How Long Do I Let My Pickled Onions Ferment?

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Onions are a taste powerhouse in the kitchen and can be prepared in a variety of ways. One way of preparing the onions -- pickling -- enhances their flavor and makes them a readily accessible ingredient with little to no preparation for later cooking. The traditional method of pickling does not rely on vinegar to preserve food, but rather a natural fermentation process that adds both flavor and nutrition to the aromatic, beloved vegetable. Many varieties can be pickled, from standard yellow cooking onions to sweet Vidalias to red onions.

The Fermentation Process

  • Use a traditional method of preserving, through fermentation, to add nutritional value to foods. This method, also called lacto-fermentation, uses the glucose, fructose and sucrose in a food to fuel healthy bacteria growth which, in turn, preserves the foods through production of lactic acid. However, this fermenting process also takes a greater amount of time than pickling using vinegar, up to a week rather than a few hours. The fermentation process can start either by using previous brine from another fermented item or using a starter, typically whey, which should be prepared according to the package directions. However, to cut down on fermenting time overall, use brine from another fermentation process, as the fermenting culture has already started.

Canning

  • Properly can the onions to ferment them faster and more evenly, as this enhances the ability of the bacteria culture within the fermenting process without spoiling the onions. Mix all the ingredients for canning thoroughly in the jars, and place the lid on according to the jar manufacturer's instructions. This typically involves some kind of venting mechanism that allows for excess gases to escape from the jar as it ferments.

Timing the Progess

  • Leave the prepared jar, undisturbed, at room temperature in a dry area, such as a kitchen counter, for about a week. If the onions have been properly prepared and canned, they should be ready within 5 to 7 days. Determine if they are done by looking to see if they have finished bubbling. This indicates the fermenting process is finished. It is important not to transfer the jar to cold storage too soon, but to leave it at room temperature for several days after you believe it is done fermenting. This stops the fermentation process and beneficial bacteria from growing. Optimally, leave the onions at room temperature for a minimum of four weeks for optimum fermentation.

Considerations

  • Be careful when naturally fermenting items; leaving food at room temperature can encourage harmful food bacteria to grow. Properly preparing and canning the onions not only encourages a shorter fermenting time, but also keeps the food safe. Store the onions in a cold storage unit or area within your pantry. Keep in the airtight container, which will extend their shelf life for up to a year.

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