Making fermented vegetables at home is an easy process if you know what you are doing. This super-healthy home-made food, when all is done properly, is a great source of vitamins, minerals and healthy gut bacteria. Fermenting microorganisms preserve the vegetables, give it fabulous taste and make our bodies healthy, strong and resilient to diseases. However, if not done properly, fermentation process can also create microorganisms that can be very harmful, make us sick, spoil the ingredients and make it taste terribly.
Here are some common mistakes of vegetable fermentation process you can easily avoid and prevent possible problems and undesired results.
Common mistakes during the process of vegetable fermentation
- Fermenting on low temperatures. It slows down, disrupts or prevents proper development of healthy microorganisms. Storage containers in which fermentation is ongoing must be placed on room temperature (65-72 F/18-22 C) until ingredients have completely fermented. When “bubbling” stops and your fermented vegetables settles, the process is usually finished and only then you should store it somewhere colder (fridge, garage or basement). Microbial development in fermentation process is gradual and goes through phases; if any of them are slowed down by low temperature, it disrupts further growth of spoilage-preventing lactic acid bacteria (LAB), which changes taste and chemical structure of food for the worse.
- Ingredients not completely submerged into liquid (floating). Fermentation is “anaerobic” process: it happens without the presence of oxygen. If vegetables float and have contact with oxygen, it will start development of dangerous bacteria, yeasty odor, mold, slime etc. Make sure your souring ingredients have no contact with oxygen (keep them pressed inside liquid with fermentation weights) and your homemade fermented vegetables will be just fine.
- Tiny containers. Successful bacterial development needs mass; it’s better to ferment your vegetables in bigger jars/pots and after it’s finished store it into smaller containers, than to fill tiny containers with raw ingredients and leave it there to ferment (this is especially true for proper fermentation of sauerkraut).
- Soft and mushy vegetables. This happens for variety of reason: not enough salt, too warm culturing temperature or vegetables with high percentage of natural enzymes that reduce crunchiness (cucumbers). You will avoid this by carefully choosing the right amount of salt (2-2,5% of salt per weight), keeping storage containers in room temperature and adding tannin-containing agents (chunks of horseradish, black tea leaves or grape leaves). It will not disrupt fermenting and you will keep the crunchiness of your fermented vegetables.
- Hermetically closed containers. Although fermentation jars, pots and other containers should be closed with some kind of lid, while process of fermentation is ongoing it’s not a good idea to seal them air-tightly (no air comes in or goes out). While “bubbling”, bacteria produce carbon dioxide that can bulge, burst and break containers which are sealed too tight. It’s best to cover them only lightly (sometimes a clean cloth is all you need) – it will not start growth of unwanted mold as long as vegetables are tightly submerged into liquid (keep it down with weights). Once the fermenting process has ended (usually after four weeks) you can seal the lids more tightly.
These are the top 5 common mistakes that should be avoided in the process of making fermented vegetables at home. If you have more specific problems or questions feel free to comment below and we will do our best to answer them.