Maybe you’ve wanted to start fermenting at home, but you think, “This seems risky. There are so many things that could go wrong. Why should I make fermented food, rather than just buy it at the store?”
Kimchi, sauerkraut, miso…These are just a few of the easy-to-make, tasty fermented foods that contain probiotics. But one of the biggest debates is what are the right supplies for fermenting at home?
Read on to learn how easy it is to start setting up your supplies and kitchen for fermenting safely at home.
SANITIZING VERSUS CLEANING
Before fermenting at home, it is absolutely vital that you create and organize a clean fermenting environment. In order to ensure a safe work space, your fermentation station has to be clean, but not sanitized.
I’ve walked thousands of students through the process of fermentation so I’ve heard all kinds of stories of what can go wrong.
When cleaning your supplies and countertops, it is ok to just use warm water and soap and a clean cloth. People tend to go overboard with cleaning and one student was obsessively sterilizing everything with vinegar. From cutting boards to knives to crocks, she was pouring vinegar all over everything to create a ‘safe’ environment…or so she thought.
The reason I know she was doing this is because her ferments weren’t turning out well. She was unable to ferment even the most basic ferments like sauerkraut. Likely, the vinegar was getting on her hands and onto the cabbage she was chopping, which killed off the good wild probiotics that are needed for the fermentation process.
Another student was rinsing all of her vegetables with a vinegar water solution. Her ferments weren’t working either.
The wild bacteria that start the process of fermentation don’t come from immaculate conception. They come from the soil that the food was grown in. Just like humans have a layer of bacteria coving their entire bodies, veggies have a layer of bacteria covering them! We don’t want to sterilize or scrub all of these guys off. That’s why when I make carrot pickles, I leave the tops on the carrots after peeling them. That way, the bacteria from the little nub on top can inoculate the ferment and make it work better.
Bacteria also comes from our environment and our hands. As sanitation processes spread into traditional food cultures, gloves are recommended for food processing. I read about an Italian cheesemaker who said that she couldn’t make cheese with gloves on. She said that the cheese wouldn’t be her cheese anymore because it is her hands that make it taste the way it does. Sounds gross to some people, but she’s exactly right. The lactobacillus on her hands gets into the cheese and aids in the process of fermentation.
Bottom line? Don’t over-sanitize your fermentation space. Be clean, but not fanatical. It can actually work against you.
THE RIGHT SUPPLIES FOR FERMENTING: WHAT THE CROCK?
Crocks are used to help prevent mold and lactic acid producing bacteria. That said, it doesn’t have to be a crock—it could also be a glass container like a mason jar. Whatever you end up using, make sure it has straight sides with limited possibility for oxygen.
When it comes to fermenting, oxygen is a well-known enemy. In an aerobic (oxygen) environment, yeasts can oxidize to form acetic acids—the same thing as vinegar. Sure, vinegar is a fermented product, but that’s not what we’re trying to make here.
Also, if oxygen is present, Candida-preventing yeasts—such as Saccharomyces cerevisiae, and all the gut-friendly probiotic bacteria—cannot prosper. If the oxygen is eliminated, these beneficial bacteria and yeasts can help clear your gut of harmful bacteria.
Don’t worry. Owning a super fancy, expensive jar is not required. However, if you do use a mason jar or alternative option, setting up the jar properly according to what ferment you create is very important.
100% airtight jars can be harmful, as CO2 forms during the gaseous stage of fermentation.
This can cause your vessel to explode!
CO2 gasses must have a way to escape. If you feel comfortable setting up mason jars and making alterations, go for it! Otherwise, consider buying a high-end crock or jar with airlock sealing that can release the carbon dioxide, a byproduct of fermentation.
The best jars have rubber gaskets, and my personal favorites have airlocks. This prevents mold spores from inoculating the ferment. I recommend spending a little more money on jars because they will save you time and energy, while also ensuring the quality of your ferments! If you’re an avid fermenter, it’s totally worth it.
BEST CROCKS ADVICE
I get asked a ton of questions about what kinds of crocks to use and how to avoid mold, so I made a video.
This mini-tutorial explains my personal fermenting methods, shows off some of the most popular varieties of crocks, and lets you in on one of my favorite choices for making the best homemade probiotics with fermented veggies.
Watch this mini-lesson to learn more about the following:
- Something you have in your recycling bin that you can use right now
- Airlock vs. traditional style crocks and jars
- Size—does it matter?
- Where to score giant crocks and the dangerous kind to avoid
- Which weights to use
- And my personal favorite system!
OTHER KEY SUPPLIES YOU'LL NEED FOR FERMENTING AT HOME
Beyond the very necessary crock or storage item, there are several other tools necessary to create a safe, healthy, sanitary, and proficient fermenting space.
- Knives: You’ll want a large, quality knife able to cut through thick foods such as cabbage. If you have a dull knife, sharpen it! If you don’t own a sturdy knife, invest in one. It could last you a lifetime and is totally worth the purchase! You also will want to have a small, quality paring knife for cutting smaller items.
- Cutting board: Plastic or wood is fine. If your wooden cutting board has black spots of mold on it, please throw it out and get a new one. We don’t want mold spores ending up in your ferment. I always prefer wood over plastic, personally.
- Weights: Using anything from pickling pebbles (glass disks) to glazed ceramic weights helps keep your ferments compact inside your jar. I personally don’t recommend using rocks as weights because I’ve just had it fail too many times. I had one student buy a bunch of clear glass ashtrays from the thrift store because they fit perfectly in her jars. She sanitized them, of course, before using.
- Tamper: You can use a rolling pin as a tamper for pushing your fermented goods into your crock. Or you can buy a dedicated tamper, made specifically for this purpose. Many artisanal tampers are made and sold on Etsy.
- A rubber band and fresh, clean cloth work well to keep bugs and fingers out of the ferment.
Find some of my favorite fermentation supplies in my Amazon influencer store if you're looking for inspiration.
SUPPLIES TO AVOID WHEN FERMENTING
Plastic. I used to recommend using plastic bags as an airlock on the crock before I learned about the dangers of plastic chemicals. There are companies who ferment acidic things like sauerkraut and kimchi in plastic tubs!!! This is awful for our health because it leaches hormone disrupters into the food that get stored in our fat cells. Gross! Even BPA-free plastic contains other harmful chemicals that leach into the food. Plastic should not touch the food when it is fermenting. A plastic cutting board or bowl is not likely to cause problems as it isn’t in contact long enough to cause any problems.
WHERE TO STORE YOUR FERMENTED CREATIONS
When it comes to a storage location, you want to make sure your ferments are in an area where they can evolve efficiently. Keep them in an area away from light, free from temperature fluctuation, and UV rays that can alter your food.
“How do I know if oxygen is in my crock? What are some signs of bad set-up?”
If it looks off, it probably is. Signs of a ferment gone wrong include:
- Brown cabbage
- Yeasty odor
THE RIGHT SUPPLIES FOR FERMENTING AT HOME TAKE-AWAYS
The process of fermenting may seem overwhelming at first, but it’s actually quite simple once you have the knowledge, experience, and confidence to make them yourself. It is also worth noting that fermented foods made at home have better probiotics than the ones sold in the store for many reasons. Watch this training to learn exactly which ferments you should make and not buy to avoid GMO probiotics, imposter ferments, and chemicals from improper fermentation techniques.
This is just an introduction into the setup of fermentation. If you want to delve deeper into this topic, the Fermentationist Certification Program is the only experiential program that not only shows you how to confidently create ferments safely but also shows you how to reclaim your health naturally by balancing the microbiome.
It’s not about finding the magic bullet food that you hope will fix all your health concerns. It’s not about having your health be in the hands of someone else. It’s about learning how to make probiotics yourself in your own kitchen. You deserve to be empowered with this information.
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