Beginners Guide to Fermentation: Essential Tools

What is fermentation?

Fermented foods are culinary creations transformed through the natural process of fermentation, where beneficial bacteria and yeast break down sugars and starches. This transformative process not only enhances flavor but also boosts the nutritional value, offering a bounty of probiotics that promote gut health and bolster immunity.

Why do we want to eat fermented foods? 

Fermented foods are a powerhouse of benefits for both our gut and overall health. Packed with probiotics, these traditional culinary wonders promote a healthy balance of gut bacteria, which is crucial for digestion and immune function. Fermentation also enhances the bioavailability of nutrients, making them more easily absorbed by our bodies. Regular consumption of fermented foods has been linked to improved digestion, boosted immunity, and even mood regulation. From tangy kimchi to creamy yogurt, incorporating these flavorful delights into your diet can lead to a happier, healthier you.

Not to mention, fermentation is a traditional technique that has been used across cultures for many, many years as a form of preservation. It is an incredibly useful tool for extending the life of food and reducing food waste.

Sourcing quality fermented foods.

These days there are many amazing brands out there supplying . I grew up with my mom having all sorts of weird jars in her fermentation corner, it was less common to find sauerkraut or kimchi on grocery store shelves. It is a lot easier these days, but when it comes to sourcing quality fermented foods, prioritizing freshness and authenticity is key. Opt for products that are produced using traditional methods and natural ingredients, avoiding those laden with additives or preservatives. I recommend checking out local farmers’ markets, artisanal food shops, and specialty grocery stores to find small-batch fermented goods and support local producers. Additionally, seek out reputable brands with transparent sourcing and production practices to ensure you’re getting the highest quality fermented foods for optimal flavor and nutritional benefits. 

I love that you can find a diverse selection of ferments at typical grocery stores, but there is one problem… quality ferments are usually quite expensive. That’s why I urge everyone I know to make them at home! Of course, if you want to buy from a quality source, that’s totally fine too! Just make sure you are buying unpasteurized, unheated ferments (they should be stocked in a refrigerated section) to ensure you are actually getting the benefits of fermented foods. 

Save money and learn to ferment at home! 

Anyone can create extremely nourishing, gut healthy ferments at home with minimal effort and a few simple tools. I didn’t understand the process myself until a few years ago and it felt so daunting. Once I just started doing it, I realized how easy it is! Of course there are more complicated products and a lot of science behind fermentation, but you really don’t need much to make a simple fermented veggie, yogurt, or even probiotic sodas!

I am creating this Beginner Guide to help you start practicing your fermentation skills at home. Today we are going to go over some basic tools that will make your fermentation easy and safe!  

Fermentation Tools 

The essentials

1. Fermentation Vessels: The cornerstone of any fermenting endeavor is a reliable fermentation vessel. Opt for glass jars or ceramic crocks with wide mouths for easy filling and cleaning. I love fermenting in glass jars, like Mason jars, because they are versatile, affordable, come in many sizes and you can observe the ferment throughout the process. larger crocks are ideal for fermenting larger quantities. Here are some of my favorites:

2. Fermentation Weights: During fermentation it is critical that the ingredients are always submerged beneath the brine to minimize the risk of mold. You can make your own DIY weights at home, but fermentation weights are fairly affordable and make the whole process a lot easier and safer. 

3. Quality Salt: Salt is not only a crucial flavor enhancer but also plays a vital role in the fermentation process by inhibiting the growth of undesirable bacteria. Opt for high-quality sea salt or kosher salt without additives or anti-caking agents for best results. 

Any high quality sea salt will work, this is brand I use – you can find it at Whole Foods or other health food stores. 

4. Kitchen Scale: You can ferment without a scale, but since many ferments require pounds of produce and some math to calculate out your fermentation brine, I believe a kitchen scale makes it so much easier, more reliable, and safer! I think it’s worth $15-$20 to make a ferment that will actually be delicious and not mold! 

Flip top bottles

Bonus Tools

  1. pH Strips or pH Meter: Monitoring the pH levels of your fermenting creations is not essential in my experience (I never use them, just rely on sight and smell to know when something is done). If you want to feel more secure about the safety and success of your ferments, pH strips or a pH meter allow you to track acidity levels throughout the fermentation process, helping you determine when your ferments are ready to enjoy or if adjustments are needed to achieve the desired flavor and texture.
  2. Airlocks: Airlocks are really helpful to support the perfect environment for fermentation, but are not critical for fermentation – I do plenty of successful fermentation projects without any. These simple devices allow carbon dioxide to escape while preventing oxygen and harmful bacteria from entering your ferment.
  3. Fermentation Safe Flip-Top Bottles: If you’re wanting to brew kombucha or soda with some amazing natural carbonation, a flip-top bottle is pretty essential for that second fermentation process. You can save the bottles from kombuchas or beers that you consume or search fermentation safe flip top bottles, like these. Make sure you burp them daily when fermenting and weekly once they are in the fridge. 
  4. Funnel: Larger funnels can be helpful for transferring veggies into jars or smaller funnels for your kombucha’s second ferment. I have made a lot of messes in my kitchen because I never bother to get a funnel hehe. 

By assembling these essential tools (and some fun bonus ones if you’d like!), you’ll be well-equipped to embark on your home fermentation journey with confidence and creativity. Experiment with different recipes, flavors, and techniques to discover the endless possibilities of fermentation and enjoy the delicious, nutritious results of your homemade creations.

What should we cover in part 2? Let me know what fermentation questions you have! Happy fermenting!

If you’re ready to get fermenting, check out my new cookbook Nutrient-Dense Meal Prep. I included some of my favorite easy fermentation recipes, like Easy 30-Minute Sauerkraut, Fermented Hot Sauce, Probiotic Rich Salsa, and Lacto-Fermented Veggies. 

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