Another Option for Fermentation

Please read my update here to see why I don’t recommend this method: Oil as an Air Lock Verdict

Are you confused now?  Many of you are aware of the hoopla in the fermenting world concerning mason jars and anaerobic environments.  My timing of a review of the Pickl-It jars just happened to fall in the middle of it all.   If you aren’t aware, you can see some of what is going on here:  Lactic Acid Bacteria and the Lowly Mason Jar from Cooking Traditional Foods,  We’ve Had it All Wrong from Delicious Obsessions and a response from a few big names in the fermenting world (including Sandor Katz, swoon) Are Mason Jar Ferments Safe? from Food Renegade.

I have to admit I’ve been very surprised at the response people have had to KerryAnn’s series on anaerobic fermentation.  While some have respectfully disagreed, others have not been so respectful.  Whether you accept what KerryAnn has to say or not, she’s a smart cookie and has done her research.  I have a deep respect for her, especially for her sharing in the face of such opposition.  People are passionate about their ferments.  It seems the biggest problem people have is being told they should only ferment if they have a special system.  Heck, that turns me off too.  Finding out maybe the way we’ve been doing it for so long might not be the best way is a tough pill to swallow.  Admitting we were wrong is hard.  This was me just a month ago.  I foresee in a few months once, people have had time to process this new information, minds will start changing.  Just wait…

Where do I stand? Here is what it comes down to for me.  KerryAnn isn’t just stating her opinion, it’s scientifically proven.  She is now taking a lot of flack for putting the information out there.  Is she forcing us to change?  No.  Of course not.  But how can we make informed decisions about our health if we don’t know.  The problem comes when people who are hoping to find healing through foods hit a wall and don’t get better.  It happens a lot.  Many people just give up because they didn’t get better.  Some even get worse when they introduce fermented foods and we call it “die off”.  Maybe it’s not die off, maybe it’s a reaction to a small amount of bad bacteria.  People who are seeing good changes when adding fermented foods could get better faster if they fermented the “right” way.  Instead of shelling out money every month for probiotics in a pill, they could just eat fermented foods.  Food fermented in a truly anaerobic environment should have as much if not more probiotics than a pill.

There is no refuting that fermentation needs an anaerobic environment.  The question is how to obtain that.  I do think open air fermentation is risky to consume and don’t recommend it, especially if you are dealing with gut issues.  Burping a mason jar is obviously not anaerobic but if the food is submerged under a brine, it might not be bad.  In the almost 7 years I’ve been fermenting, I’ve only had one batch go bad and that was with using a sub par airlock system too, lol!  I do refute the idea that veggies under brine are in an anaerobic environment.  Air exchange does happen on the surface of the water and through diffusion, it mixes in the water to the ferment.  Not a lot but enough to make a difference.  KerryAnn addressed this issue here: But I Thought It Was Anaerobic As Long As It Was Under the Brine?!?

My question has been through all this, how did they ferment before Pickl-It Jars?  I don’t really want to dig a hole in my yard to bury a few jars and I don’t have any appropriate animal skins.  Aside from that, I’m thinking maybe something like this was one of the options:


What I did here was pack the curtido in my 1/2 gallon jar, weighed it down with a smaller jar full of water, added a few inches of salt brine and then a generous layer of olive oil.  So far it looks beautiful.  All the pieces that did float up to the top of the brine (has anyone ever been able to keep all of it down anyway?) are still under the oil layer.  The oil seals the top, bubbles can escape but no oxygen can get it.  Voila, anaerobic environment.  If you do this, do it in a large enough jar to allow for expanding.  Sauerkraut gets happy fast and will begin to push up.  You might need to add more oil as it gets more active to keep everything airtight.  Mine has been going for a few days now and is past the super active stage.  The layer of brine under the oil helps keep any food from poking through the layer of oil.  Both the brine layer and the oil layer should be pretty thick.

Day 3, lots of activity. Bubbles rising through the oil.

Once this kraut is done, I still need to address storing it.  Once fermentation is complete, you’ll want to keep the ferment in an airtight container.  This jar will go in the fridge for a few weeks as is.  When the activity has completely died down, I’ll remove the oil layer and transfer the kraut to a Fido jar.

Honestly, I’ll still take my Pickl-It Jars (and one day I’ll get a Harsch) and forego the oil layer but this looks like it would be a very good option for those who just can’t or don’t want to purchase a Pickl-It jar or Harsch crock.  For the long term fermenter, you still might save money with a Pickl-It over time since using enough oil to make this work will add up fairly quickly.  Will this work for all ferments?  I wouldn’t add oil to my dairy ferments or water kefir but that’s all I can think of right now.  My mother cultures (pure cultures of yogurt made with pasteurized milk that I use to inoculate my raw yogurts) I will only make in a Pickl-It jar from now on to ensure the culture stays pure.  I’m less concerned with my raw dairy yogurts being cultured in an anaerobic environment since I’ve never had a bad experience. We eat a lot of yogurt and I only have so many jars.

I’m sticking with my good, better, best scale.  I’m not sure exactly where adding an oil layer stands since I don’t have lab tests to back it up but my best guess would put it as better or maybe even best.

Good: Fermenting under a brine.

Better: Mason jar airlock system.

Best: Pickl-It or Harsch, oil layer over the top of the brine.

**I am not affiliated with Pickl-It.  Just a happy customer.

Part of Fat Tuesday

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