Fermenting 101: Add the Water.. Tomorrow

Lactofermenting vegetables is easy:

  • Cut (and generally peel vegetables)
  • Crush them with your hands a bit (to break down the cell structure; there are exceptions like whole pickles
  • Add salt (3%-5% or about 2-3 tablespoons of coarse salt per quart of veggies)
  • Top with unchlorinated water
  • Submerge (often with a weight) and leave in a warmish place in your house.
  • Check daily and remove mould or froth.
  • Taste often.  They’re generally ready in 5-30 days though some recipes or ingredients vary.

Simple, right?  In a word – yes.

But a lot of recipes seem to call for adding water the moment you add the salt.  And, while this technique will work, I generally prefer leaving the salt on the vegetables for a few hours (and even over night) instead.  This leaves the vegetables in a high percentage of salt to start the process which draws our water from the vegetables in a hurry.  I believe this leads to crisper pickled vegetables and I prefer the taste.

If course the world of fermentation allows for great experimentation so you may prefer the water right away – buy you’ll never know unless you try both!

Which way do you ferment (or do you do it differently each time)?

8 Ways to Ferment Food Faster

I will admit that I’m a bit of a speed freak.  I tend to move fast and Dana will gladly tell you that I generally have two speeds – FAST and SLEEP.

I’m also conscious that it’s important to slow down and enjoy life.  This is especially true of preserving; it’s not a race and a measured pace can lead to a lot of enjoyment.  And, in the case of fermenting, it’s arguable that a longer approach can yield better tasting (and perhaps even more nutritious results).  I’m a fan of slowing down but sometimes you need results fast.

Note: slow ferments are often crunchier, richer in flavor, will last longer and some argue that they produce more probiotics.  There is a trade-off for speed but it’s good to have options!

Lactofermentation vegetables (like sauerkraut or pickles) is easy but can take weeks.  There are ways to speed up the process; you can use these tips to slow down a ferment by doing the opposite (i.e. using more salt instead of less in tip 1).

How to Ferment Food Faster

  1. Use less salt.  Salt will slow fermentation; less salt will speed it up.
  2. Add other bacteria (such as brine from another active ferment or whey).
  3. Keep the ferment in a warm spot (be careful not to be too warm; temperatures in the high 70s can slow and eventually prevent fermentation).
  4. Peel hard vegetables (like carrots or pickles).  This allows water to be pulled from the vegetables faster.
  5. Crunch the vegetables thoroughly (like cabbage).  As you crunch them it helps break down their structure and helps water escape faster.
  6. Cut the vegetables as thin as possible (increasing the exposed surface area and allowing water to escape faster).
  7. Cut the vegetables the same width (using a grater or a mandoline).  Inconsistent width will lead to inconsistent fermenting times.
  8. Allow the vegetables to sit in salt for 8-10 hours before covering with water.  I can’t prove that this speeds up the process but I am confident it speeds the fermenting process as the salt isn’t diluted at the start and the increased percentage of salt will draw liquid rapidly from the vegetables (often eliminating the need to add much water at all the next day).

The first 3 tips can be done to any ferment while the last 5 will only work if you use them when you’re making your ferment!

How do you speed/ slow your fermentation?

When is the Best Time to Make Sauerkraut?

Right now.

I’m not really being tongue-in-cheek.  If you’ve never fermented before, you really should give it a try.  I’m writing this article at 9:10PM.  I left the house at 6:50AM and got home from work 10 minutes ago.  Dinner is warming in the oven (leftover lasagna) and I’m going to make a batch of sauerkraut before relaxing the the rest of the night.

I’ll start by shredding cabbage and carrots.  I’ll use far more cabbage but I won’t measure the ratio.  I’ll stop shreddiing when I have two quarts of shredded vegetables.

I’ll add some garlic and 4 tablespoons of salt.  I’ll crush the mixture in my hands for a few minutes and leave it in a jar, covered overnight.  If I use a food processor it should take 10 minutes.  If I chop by hand, 15.

Tomorrow I’ll cover the vegetables with unchlorinated water and place a smaller jar on top of the cabbage to force it under the water.  I’ll leave it covered in a warm spot in my kitchen and begin tasting after day 2.  It will take 1-4weeks depending on the warmth of my kitchen.

Fermenting really is that easy.  And it’s incredibly gratifying.  So, won’t you come along and join in?

Lime Pickle Recipe

Pickles made from limes?  Why, yes!

They are sour, spicy and savory all at once.  Bite-sized pieces of lime (skin and all) are fermented and aged for several weeks or months (these aged for almost two months over the winter).  They’re easy to make and versatile to cook with; you can eat them on their own or use them as a condiment.  I’ve loved them added to soup or mixed with yogurt to cut their intensity.

I’ve adapted this recipe from my friend, Tigress.  She no longer updates her wonderful blog but continues to inspire me through her previous posts; I adore her site and miss her updates.  Tigress has spent a lot of time in India and is one of my go-to resources for Indian-inspired recipes.

Lime Pickle Recipe limes Lime Fermenting citrus [Read more...]

Troubleshooting Homemade Yogurt

This week we’ll share a series of articles inspired by our Fermentation 2.0 Workshop at the Cookbook Store last week.  We started the evening by promising that we’d answer all the questions that we could but that we were likely to get stumped by some of the questions and would answer them on the blog in the coming days.

We had a few hardcore yogurt-lovers attend our fermenting workshop.  We promised to send a link to our yogurt recipe but I got the sense that wasn’t going to be enough for them!  They had already been making yogurt and had inconsistent results.  Rather than just sending the old link, I thought some more work was required to help people troubleshoot homemade yogurt.

The most common frustration with homemade yogurt is consistency (it’s too runny).  One of the great tricks to making great homemade yogurt is to have a bit of great homemade yogurt to start with – but that’s not handy if you haven’t had success yet!  Here’s a few common problems:

  1. If you’re using yogurt as a starter, does it have live culture?  Many brands of yogurt no longer contain live/ active culture.  If you’re using a mainstream brand, check it’s label or consult with a trade organization such as the National Yogurt Association.  I’d reccomend skipping the ‘big’ brands alltogether and going to a farmers market shich sells yogurt (in Ontario, most of the yogurt is limited to goats milk yogurt) and chatting to the producer about using their yogurt as a starter to make your own.  This is the #1 tip because you’re likley to get the best source of starter (and insight) from it!
  2. If you’re buying yogurt starter (it’s typically sold in powder form from health food stores), know that it’s a living product.  It’s particularilly sensitive to heat and shipping, storage and handling conditions before you got it can kill it.  There’s no way to tell it’s dead other than a lack of success when using it so if it fails, don’t be afraid to try again with a different package.
  3. Use a thermometer.  I’ve head of people trying to make yogurt without one and this level of guessing just makes the process far more difficult than it needs to be!
  4. Consider straining it.  This is a last-resort as it will dramatically decrease your yield (although there are great uses for the whey if you do) but sometimes it’s the only saving grace.

Those are the quick wins/ easy solutions for thicker yogurt.  Now let’s get more technical!

  1. Use higher-fat milk.  The higher the fat content, the thicker the resuts.
  2. Use non-pasteurized milk.  Since this is impossible in Ontario (and Canada), avoid milk that has been marked UHT (which stands for “Ultra High-Temperature Pasteurized).  This is a point of contention according to some who claim that they’ve had great success with milk that has been pastuerized like this but it can’t hurt to try.
  3. Although I’ve never done it, it can be worth experimenting with different brands of milk for two reasons:
    1. You’ll see which one produces results if you like.
    2. Your results should be more repeatable.
  4. Many recipes (including ours) recomend bringing the heat to 200 degrees.  Instead of cooling it immediately, keep the milk at this temperature for 20-30 minutes.  While this is increased work (that can be a pain if you’re using the variable temperature of a stove), it helps concentrate milk solids and will produce thicker yogurt.
  5. Add Non-Fat dry milk powder.  I read about this on The Kitchn (which shares some of these tips and a few others).  I’m sure it would work (they reccomend a 1/2 cup per uart of milk) as it would drastically increase the amount of protein in the milk (which is a key to making yogurt).  Check out the link to The Kitchn for more ideas – they also reccomend adding gelatin which would certainly work.
  6. Make sure the milk cools before adding the starter yogurt (most starters will specify a temperature and most recipes using yogurt as a starter seem to add it below 45 degrees celcius).  If you add the starter/yogurt too soon you will certainly kill it (if it’s too cold, it won’t incubate as well as it could).
  7. Frequency of batches.  If you’re using yogurt as a starter, this is key.  There will be less active bacteria a week after your yogurt has sat in the fridge (even though it may be thicker).  A ‘fresh’ yogurt is more likely to produce a thick yogurt for you compared to an older one.
  8. A touch of sugar can help feed the ferment.  1-2 teaspoons added at the same time you add your starter should help produce a thicker yogurt.
  9. Use other thickeners.  The idea for this stemed from The Kitchn’s idea to use gelatin; I researched the idea of using agar agar to thicken yogurt.  I found an entire host of ideas for thickening yogurt on this article (including using agar agar) but I think that may take away from the ‘spirit’ that many of us are trying to acheive by fermenting it ourselves.

What are your ‘secrets’ to making thick yogurt?

What is Koji (and how to make it)? Fermenting 101

This week we’ll share a series of articles inspired by our Fermentation 2.0 Workshop at the Cookbook Store last week.  We started the evening by promising that we’d answer all the questions that we could but that we were likely to get stumped by some of the questions and would answer them on the blog in the coming days.

Similar to our article on Natto, this article will be a high-level overview of Koji (which is steamed rice/ barley that is injected with mold spores and fermented).  Much like Natto, we didn’t know of it and promised to find out more!

What is Koji?

In short, we’re talking about mold.  A sweet fragrant mold that’s often used to make pickles, beverages or other ferments.  The scientific name for the mold is Aspergillus Oryzae (I have no idea how to pronounce it so don’t feel bad if you don’t either!)

Koji is often associated with the production of Sake (a common type of rice wine) but is also introduced to other ferments including miso, soy sauce, rice vinegar, mirin, amazake, and pickles.  Unlike Koji it’s fragrance is often celebrated – it is pleasant and sweet.  You can make it, buy dried or whole versions.  It can be expensive; 10 grams (0.02 pounds) of koji kin (to make sake) sells for $13!  A little goes a long way – those 10 grams are enough to make 22 liters (about the same number of quarts) of sake.

Buying Koji

I’ve never noticed it for sale at Farmers Markets but you can buy Koji (and starter to make your own) online.  I also haven’t seen it for sale in stores and can only suggest asking Ontario Sake if they would sell any (they are a Sake maker located in the Distillery district; they don’t mention selling it on their website but may be worth a call).

Sandor Katz (also known as ‘Sandorkraut’ though I like to think of him as ‘The Krautfather’) recommends GEM Cultures for buying Koji starter online.  They will ship Internationally and their prices seem to be very fair.

Key Steps of Making Koji

  • Starter.  Although it’s possible to create your own Koji starter (Sandor Katz explains that he’s made it from corn husks) though you’re best to leave this until you’ve gained experience in making Koji and recognizing its unique smell.
  • Inoculate.  Stirring in the starter.  You want to make sure that the rice or barley has cooled before doing so (or you could kill the mold that you’re trying to create).
  • Incubate.  Incubation has two phases; the first is keeping it warm enough to incubate but, as the mold develops, it will generate its own heat and the challenge becomes preventing overheating.

How to make Koji

Here’s a 10,000 foot overview of how to make Koji:

  1. Soak rice/barley
  2. Steam
  3. Cool
  4. Inoculate
  5. Incubate (for 36 to 48 hours). 80 to 95 degrees.  Higher temperatures convert starch to sugars (Koji made at these temperatures tend to be sweeter and used in beverages) while lower temperatures which digest proteins (often used for miso).

There is no better primer for making Koji than The Art of Fermentaion; much of Sandor’s detailed walkthrough of making Koji can be previewed online (for free) here.

Have we missed anything you were hoping for in this primer?  I’d love to know…

What is Natto (and how to make it)? Fermenting 101

This week we’ll share a series of articles inspired by our Fermentation 2.0 Workshop at the Cookbook Store last week.  We started the evening by promising that we’d answer all the questions that we could but that we were likely to get stumped by some of the questions and would answer them on the blog in the coming days.

This post won’t be a detailed step-by-step process of how to make Natto because

  • I’ve never made it
  • I’ve never eaten it
  • I hadn’t heard of it before last week

How’s that for anti-climactic!?!

It will however, introduce you to Natto based on what I’ve learned since hearing about it, give you an overview of the most common ways to make it and give you links for more detail.  I also promise to give you a tip about the trickiest part of this entire process (controlling temperature during fermentation).  I will also link you to an article that I found the most informative after reading many of them. [Read more...]

What’s a SCOBY? What’s a Mother? Fermenting 101

This week we’ll share a series of articles inspired by our Fermentation 2.0 Workshop at the Cookbook Store last week.  We started the evening by promising that we’d answer all the questions that we could but that we were likely to get stumped by some of the questions and would answer them on the blog in the coming days.

Despite being really, really easy to do, fermenting can contain some odd concepts and language.  Two of the terms that often confuse or confound are:

  • Mother A slimy film-like substance (made of cessulose and acetic acid bacteria) often associated with making vinegar as it turns alcohol into acidic acid when exposed to oxygen.
  • SCOBY Otherwise known as a Symbiotic Colony of Bacteria and Yeast.  It’s typically associated with kombucha (fermented tea).  It’s a slimy, disc-shaped layer that metabolizes sugar and caffeine to create probiotics, vitamins and enzymes.

While both items are different, they share some common traits:

  • You add them to liquid in order to create a specific type of ferment.
  • Both are alive/ living.  If not treated correctly (including handling them too often, storing them in extreme temperatures or ‘starving’ them, they can die.
  • Both will grow.  They are often shared between friends (as a way to help others as well as build your own back-up plan in case they die).
  • The final product is strained from the mother/ SCOBY (although some praise the benefits of eating small amounts of each as they are nutrient dense).
  • If properly cared for, both items can live a long time and many pride themselves on how long they’ve cultivated them.
  • It’s best to handle both with gloves (or very clean hands).  I also avoid using metal strainers when straining them (it’s not necessary but some report it can be detrimental to the health of the bacteria)

You can make your own mother of vinegar or cultivate and strain it from unpasteurized apple cider vinegar.  Mothers from white wine vinegar, red wine vinegar and cider vinegar are different and you’d need one of each if you wanted to make all 3 vinegars.

It is possible to make a Kombucha Scoby though you need to find unpasteurized kombucha.  I’ve found this to be more elusive than unpasteurized cider vinegar and the easiest way to acquire a scoby is to trade from a friend or buy one (I’ve seen them for sale at Farmers Markets in Ontario and know that Pyramid Ferments occasionally sells their kombucha mothers for around $10).

Does this help explain the basics of both?  Can we help shed further light on either?  We’d love to know your questions!

What Type of Salt for Fermenting?

This week we’ll share a series of articles inspired by our Fermentation 2.0 Workshop at the Cookbook Store last week.  We started the evening by promising that we’d answer all the questions that we could but that we were likely to get stumped by some of the questions and would answer them on the blog in the coming days.

“What kind of salt do you use when fermenting food?”

This is a common question that I’m asked and one that I’m comfortable answering.  I use coarse salt of many different types.  If asked for more detail, I also point out that I avoid using iodized salt.  I shared this advice last week and someone approached me at the end of the session to ask a simple question,

“Why do you use un-iodized salt?”

One of the pleasures of teaching classes like this is to share your own knowledge but also to point out holes in your own knowledge.  And this was one of those opportunities.  I answered as honestly as I could – that I don’t really know why and it’s something I do because I read it some time some where and ‘because.’  That’s a crappy answer so we also agreed I’d do some more research and look into it some more but these are moments that I love!

Iodized salt is typically highly-processed.  High-temperatures or chemical treatments can strip natural minerals and iodine is added in addition to anti-caking agents.

Lesser-processed salt can contain some amounts of iodine though the amount tends to be less (and some argue ‘different’ though I can’t find an independent source to validate this claim).

There are two reasons to avoid processed salt with added iodine:

  1. Iodine contains antimicrobial properties.  Increased levels of iodine can inhibit fermentation.
  2. Anti-caking agents can cause cloudiness in pickle/ fermenting brines.

Because of the amount of salt added to a ferment, it’s not likely that iodized salt would inhibit fermentation but it could hamper results (or prevent them depending on the quantity used).

Alternatives to iodized salt includes most sea salts, canning or kosher salt and I will continue to use those.

Fermenting Roundup (from Fermentation 2.0 at the Cookbook Store)

We had a lovely night with 25+ people learning about fermentation at the Cookbook Store last night. I promised to make notes from the evening and share them on the site today – if you weren’t in class but interested in fermenting, these will still be relevant:
Fermenting Roundup (from Fermentation 2.0 at the Cookbook Store) Fermenting Cookbook Store [Read more...]