and make successful ferments pretty much fool proof.
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Fermented mustard.

What to do (brine):

  1. Sanitize container and wash produce. Cut and/or remove stems, seeds, etc. if necessary.
  2. Pack vegetables/fruit into container.
  3. Prepare a 2.5-3.5% brine.
  4. Pour brine over produce until fully submerged.
  5. Cover and put in a dark place.
  6. Move or shake gently to disturb the top of the ferment 2-14 times per week, making sure all fruit/vegetables remain submerged.
  7. Taste after a few days.
  8. Enjoy!

What to do (self brine):

  1. Sanitize container and wash produce. Cut, puree, and/or remove stems, seeds, etc. if necessary.
  2. Weigh produce to be fermented.
  3. Weigh out 3-7% of produce weight in salt.
  4. Pack vegetables/fruit into container, evenly distributing salt as you go.
  5. Press produce to extract juices.
  6. Add regular brine if necessary to submerge all fruits/vegetables.
  7. Cover and put in a dark place.
  8. Move or shake gently to disturb the top of the ferment 2-14 times per week, making sure all fruit/vegetables remain submerged.
  9. Taste after a few days.
  10. Enjoy!
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Hot pepper mash ready to ferment. Notice the air bubbles in the jars; I shook and tamped the jars to remove those!

That’s it! Those are the basic guidelines for fermenting fruits and vegetables. Go grab what you need and try it yourself–you’ll be glad you did!

Made Alive Together With Christ

Following are lyrics to “Made Alive Together With Christ” with notes on each line. The main passage that inspired the song is Ephesians 2. This went through several name changes and major rewrites, even complete discarding of verses and choruses, which is tough for me. But it’s better for it. Every single word was debated and is very intentional.

I used to write songs and then find Bible verses to fit in with the lyrics. Now, with a higher view of and reliance on the Word of God, I write lyrics directly according to Scripture–I go to the source first and seek to express those truths with accuracy, brevity, and poetry. I’ll also draw inspiration from great quotes by brothers and sisters in Christ.

//1
Separated by a sea of sin [Isaiah 59:1-2; Romans 3:23; Ephesians 4:18]

Wretched, filthy, blind and hopeless, then [Isaiah 64:6; John 9:39; 1 Corinthians 2:14; 2 Corinthians 4:4]

God became a man, my soul to win – my soul to win [John 1:14]

Once, no nature but unrighteousness [Romans 5:12]

Child of wrath and disobedience [Ephesians 2:2-3]

Now, redeemed at the God the Son’s expense – at His expense [Ephesians 1:3-10]

 

//C
To salvation, sin is all I bring [“You contribute nothing to your salvation except the sin that made it necessary.” Jonathan Edwards]

In return: a Prophet, Priest, and King [Westminster Shorter Catechism Q23 and related verses]

Now forgiven, to the wondrous cross I cling [Psalm 63:8; Psalm 103:10-12; Galatians 2:20 Philippians 3:10-11]

Made alive together with Christ [Ephesians 2:1-5; Colossians 2:13]

 

//2
Once, to sin and death I was enslaved [John 8:34; Romans 6:6]

By His grace, through faith, I have been saved [Ephesians 2:8]

To abundant life, now I am raised – now I am raised [John 10:10; Ephesians 2:6]

Stranger to the Promise, now brought near [Ephesians 2:12-13]

By the blood of Jesus Christ so dear [Ephesians 2:12-13]

For the Light has come; whom shall I fear? Whom shall I fear? [Psalm 27:1; 2 Corinthians 4:6]

 

//3
He, our Peace, has broken down the wall [Ephesians 2:14-22]

Giving faith that overcomes the Fall [Jude 1:3]

To the saints delivered once for all – once and for all [Jude 1:3]

We, who once were lost, but now are found [Luke 19:10]

Though we drink of earthly sorrows now [“Jesus sat in the midst of joy sipping the coming sorrow, so we can sit in the midst of sorrow and sip the coming joy.” Tim Keller, from a sermon about the Cana Wedding]

Soon before His glory, we’ll bow down – we shall bow down [Philippians 2:9-11; 1 John 3:2]

Ryan Cornett, 2019.