There are some common misconceptions about lacto-fermented vegetables, most of them evolving from fear of the unknown. Once you are brave enough to prepare that first jar of sauerkraut or dilly beans, you are over the biggest hurdle. After that, you might struggle with some of the common misconceptions about lacto-fermented vegetables that may have been pushing you away from exploring more recipes.
Here are the facts to bust some of those myths and dissolve the fear of fermentation.
MYTH #1: Fermented Vegetables Must Be Canned to Be Safe
Fact: Canning is a relatively new form of preserving foods. Fermentation has been around for centuries. Fermented vegetables contain a natural preservative called lactic acid. This acid, much like the vinegar in canned pickles, preserves the vegetables. In this very acidic environment, harmful bacteria cannot exist, so fermented vegetables preserve themselves. The best way to see how a batch is progressing is to test aroma and flavor. If a batch smells unpleasant, toss it. If it smells sour but pleasant, it is fine to taste. If it smells ok and tastes ok, it is safe to consume.
MYTH #2: Fermented Vegetables Must Be Stored in the Refrigerator
Fact: Fermented vegetables were actually born as a method of food preservation in the absence of refrigeration. A cool place is all that is required. This could be a basement, a root cellar, or cold pantry. Fermentation continues even under refrigeration, though very slowly. Slow fermentation often allows better flavor to develop. Read more on moving fermented vegetables to cold storage.
MYTH #3: Whey or a Starter Culture is Required for Fermenting Vegetables
Fact: Salt added to vegetable ferments keeps the batch free of harmful bacteria until the natural bacteria multiply enough to do the job. While not required, whey or starter culture is said to give the good bacteria a head start, and ensure that they proliferate over the bad. To learn more, consult our article on Salt vs. Whey vs. Starter Cultures.
MYTH #4: Vegetables Should Culture at a Warm Temperature for a Few Days
Fact: Many, many recipes advise letting a batch ferment for three days and then transferring it to cold storage. This method will allow the vegetables to culture and then halt the culturing process, but it doesn’t paint a full picture. The required fermentation time varies from batch to batch, depending on the vegetables, how they were prepared, and the ambient temperature. Lower fermentation temperature is often better, to allow the flavors to develop more fully. For a more thorough discussion of fermentation time and temperature, read our article A Basic Formula for Fermenting Vegetables.
Fermenting vegetables at home is a rewarding process, with very little special equipment or know-how required. Get started today with one of our many Cultured Vegetable Recipes.