How to Start Fermenting in 5 Steps

Science? Art? A culinary wonder? You're here because you already know the delicious taste, versatility and health benefits make it worth learning how to make lacto-fermented food, like sauerkraut, pickles and kimchi. The problem is you don't know how to get there, but we do (it's not hard).  

Below is an easy 5 step outlook on how you can start fermenting at home. Don't let over-complicated recipes fool you: fermentation is not an exact science. There is room for creativity and you don't need any specialized skills to start. 

Step 1: Determine Your Tool Set 

In order to lacto-ferment food, there are a couple of things required:

  • A vessel to hold the food
  • A tool to pack the food into your vessel (hands work too)
  • Something to hold or weigh the food below the brine
  • A way of releasing CO2 as it the food ferments

There are many ways the above can be achieved, through purchased tools or improvisation. Your vessel could be anything from a crock to a barrel, but many beginners gravitate towards Mason jars because of their small size and accessibility. To pack your food into your vessel you can use your hands, but tampers are also available to speed up the process and cram in the food with more force, like our Pickle Packers. What you choose to weigh the food down with is very important: you need your food to stay below the brine or else mold will start to grow. There are a number of ways to do this, like using cabbage leafs or plastic bags, or you can invest in some food weights to streamline the process. Now, the most critical thing to note is that when food ferments, it releases carbon dioxide which has to somehow be released or your vessel could explode. Manually "burping" (quickly opening and closing the lid) every day is an option, but if you let in too much oxygen mold will start to grow. For this reason, we recommend beginners use an airlock tool, like our Pickle Pipes, to get the job done automatically. 

Overwhelmed? Don't be. If time is on your side and you're interested in getting some tools, you can pick up our Fermentation Kit that will have everything you need, plus a free Fermentation Guide and Recipe book to get you on your way. 

Step 2: Start with Wild Fermentation

If you've researched recipes, you may have found some that require a starter culture: just ignore those for now. The easiest type of fermentation is wild fermentation. Wild fermentation refers to the fermentation of live cultures that are found in vegetables and fruit. Let's stick to vegetables for now because they're more commonly fermented and are slightly easier. 

Step 3: Choose a Basic Vegetable Recipe 

Choose a very simple recipe to start, like fermented cabbage (AKA sauerkraut) or carrot sticks. Fermented carrot sticks, like our Dilly Sticks, are probably the easiest to start with, but only because they require a little less prep. Sauerkraut will take a bit more time to prepare, but it's still a great beginner go-to. You can find our Dilly Stick recipe here and Traditional Sauerkraut recipe here. Although they're tempting, you should stay away from pickle and kimchi recipes for your first few ferments because they're more complicated. 

Step 4: Get Your Ingredients

Other than your vegetables, you will also need non-iodized salt (like sea salt) and chlorine-free water (like spring water). You can use tap water, but you need to boil it or leave it out so the chlorine evaporates. Your salt and water are very important and there is no leeway with these rules: iodine and chlorine will inhibit the ability for the food to properly ferment. When packing your jar, you want to leave as little space as possible: the more you cram in, the less room there is for oxygen. You still should leave approximately 1.5 inches of headspace so you can fit in some kind of food weight.

Step 5: Submerge, Vent & Wait 

Now that your Mason jar is packed with food and brine, you need to make sure your veggies stay below the brine so they're cut off from oxygen to prevent mold. The best way to do this is by weighing the food down with a glass food weight, like our Pickle Pebbles. Once you're confident all the food is safely submerged, you're ready to seal with jar. Again, we recommend using our Pickle Pipes because they automatically monitor CO2 levels so you don't have to attend to the jars daily. You should store the ferment in a dark place at room temperature, like a kitchen cupboard. Keep in mind the warmer the room, the faster the food will ferment. That being said, you can't store the jar in a fridge or the fermentation will be impossibly slow. Now the golden question: how long does it take to ferment.

There is no requirement to how long you have to lacto-ferment vegetables for. A short ferment will keep the vegetables crisp, but also reduce the probiotic levels. A long ferment will be high in probiotics, but might start to get mushy. Unless mold has grown, you don't need to worry about the safety of the ferment. The best rule is to taste the ferment every other day along the way, starting at day 3. The moment you think the taste is right and you're happy with how sour it is, pop it in the fridge with a lid and start eating it. 

You don't need Masontops to ferment, but we make things a lot easier. We take all of the guesswork out of fermenting food by reducing the likelihood of mold growth and saving you from having to continually oversee the jars, which is easy to forget as a beginner. Best of all, our products come with us: dedicated support to help you every step. We want everyone to enjoy the benefits of fermenting their own food as much as we do, which is why we're always here to help

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Masontops Community Team
Masontops Community Team

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