How to Ferment Foods


Fermentation is a type of food processing that converts food components, such as carbs, to alcohols, and sugars into ethanol. It is common when producing alcoholic drinks such as beers and wines, but it can also be used in making certain types of bread, such as sourdough and ciabatta, as well as for pickling foods such as sauerkrauts, pickles and vinegars. The principles of fermenting food stay the same regardless of what type of food you are dealing with, with a few basic supplies and techniques followed to achieve the desired results.

Things You'll Need

  • Relevant sized container
  • Hot water
  • Soap
  • Plastic bags
  • Pickling salt
  • Pickling vinegar
  • Determine what type of food you are looking to ferment. The type of food dictates the exact method of fermentation you will use. For example, fermenting vegetables requires a balanced mixture of water, salt and vinegar, while fermenting fruits relies on sugars. On the other hand, a fermented dough for sourdough or ciabatta starter mixtures will require a careful mixture of flour, yeast and water, but no vinegar or sugar.

  • Choose an appropriate container and ensure that it is cleaned thoroughly of foreign bodies before use. Mason jars are ideal for creating starter doughs, while plastic containers can be used for fruits and vegetables. Old plastic barrels can be used for sizable quantities, such as when fermenting beers, wines or large batches of produce. All containers should be washed completely with soap and hot water to ensure the removal of any bacteria or other additives that could harm the fermenting process.

  • Ensure the quality of your ingredients as well as the exact measurements before starting the fermenting process. For fruits and vegetables, you want to only use the highest-quality produce, while yeasts are important for breads and beers. In addition, the amount of pickling or canning salt in conjunction with vinegar is vital to the flavor of fermented produce, while the balance of sugars is important for fruits. The proportion of food compared to ingredients directly affects flavor.

  • Appropriately protect your fermenting food during the fermenting process. Additional bacteria or other additives can spoil the batch and ruin the entire fermentation. Seal all of your containers tightly if they have a lid. If you are dealing with an open container such as a barrel, a sheet of plastic with weights attached to the end can suffice, so long as the seal is maintained.

  • Combine your raw ingredients in your container and ensure that it is sealed off. Store them in a cool, dry place for the fermenting period. Personal preference dictates the amount of food, as well as the amount of fermentation ingredients, as some people prefer more tangy foods than others. For example, pickles and sauerkraut are typically cured for three weeks before use, while a sourdough starter usually takes about one week, depending on the climate you live in.

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