It started something like this: Someone started testing things in a test tube. The results were different than what they expected, because it was happening outside the complex environment of the digestive system – without the digestive acids and enzymes that are normally present, and outside the combinations of other nutrients present in the digestive tract. Test tube results are NEVER the same as those in the body, because test tube tests are run in isolation, without the presence of other naturally occurring elements.
The results were published – “This substance may cause harm, because it does this horrid thing. We don’t know for sure, because we only tested it in a test tube (in-vitro), and we have no idea whether the same thing happens in the body or not.”. It was enough for the food bloggers! Off they went! A good harmful substance, after all, is never to be wasted, especially if it is one that is found in a lot of food that we commonly consume! And especially if it fits their agenda!
So now we have people running around wringing their hands, and worrying over three things: Phytates, Oxalates, and Anti-Nutrients.
Guess what, people? You don’t have to worry about ANY OF THEM! Seriously!
Ok, so if you are vegan, you may have more of a TENDENCY to have a higher amount of improperly processed phytates. Even then, it is doubtful that it would ever cause a problem, because if it did, societies that have a high consumption of grains (almost all that have lower meat consumption) would have illnesses related to high phytates. Nope. Doesn’t happen.
If you have serious kidney disease, you MIGHT have a tendency for build-up of oxalates in the form of kidney stones. Then again, you might not. The fact is that even on a low oxalate diet, kidney stones develop (I have seen this personally). And they usually do NOT in the presence of a high oxalate diet. Generally when kidney stones develop, it is due to specific medical issues, not due to the presence or absence of oxalates in your diet.
Oxalates bind to heavy metals and other similar toxins, and are used in some chelation therapies to remove harmful substances from the body. There are, in fact, NO CREDIBLE SOURCES that recommend reduction of oxalates for anyone other than people with serious kidney disease. (For the uninformed, I do NOT consider WAPF to be a credible source, there is too much evidence to suggest that they make it up as they go, and their conclusions indicate that they rarely study the actual facts behind the issue – the only valid info they have is what they took from someone else – often INCONSISTENT with the works of Dr. Price, their own lab tests have been shown to be flawed by many other sources and are not respected within the scientific community.)
Anti-nutrients are also a myth. Pure fallacy. There are one or two plants, sometimes used as food in emergency situations (as in, we got lost in the Peruvian Jungle and had to survive on whatever did not kill our taste tester within an hour or two), which, if consumed in VERY LARGE (unnaturally massive) quantities, can interfere with the absorption of a nutrient or two. But really, people, they are NOT foods you find on your grocery store shelves! They are not foods you CAN eat much of on a daily basis, you just won’t be able to gag them down when your body has had enough of them. And they are not things that will sneak up on you unawares. Nutrients do not cancel out other nutrients. That does not happen in the human body in any way that is actually significant or meaningful, if it did, the human race would have been doomed long since! Anti-nutrients are a NON-ISSUE!
So what are phytates? Another word for phytic acid. They are found in common foods, which have been staples of ALL societies and cultural diets from time immemorial. (That should give us a clue, especially to those who CLAIM to have respect for traditional diets!) In the body, they break down, and become a vital source of phosphorus. Know what happens when you don’t have phosphorus? Here’s a list of symptoms that indicate low phosphorus:
- changes in your mental state (e.g. anxiety, irritability, or confusion)
- bone issues, such as pain, fragility, and poor development (in children)
- irregular breathing.
- loss of appetite.
- muscle weakness.
- weight gain or loss.
Pretty significant. In cases of malabsorption due to digestive tract issues, it may also be combined with low niacin (take niacinamide, or flush free if you supplement), low D (mostly D3, but not exclusively), and low Folic Acid. The combination of deficiencies in these, and sometimes magnesium, can lead to a schizophrenic type reaction, involving psychotic symptoms, and insomnia.
There is ABSOLUTELY NO evidence that lacto-fermentation reduces the presence of, or converts, phytic acid. There are many CLAIMS that it does so, but no actual studies to support those claims.
What about oxalates? Anything else we need to know?
Oxalates are SOUR. When you have them in high concentrations in a food, you CANNOT eat much of it! It makes your tongue sore! When it is in high enough concentrations to actually harm you, the effect they have on your body will prompt you to stop eating it! Very high oxalates (such as in water lettuce) will burn your tongue. You won’t keep eating it!
Oh, and heat neutralizes them. Breaks oxalates down, makes them no longer harmful. Again, NO evidence that fermentation affects them in any significant way whatsoever, the tests have not been done. It is all speculation.
In small amounts, they work in the body like many other substances that are a positive thing in small amounts, a negative thing in large amounts (true of most nutrients, by the way, if that were not the case, there would be no such thing as a vitamin or mineral overdose). You may crave those foods. If you do, eat them. Your body needs them. If you don’t feel like eating them, don’t. Your body doesn’t need them!
Remember, food bloggers make their money on problems, not on telling you there is NOT a problem. And heaven knows I have no motive to put this out there! If I wanted to profit from it, I’d be telling you the dangers, and I’d be quoting the unsubstantiated sources to persuade you that lacto-fermentation is the answer to the mythical ills! I don’t feel there is a need to make a tempest in a teapot over ordinary everyday foods that have been consumed for thousands of years. Those are, after all, the tried and tested things upon which traditional diets rely.
Enjoy your bread. Love your veggies. Eat those fruits! Savor the meat and dairy.
I am always shocked when someone orders a dozen lids from our company. After three years of selling these products, I am still surprised. I have the same sense of surprise when a customer whose name I recognize places another order, or when I see they have been ordering a few at a time, over several orders.
I use a few in my home. I don’t use a dozen. This is because I am using fermented foods very much as my own ancestors did.
There are many bloggers in the real foods arena who recommend daily consumption of pickled foods. Some are so enthusiastic they will ferment anything, regardless of cultural origin, alcohol content, or flavor (ok, some fermented foods are kind of nasty). They do this with the belief that if it is fermented, it must be healthy, and that more is better.
Some do this with the belief that our ancestors collectively used more fermented foods than we do. They call them “traditional foods” and have imbued them with mystical powers of healing and health, far beyond what any evidence can show. Many distorted accounts of “traditional” consumption have been put forward, mostly with the goal of selling product to support the adoption of these foods to an unrealistic degree.
The historical and traditional use of these foods was far simpler than some people make this. There are people who believe that if they do not always have six or a dozen jars of various concoctions brewing in dark corners and taking over their fridge, that they are behind the game, and will never be able to heal their bodies. The reality of historical pickling practices is quite different.
- For many cultures, pickling was ONLY done seasonally, and only consumed seasonally. Pickling was NOT done to create a particular food type. That was not the goal. The goal was, Food Preservation. When food was plentiful, it was preserved through fermentation. It was then consumed through winter months, because it stored well when temperatures were cool, and because it was NOT NEEDED through summer months.
- Some cultures consumed pickled foods at the end of a meal. This was NOT COMMON to many cultures! It was most prevalent through a few northern cultures, where temperatures were fairly low year-round, and pickled foods lasted much longer. They were STILL consumed less through summer months.
- Alcoholic beverage production was the ONLY thing referred to as “fermentation”. Pickling of vegetables was only called pickling, meats were cured (they are still NOT properly referred to as fermented, because there are no fermentation elements present in curing of meats), and dairy was aged or cultured. Each of these preservation types has its own rules, and involves different processes, and were historically referred to by different process names.
- The most commonly consumed fermented foods were dairy foods, in that fermented dairy foods were used year round in virtually every climate and culture. This is because milk simply does not store well at room temperature, or even very long in a root cellar. So milk products were usually consumed in a cultured form – buttermilk is simply milk that has soured after never having been refrigerated (it was soured, then the cream was skimmed, because souring the milk made the cream sort of semi-solidify on the top of the milk). Kefir was simply milk that was stored in animal skin bags, where it aged and soured, and eventually formed kefir grains. Yogurt is also nothing more than soured milk – it just soured with a particular bacterial complement, encouraged by keeping it very warm (an accident of summer milk production). Processes developed from the fact that milk soured, and if it soured one way, it had a little different flavor than if it soured another way.
- Probiotics are not unique to fermented foods. In fact, all fresh foods contain them, in significant quantities, provided they have not been exterminated by use of preservatives and chlorine. Raw eggs are another excellent source of healthy microbes. Raw milk is another excellent source, even without further culturing.
- Pickled and cultured foods, and raw and fresh foods, are all healthy forms of probiotics. While alcoholic beverages are classed by many as “traditional” foods, they were not universally consumed in any culture. There have always been segments of each society that decried the evils of strong drink, due to the harmful actions of many intoxicated people, and due to the affects of alcoholism. Non-alcoholic fermented foods are not addictive. Alcoholic foods (not just beverages) are addictive, and destructive to the liver, heart, brain, and digestive system. The higher the alcohol content of a food or beverage, the lower the microbial content (only certain kinds can survive in alcohol, and only in very low alcohol amounts – indeed, alcohol is used for sterilization because it kills microbes so well). Many lacto-fermentation “experts” strive to group ALL ferments together under one “healthy” umbrella, but in fact no society has ever done that historically. They have always been viewed as separate processes, with separate outcomes. It is only accepted now because people now are so separated both from the traditional practices, AND from a knowledge of their own cultural history. It is easier for myths to go viral and perpetuate across a large body of people now.
- The practice of buying out of season produce, and keeping new batches of pickling going throughout the year, and storing those foods in the fridge, is of recent invention. The practice of keeping milk going in yogurts, kefirs, buttermilk, and of using soured raw milk in baking and in soups and sauces IS a traditional and culturally prevalent practice. This does not mean you should not make ferments unless the produce is in season, it only means that this is NOT how people stayed healthy historically. They used foods in season (which provided healthy sources of microbes), and they used preserved living foods (pickled, brined, cured, cultured, etc), and dried foods, stored winter foods (potatoes, apples, cabbage, squash, turnips, carrots, parsnips, and other root cellared crops) to last through until spring when the fresh food began to be available again.
So are all those jar lids necessary? For many people, it will not matter whether they make these foods on an ongoing basis, or whether they simply store up a bunch in the fall to last through the winter. If the airlock lid makes it easy and convenient for them to produce consistent results (and our customers assure us that it does!), then they need as many as they require to preserve as much as they need to preserve at one time. For many people, that IS a dozen or two.
For the record, we love our repeat customers, and pretty much always recognize their names. These are the people who keep us going, and they hold a special place in our esteem.
The short answer is “No”. You also cannot “ferment” Cod Livers. And you cannot extract Cod Liver Oil by “fermentation”. But the long answer is more complicated, and fairly muddled by conversations to which we sort of have to refer, which may lose people who are not following the controversies.
Sigh… yeah. Another one of those!
When did we let go of common sense? When did we stop trusting what we KNOW, in favor of what experts tell us?
In the fermentation world, there is a phrase that goes around, that I have learned to depend on, to know when something fermented is spoiled or not.
If it smells like food, it is good. If it does NOT smell like food, it is NOT good.
In the natural food world, we also know that the BEST nutrients come from FOOD, in its natural state, and NOT from processed “supplements”. But there is so much money in supplements, and they have that promise of easy cures, so those who advise about nutrition can’t quite give up the profit potential, and those who take the advice can’t quite resist the lure of something easier than preparing food from scratch! We want some kind of insurance policy on our health.
That maxim though, holds for everything we do with food. And it goes further.
If it tastes like food, it is better for you than if it does not taste like food!
If it makes your body feel healthy, it is better for you than things that do not make your body feel healthy!
We know this, but we are still more willing to trust a smooth-talking “expert” than we are to trust our own gut instinct, which may tell us that a thing we WANT to believe is good, really is not.
Which brings us to the latest tempest in a teapot in the fermentation world.
Fermented Cod Liver Oil
I got drawn in by Dr. Kaayla Daniels’ report. The link to it is in this article. I detest Opt-In lists, in fact, waited 8 days after seeing the first ripples in the water on this before I had learned enough that I knew I HAD to write on this topic, and that I needed to read the report and not rely on second hand quotes. So I gave in, surrendered my email address, and downloaded it.
Now, I have never used FCLO. I have never smelled it. I have never tasted it, held it in my hand, or even looked at the ads for it. I am also not a doctor, not a nutritionist, and have no scientific credentials whatsoever.
What I am, is an intelligent being, who studies the meaning of words and phrases, and who has a great deal of background in scam busting (from nearly 20 years as a small business consultant and online business and web development professional), and who has more than a passing familiarity with scientific research and medical research due to various health issues of my own, and some serious issues with some of my children (eight children… varied issues). I also happen to sell a fermentation product (http://fermentacap.com – in case this article is copied), so I kind of have to be up on topics of lacto-fermentation.
The primary reason I have never used FCLO, is because it never sounded right to me. Oils and meats cannot be “fermented”. It is scientifically inconsistent – and that means it sends up a monstrous red flag in my mind which tells me to avoid it. So I did. I knew, listened, and stayed away!
The secondary reason is that Cod Liver Oil in any form really isn’t an appropriate daily supplement for the masses. Yeah, I know, supposedly the English used it daily during WWII, but actually, most did not take it, and the daily fight to get kids to take it just isn’t worth the hassle, so most just pulled out the bottle as a threat when kids were shirking school or work, and actually used the spoon when they insisted on being ill anyway. And sailors? They were chronically deficient in many nutrients, no matter WHAT they were forced to take, so they are not exactly specimens of health to recommend any supplement (nor is the statement that they used the darker brown oil – there is not a country in the world that gives top quality, costly supplements, to the Navy!).
CLO IS an appropriate treatment for SOME kinds of illness, and in some instances of malnutrition. And according to my mother, it is sometimes efficacious in inducing labor (you cannot persuade her that my brother would have been born before Christmas otherwise). But it is not useful for daily maintenance.
In all the scoffoffle, the thing missing most in the arguments, is common sense. Many people simply have NO idea that what they are reading regarding FCLO is NOT what they think they are reading!
The first clue that there is something wrong with FCLO is that there is no description in any of the manufacturer’s literature of anything like a probable oil extraction or fermentation process that would result in anything useful, let alone superior. It is all vague, evasive, and often, contradictory. The contradictory part is the giveaway that someone is making things up as they go, or trying to hide something. Businesses with integrity DON’T DO THAT!
There are several issues here, so many that laying it out in a logical manner is kind of difficult, so I hope you excuse my rambling.
The issues are, the nutrients, the definition of “fermentation”, the historic use of putrification, rancidity, and methods of oil extraction, and of course the issues of type of oil, and adulteration. We need to be clear… “fermentation” and “extraction” are two different issues, as putrifaction helps to extract SOME oil, but fermentation is not an extraction process. There are some other peripheral issues also, but I have insufficient information to delve into them yet.
Many sources defending the manufacturer, which are used by the manufacturer to validate their legitimacy, are classic pieces of misinformation. They use quotes from researchers which use a lot of big words, but which don’t in fact say anything other than, roughly, “nutrients are really complicated and so are these”, but they are used in an effort to persuade the reading public that something conclusive WAS said, but we are just too simple minded to understand the complexities.
An example regarding the accuracy of testing for rancidity may be found here: http://www.westonaprice.org/uncategorized/questions-and-answers-about-fermented-cod-liver-oil-fclo/#comment-252123
This is Dr. Grootveld’s opinion on the TBARS test, which he described as “analytical garbage.”
”It should be noted that the TBARS test commonly employed for determinations of lipid oxidation product (LOP) aldehydes in foods, and culinary or health-promoting oil products (and accordingly not just MDA), are completely unreliable and serve little or no value for the estimation of these species. Indeed, we are, of course, already aware of the induction of the lipid peroxidation process at standard frying temperatures, and since this test requires the heating of biofluids or tissue sample extracts with TBA for periods of ca. 15 min., this is more than sufficient to induce the peroxidation of PUFAs therein, and hence all results derivable from this heat-dependent test system represent nothing more than artifactual data. Indeed, our H1 NMR experiments have clearly proven the thermally-induced oxidation of PUFAs in commercial oil formulations to CHPDs and aldehydic LOPs at Pasteurisation temperature (72oC), in addition to 95oC, the latter for only a 15 minute period. If, however, this method involves a prolonged equilibration at ambient temperature (or 25oC), and the TBA-MDA (and other) chromophores are then allowed to develop slowly (perhaps for 72 hr. or more), then this test system does have the potential to monitor aldehydic LOPs, but not exclusively MDA since a wide range of aldehydes (including á,â-unsaturated ones) react with TBA to generate the same chromophores, or similar interfering adducts. Moreover, further caution should always be employed since it is known that a series of further biomolecules, especially reducing sugars (if present in food matrices for analysis), also react with TBA to form chromophores which also absorb at 532 nm.”.
This statement is made with no prior context, no information which would make the statements relevant to anything pertaining to the previous paragraphs in the article, and the first sentence is in no way proven in the rest of the rather rambling technical sentences which have no value even to smart people. Of course, the previous paragraphs ARE talking about testing, but not in any way that is useful, and not in any way that is relevant to that entire rambling pseudo-explanation.
Much of the information on that page is based on wishful thinking, and not on actual valid data, but you have to read it carefully to sift out what is REALLY STATED, as opposed to what the author WANTS YOU TO THINK she is saying. Perhaps the most valuable information on the page are the comments at the bottom by Steve Tallent.
It seems fairly clear to me, based on information provided by Dr. Daniels, and on the numerous consumer comments across the net, that the oil IS rancid, well beyond its primary useful life. Since the company’s butter oil also tested as very rancid, it is probable that the issue is one of improper handling, or one of in-shop processes which is inherent to the extraction methods used.
The FCLO manufacturer website gives some background information on their initial testing of their product, and how the results were disappointing at first, until they came up with a new way of interpreting the test results. The results, according to their lab, probably meant that there were no complete recognizable intact vitamin A or D elements, but that there were lots of “isomers”, or incomplete vitamin variations. The strategy used to inflate values, was to add up the values of all the fragments, and present them as entire and whole vitamins. The vitamin D level on subsequent test results which they publish on their site, is virtually all D2, rarely a little D3. Interestingly, Dr. Daniels’ lab reports show virtually no D2, and a little D3. The FCLO manufacturer says that there are “hundreds” of forms of vitamin D, but according to information in Dr. Daniels’ report, credible lab techs say that detecting vitamin D at all using the method that the manufacturer’s preferred lab uses (an uncommon method, often considered problematic for measuring D vitamins), is nearly impossible because there are so many other elements which confuse the results using that method, because they show up as being very similar. It appears that the manufacturer’s claim that they “added up the peaks” on the lab results may mean that they added the values of all of the elements found that resembled vitamin D, whether they were D or not, and labeled them as D2 (the manufacturer makes this claim on their website where they describe the initial vitamin testing). The lab the manufacturer uses has been the source of unbelievable reports before also.
Another article written in defense of FCLO (quoted on the manufacturer website) by a woman with a lot of initials after her name, is so full of “maybe”, “might”, “could”, “assume”, “extrapolate”, and “infer” that the article manages to imply that something is actually said in the article, but what is really said is, “We are hoping that what we imply is true because we have no evidence that it is.”. This article waxes long on the benefits of fermentation, but in fact cannot list one actual study on benefits of “fermentation” of anything other than vegetables, and the author expects you to join her in a land where everything is just as she says, simply because she wants it to be that way. Results with vegetables do NOT translate to meats.
As to the issue of Pollock versus Cod, this is indeed a serious issue for a number of reasons. For the unaware, Dr. Daniels lab results showed that the oil contains Pollock Oil, and the manufacturer insists that Pollock is the same as Cod so it does not matter. (Some people have also expressed shock over the revelation that the fish are Pacific fish and not Atlantic fish, but I have not yet heard where they were mislead about the origin of the fish.)
“Cod is the common name for the genus Gadus of demersal fishes, belonging to the family Gadidae. Cod is also used as part of the common name for a number of other fish species, and there are species suggested to belong to genus Gadus that are not called cod (the Alaska pollock).”
So, briefly stated, Pollock is in the same FAMILY as cod, but is NOT cod. Like the nieces and nephews of my sisters – they come from the same root family I do, but they are not Wheelers.
The FDA does not allow labeling of Pollock as Cod.
The report issued by Dr. Kaayla Daniels (http://drkaayladaniel.com/hook-line-and-stinker-opt-in/) explores some options for fermentation, but the manufacturer denies that any of these have any relevancy. Now, that is important, because she lists all the potential processes which might remotely qualify as “fermentation”, and he says (in effect), “Nope! Guess again!”. The process the manufacturer describes (always with critical details missing) sounds very much like either a CURING process, or a PUTRIFACTION process, but cannot be properly identified as a FERMENTATION process because there is nothing to ferment… Fermentation requires simple or complex carbohydrates, which are converted to either alcohol, or lactic acids. Livers have only trace carbohydrates, insufficient to sustain a fermentation process.
Molasses is listed on the GP cattle lick (which appears to be made from dried livers from which much of the oil has been extracted), and Dr. Daniels suggested this might aid in true fermentation. If fermentation process involves sugar carbohydrates, then it is being extracted by alcohol. But the manufacturer denies the use of any molasses in the process, in their answer to her questions and evidence, leaving the issue of both “fermentation” and extraction, at odds again.
The manufacturing facility is described as a greenhouse like structure, with a glass paneled roof. This would become very hot, even on cool days. Experimentation with water heat sinks in greenhouses indicates that the daytime temperatures would be such that it would increase the temperatures of the vats significantly. If this were not desired, the manufacturer would not have retained the glass roof, but would have replaced it with something more energy efficient, since daytime temps inside a greenhouse can reach heights sufficient to cook eggs (no exaggeration), and to slow cook meat. This is a potentially significant observation, because the manufacturer denies use of high heat in their processes. High heat is also a contraindication in virtually ALL fermentation processes, as it encourages microbes that hasten decay, and not the microbes that encourage preservation.
Incidentally, Dr. Daniels does mention in her report that the issue of the hot greenhouse has been commented upon. But I was struck by that before reading her report – because greenhouses just GET HOT. I’ve used them, and I’ve had plants get cooked because we forgot to open the vent in the fall, in Wyoming. Not exactly hot temperatures at the time either! No one had to tell me this – common sense told me that if they are using a greenhouse type structure, it is because they WANT heat. A lot of it.
What we can know, is that the manufacturer is NOT using a “historic” or “traditional” process, and even says so many times in his literature, where he says he could not find a process to ferment livers, and had to devise one of his own! It cannot be a unique process, and a historic process at the same time! It just cannot! They claim that CLO is historically “fermented”, and then describe putrifaction processes as examples. Putrifaction involves rotting of the food. Fermentation involves conversion (and preservation) of the food through a microbial process.
All historic examples of fish liver oil extraction given by the manufacturer are of putrifaction, not fermentation. Some are not even for products for human consumption, yet they are cited on the GP website as examples substantiating their claim to a “historic” process. Fermentation and putrifaction are distinctly different – polar opposites, in fact.
Botulism is in fact a risk. Basic knowledge of canning and preserving foods tells us this. Trust your knowledge folks! You KNOW this stuff. You KNOW that botulism thrives in an airless environment (such as at the bottom of a vat), and that improperly preserved low acid foods are susceptible to botulism. You also know that fermentation involves digestion of carbohydrates in order to CREATE a low acid environment, and that meats, by their very nature, are not fermentable, because they have no carbohydrates to ferment!
Meats are CURABLE, in a brine, which preserves them somewhat, but this is not a process which would aid in the extraction of oil from the meat, in fact it preserves the oils inside the meat. Cured meats, including various forms of partially decomposed herring, are COOKED prior to consumption (or canned after the curing process is completed), and they have a fairly limited shelf life in comparison to fermented foods. Consequently, using cured meats as an example of “historic fermentation” that is comparable to the FCLO process, is not applicable! It simply does not relate in any way.
Historic processes involving degraded or cured fish or meats invariably involve addition of salt, lye, sulphur, or other preservative compounds which allow the meat to degrade, but which inhibits the type of microbial action. This also, is not an example of fermentation, but of curing, and it does nothing to extract significant oils. This is another example used by the manufacturer to persuade customers that fermenting cod livers is a historic process, but in fact, the two processes are not comparable.
Fish sauce is listed as an example of “fermented fish”, when in fact, it is simply a salt extraction process for extracting liquids from the fish, by the use of salt, and any fermentation that occurs is due to the vegetables in the original mix, and not the fish itself. It is not the fermentation of fish. It is also not an OIL extraction method, only a WATER extraction method (quite different).
Another quoted example on the website of the manufacturer is of Shark Livers hanging in Shark stomachs in the South Sea Islands. This process appears valid, but it is an example not of fermentation, but of putrifaction. This example, as shown on the FCLO manufacturer website, leaves out one vital detail… The Shark Liver Oil was NOT FOR HUMAN CONSUMPTION. It was indeed highly prized and was a valuable cash crop. Not as food. As ENGINE OIL, Machine oil, and oil for Lamps (this can be verified through a quick web search). The consumption of Shark Liver Oil as a health supplement is of recent invention, occurring only when modern extraction methods were developed. In the same way that much whale oil was extracted by putrifaction for the purpose of being used as Lamp oil and lubrication, and just as the poorer quality Cod Liver Oil was used for the same.
The manufacturer and their defenders speak long about the enhanced nutritional value of FCLO, but in fact, their only evidence consists of studies done on vegetables, and none on FCLO itself to validate their suppositions – there are no credible test results to show increased nutrients, only supposition, and “we believe that” statements, with no science to back them up. Vegetables have carbohydrates to break down by lactic acid. Oils and meats (Cod Livers or Oil) can only be temporarily preserved by immersion in previously created brines, or in fresh salt brine, in a way that probably DOES affect the nutritional value, but not in the same way as carbohydrates would be affected. The glycogen in the livers is insufficient to sustain any kind of fermentation process, so the process would be one of brining, if lactic acid were added, and not one of fermentation. Fermentation is a LIVING process (designed to preserve in an evolving process), brining is a DEAD, short term preservation process (designed to kill microbes in the food).
We would like to believe in the good intentions of the manufacturer, but it is clear that they have engaged in wholesale speculation regarding the nutritional content of their product, and many other issues. It is clear that the manufacturer has no credible evidence to support many of their claims, and has been required to resort to declared assumptions (they say so themselves), oblique disclaimers (well, it is complicated, and no two batches are ever the same and no two people are ever the same and gosh it is just so hard to quantify that you will just have to take our word that it is really good stuff – *paraphrased*), and carefully worded statements which give the impression of having declared something, but no real firm statement that they can be made to stand behind, or which can be used to pin them to the wall in a lawsuit. As Maryanne says, in Sense and Sensibility, “It was every day implied, but never declared absolutely!”, and this is the illusion of substance that you will find in the vast majority of the claims regarding Fermented Cod Liver Oil.
Our take on the whole thing, from a nutritional standpoint.
In recent work with my own health issues, I have discovered some fairly amazing things. I have several metabolic deficiencies, which mean that I do not metabolize some common forms of amino acids, which are primarily found in meats, but one is also found in vegetables (not in high amounts), and one in grains. The thing is, there is NO treatment for these deficiencies. I only process specific amino acids in certain forms, and if I eat them in forms that my body cannot metabolize, the incomplete metabolites build up in my cells and have a toxic effect on my cells. This is a common result from metabolic deficiencies.
The cool thing is, that I have discovered that there are certain foods, and food combinations, that provide me with higher amounts of the forms of amino acids that I CAN metabolize. I cannot handle chicken eggs, but can handle quail eggs. They are just different enough. I can thrive on low lanolin lamb, but not mutton. Some kinds of fish agree with me better than others. And canned meats are indigestible for me – I cannot break down the proteins sufficient for my cells to use them, because they are changed due to the high heat. Conversely, I am able to digest canned beans, but if I cook them from scratch, they cause problems for me, for the same reason.
Why is this so?
I have come to believe that this is a genetic effect (metabolic deficiencies are inherited), which is brought about through cultural differences.
Hear me out… this is logical!
My ancestors hail from all over the world. There are few cultures that did not at one time or another, take up residence in my ancestral master bedroom. Some of the cultures that go with those ancestors are very diverse, and the food culture that goes with it is equally diverse.
We have oceanside cultures, with diets of principally ocean fish, chicken, and sheep, and cool climate fruits and vegetables. We have tropical island cultures with ocean seafood, chicken, small fatty pigs, and tropical fruits and vegetables. We have mid-European bread, temperate fruits, and vegetables, with course fish and lake fish, chicken, pigeon, rabbit, deer, and ham (at least the upper class… which we have traced back to). We also have the Deep South, and the pedestrian Midwest in there in recent years, and a hefty amount of Eastern Nomadic, and American Native hunter gatherer cultures.
Each of these cultures evolved to metabolize various nutritional components in fairly specific forms, according to what was locally available. This is logical – the human body adapts to available foods, and those who CAN digest them, thrive and are productive, those who CANNOT, dwindle off and do not perpetuate. Each of these cultures, over time, genetically LOST the ability to metabolize various nutritional components in forms that were available through other foods – they lost the ability to digest and utilize foods and nutritional components in forms that they did not regularly consume – they did not NEED that ability, so the genetics for local food prevailed.
There is recent scientific evidence to support this, the Inuit, who live on a diet very high in fish oils, have specific genetic adaptations which allow them to do this. People from other cultures are not able to tolerate those foods in amounts as high as the Inuit are able to do.
A bit of each of the cultures of my ancestors was passed to me – so I don’t get any one of them intact, I get a jumble of bits of this and bits of that to figure out.
There is a difference between the meat in various pork breeds. There is a difference in the meat between a modern industrialized “improved” (fast growing) beef cow, or chicken, and a heritage “slow growing” animal – the protein chains form differently, and in a different balance. The nutrients in one form may be good for one person, the nutrients in another form may be good for another, based on the specific genetic makeup of each individual, even within the same family. Roll the dice, and cope with what you ended up with!
This is why one kid hates peas, and can never be persuaded to eat them, but cannot get enough peanut butter. This is why one person loves cottage cheese with fruit (the fruit helps digest the cottage cheese), and another loves cottage cheese with nuts. This is why a person may hate fresh tomatoes, but love tomato sauce (cooking changes it). This is why my husband loves his green beans cooked just until a fork goes through and lightly salted at the table, but I love mine cooked on the back of the stove Southern style, with a bit of bacon in the pot, salted with onion salt, and left to simmer all day. And this is why people with Polynesian genetics (or other similar genetics) love pineapple with their meat – so those enzymes in the pineapple can help break down the meat into recognizable nutrients.
The real secret that I’ve learned, is to TRUST MY BODY.
Turns out a little chocolate after my meals helps me digest certain foods, and break them down in a way they do not when I do not eat chocolate afterwards (One Dove dark is usually enough). I’ve always craved chocolate after meals. Who knew?
The other side of this is that what I intensely dislike is generally NOT GOOD FOR ME! If my body revolts at the idea, then I know it is not good food for ME.
So… My concluding opinion is this… (Yeah, I know, I took a bit to get to it!)
If A SUPPLEMENT (or food) TASTES GOOD TO YOU, and FEELS GOOD TO YOU, then it is good for you.
If A SUPPLEMENT (or food) TASTES NASTY, and FEELS BAD, or MAKES YOU WANT TO HURL, then it is NOT GOOD FOR YOU!
If your baby spits it out, DO NOT try to force feed it to them! They are telling you something! LISTEN! Because if you do not, you may do them irreparable harm, by requiring them to eat something that, at best, their body does not know what to do with and just expels it as fast as possible (laxative, anyone?), or, at worst, BUILDS UP HARMFUL incomplete metabolites, or incomplete (unnatural to them) forms of vitamins, minerals or other nutritional constituents. Over time, that build-up can damage the digestive system, nervous system, muscles (including the heart), pulmonary system, lymph system, renal and endocrine systems, and skeletal system.
A quote by Dr. Weston A. Price, found in the report by Dr. Kaayla Daniels, seems to agree with this philosophy of not force feeding Cod Liver Oil to children:
“I have frequently had mothers bring this question to me as a serious nutritional problem with their children. They had desired to do all they possibly could for their children and, in their efforts, had tried to follow the directions on the bottle or as otherwise provided, which often meant large doses of cod liver oil. They have reported to me the difficulty they had in combating the rebellion of their children against the use of cod liver oil, which may have been in part a reaction of self-preservation. Many of the children were reported to regurgitate the oil when it was forced down. Since it has been demonstrated that only the oil that is utilized contributes to the well-being of the human being or animal, it can readily be anticipated that compulsion to take such a toxic product could be very injurious.”
Dr. Daniels continues with some additional information in her report, regarding dosages, and overuse, and the words of Dr. Price on these issues.
Trust your body! Trust your family to know what they love and what they don’t, and find good versions of the things they love to feed them! There will be enough variety in the things they love, and if they don’t like the veggies you love, keep trying until you find the veggies they DO love.
Would I give my family “Fermented” Cod Liver Oil?
No. I would not – UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES! There are too many scientific facts that I know that are in direct contradiction to statements made by the manufacturer. It does not make sense to me, so I won’t use it. Nor will I recommend it.
If I thought a family member had a specific ailment that might benefit, I might seek out a cleaner and more natural form of Cod Liver Oil. But I would be just as likely to try other options first, or instead of Cod Liver Oil.
Would I use a “Fermented” Cod Liver Oil Lick Tub for my cattle? Unequivocally no!
Cattle are not meant to eat fish! Ergo, it cannot be termed a “natural” supplement for Cattle or other herbivores! A Lick Tub might be appropriate for chickens, ducks, or turkeys, or even pigs or quail. But not for cows! I CAN, however, recommend Redmond Minerals Natural Mineral Salt Rocks (I do not know exactly what they call them, but they sell for about $1.50 per lb, and are hewn from the mountain and used as found – lovely pink salty rocks!).
So go eat some fish. And try some different kinds of foods! Your body will thank you!
More information here:
- Where is Weston A. Price’s Traditional Fermented Cod Liver Oil?
- A LOT on the CLO scandal, and more from Dr. Kaayla Daniels
- A series of articles from Cheeseslave – (search for FCLO on her site if they’ve rolled off the home page)
- About Extra Virgin Cod Liver Oil (she uses it daily, and we do not generally recommend that)
- Adverse experience with FCLO
Many other WAPF bloggers initially questioned the FCLO controversy (the blog posts all have a sort of “Oh, golly, I don’t know WHAT to think!!” hand-wringing attitude to them), and then caved to pressure, and followed up with quotes from WAPFs misleading and vague response to the issues, or quoted the completely useless replies of the company that makes FCLO (written like a true politician, to make you THINK the question has been answered when it really has not, or just repeating information that has already been proven to be a lie, in the hopes you’ll believe it this time). In the interest of NOT confusing you, and because I never promote someone who has blatantly incorrect info if I can help it, I have not listed them in the list above. You can find them easily enough on your own.
Disclaimer: I am not a medical professional. This article is provided for informational purposes only, and is not intended to diagnose or treat any disease, nor to recommend treatment for any disease. The interpretation of the information as presented is my opinion only, and should not be interpreted to be accusatory, or as a conclusive research document. We have no connection with the Weston A. Price Foundation, nor any affiliation with the manufacturer of Fermented Cod Liver Oil, nor with any competitors. We do not sell nutritional supplements, nor any products which might be considered to be competitive with any kind of Cod Liver Oil product, and have no financial motive for presenting this other than that it is a topic relevant to our own business, and contains questions being asked by our customers.
Periodically some new study will come out telling you how you are eating your foods all wrong, and how mankind has been duped for the entire history of the world into eating things that are harming them, and that this or that process is necessary in order to avoid the pitfall that the study somehow proves is unavoidable otherwise.
Hence we have groups of people dedicated to one extreme or another of eating, in complete disregard to the fact that historical patterns from society to society are a pretty accurate predictor of what is and is not sustainable.
Some of natures rules that we tend to forget:
- There is no society in the world at any time in history that espoused a vegetarian or vegan diet without the addition of meat, fish or insect protein, usually two or more of those. No society has thrived under a meatless diet.
- Sprouting and fermenting of foods was done as a supplement to seasonal eating, as a way of extending fresh food seasons, in all historic societies that practiced these preparation methods.
- “Miracle foods” do not exist. Food, in and of itself, is a miracle, when it is fresh, not contaminated with things that the body should not be assaulted by, and when it is consumed in variety.
- The best “medicinal supplements” are those that have a long history of being used in significant amounts in a thriving society somewhere in the world. Examples: Cinnamon, cocoa, coconut oil, oily fish (NOT extracted oils), whole wheat, dill, etc.
- “Antioxidants” can be found in ANY fresh fruit or vegetable. They are not miraculous. They are elements in fresh foods, and ALL wholesome fresh foods aid in slowing cellular damage in the body.
- Alcohol is consumed in every society in the world. But it is also KNOWN in every society in the world to be harmful to one extent to another, and is always the subject of some controversy due to negative health effects. This is true of many things, where an item may be accepted in a culture, but is also controversial in that culture.
- More harm is done by trying to disinfect food than is done by the microbes that are considered harmful. Bacteria, molds, yeasts, and other microbes combine in variety to expose our bodies to both helpful agents that aid in the breakdown of food and low exposure to “harmful” agents that strengthen our immune system and often aid in ways we do not anticipate.
- Nature does not rule by extremes, but by variety, and common sense.
Nature is not trying to trick us, and while science is discovering new benefits and cautions regarding food all the time, the fact is that a varied diet of fresh and whole foods is still the best way to stay healthy.
It is not as though mankind has been eating their vegetables all wrong until the last few years when a partially completed study suggested that some foods may cause a negative effect when processed in a laboratory. Not logical!
Food problems are NOT historic. They are recent. Escalating disease rates are also NOT historic, but of RECENT development.
Hence, we may assume that it is MODERN man that has eating all wrong, not HISTORIC man. We may know more about what food does in the body, but we also have more contaminants and our food is more processed and stripped of many of the elements which we need for optimal health.
- There is NO society that fermented foods exclusively in a closed containment. They were fermented in MANY ways, in all societies, as a means of preservation.
- There is NO society that consumed exclusively sprouted grains. Most grains were consumed after being cooked, or ground and baked.
- There is NO society that ate exclusively COOKED vegetables, or exclusively RAW vegetables. ALL successful societies, even nomadic, consumed a combination of raw and cooked foods, depending upon the food.
Eating well is a fairly simple prospect, once we know that we only need a good variety of healthy foods, that have been affected by chemical contaminants as little as possible, and which have not been “refined” in a way that strips them of nutrients. The more natural microbes they happen to contain, the better.
It is THAT SIMPLE!
(Foods that form significant alcohol when lacto-fermented.)
If a fermented food or drink is tingly or fizzy on your tongue, or if it has an alcohol “burn”, then it is UNSAFE for children, pregnant women, individuals on medications that conflict with alcohol, recovering alcoholics, people who are reactive to alcohols, and those who practice health codes that prohibit alcohol consumption.
The legal definition of “alcoholic” is any food or drink containing higher than .5% alcohol. This is right at the point where significant carbonation is detectible in liquid beverages (milk beverages fizz at a slightly lower level), and this is the level at which the government has determined that an individual MAY become intoxicated with sufficient consumption (and where it is a danger to children – and hence, to pregnant women). In other words, liquid fermentations will begin to “fizz” or “tingle” right about the point where they become unsafe for children, and where the US government classifies them as a potential intoxicant. This is why modern sodas are carbonated by pressure methods, and not by fermentation.
All of the following foods or beverages form significant alcohol. The sugars in the foods and drinks create alcohol during the fermentation process. If a food contains carbohydrate based sugars, IT WILL FORM SIGNIFICANT ALCOHOL. Basic rules of fermentation – sugar converts to alcohol.
Scientific studies on kombucha, fermented sodas (root beer, ginger ale, and others), and beet kvass, show the alcohol content to be between .5 and 1.1% alcohol. Beet kvass is usually higher.
ANYTHING with equivalent SUGAR, and equivalent fermentation times, will form the same levels of alcohol. In water kefir, it is the sugars which enable fermentation – water, by itself, cannot ferment, it has to have something to work on, and when sugar is all that is added, you are producing an alcoholic beverage.
- Fermented Soda
- Water Kefir
- Fermented Ginger Ale
- Fermented Root Beer
- Beet Kvass (higher than sodas)
- Herbal Kombucha
- Fruit Juice
- Sugared drinks
- Over-fermented milk Kefir (very fizzy – carbonation suspends in milk sooner than in thinner liquids, so only very fizzy milk kefir is significantly high in alcohol)
- Tomatoes (including tomato salsa or sauce)
- Carrots (generally ok in vegetable blends)
- Sweet Potatoes
- Other Starchy Vegetables
- Flower blossoms
Foods sweetened with any of the following
- Raw Sugar
- Fruit Syrups
- Sugar alcohols (xylitol, erithorbitol, sorbitol, etc)
- Other carbohydrate based sweeteners
Get Rid of the Alcohol
- Add the sugar (or the fruits or starchy vegetables) after fermenting non-starchy vegetables, to prevent it forming (for sweet pickles or fermented condiments). Let it meld for three days under refrigeration to blend the flavors and let the sugars permeate the fermented foods.
- Vinegarize it (open ferment it until the alcohol converts to acid). Ferment two weeks in a closed fermentation (to slightly reduce alcohol formation), and then open ferment until the alcohol is fully converted to acid.
- Evaporate it (let it sit in a shallow dish until the alcohol evaporates). This can take several days in the fridge.
- Cook it out (fast evaporation – heat it and stir it until alcohol evaporates). This takes between 10 and 20 minutes to boil out the alcohol, depending on total volume. This also destroys the helpful microbes.
Homemade kraut is one of the simplest fermented foods, but it follows slightly different rules than other fermented foods, because it involves only a single vegetable (usually, though it can involve more), and because it does not require a separate brine.
To make kraut, you slice or chop the cabbage. Size of the pieces is irrelevant, they may be any size you prefer. Most people go for something a little larger than coleslaw.
The short version is that the cabbage is packed into jars, and salted (or salted then packed into jars), and weighted down so the juice is pressed up around the cabbage to cover it.
Tip #1: Kraut requires HEAVIER WEIGHTS than many other ferments. When we make kraut, we use about 4-5 of our standard square weights, on top of a dunker extender to press the cabbage down.
But… The cabbage will not produce enough brine to cover the cabbage right away. It can take a day or so for this to happen. That is NORMAL.
Since it does not call for a separate brine, there are various methods for getting the cabbage to produce enough liquid to cover the cabbage. A frequently recommended method is pounding it, either in a bowl, or as you put it into the jars.
Tip #2: Don’t pound the cabbage. For the very best kraut, do not pound the cabbage either prior to packing it, or during packing. You get a crisper texture and a longer lasting preservation if you do not pound it.
Instead, put the cabbage into a large bowl, and salt it in the bowl. Put about 1-2 tsp of salt for every half gallon or so of loose cabbage (not packed). Just grab a large double handful and put it in the bowl, and then sprinkle a teaspoon or two of salt over it, then repeat. Let the cabbage sit for about 8 hours. Stir it every hour or two, to help distribute the salt. You will see the liquid start to form in the bottom of the bowl.
NOTE: If life interferes, it is perfectly fine to pop the bowl in the fridge for up to 2 days, but it is best that it is stirred a time or two.
Pack the cabbage into jars – leave about 1/5 of the jar empty at the top for headspace. Pack it tightly. I use a wooden spoon to press it firmly into the corners and press it into the jar. Divide the juice between the jars.
Weight it down heavily. You want close to a pound of weight on a half gallon jar. Less on smaller jars. Enough weight to get the juice about to the top of the cabbage.
The key to this is the weight. Cabbage just takes a lot of weight at first.
Tip #3: More juice will form over the next 24 hours. Yes, the top of the cabbage will be out of the juice for part of that time. This is normal.
After about 24 hours, the juice should COVER the top of the cabbage. As long as it is covering it by at least 1/4″, it will be fine, because it will continue to settle and rise very slowly over the next few days. After about three days, you want the brine to cover the cabbage by about 1″.
Tip #4: If the brine has not covered the cabbage, or if you just cannot get it weighted down enough to begin with to reach the top, then it is PERFECTLY FINE to add additional brine. Mix 2 shy tsp of salt with 1 cup of cold water, and stir to dissolve it (keep stirring, it will work).
Tip #5: Let the kraut ferment at room temperature to start with. Some sources say to keep it in the dark, but I have never done so.
Fermenting times are variable, they depend on the temperature of your room. In the summer, when temperatures are higher, it will ferment faster. In the winter, it will ferment more slowly. It GENERALLY takes about 3-5 days to develop the initial kraut smell – a pleasant vinegary smell (if your house is cooler than 65 degrees, it can go more slowly). You can smell this on top of the airlock if you are using a compact silicone airlock.
Ideally, you leave the kraut to ferment at room temperature 1-2 weeks (counting from the day you PACK the jars). Yeah, there are people who disagree with this. Yeah, they say science is on their side, but they are not considering ALL of the science. If you want your ferment to not only be healthy, but also to be preserved well so that it will last in the fridge if life gets hectic, then ferment it 1-2 weeks at room temperature, because longer SIGNIFICANTLY reduces lifespan in the fridge otherwise.
Tip #6: Ferment it at room temperature for only 1 week in the heat of summer. Ferment it for 2 weeks in the dead of winter. In between, you’ll just have to ballpark it somewhere in between. You are dealing with temperatures generally between 65 and 80 (no AC). So base your guesses on where your home falls in that range. If your home is a steady 72 degrees year round, then ferment your kraut 12 days all year. Most of us can’t afford that though, and will have to adjust!
NOTE: These rules are different for various foods. The LARGER the food pieces, the longer they take to ferment all the way through. Smaller pieces take 1-2 weeks. Larger things like whole pickles take up to 3 or more weeks.
This is NOT EXACT SCIENCE!!! It never will be. Sometimes you may need to put the food in the fridge sooner due to circumstances in your life. Sometimes you may leave it a few days longer when something distracts you. THIS IS OK!! It won’t ruin it. It will continue the fermentation process much more slowly in the fridge. As long as it still looks and smells like FOOD, extra days out won’t kill it!
Tip #7: The only visual clue you have that a food is ready for the fridge is that the concentration of bubbles in the food will reduce some. This is not always detectible, it depends on how much the jars are handled, how tightly the food is packed, and how much brine – and with foods other than kraut, it also depends on the thickness of the liquid (thicker shows more bubbles than thinner). So you may or may not be able to tell by observation when that 1-2 week period is completed. Judging readiness for the fridge by temperature estimation is JUST FINE. Don’t fuss over this, just take your best guess. It will be RIGHT the majority of the time (trust your intuition… you have it for a reason!).
Tip #8: DON’T repack the jars as you eat the kraut. Not only is this a waste of resources from washing jars, it is counterproductive!
The theory is that you repack the jars to reduce air in the headspace of the jar. This theory was devised by people who make money from persuading you that you have to have an “airtight” container for fermenting (which is pure fallacy to begin with since we know the containers they sell are not airtight at all) and who really like the idea of selling you multiple sizes of expensive jars. So IGNORE THIS THEORY. It is COMPLETELY WRONG.
Repacking jars introduces many times more air into the ferment than leaving excess headspace does. The reason for this is that the BRINE protects the kraut from air exposure. This is borne out by years of tradition – the kraut barrel was packed in the fall, and emptied through the winter, and the top was generally only covered by a cloth. The weight was left on it, and dropped with the level of the kraut to keep the cabbage under the brine. That is all.
If you take all that cabbage out and dump it into another jar, you are not only unnecessarily exposing it to air during the transfer, you are trapping air bubbles in it, and oxygenating the brine as you pour it between containers. Removing some food and replacing the extender and weight is less disruptive, and keeps the food fresher longer.
Tip #9: You can reduce the number of weights as the cabbage ferments. Generally about the time you put it in the fridge you can remove some of the weights. You’ll know how many. When it floats too much, put one back. As you eat the food from the jar, you can also remove weights to use them elsewhere.
Tip #10: Fermenting is a CASUAL and ENJOYABLE business, not a fussy worrisome thing. It has been done throughout the ages in conditions that were not only less than ideal, they were often appalling! It has been done in makeshift containers with unwashed foods. It has been carried out in root cellars with dirt walls and mold or mushrooms in every corner. Mothers prepared kraut in the back yard, or in a kitchen with a dirt floor, or an unpainted and dusty plank or brick floor with kids running through in bare feet stirring up the dust.
Nobody had thermometers, or airlock jars, or refrigerators or temperature controlled houses. They did not even have precise instructions! They had vegetables, salt, water (of questionable purity), a large crock, makeshift weights (usually a plate), a ladle or spoon to skim off the foam. Yeah, there are other ways from other cultures as well, but this is American tradition. The pickle barrel and kraut crock in the corner of the basement or root cellar.
So the last lesson is, enjoy the art of Fermentation. Watch your kraut, smell it, taste it, and learn to see and feel the process.
The REAL tradition is not the precise directions. The real tradition and heritage that we can recapture is the art of noticing and getting to know the food and the process.
Enjoy your Kraut!
What kind of insane person even RECOMMENDS doing so?
Stand back, I’m in no mood to be tactful today. If you can’t take it, you might want to stop reading this now.
If a person claiming to be a nutritional expert came to you and told you that beer was good for your children, and wine would help them be healthier, and that you should just dilute your beer by half with juice, and give that to your children, would you do it?
Authors of fermentation information across the US seem to think that this is not just acceptable, but somehow GOOD. An article on the WAPF site dismisses all concerns about alcohol, and publishes numbers for alcoholic content which cannot be verified by any source which has actually tested the content (sources which have tested them have found them to be VERY much higher – and don’t quote me that sad excuse for science by Kelly the Kitchen Kop either, because she HEATED the liquid before she tested it, completely invalidating her results since alcohol evaporates RAPIDLY when heated and does not need to even boil to evaporate).
After condemning the evils of sugar, the authors recommend alcoholic beverages as a safe and healthy alternative! Am I the only person out there who is flat out appalled and shocked by this? I am so shocked by this that no matter how many times I see it the shock value never diminishes! They would risk addicting their children to alcohol, damaging their brains, livers, digestive systems and immune systems far more than sugar ever did, and they would risk burdening their babies with Fetal Alcohol Effect or Syndrome, or with neural tube defects (which are affected by alcohol – including anencephaly which is a fatal condition), because they also advocate usage by pregnant women!
These articles recommend giving children (and pregnant women) kombucha, water kefir, beet kvass, fermented sodas (with sugars in them), fermented fruit juices, fermented fruits, and other beverages and foods which are KNOWN (and have been known through history) to produce intoxicating levels of alcohol.
NOTE: I am NOT citing sources for percentages on these. This information is SO EASY to find, by a simple Google search, that there is NO REASON for me to cite sources, and I do NOT want you to take my word for it or trust my sources. I want you to FIND OUT FOR YOURSELF. Go check my facts (don’t use fact checker websites, they are not accurate – just do a Google search for alcohol content of whatever).
Now… why do I compare those with beer?
1. The level of alcohol which is determined to be “potentially intoxicating”. The US government regulates all foods with an alcohol content of over .5%. This is the level they have determined is sufficient to intoxicate if sufficient amount is consumed, and which is of an amount that you CAN consume enough to intoxicate. For children, the amounts required to intoxicate are far lower. Beverages with less are not considered to be alcoholic.
Remember that the majority of kombucha brands were pulled from the shelves of stores (in 2010) because levels of alcohol were too high to be sold except as alcoholic beverages? Recipes were then changed, with bacteria added, fermentation strictly limited (second ferments no longer done), and carbon dioxide added for fizz (since natural fizz is the result of much higher alcohol levels). Levels tested up to 3% alcohol. That is equivalent of light beer (most beers are 5%, stout beer can be as high as 8% – the WAPF article lists beer as 8% but this is completely inaccurate since beer ranges from 3-8%).
Home fermented sodas, including root beer, ginger ale, and others, have an alcohol content that can range from just under .5% (generally no fizz under that level) to as high as 11% alcohol, depending on how long it is fermented prior to bottling, exact temperatures of the room prior to bottling, exact amounts of sugar and other ingredients, the amount of time it stays in the bottle, the temperature the bottles are stored in, the amount of headspace in the bottle, whether the ferment is open or closed and WHEN it is open or closed, etc. There are SO MANY variables that you CANNOT follow a recipe and say, “Oh, they said it will not be alcoholic.” and know this is true! It is far MORE likely to be alcoholic than not!
NOTE: Some say that fermenting in a closed (airlock) container limits alcohol content. Not true. If you ferment during the first TWO WEEKS in a closed container, the alcohol content will be SLIGHTLY LOWER at the end of those two weeks. If you KEEP it in the closed container, the alcohol continues to concentrate. An OPEN ferment to start will build alcohol slightly faster, but then will evaporate it faster, and convert it to acetic acid (which does not happen in a closed ferment). Hence, brewers OPEN ferment for the initial phase, then CLOSE ferment to concentrate the alcohol. The opposite process will REDUCE the alcohol SOME, but will NOT eliminate the risks, and won’t provide ANY assurance that your sugary ferments are not alcoholic.
If you ferment sugars, which includes ANY kind of carbohydrate based sweetener, or starchy vegetable or grain, it WILL create alcohol.
Whey INCREASES alcohol content, it does NOT decrease it.
Salt does NOT reduce alcohol content, it only affects flavor and rapidity of acid creation.
Water kefir and fermented juices are in the same category, having similar sugar amounts. In fact, the water kefir we experimented with smelled so strongly alcoholic that we could not even taste test it, and we followed the instructions on the amount of molasses and sugar to add (and sugar, molasses, honey, fructose, and any other carbohydrate based sweetener that WILL ferment will create alcohol!).
Beet kvass is known to have an alcohol content over the legal limit of .5%, and is only listed as a non-alcoholic drink in a few countries which have much higher legal limits for classification of alcoholic beverages. It is usually between .5% and 1% WHEN MADE IN A CONTROLLED ENVIRONMENT, and is usually higher when homebrewed, depending on same factors as other alcoholic ferments.
So, we are dealing with KNOWN higher amounts, in combination with an UNKNOWN process in your home which in most circumstances WILL result in an alcoholic content that is high enough to present real concerns.
2. The degree to which they advocate diluting them, and the strength at which they are using them.
If you have kombucha that is 2% alcohol, and you dilute it 50%, then you are not far off from giving your child beer diluted 75%. Would you do it?
If you have soda that ends up on the high end of the alcohol content scale, and you dilute it 50%, then you are still giving them the equivalent of beer, or light beer. Would you do it?
And since sodas are usually NOT diluted, nor are fermented fruit juices, or fermented fruit sauces, these things may have very high alcohol content, and are not any different than giving your children beer or wine.
The biggest issue here is the fact that YOU DON’T KNOW. Are you just ok with giving a child, whose brain is still developing, a beverage which has a high probability of having sufficient alcohol to affect brain development?
Roll the dice. Pick a drink off the shelves of a store blindfolded, not knowing whether it is juice, water, beer, or wine. Give it to your kids! There is no difference!
Yes, Child Protective Services WILL consider these things to be alcoholic. Yes, they WILL treat you the same as if you have given your children beer or wine. Yes, you CAN lose your children because of these things. And NO, this is NOT a reason for the entire fermentation world to let out a collective cry for secrecy! This is a reason to STOP GIVING CHILDREN ALCOHOLIC BEVERAGES, whether made at home or not!
But that isn’t really the point. The point is that research on alcohol and developing bodies and brains is well established, and it is illegal to give your children these things because our society knows and recognizes the harm that it causes. What caring parent would casually dismiss this and brush it off as being of no concern, simply because they learned how to make a neat new thing that they think tastes pretty good? Pride in making such a thing, or even a belief that it might be helpful to an adult body (evidence suggests otherwise, but whatever) is NO reason to dismiss the danger to children from these beverages and foods.
Is that such a difficult thing? Is that such a difficult truth to accept?
Root beer and ginger ale are no longer fermented in the US. They are made by adding carbon dioxide as other sodas are made. They are specifically made that way because it is too difficult to develop sufficient carbonation while keeping it under the legal limit for regulation as an alcoholic beverage.
Honestly, what makes people think they can do so at home without accurate equipment, better than commercial companies who control every single aspect of the ferment? A home brewer CAN’T control every single aspect – they do not ferment their foods in temperature controlled rooms with exact measurements along the way to verify accuracy!
I am beyond disgusted with those who promote this. I can understand those who have been deceived continuing to do so because they have been assured by a source they trust that it will cause no harm. But SHAME on those sources! SHAME on those people who continue to claim that these things are safe or beneficial for children or pregnant women!
We SHOULD be outraged! We should, as a community of people dedicated to health, be disgusted and NOT TOLERATE people who make these claims! We should as a group, demand that they STOP IT. That they can risk their own children’s health, safety, and custody if they choose, but they have NO RIGHT to tell other people that they are in no danger if they do the same!
I have no patience with it anymore.
American gardeners usually plant in the spring, and harvest in the fall, and then hurry to “get the last of it before the frosts hit”. European gardeners are far more aware that some of the best crops come in after the frost hits!
Many spring and fall crops will bear long after the frost hits the garden. Most “cold” crops will continue to bear down to 15 degrees F, as long as the daytime temps get warm enough to thaw them out and give them some growing time.
In northern zones, you’ll need a layer or two of protection to keep things going. That means a row cover, a cold frame, or an UNHEATED greenhouse. In really cold areas, you may need to double up – using row covers in the greenhouse, or a coldframe in the greenhouse, row cover over the cold frame, etc.
Alaska is the only area in the US where there is a need for heat, since there are insufficient hours of sunlight to sufficiently warm a greenhouse in the daytime during deep winter. Even in that harsh climate though, an unheated greenhouse can extend your growing season by up to three months on either end.
Growth slows way down in the winter, and so does the need for water. Not only that, but the bugs are not a problem at all! It makes winter gardening surprisingly low maintenance!
The crops that grow best in the winter are those that are planted earliest in the spring. This includes a BUNCH of fragile greens such as lettuce, cress, endive, arugula, and raddichio, which either don’t ferment so well, or which never make it onto my menu simply because I dislike the sharp flavor.
The point being, pay attention this spring to what you are planting earliest, and many of those are your best winter crops. You will probably need to order your winter crop seeds in the spring also, so save your extras, or get an extra pack of the seeds for your winter crops.
Peas can be started very early, but the blossoms are more prone to freezing than the hardier plants listed below.
You can either plant your winter garden sometime around September, or you can just let your garden keep going into the winter.
There are more crops than those listed below which do well in this situation, but this will get you started!
Beets – Beets thrive in a cooler environment, for both roots, and greens.
Broccoli – After you pull the head from your broccoli it will send out side shoots from the leaf junctions, some of which can rival the main head for size. The longer you pick those into the fall though, the faster they will bolt, in a desperate last ditch attempt to set seed before it freezes. Broccoli that is planted later tends to be more stable for fall and winter harvests, as does broccoli with larger heads. Those varieties that are bred to send out lots of side shoots are less appropriate for winter growing since they bolt more easily in the fall. Cold weather broccoli tastes so much better than warm weather harvested heads. More sweet, less sulphur – and no cabbage loopers to gross you out.
Cabbage – You have never tasted anything like baby cabbage leaves grown in the cold weather! They are so good sauteed in butter with a little garlic! So plant some Dutch Cabbage to keep and mature late into the fall and winter (for better flavored cabbage heads), but plant a little late cabbage for fresh baby cabbage leaves also – they can be used and fermented the same as Collards, only they taste much better! Cabbage can also have the main head removed, and it will form new mini-heads at the leaf junctions of the remaining plant.
Carrots – Carrots are a biennial crop, which means they start from seed one year, and set seed the second year. This means they hold very well over the winter in the ground, but start to get pretty tough when the weather warms up again in the spring and they start getting ready to set seed. If you start them in the fall, they will still form wonderful sweet baby carrots (which have a richer flavor than summer grown baby carrots).
Cauliflower – Pretty much the same rules as Broccoli. New heads will form at the leaf junctions when the main head is removed.
Chard – Chard grows well through the heat, and through the cold. Get it started before the frosts hit though.
Dill – Fresh baby dill picked from a winter garden is a real treat! It adds a brighter flavor to ferments than mature dill heads. Start in late summer.
Garlic – Garlic will stay in the ground and grow year round if you let it. As long as the ground does not stay frozen you can harvest it all year. If the ground does freeze, the garlic will generally come back in the spring. Green garlic tops snipped into your ferments will add a nice garlicky flavor and a bright dash of herby color.
Parsley – Parsley thrives in the cold weather. It goes well in many kinds of fresh veggie ferments, adding a tangy richness to the flavor. A relative of carrots, this is another biennial crop which winters over in order to set seed the second year.
Kale – Kale will try to set seed in the fall unless you start another planting. Start it about a month or two before freezing temps hit, and it will cheerfully give you a crop of leaves that can be picked individually, and which will keep coming well into the cold.
Kolrabi – Behaves about like cabbage or Kale – does best when planted again in the late summer. You’ll get a better flavor in this from the cold as well.
Onions – Onions are biennial. They start from seeds and form bulbs the first growing season, and then set seed the second year. This means they were designed by nature to winter over. You’ll get amazing sweet onions when you pick them after the first frosts. You can get green onions through the winter as long as temps stay above 15 degrees (outside, or under protection).
Radish – Radishes mature quickly even in cold weather. You get bigger radishes, and the flavor is less peppery when grown in the cold. The greens also make good rabbit or chicken feed!
Spinach – Spinach grows well even when temps are freezing. It is an amazing thing to go out in the morning and see baby spinach leaves with ice bubbles in them – you just know it is going to warm up into a pile of dark goo – but it doesn’t! An hour later it is perky and bright green, and ready to pick for a salad or to pack into a greens ferment.
Lettuces are not appropriate for fermenting, but also make wonderful winter greens to complement your ferments and add fresh vegetables to your table.
This is not by any means a comprehensive list. Many of these foods may be kept in a root cellar, and used well into the winter, but they do not ferment well after they have been in storage. Keeping them going in the garden means they are still truly fresh when you harvest them.
Some crops like carrots or cabbage may also be packed under straw or sawdust to store them outdoors in the garden (still rooted in). I don’t generally recommend that for fermenting, because they are more prone to mold, they tend to gather more debris on some kinds of foods, and covering them with mulch ends up blanching the color from them, which reduces the nutritional content.
Winter gardening is one of the delightful rediscoveries in traditional farming methods that has resurfaced recently, and it is one that is of particular benefit to the fermenter, since a lot of the foods which fermenters love the best are good winter crops.
Try it out this year, in your garden, in a greenhouse, or in containers under row covers or clear plastic on a balcony or sunny porch.
See the miracle for yourself!
Lacto-fermenting involves encouraging healthy bacteria and fungus to grow within a contained environment. Vegetables ferment extremely well because they already contain good starts of those bacteria and fungi.
The problem with mushrooms is that they ARE a fungus. Their presence in a ferment will radically affect the balance of bacteria and other fungus in the ferment. Not in a good way!
The problem with eggs and sausage is that they encourage the growth of other items that are not conducive to the growth of healthy microbes. Both are traditionally pickled with finished pickle brines, or with apple cider vinegar blends.
You can, of course, purchase pickled mushrooms, pickled eggs, and pickled sausage. The mushrooms are likely filled with chlorine because they’ve been watered with chlorinated water (and the mushroom fruits concentrate contaminants). The eggs are of unknown age, from chickens fed who knows what, and preserved with chemicals that were never meant to be consumed by humans. The sausage… well, if you don’t already know what goes into commercial sausage, then maybe you don’t really WANT to know. And that doesn’t even touch on the quality of what the animal ate, or the chemicals used to cure the sausage!
When you want to KNOW the real quality of the ingredients, you just HAVE to make your own! Fresh, quality ingredients. Or specialty ingredients.
Pickled chanterelles or morels. Or your own homegrown Criminis or Oyster mushrooms, or maybe the Russulas you gathered yourself. Pickled bantam eggs, or Quail eggs, with specialty seasoning combinations (I’d love to have some Quail eggs to drop into my Pickled Salsa… OOooooooh!). Or Polish sausage made from homegrown pork, elk, or wild hog, or even a combination of duck and rabbit.
Certainly you can use Raw Apple Cider Vinegar and mix a cold seasoned brine for use with any of these (stir well to incorporate the salt or sugar), in order to create a live culture pickling brine (heat must be avoided, it will kill the ACV). But you have so many more options by following this simple method instead.
To ferment these specialty items, get a good vegetable ferment going that has the flavors that you want in your finished pickle. Once the ferment is well established (approximately two weeks, minimum), you can add the mushrooms, peeled boiled eggs, or sausage, either to the vegetable mix, or after removing the veggies – just add it to the brine.
Let the food ferment for another week or two, to develop a good pickle. They may be refrigerated during the pickling process (especially important for eggs and sausage).
If you are going for a SWEET pickle flavor, add your sugar immediately prior to adding your mushrooms, eggs, or sausage. Make sure you stir it in well, so that it is completely dissolved. This keeps the ferment sweet and sour, instead of creating a sour alcoholic brine (sugars added earlier will convert to alcohol and go sour).
My mother pickled eggs in the brine from her home canned pickled beets. This was a heat treated brine, so the bacteria was dead, though adding the eggs stirred up a bunch of new healthy stuff as the eggs cured. The eggs turned a lovely shade of purply red, and the beet brine was a lovely complement to the eggs. I do not use beets in my fresh ferments though, because they are high in natural sugars, which go alcoholic, and that is not somewhere I’ll go with food I feed my family.
One of these days I will ferment some beets and push it through to the vinegar stage (past the alcohol stage) and then sweeten it a little and toss in some eggs, to see if I can get the delicious result with more probiotics but without the alcohol that would result from a young ferment with beets.
Get all the goodies from the lacto-fermented brine, with the superior flavor of home cured foods, infused all the way through your freshly purchased ingredients, or through your own homegrown or gathered mushrooms, clean-fed chicken eggs, and homemade sausage (from home grown pork even!).
Dead food just can’t taste like that!
It is that time of year again. The seed catalogs are arriving, and in the depths of winter the thought of spring refuses to be suppressed.
There is no doubt that vegetables fresh from the garden are the best for fermenting. They are fresher, and chemically cleaner than what you can buy, and you know for yourself exactly how they were grown.
If you are planning a limited space garden, or if you are wanting to plant a garden that has plenty of good stuff for fermenting, this list may help you plan a garden designed to get you in a fine pickle at harvest time!
- Artichokes – Globe artichokes or Jerusalem artichokes both pickle well. Both are perinnial crops so you plant them once and they come back year after year.
- Asparagus – plant once, and it comes back year after year. Remember to plant this where you will not need to move it, and where you do not plan to dig or till in the future (it even works well in landscaping beds).
- Beets – You can grow a lot of beets in a small space, and you can use beet thinnings in salads, the baby greens are wonderfully flavorful. Traditionally used for kvass, beets also make wonderful pickles.
- Bell Peppers – Perfect for salsas, and for adding color to pickled veggies. Pickled sweet peppers are amazing in any color!
- Broccoli – An old favorite, you can pickle the flowerettes for a traditional look, or you can use the flowerettes in other meals and pickle the stems. Even the big tough stems can be peeled and cubed or julienned for amazing broccoli pickles.
- Cabbage – Kraut. Need we say more?
- Carrots – After Kraut and Cukes, carrots are one of the all time favorites for pickling. Lovely color to add to veggie mixes.
- Cauliflower – Another traditional pickling veggie.
- Chard – Pickles really well. It will go softer than kraut, but stays firmer than spinach.
- Collards – A great pickler, it makes a softer kraut than cabbage, with LOTS more green! Collards will grow in the spring or fall an go to seed and self-seed in the south. In the north you can grow them as a summer crop and they stand the heat better than some.
- Corn – Look for a “baby cob” corn variety, and you can make those awesome little pickled baby corn cobs.
- Cucumbers – A pickling variety is best, picked young, but even older picklers will make good pickle slices. NOTHING that you buy in the store can equal a fresh snappy pickled cucumber fresh from the crock.
- Dill – A must! Dill is easy to grow, and so good in pickles. Great for eggs and potato salads too! Dill grows well in winter gardens also.
- Fennel – Fennel pickles well in veggie mixes where the unique flavor can be the focal point.
- Garlic – If you plant your garlic in an area where you do not have to move it, you can naturalize it so it comes back year after year. A soft neck variety dries and hangs to keep for many months.
- Green Beans – Bush varieties produce without poles, but pole varieties produce more beans over a longer time span. Either way, pick the beans young, and you’ll get great veggie pickles.
- Herbs – Basil, Parsley, Cilantro, and all the other good stuff your recipes call for. Fresh grown is so much better than herbs from the store.
- Jalapeno Peppers – Or your other favorite hot pepper. Toss them in wherever you want some sizzle.
- Kale – Another vegetable that pickles like kraut only a little softer. It can also be added to other firm greens mixes.
- Kohlrabi – Julienne and pickle. A good winter crop also.
- Okra – Pickled okra is a Southern tradition. Okra really doesn’t grow well unless you have a long hot growing season, but then it will keep producing all summer.
- Onions – Plant onion sets for large bulbs. Plant Shallots, or other multiplier onions to naturalize your onions so they keep producing year after year without replanting – just dig what you need and let the rest grow. Onions – baby onions, sliced green onions, chopped onions, or sliced onions, add a sweet crunchy bite to any veggie mix. They are nothing like the soggy cooked onion pickles you get in the stores.
- Peas – Snap peas, or Snow peas will pickle nicely and work well in veggie mixes.
- Radish – Daikon radish is used for traditional Japanese fermented radish. Goes soft in most ferments, so use with caution.
- Spinach – Softens when it ferments, but pickled spinach is awesome!
- Tomatoes – Sweet tomatoes go alcoholic. Dryer low sugar tomatoes such as Romas, or other sauce tomatoes work much better in salsas and other ferments. Don’t over-use, or they’ll go alcoholic anyway. Plant some sauce tomatoes and give them a try!
- Zucchini – Pickled zucchini chips… They don’t go soggy like cooked pickles!
- Watermelon – Ah, yes. Watermelon rind pickles. Use the green part, cut off the stiff outer rind. The inner rind makes a great tart pickle. Watermelon itself will go alcoholic.
I’m sure I’ve left out a lot of options, but the veggies above should give you many choices for planting a good garden to keep your pickling ferments going throughout the harvest season.
Grow a spring garden, a summer garden, a fall garden, or a winter garden, and you can even keep the veggies coming all year round in most places in the US.
Look at your favorite pickling recipes and sort out the things you can grow yourself.
Your body will thank you!
Recently I’ve noticed a book circulating, and various posts online, encouraging the practice of freezing lacto-fermented foods.
My first reaction was, “WHYYYY?”.
There is absolutely NO benefit to doing so that is worth the trouble, and you lose virtually EVERY element that you want from lacto-fermented foods anyway!
1. You destroy the probiotics. Very few bacteria and fungus strains survive freezing and thawing. You just blitzed all the wonderful health benefits you labored to produce! Ok, so a few survive. Big deal. If all you want is a few, go buy yogurt.
2. You lose the crunch and freshness of the vegetables. That lovely snap and bite of good kraut, zesty dills and crunchy carrots. Freeze them, and they go to flop. Rubbery. Unappealing. If you want marginal food, buy canned. The whole point of making it yourself was to achieve something extraordinary. Not marginal.
3. It takes as much (or more) power to freeze foods as to fridge them. It takes none at all to root cellar fermented foods. If you repackage them you may save some space, but not a huge amount. No real significant benefit here.
4. It wastes time – no matter how you do it you have to take the time to thaw them. If you repackage them before freezing, it wastes even more. A convenience food goes from being fast and easy to being something you have to plan ahead for, or which you have to waste power heating before you use it.
5. You have to use it all soon after you thaw it, or it turns to spoiled goo. That’s right, once it comes out of the freezer it is ripe for contamination by opportunistic nasties, so it will spoil within a week or so of thawing.
So not only is it detrimental to the value of the food, it isn’t at ALL a convenience or time saver. It backfires all around!
The wonder that is lacto-fermented food is bursting with freshness, life, and convenience. Stick the jar in the fridge. When you want some, dig out what you need, and stick the jar back in the fridge. How hard is that? And it keeps for months (if it lasts that long), letting you use it as you like, no advanced preparation. SOOO nice for hurry up meals, unexpected guests, and your teenager’s surprise growth spurt (peanut butter and dill pickle sandwich anyone?).
Why spoil all that by taking an extra, unhelpful step? Rather mind-boggling that anyone ever thought it had any advantage, isn’t it?
“It takes genius to simplify the complicated. It is more common for people to complicate the simple.”
I can sum this up in one word. Don’t. Of course, it does require a disclaimer – that some things DO in fact require a starter of some kind. And a few things do better with one.
The first thing I need to explain is a general misconception among new fermenters – a misunderstanding caused by the use of whey in so many fermentation recipes. “Lacto-fermentation” does NOT refer to the presence of any milk product in the ferment! It refers to “lactobacillus”. A category of bacteria that proliferate in old fashioned brine cured or cultured foods. Lactobacilli will grow perfectly happily without the whey.
In general, lacto-fermenting happens best when you just let Nature do her thing. She usually does – that is how fermentation processes were discovered to begin with. But it isn’t as simple as saying NEVER, or ALWAYS. There are some rules though.
Many recipes recommend whey as a starter. Some recommend specialized starter cultures. Other fermentation processes typically have standard recommended cultures – yogurt, buttermilk, etc. And many fermentation specialists say to never use a starter – but in fact they do not mean it, they just mean don’t use whey, usually. We have to break them down to understand what needs a culture, and what does not.
So the first rule is that MOST fruit and vegetable ferments do NOT need a starter. ALL cooked food fermentations do BETTER with a starter. SOME milk fermentations REQUIRE a starter to get the right flavor. Meat and Eggs need either HIGH SALT, or an already Fermented Brine. Grains can sometimes benefit from a starter but do not require one.
- Milk fermentations – Raw milk will generally ferment nicely without a starter. It won’t taste like yogurt, sour cream, or kefir though. To get things that taste like those, you need higher concentrations of specific types of microbes. Hence, many milk ferments are best with a starter, of the type of thing you are trying to culture. In general, a spoonful of whatever it is, as long as it has live cultures, will do the trick for each cup of milk you are culturing. Buttermilk may or may not taste right if cultured without a starter, and depends on several factors. Too many to cover here. In general, if you are using pasteurized milk, you MUST use a starter (even if just a bit of a previous successful batch). If you are using raw milk, it depends entirely upon your taste preferences.
- Vegetable Fermentations – Usually these occur very well without a starter. If you end up getting food that has been treated in some way (even some organics have been), it may interfere with the fermentation process. In that case, a starter culture may help. Generally, it is not needed, and whey, specifically, may be counterproductive. The best starter for vegetables is some brine from a previous batch. Raw Apple Cider Vinegar makes a reasonable second choice.
- Cooked Food Fermentations – These lack the necessary natural microbes to predictably ferment, and are likely to mold. I DO recommend a starter for these. The type of starter used depends on the type of food being fermented – generally take the starter from a previous successful batch, OR something which contains similar ingredients. For cooked sauces and condiments, a vegetable brine is a good choice, and Raw Apple Cider Vinegar is also acceptable.
- Fruit Ferments – These ALWAYS produce substantial amounts of alcohol (as does anything with any kind of sugar, honey, or syrup), so I only do them if I am pushing them through to a vinegar stage. Again, they ferment fine on their own without any kind of starter if you are using clean raw food (by clean I mean not contaminated with chemicals). On occasion, you may need a starter, especially if you are using cooked fruits or pasteurized juices. The best starter is a fruit based ferment – Raw Apple Cider Vinegar is a good choice.
- Meats and Eggs – These are risky items to ferment, and should ALWAYS be done with either a high salt brine, or previously fermented brine. Far less risky when you use homegrown meats or eggs, and in general, the historic methods did not involve plopping the food into salty water and letting it ferment, anyway. Typically they were added to a brine that had been previously fermented. I have not studied meat curing methods sufficiently to be able to make recommendations other than that it is wiser to avoid trying to culture the meat in a fresh low salt brine. Meats that were cured and preserved in salt brines were always done in brines with very high salt content – enough that the meat had to be soaked prior to use to remove the majority of the salt. For eggs, simply use brine from pickles. Add sweetener if you like a sweet pickle brine on your pickled eggs. That IS the traditional way to do it, and you end up with true lacto-fermented eggs, which ferment with a good starter from the lacto-fermented pickle brine. You can try yellow pickled eggs, from pickle juice, or pink pickled eggs using beet pickles. Pop the eggs into the brine, and stick it in the fridge. They’ll be good to eat in 2-4 days (the pink ones are easiest to tell how far they’ve been pickled, since the color will tell you how far the brine has penetrated).
- Grains – The principle grain ferment that we are concerned with is sourdough starter. I don’t mess with alcoholic ferments. Sourdough can be done either WITH, or WITHOUT a starter. There is some controversy over whether it does better with or without one, and whether a specific starter will retain individual characteristics. That said, what IS generally agreed upon in the fermentation world, is that you SHOULD NOT USE COMMERCIAL YEAST as the starter! It is also generally agreed that whey or other non-grain starters are unnecessary and generally counterproductive. Dried sourdough starter may be used, or you can culture it “wild”. We have had very good success with wild cultures – simply letting a flour and water mixture ferment, and feeding it regularly. The only time we had poor success is when using some marginal wheat (with drought burn on the kernels), which produced a very moldy sourdough. Good wheat, either whole or refined, fresh milled or commercially stripped of the germ, will generally produce good sourdough. Whole wheat, especially fresh milled with the germ, tends to ferment more actively, and produces a sharper flavor. The key to a good sourdough is keeping it fed and active. It requires a daily tending, does not do as well when stored in the fridge for long, and it likes flour without preservatives best.
- Beans or Starchy Vegetables – These are vegetables, but they BEHAVE like fruit during the fermentation process. They produce substantial amounts of alcohol, due to the high carbohydrates in them. They do best WITHOUT a starter, UNLESS they are cooked (beans are likely to be unless sprouted), in which case a starter may be very helpful. A dab from a previous batch is the best option if you DO choose to use a starter. Secondary options would be Raw Apple Cider Vinegar, or Whey if you have nothing else.
The second rule is to use a starter that is most compatible with the ferment. Vegetables to vegetables, fruits to fruits, milks to milks, grains to grains. The exception is Eggs, which are done in a pickle brine, this being the traditional method of pickling eggs. Raw Apple Cider Vinegar is the closest thing we have to an “all purpose” starter, and it does not work for milk.
The reason we do like with like, is because various food categories allow specific types of bacteria and yeasts to culture. While there IS some commonality, the microbes that grow best in milk are NOT the same ones that grow best in vegetables or grains. Having milk by-products in your sourdough, vinegar, or pickles is not the best option for keeping the food fresh for extended periods either, since milk degrades faster than vegetables, fruits, or grains in a fermented storage situation. This is one of the reasons why whey is not a good starter to use for things other than milk cultures.
So as a general thing, skip the whey in your pickles or kraut. It isn’t needed, and actually does more harm than good. If you cannot get good quality organic produce and have to use treated foods that don’t pickle predictably, then use a starter from a similar food group to boost the predictability of your ferments.
Some companies sell fairly costly fermentation starters. Unless you are having problems with ferments (due to water quality, food quality, or other things you cannot control), they are not needed.
Mother Nature will be only too happy to help you create good food for your family.
A few years ago, the wine industry looked for a reason to market wine as a health food. They studied health statistics across the world, and discovered that France and Italy had lower heart disease rates than the United States. (Of course, so do many other nations… but France and Italy are the ones they wanted to pay attention to!). France and Italy have higher than average wine consumption. So wine began to be marketed as a heart healthy substance, and they acredited this to the “antioxidants” in it.
Funny thing about that study. France and Italy differ from the US in many ways. They eat more fresh vegetables year-round, they eat fresh fermented foods that have not been pasteurized, and their eggs are handled differently making them less prone to superbug contamination. But to the wine industry, there could only be one answer – it had to be the wine! Actually, grapes have more antioxidants than the wine, and they also have probiotics. Yeah, that’s right, fresh foods contain probiotics too. The natural bacteria and fungus that grows on and in fresh foods, that aids digestion and improves our health. It wasn’t the wine at all.
The lacto-fermentation world has done the same thing with fermented foods. They have failed to distinguish between those foods that contain alcohol, and those that do not, and to identify the ones that are really helping. Foods that do not contain significant levels of alcohol have a FAR higher benefit to the body than those that do.
Now, some people will say that ALL fermented foods have alcohol. This is true. But NOT all fermented foods are ALCOHOLIC. Many are – far more than most avid fermenters are willing to acknowledge. For the purposes of distinction, alcoholic foods are defined as those having an alcohol content near or above the legally recognized level for alcoholic beverages. This is .05% alcohol content, as recognized by the US government as amounts high enough to produce intoxication, and illegal for consumption by minors.
Foods with an alcohol content close to this point will have the following characteristics:
1. They will smell of alcohol, or they will smell “yeasty” like beer. The boozy smell may be unmistakable for many people, or difficult to detect for others, depending on their sensitivity to it.
2. They will have a fizz or tingle on your tongue. Carbon dioxide will NOT suspend in liquids normally, unless they are under significant pressure (like commercial sodas). It WILL suspend (dissolve) into liquids that have significant alcohol content. That “carbonation” tingle, or the fiery burn of strong alcohol, is evidence of significant levels of alcohol in a food or drink. The finer the bubbles, the higher the alcohol content. This is the time honored method for detecting unwanted alcohol content in foods that are not supposed to go alcoholic.
3. They have been fermented with sugar, OR they include some kind of starchy carbohydrate. This includes fruit or fruit juice, cane sugar, unrefined sugars, agave, fructose, honey, and ANY OTHER carbohydrate based sweeteners, potatoes, grains, etc. If it has been fermented with sugars, it WILL go through an alcoholic phase, characterized by the fizz – this is not a “maybe” thing. Sugars or starchy carbs in foods WILL produce HIGH AMOUNTS of alcohol as they ferment! ALWAYS.
ANY fermented fruits, kombucha, fermented sodas (including but not limited to ginger ale and rootbeer), water kefir with or without fruit juice added, and fermented salsa (tomatoes have sufficient sugar), fermented potatoes, fermented grains, etc, all contain ALCOHOLIC levels of alcohol. Yes, this is provable… Ginger Ale and Rootbeer, made by fermenting, have an alcohol content of .05-11% (.05% is the level considered to be the minimum needed to produce sufficient carbonation to be identified as a soda). The potency depends on the length of fermentation. Longer ferment means higher alcohol content. Other fermented beverages with sugar contain similar amounts of sugar, and therefore WILL develop alcohol at a similar rate and level. This point is indisputable – the science behind this is very clear and so simple that you cannot misunderstand that this is so.
Alcohol is not an All or Nothing kind of thing. The levels will vary from item to item. The presence of suspended carbonation is an indicator of significant alcohol levels, and a good measurement of whether the alcohol is enough to cause harm. With alcohol though, more of it means more harm.
In fermented foods that have minute amounts, the probiotics and nutrient content provide enough benefit to offset any minor damage by the alcohol. Once you get to the point of being able to DETECT the alcohol through non-scientific means though, it is high enough so that the damage it is doing is equal to, or MORE than the benefit it is offering. ELIMINATING alcohol is an unrealistic goal, and isn’t the point at all. Keeping it to UNDETECTABLE levels (cannot smell or feel it on the tongue) is the goal.
How does alcohol cause harm?
- Nothing can live in alcohol. It has been used historically as an embalming and preservation fluid because it stops growth and decay.
- Alcohol is used in the medical field as a sterilizing fluid. It kills microbes on contact. This is NOT a 100% solution that is used, either. Standard is about a 50% alcohol content solution.
- The higher the alcohol level in your ferments, the lower the helpful probiotic content.
- The higher the alcohol content, the more cells it will kill passing through your digestive tract – it kills fast growing cells especially well, which includes both the natural and necessary bacteria in your intestines, and the cells that line your entire digestive tract. Alcohol is a known irritant to ulcers, Crohn’s Disease, Celiac, IBS, Colitis, and other forms of Inflammatory Bowel Disease.
- The higher the alcohol content, the more alcohol circulates in your bloodstream – alcohol in the bloodstream kills living cells, and is especially hard on neural cells which do not easily repair themselves, and on the liver, which is responsible for helping your body detox.
- Even fairly low levels of alcohol consumption may lead to catastrophic harm to a fetus, if alcohol is consumed by either the mother (during pregnancy) OR the father (prior to pregnancy). It has as much to do with TIMING as it does with CONTENT.
There are foods that pass THROUGH an alcoholic phase (during which the bacterial content decreases as the alcoholic content rises), then vinegarize (the alcohol is gradually consumed by increasing populations of microbes), after which it will no longer contain significant alcohol. Apple Cider Vinegar is one such food, which is recognized as a supplement with strong health benefits – RAW ACV is once again alive with a wide range of probiotic microbes which are purely helpful. These foods are not a problem – when the fizz is gone, the alcohol is reduced to safe levels and generally the bacterial and fungal count will be correspondingly higher.
The alcohol may also be COOKED out of foods. This is why Sourdough Starter IS an alcoholic food, but baked bread is NOT. Of course, cooking the foods also kills the probiotics, so this is not a solution you’d want to use when you are going for maximum probiotic benefit. This MAY be a good option though, when you want to consume something with alcoholic content, and give your children a version of it that does not contain the alcohol. Just cook it until the boozy smell is gone, and make sure the tingle is gone after it is cooled down.
So… if you enjoy Kombucha, but do not want the alcohol, what do you do?
Ferment it as usual, but then let it OPEN ferment until the alcohol smell and fizz are gone (this can take days, or even weeks, depending on the recipe). You’ll get a sour taste – just sweeten it up again with the sweetener of your choice.
This can be done with water kefir, fermented juices, and many other foods, and they’ll end up with a nice high probiotic count without the backlash of the alcohol.
It CANNOT be done for fermented sodas. You’ll lose the carbonation. Sorry, no alternative here for fermented sodas. You can make soda for a party though, using dry ice.
If you’ve been trying to heal, and you seem to take two steps forward, two steps back, it may not be the fermentation method that is holding you back. It may be the KINDS of ferments you are relying on to heal.
Alcohol is NOT a helpful element in lacto-fermented foods and beverages. Yes, it DOES matter, and yes, it IS a significant amount in many kinds.
And whatever you do, PLEASE do not give your children ANY potentially alcoholic ferments. Not only are they especially vulnerable to the neurologic damage caused by alcohol in the bloodstream, you are just BEGGING for your children to be taken from you by Child Protective Services.
Enjoy your pickles and kraut and milk kefir (without the fizzies!). But avoid the alcoholic ferments if you want to supercharge your chances for good health.
This has to be one of the most controversial elements in lacto-fermenting – and one with the MOST misinformation. There is a ton of information out there which simply is not true, or is skewed, taken out of content, or badly misunderstood. It is my goal to clarify some of the points regarding alcohol in lacto-fermented foods.
First, there is a difference between foods that CONTAIN undetectible amounts of alcohol, and those that are ALCOHOLIC. The difference is simple… Alcoholic foods are those which can potentially produce INTOXICATION. This difference is vital in understanding alcohol in lacto-fermented foods.
We are not concerned with foods that “contain alcohol”. All ferments do. But the amount in many kinds is so low that it is no more than contained in a ripe apple (yeah, a lot of natural foods contain similar minute amounts of alcohol, and they are not of any concern). The goal is not, and never was, the elimination of alcohol. It is the avoidance of intoxication and damage from alcoholic beverages and foods for those who need or wish to avoid it.
This is NOT simply a matter of choice. There are strong reasons why you NEED to know whether your lacto-fermented foods contain significant amounts of alcohol.
1. Children. I put this first, because if you give your children alcoholic foods, you just invited the state to remove them from your home. I am constantly both shocked, and outraged at the number of people who give their children alcoholic lacto-fermented beverages casually, telling themselves it is “healthy”, and either KNOWING they contain significant alcohol and disregarding it, or who do it out of sheer ignorance. There are accounts online of people who have had bad experiences with this – a child testing positive for high blood alcohol at the emergency room, for example, after drinking several glasses of water kefir over the course of a day. You NEED to know. And you NEED to take it seriously if you care about your children and want to keep the privilege of parenting them yourself! It’s like seatbelts in the car, folks. You do it because you love your kids!
2. Medication. Many medications react poorly with alcohol. It may either increase, or decrease the effectiveness of medications, and either reaction may be deadly.
3. Alcoholism. If you have friends or family who struggle with this issue, you do NOT want to accidentally make it harder for them to stay sober. If you have alcoholism in your family line and avoid alcohol for that reason, you need to know how to keep from triggering negative affects in yourself.
4. Religious Beliefs. Many religions have restrictions regarding the consumption of alcoholic beverages and foods. Your friends or family who espouse one of these religious beliefs will be grateful if you are considerate and do not gift them with, or serve foods with significant alcohol content without warning them of the content.
5. Intoxication. Yeah, you really CAN get drunk on some of this stuff! You may find it difficult to defend yourself in court on a DUI or public intoxication charge. Frankly, they just are not going to believe that you did not know that those fizzy bubbles in your kombucha meant it had alcohol in it!
6. Pregnancy. The affects of alcohol on the developing brain and body range from invisible (difficulty with complex problem solving, difficulty making choices, difficulty with moral choices, difficulty understanding cause and effect, poor emotional control, behavioral and mood disorders, etc), to the catastrophic (anancephaly, microcephaly, hydranencephaly, and other disorders caused by failure of large portions of the brain to develop in utero, as well as various physical anomalies). Fetal Alcohol Effect or Syndrome are not just problems of binge drinkers and alcoholics – damage may result from the TIMING of the ingestion of alcohol as much as from the AMOUNT or FREQUENCY. There are some times during the development of a fetus when the baby is just more vulnerable to environmental insult than at other times, and at those times, it may take only a small amount to do great damage. Many of these effects ARE genetically inheritable, so it can take many generations for them to fade in a family line. Most women want better than that for their babies. If you are pregnant, or offering fermented foods to someone who is, PLEASE take this seriously. That baby has no choice in this, and deserves the best possible care before and after birth.
I’ll state right off the bat that I do not have alcohol percentages on various lacto-fermented foods (other than rootbeer and ginger ale given later) – and anyone who does know has not been disposed to publishing any reliable numbers. What I do have is a body of experience, facts, and some guidelines to help you to determine what lacto-fermented foods may be alcoholic, and which are not.
For the record… I’m a Mormon. It is against our beliefs to consume any kind of alcoholic substances (the wording of our health guidelines actually state that we should avoid “strong drink”, interpreted as ALCOHOLIC – there is no prohibition of alcohol in minute, non-alcoholic amounts). All my life I’ve been trained to recognize and avoid anything with significant amounts of alcohol. Whereas many people who drink alcohol and enjoy doing so will miss the signs of alcohol content in a food or drink, I do not. Since it is an anomaly in my life, I am very sensitive to it.
The first thing we need to understand is Sugar. And an ABSOLUTE RULE concerning it!
IF YOUR FERMENT HAS SUGAR, OR A HIGH CONTENT OF CARBOHYDRATES THAT EASILY CONVERT TO SUGAR, IT WILL PRODUCE SIGNIFICANT AMOUNTS OF ALCOHOL!
This means, the following items will ALWAYS produce significant amounts of alcohol, and have a high probability of producing an alcoholic food or beverage:
- Fruit, including tomatoes and sour fruits. (This includes any ferment with fruit, or fruit juices, and salsa with tomatoes.)
- ANY liquid with added sugar, honey, molasses, fructose, agave, or other carbohydrate based sugars. (Kombucha, fermented sodas, water kefir, etc.)
- Starchy vegetables (including squash and potatoes, and others).
- Milk (though not all fermented milk products are alcoholic).
NON STARCHY VEGETABLES DO NOT PRODUCE SIGNIFICANT ALCOHOL – pickles are non-alcoholic, unless you add sugar to the brine (NOT recommended anyway!).
Now, at about this point, about half of the people reading this are going to get very angry with me, and discount everything here, simply because they do not wish to believe what I am saying. They will resort to Kelly the Kitchen Kop and quote her infamous experiment where she heated the liquids before measuring the content… the problem being that heat causes alcohol to evaporate, completely nullifying the validity of her results! Scientific fact, people!
To those people, I say this: If your life possesses so little value to you that you do not wish to know whether your homemade foods may affect your life in unpredictable ways, if your children mean so little to you that you are willing to risk their removal from your home, and if your friends and family who need to avoid alcohol (there ARE some, there always are!) count for so little in your esteem, then go your merry way. Life will catch up with you, and I wish you all the best with it.
For those who want to know, read on. There are two more rules that can help you to know, and some information about fermenting milk and avoiding alcoholic content, as well as some info on alcohol and fermenting methods.
So how do you know if you have something with an excess of alcohol?
1. Trust your nose. If you have the ability to smell alcohol, trust it! Now, it is important to point out that many people have LOST this ability, typically through frequent consumption of alcohol, but sometimes for other reasons. But if you make something that smells boozy, it IS. Many alcoholic fermented foods will have a yeasty smell also.
2. Watch for fizzies. We are very conditioned in our society to think of fizzy bubbles as the result of “carbonation”, and to think it a harmless thing. NON ALCOHOLIC BEVERAGES DO NOT HOLD CARBONATION! You do realize that soda pops only retain carbonation when the cap is on, and the liquid is under pressure. As soon as the top is opened, the bubbles start rising, and will quickly result in a flat soda. Now, fermenting causes the release of carbon dioxide, so it is correctly named here, but when there is no significant alcohol in the ferment, the bubbles will do EXACTLY what they do in soda pop – they will rise to the surface and escape (evidence – your pickles are not bubbly, and they are not alcoholic). A higher alcohol content causes tiny bubbles of carbon dioxide to remain suspended in the liquid. The carbonation associated with soda pop is a coarse large bubble feel on the tongue. The carbonation associated with alcoholic beverages is a finer tinier bubble feel on the tongue. If your fermented foods taste tingly, they are potentially intoxicating. Sorry, but that is the fact behind that fizzy feel – it is the evidence of significant amounts of alcohol. More fizz, more alcohol.
So what about yogurt and kefir? Does this necessarily mean that they are alcoholic? Sometimes. Milk DOES have sufficient sugars to produce alcohol, but it usually takes some time to produce enough to be potentially intoxicating.
Yogurt that is fermented just until it sets, and which DOES NOT TASTE FIZZY, is not alcoholic! If it gets to the fizzy point, then YES, it IS alcoholic.
The same is true of Kefir – if you ferment it for a short period of time, and it is not fizzy, then it is not alcoholic. If it is fizzy, then it is! If you produce a fizzy batch, take heart though! There is no need to toss it. Just strain out the grains, take the fizzy kefir and dilute it with more milk, and let it set out for another 8-24 hours until it is thickened but NOT fizzy.
Old fashioned sodas used to be called “beer”. The original Rootbeer and Ginger Ale were EXACTLY that! They were called “beer” and “ale” because they were made in a similar fashion to other beers. Today, we have forgotten that fact, because those two drinks are now made using pressurized carbonation instead of fermentation. While it is true that the alcohol content of these beverages is LOWER than of a true beer, if you make your own fermented Rootbeer, Ginger Ale, or “Soda”, you will be making something that is equivalent to a “light” beer, or a wine spritzer.
US law defines a “non-alcoholic beverage” as one having LESS than .5% alcohol content. According to the majority of sources, fermented rootbeer GENERALLY contains an alcohol content between .5 and 2%, depending on the length of fermentation, but may contain an alcohol content as high as 10% if it is fermented longer (longer ferment, higher alcohol). Fermented Ginger Ale contains a similar amount of alcohol – and it is logical to conclude that other sodas and drinks with similar amounts of sugar (water kefir, kombucha, lemonade, “fruit” soda, and homemade sodas, etc), put to ferment for similar amounts of time, will produce an equivalent alcohol content.
Given that information (which you can easily verify in a 2 minute Google search), there is NO WAY that the risk of alcohol in home fermented sugared beverages can be dismissed lightly. It might be hard for an adult to get drunk on it, but not for a child to do so, and it is still enough to conflict with medications, or get you in trouble over religious restrictions – and it is certainly enough to cause some potentially traumatic harm to a developing fetus if consumed by a pregnant woman.
These drinks USED to be given to children, not because they were alcohol free, but because they had LOWER AMOUNTS of alcohol – but at that time in history people were less educated about the harmful effects of alcohol on the developing brain and body. We know better now.
One other area of confusion on this issue is in regard to fermentation method. There are two statements that you hear regarding this:
1. Open ferments create more alcohol.
2. Closed ferments result in more alcohol.
Actually, in a way, both are true, but in different ways.
1. Open ferments create alcohol more quickly, but they also disperse and convert it to vinegars more quickly.
2. Closed ferments create alcohol a SLIGHT bit slower, but they CONCENTRATE the alcohol, and keep it in the ferment. It does not disperse, and it does not convert to vinegars. Many processes for making alcoholic beverages BEGIN with an open ferment, but an airlock is installed within a few days, to concentrate the alcohol, and this is why.
So… if you are making a food that has some sugar, and needs to pass through an alcoholic stage before finishing as a vinegar, use an open ferment. This is also an option for making tinctures and other items which normally do contain high amounts of alcohol, but which also work well when vinegarized.
You may also begin with a closed ferment, to establish the ferment well, and then change to an open ferment after about 2 weeks. This gives you the best of both for keeping the alcohol content down and converting it to vinegar. I use a closed ferment for my kefir, and it does not go bubbly on me.
Many people will take exception to this information, and even some who know it to be true will be very disappointed that I had to go and point it out. Heck, I’m disappointed myself! I’d LOVE to use water kefir, I’d LOVE to be able to make my own “healthy” soda, and I’d LOVE to be able to make herbal kombucha. But I don’t. Because avoiding intoxicating beverages is important to me, so I follow the rules to keep safely on the non-alcoholic side of fermenting.
I am allergic to just about every chemical out there that promises to sterilize surfaces. I also find that they do NOT in fact sterilize surfaces, they just kill the friendlies and leave the resistant nasties to grow. So if you are frantically bleaching every surface in your home in a fevered effort to keep things clean, you’ve defeated yourself.
There is, in fact, no such thing as truly sterile except at very high heat and only while objects STAY at very high heat. Once they cool off, germs inevitably collect again.
The most important thing about cleaning is to simply remove the stuff in which microbes grow. The yucky visible stuff. Water, then, is our most important cleaning substance!
Some things just come OFF a bit better with a cleaner. And a good cleaner can help reduce grease, dry more evenly on smooth surfaces (like glass), and leave a pleasant smell behind.
What if the cleaner also left behind a nice complement of friendly microbes? Even better than a sterile kitchen or bathroom – one that naturally fights harmful microbial lifeforms.
The natural solution then, is a Probiotic Cleaner. A quick web search shows that this is not at all a new idea. Many companies produce cleaners into which they have dumped a concentration of specific bacterial strains. They usually suspend them in substances in which they cannot possibly survive for very long, and then package them entirely in plastic, which helps kill the good ones and fosters a few nasties.
Not really an effective Probiotic Cleaner!
A fermented cleaner is entirely different, and has some particularly wonderful benefits.
- Completely non-toxic. If your kid drinks the stuff, it would not be any worse than having him drink some vinegar water. Made from food ingredients, the cleaner is simply safe!
- Very earth friendly. Nothing in it that cannot be dumped on the garden, into the compost pile, or even into animal feed dishes.
- Easy to make. Just takes some time to ferment.
- Inexpensive to make. Simple ingredients that you can purchase almost anywhere.
- Creates a general all-purpose cleaner. Use for counters, windows, floors, and any surface that you’d normally disinfect.
Convinced? Or just want to try it?
Fermented Pro-biotic Cleaner
- 1 cup lemon juice
- 1/2 cup RAW apple cider vinegar
- 1/2 an orange
- non-chlorinated water that has NOT been sitting for weeks in a plastic container (plastics in contact with water do leach chlorides into the water, which inhibit some types of microbial growth). Freshly filtered water, or well water is best.
- 1/2 gallon mason jar
- Fermenta Lock or Fermenta Free airlock lid
- Fermenta Cap cloth cover or other cloth cover for the jar
- Blender or Food Processor
Cut the orange into small pieces, and toss it into a blender or food processor, along with the lemon juice and vinegar. Blend until the orange is finely chopped.
Pour out into the mason jar, and fill to the 6 cup mark with non-chlorinated water.
Put the Airlock lid on the jar.
Let sit for 2 weeks. You will first smell a pleasant orange smell on the airlock, and then an alcoholic orange smell. This is normal, and how it should be.
Remove the airlock lid, and strain the liquid. Squeeze out the solids completely.
Return the liquid to the mason jar. Add more non-chlorinated water, just to return it to the 6 cup mark.
Place the Cloth Cap on the jar.
Let sit for 4-8 weeks, or until all of the alcoholic smell is gone, and the smell is more orange vinegar.
Replace the Cloth Cap at that point with a storage lid, and your cleaner is ready to use.
To use, dilute with a ratio of 1 part cleaner to 3 parts water for spray cleaner. Dilute at a 1:10 ratio for other cleaning tasks.
For cleaning that involves a significant amount of grease, add a few drops of dish detergent to cut the grease. Not advised to do this otherwise, as it will interfere with the probiotics.
Now you can clean your way to a truly healthy home.
The government forbids me from exercising my right of free speech to answer that with a yes or no. But I can tell you what I believe, and what happened to me.
The digestive system affects every part of the body. When it breaks down, it can cause problems throughout every system – nerves, bones, circulatory, pulmonary, hormonal, reproductive, digestive, and mental. Everything is dependent upon access to good nutrient sources.
Many people are now having a wide range of symptoms, but nothing shows up on any blood tests. It is my belief that many of these vague and undiagnosed conditions can be traced to damage to the digestive tract.
I was diagnosed with Crohn’s (bowel damage and auto-immune disease), and decided not to go the medical route. It has been very hard. But worth it. I no longer have the rampant auto-immune progression, but am still completing the last of the healing process. At this time, I no longer have Crohn’s Disease – I do not have auto-immune disease, and I do not have diagnosable bowel damage. At my worst, I was lactose intolerate, gluten intolerant, and intolerant to cooked milk proteins, beans, eggs, and all canned meats. Extreme heat, or prolonged heat does affect proteins, and makes them harder to digest.
I went from being able to tolerate exactly 13 foods (including things like plain butter, organic beef, bananas, apple juice made from cored and peeled apples, cooked peeled zucchini, brown rice, peeled potatoes, etc), to being back to a nearly full diet.
I am still very chemically sensitive, though my ability to handle accidental exposures has improved as I’ve healed. I know I will have to avoid chemical exposures in foods for the rest of my life. If I do not, I will gradually become ill again (exposures that I could not control have demonstrated this, even though I no longer have Crohn’s, if I am exposed to very much chemicalized food, I start to have more headaches, loss of energy, digestive upset, and other symptoms which increase until the offenders are eliminated). If I am not careful, I will simply push myself back into a situation where I DO have Crohn’s again (characterized by progressive auto-immune disease and significant bowel pain and dysfunction). It is my firm belief that Crohn’s (and many other diseases) are environmental diseases. My experience has persuaded me that Crohn’s was CAUSED in me, by consumption of foods containing chemicals, and devoid of complete nutrition. This conclusion was reached both by the results of elimination of chemicals in my diet, and by the results from subsequent exposures to them.
There are some key things which seem to really affect my health, and digestion in particular. These are things I tested individually – when I include them in my diet, I lose ground. When I eliminate them, I heal.
1. Chlorine. This is a biggie. I drink water without chlorine, and when possible, I do not bathe in it either, since it absorbs through the skin. I’ve known it was an issue for a long time, because when I drank municipal water I had more digestive problems. I became deathly allergic to it over the summer, so badly that I began reacting to table salt (sodium chloride – yeah, you can become so allergic to something that you react to its presence in NECESSARY nutrients). My face swells, I break out in hives, and my throat and lungs swell shut. Scary stuff. But controllable. Most people do not have reactions like that to it. But I believe they do suffer damage from it – it is a killer of fast growing cells (this is scientific fact). It does not just kill bacteria or viruses, it kills ALL fast growing cells with sufficient contact, and damages other cells. When you drink it, it passes through your intestines before it is absorbed into your bloodstream. The intestines are lined with fast growing cells (which is why chemo causes upset stomach and digestive issues). Chlorine eventually erodes the intestines, bit by bit, over time – logically, it couldn’t NOT do so… it is simply doing what it is selected to do. In addition, it kills the good bacteria and fungus that live in your gut and help your body stay in balance (this is why pro-biotics also help).
2. Preservatives. You can tolerate a little, but they are in EVERYTHING – just read ingredient lists. Even organics are beginning to have preservatives… they use “organic preservatives” (organic poison is still poison). I avoid processed foods as much as I am able, this makes a HUGE difference. They do exactly the same thing chlorine does to me, because they are scientifically designed to do the same thing.
3. Fruit and Veggie Wash. It is disinfectant – SOAP. It absorbs into the food. Does the same thing chlorine does, for the same reason (again, this is fact – it is what it was designed to do – kill microbes, which are fast growing cells). Now, some apples and sprouts, especially the organic ones, are already saturated with this stuff. You can smell it on it! If the produce tastes like chemicals or soap, I don’t eat it. It soaks all the way through. In general, organic apples that are LOOSE are likely to have this issue. Organic apples IN THE BAG are not.
4. Non-organic Potatoes are a biggie too. They are very often sprayed with a sprout inhibitor (Google “budnip”), which gives me noticeable problems – headaches, bowel pain. Some carrots, onions, and other root crops, plus some non-root crops are treated with this – Google it for the facts. Do the best you can, it is not always possible to avoid it, and potatoes in season are less likely to be sprayed than potatoes in the spring or summer. Foods treated with this stuff are NOT LABELED as being treated.
5. Rapid Cured Nitrates. This means pretty much all “fresh” poultry and pork (which have a nitrate solution injected… you know that label which says “may contain up to 10% of a solution? That stuff.), lunchmeats, hotdogs, bacon, ham, etc. Now, there ARE some types that are slow cured – usually they are Naturally Smoked (that is the best clue I’ve found so far). If they have “smoke flavoring”, I avoid them. Organic slow cured is best. I can tolerate Hillshire Farms ham, and I can tolerate Braum’s bacon.
6. Monosodium Glutamate. Nasty stuff. Affects me the same way that preservatives affect me. I watch for it in meats, processed foods, and condiments.
7. Alcoholic beverages. Alcohol is used as a PERMANENT preservative, which means it kills living cells. Now, lacto-fermented foods can develop alcohol – you can smell it if they do. I avoid using them unless I’ve heated out the alcohol so that I can no longer smell it. Lacto-fermented foods without alcohol continue to change (they are still living foods), and will eventually spoil. Alcohol preserved foods can last indefinitely, because they are no longer living foods. Alcohol is one item which even doctors have identified as having a direct harmful effect on digestive disease.
8. Anxiety. There are a series of chemical responses here, which result in actual damage to the intestines. Lower the anxiety, and the intestines heal. Increase it, and they degrade, due to the chemical and enzymatic changes caused by fear responses. It is complex stuff, and involves multiple issues. When you live with fear, things go wrong pretty fast. I use prayer, time in the woods, hugs, time out with friends, and some healthy distractions to control anxiety when it is an issue.
Things that helped me included most probiotic foods, eliminating the stuff above, eating LOTS of fresh veggies and fruits (if your gut is damaged you don’t absorb nutrients well, and you need foods with high nutrient density, so fresh stuff is best – again, this is a series of well known scientific facts, so there is no inappropriate counsel being given), fresh milled wheat flour (it has oils and nutrients that aged or refined flours do not), Kefir (I used Lifeway because that is what I could get), peppermint, and turmeric.
There was a specific event that turned things around for me, but it is a long and involved story, and I’m sure that the FDA would have a hissy fit if I told the story.
Anyway, my son also has Crohn’s. The thing that makes the biggest difference for him (besides avoiding things he knows are triggers), is Kefir. He uses 1/4 cup per day, and has to continue to use it, because there are some changes he is not ready to make yet. It stops the abdominal pain flare-ups. He is also starting to use more home-brined foods, and loves pickling his own vegetables.
The role of home cured foods is not just the probiotics, it is also that they are a living food, and the nutrient content is dense and complex. Foods are preserved without embalming them, so nutrients and enzymes are preserved as well. They are easier to digest, and you get more out of them, and they can aid in the digestion of other foods consumed at the same time, or shortly after.
This information is not intended as advice to cure or treat any disease or condition. It is simply a statement of my opinions, and my experiences, given as such, and protected by the First Amendment as such.
I do not offer nutritional advice, do not email me asking for it.
Theoretically, ANYTHING can explode! But let’s look at this logically, and according to fermenting methods.
This is actually a question we get asked sometimes, and mostly about Fermenta Lock. Because of that, I’d like to answer the question for each of the common fermenting methods.
1. Open fermenting. Since the top is open, though it may be covered by a cloth or cloth cap, explosion is not in the list of things that can happen. This does not mean it may not be messy – if you overfill the jar, and it expands more than you anticipated, the jar may overflow. If the food is thick, it may mash up into your cloth or cloth cap… not fun to clean. That is usually as messy as this method gets.
2. Fermenting with a Water Lock. This has only one potential risk for explosion, and that is if the jar is overfilled, and some solid food impacts up into the water lock. Theoretically, this could cause pressure to build up to the point of causing the jar to break, but is more likely to cause the water lock to pop out like a cork – and with similar force. More commonly, brine is forced up into the water lock, which may cause the water lock to overflow. Messy. But not dangerous.
3. Fermenting with a Valve Airlock (Fermenta Lock). Again, we have only a single potential risk for explosion, which requires a fairly remote combination of a series of errors. IF the jar was overfilled, AND the food was fairly thick and sticky, AND the airlock happened to get stuck closed from that food, AND the airlock were glued to the lid by dried sticky food, then, theoretically, pressure could build up until something popped. It would be unlikely to cause jar breakage, and more likely to pop the valve from the lid – and the imperfect home manufactured valve is made in such a way that if it DID do that, it would not fly out like a cork, but would be more likely to just pop loose on one side, probably spewing jar contents as it did so. Again, the worst would be messy, not dangerous, and even that is a fairly remote possibility. The valve is designed to release air pressure before it can build to dangerous levels. Overfilling the jars and then ignoring them for days after they overflowed is the only thing that would cause a potential risk of something going pop.
4. Fermenting with a Canning Lid, or Fido Jar, without an airlock, with the lid on tight. Ok, HERE is where the real danger lies, and even then it is more likely to be MESSY than dangerous. When pressure builds up, the preparer usually opens the lid to vent the jar, and the gasses trapped in the food cause the food to rapidly expand. Enough pressure, rapid enough expansion, and the food bursts from the jar. Very messy. Theoretically if the jar is ignored long enough, it could cause the jar to break. The force and velocities involved here are things I can only guess at. I do not know if it would actually send missiles around the room, or if the jar would simply crack and the food kind of splat out around it. THIS ONE, at least theoretically, could be potentially dangerous. But I’ve only heard stories of MESSES (some quite spectacular), not any actual glass shrapnel terrorist attacks from inside a stealth lacto-fermentation device.
So… as long as your jar has a vent, of SOME kind, explosion really isn’t anything you need to worry about.
And the rule to avoiding messes, other than venting the jar, is to make sure to give your foods adequate headroom.
So what constitutes adequate headroom?
- Brined foods (including kraut) which have a liquid brine – 1-2″ headroom (larger jars, more headroom, smaller jars can have less)
- Thicker liquids such as condiments or kefir – 1/4 to 1/3 of the jar should be left empty.
- Pastes and fairly solid foods – 1/2 of the jar should be left empty, and you may need to work a clean table knife or spatula into the food to manually release bubbles.
The more solid the food, the harder it is for air to escape. The bubbles have a harder time working to the surface, so the food expands instead.
So for all you budding science geeks who are looking for a way to “accidentally” blow something up, this probably isn’t it!
Spoilage is a concern of many people, especially when they are just getting the hang of pickling and fermenting foods. It DOES occur. It is detectible when it happens (see our article on how to tell if food is spoiled). But what causes it?
Spoilage CAN occur from a range of sources. But the most common causes are actually NOT the things people think they would be.
Foods are most likely to spoil during two specific phases:
1. During the beginning phase, when the ferment is just getting started. This will be noticeable right away – the ferment never really develops the characteristic pickled or sour smell. Instead, it gets a funky smell (ok, so there just isn’t another word for it… if you smell it, you KNOW). It is NOTHING like the sharp smell of properly fermented foods. It is musty or odd, or something that just makes you wonder exactly what happened.
There are a number of potential causes for this, but only FOUR primary causes. (We used to have only two, but two new ones have cropped up.) Surprisingly, it is NOT because you forgot to wash your hands, or because you did not sterilize your containers, or even the strength of the salt in the brine. The first two have minimal affects – people used to brine foods under appallingly unsanitary conditions and it worked very well. The salt brine strength can help to compensate for questionable conditions to a certain extent, but not completely, and foods can be successfully fermented without adding salt (though we do not recommend it because the rate of failure is pretty high).
The primary causes for failure of the ferment to properly establish in the first place, include ONE that is a method issue, and three that are quality issues:
Failure to submerge the food. All of the food must be held under the brine. With kraut, a heavy weight must be placed on it to press the juice out of the cabbage and keep the cabbage pieces under the liquid. Failure to do this is the number one User Error issue.
So Rule #1 is: Keep the food under the brine!
Spoiled Food. If your food is starting to mold, do NOT use it for fermenting. You need good fresh food for fermenting. Even if you trim off the moldy parts, and wash it well, there is a very high chance that the foods you are handling have already been contaminated with a high degree of mold spores. It actually takes a lot to spoil a batch, and usually in combination with other factors. Sometimes a stronger salt brine CAN compensate for food that is on the edge, sometimes not, depending on the food, the water quality, the temperature, and the cussedness of the molds involved.
So Rule #2 is: Good fresh food that is not starting to spoil already.
Water. NOT well water – untreated water is NOT the cause of the majority of water caused spoilage. Chlorinated water is the culprit. Chlorine and other chemical contaminants in water are designed to KILL bacteria and fungus. That is why they are there. They aren’t picky about WHERE they kill those microbes (in the water, in your gut, in your foods, etc). In a ferment, that often means that they will kill the good bacteria, and let only the really resistant nasties thrive – and after so many years of government requirements for chlorine in municipal water, there are some really mean resistant beasties thriving in chlorinated water, and living in your kitchen. You get a yucky ferment instead of a good one if your water happens to be over-chemicalized, or inhabited with resistant microbes.
This is not a simple thing – some water has so little chlorine, and few enough resistant strains that the good beasties grow anyway and you get a good ferment in spite of it. Sometimes a stronger salt brine will help compensate, sometimes not. Sometimes a Brita or Pur type filter will be sufficient, sometimes not. On occasion, municipal water is so contaminated with chlorine and other chemicals that no amount of filtering (other than reverse osmosis) will clean it enough to get a good ferment. In general, winter ferments are more likely to succeed with municipal water than summer ferments – because pathogens are more rampant in warmer temperatures, water levels tend to drop in the summer, concentrating the contaminants, and some municipalities will compensate at times in the summer with extra chlorination.
Boiling the water only partially helps – chlorine tends to evaporate slowly out, but many places are adding chloramines, which do NOT evaporate.
So Rule #3 is to use clean water – good fresh well water, or cleanly filtered water.
Preservative contaminated food. That’s right, there are preservatives sprayed on your produce, and no labeling requirement to indicate that they are there! If you purchase non-organic pickling cukes with the spines removed, or cabbage from the grocery store, or other vegetables from the produce aisle in the grocery store, chances are, it has been treated with some kind of preservative. EVEN SOME ORGANICS ARE TREATED WITH CHLORINE, but organics still usually have a better chance of not spoiling in a ferment. Preservatives on your produce will cause foods to spoil, even when you do everything else right.
Detergents used to “clean” foods will also cause this problem. DO NOT USE VEGGIE WASH on your foods if you are fermenting! Plain clear UN-CHLORINATED water is the best choice, NO detergents.
So Rule #4 is to purchase FRESH food, LOCALLY if possible, ORGANIC if not possible.
2. At the end of the storage phase. A ferment will progress through many phases of bacterial and yeast life. As one form of food is consumed, the microbes that consume that food will multiply, thrive, and then die off. As they do, they are replaced by the next cycle that consumes either what the first batch did not consume, or the byproducts from the first batch. The food may progress through many phases of this kind. Eventually the food sources for healthy microbes wears out, and there is nothing left but fodder for the unhealthy ones, which will take over, resulting in a fairly marked and rapid spoilage of the food – mold, slime, squishy feeling, gray color, and unpleasant smells, all of which tell you this is no longer food.
All ferments eventually spoil!
The problem is when they spoil too soon. After only a few weeks, or a few months. Good ferments, properly stored, should last 4-6 months if stored in a root cellar, and FAR longer if stored in a fridge.
There are THREE main factors that affect this. Again, it has less to do with the finer points of handling, and more with the biggies.
Temperature: This is the most influential factor. Cool temperatures, down to about 40 degrees, keep ferments fresh longer, as a general rule. There are some that don’t thrive at low temperatures, but they usually STORE best at lower temps. Your typical kraut, pickle, or condiment ferment stores best between 40 and 50 degrees.
Freezing will kill some of the bacteria, and leave it ripe for infestation by nasties when it warms back up. Higher temperatures mean that the fermentation progression just happens faster – sometimes WAY faster.
Keeping the Food Under the Brine: Again, this is a prime factor. Keep the food dunked, and it will be preserved much better. Small bits usually are not the issue. Big bits are. If they stick out of the brine very much, they’ll mold before they cure, or degrade faster after they cure.
Brine Strength: More salt generally means it stores longer. Successful ferments can be achieved using a wide range of salt concentrations, but as a rule, the heavier salt concentrations lead to a longer storage life. Salt can also help to offset other factors that may be less easy to control, but usually only to a certain extent – it can’t compensate for everything, and it can’t do it indefinitely. Eventually even the saltiest of foods will be overtaken by opportunistic microbes that do not have your best interests at heart.
Fermenting is NOT as complicated as it may seem at first. There really are only a few things that you absolutely HAVE to get right. The rest is artistry – improving on a good thing, simplifying or increasing the predictability in your results. The factors listed above are the key elements in controlling spoilage. Everything else is just a nudge factor.
SPECIAL NOTE: Airlock lids and anaerobic environments are NOT discussed in this article, because they are NOT critical factors regarding spoilage. SOME individuals MAY be sensitive to specific bacteria or yeast types that proliferate less readily in an airlock environment, but as a rule, an airlock is NOT required to prevent spoilage.
From a CONVENIENCE standpoint, an airlock DOES make the process SIMPLER, because you do not have to vent the jar, and you MAY be able to be less picky about keeping things completely submerged (we are still testing this, and this statement is only based on preliminary observation, not side-by-side testing). Generally an airlock is not required to eliminate or SIGNIFICANTLY reduce spoilage in fermented foods.
Our customers who use airlock caps often ask us when to change the airlock cap for the storage cap, and when to remove the dunker (weight) from the jar. These are important questions, both because you want the fermentation process to be smooth, but also because you really want to get the airlock lid and the dunker back into use again as soon as possible!
Each Fermenta Lock cap is packaged with a storage cap – so the airlock cap can be switched for the storage cap when the ferment no longer requires venting. Each Fermenta Dunk weight comes with an extender – a plastic disk that is sized for the inside of the jar. Since the weight must be small enough to fit inside the jar opening, it is not large enough to reach the edges. The Extender goes all the way to the edges, and the weight is placed on top of it to hold the food down.
Lacto-fermented foods are LIVING FOODS. This means that the food continues to change and age until it finally spoils. Fermentation delays the point of spoilage by many months – anywhere between 6 and 20 months, depending on the food, the brine strength, the temperature, handling methods, etc. Living foods eventually spoil. This is part of the cycle of health and life. But it also means that during the time when it is healthy and good, it is in a state of constant change. This change is rapid at first, then slower, and finally very slow. The flavors and textures will gradually change over time – not in unpleasant ways, just more or less complex in most cases.
Fermented foods go through three basic stages that are observable. Each change can be responded to by a change in the fermenting process.
First: The initial startup phase. This is where the fermentation process begins. You prepare the food, pack it in salt, or salt brine, add an extender, and then a weight on top of that (several weights for kraut, which requires more weight than brined foods), and then you put the airlock cap on. You can follow this process by SMELL. As the foods inside begin to ferment and release gasses, they will start to vent through the airlock (the orange button on the Fermenta Lock Cap). When that happens, you’ll start to smell a nice pickly smell on the airlock. Once it smells like good pickles (after three to five days – usually three in the summer, five or so in the winter), the fermentation is well established, and you then move the jar to the fridge. If they are left out, especially in the heat, they are more prone to spoilage, though many people leave them out for longer periods before putting them in the fridge (foods were traditionally fermented in a root cellar, or basement, which was typically about 50 degrees, so the change was not required, but this is how we adapt to current conditions). The food can usually be consumed any time after this point, though some people are sensitive to foods that are less than a few weeks old.
Second: The active fermentation phase. After you move the jar to the fridge, the fermentation process continues, it just slows down. If you tip the jar, and bubbles still come up from between the food, it is still in the active phase. LEAVE THE AIRLOCK ON, and leave the dunker in, as long as the food is in the active phase. Once the food is no longer releasing bubbles when you tip the jar, it is entering the storage phase, and at this point, you can switch the airlock cap for a storage cap.
Third: In the storage phase (when it is no longer releasing bubbles), the food will continue to gradually change – fermentation has not stopped, it has just slowed down to an almost imperceptible sequence of changes. One of those changes is that little by little, the food stops floating quite as much. This varies between food types, some will always float some, others will sink more dramatically. Leave one or more weights (and an extender if using one) in the jar as long as the food bounces back up above the level of the brine. If you are using more than one weight, you can usually remove them one at at time over the storage time of the food. Eventually the food stays reasonably covered without the weights or extender. If a bit of the food is above the brine, it is not generally a problem. Foods can be stored for very long periods of time in this third phase, when handled correctly.
We do NOT recommend repacking foods into a smaller jar when amounts decrease!
When you repack, you introduce air through the entire ferment, potentially reducing the overall storage life. Leaving it in the original larger jar means there may be more air above the ferment, but the salt brine limits the movement of the air below the surface of the liquid. From a strictly scientific standpoint, repacking has more potential for harm than leaving it in the larger jar.
When using, remove what you need, using a clean utensil, and try not to stir up the entire jar of food. Wash the extender and dunker with clear water before replacing them if they are still needed.
We have eaten foods handled this way as long as 10 months after placing them in the fridge. Nothing has lasted longer than that – but not because of spoilage. Simply because they are always eaten sooner. The 10 month old food was crisp, tangy, and still had the squeaky feel of a reasonably fresh ferment. There were no signs of spoilage anywhere, even though the weights had long been removed, and the jar was less than half full for months before the last of it was consumed.
Many individuals want a set list of instructions, consisting of exact amounts, precise times, and specific parameters. Fermenting is as much an art as a science, and getting it right has more to do with paying attention to what the food is telling you than it does a list of instructions that have nothing to do with your specific food. There are rules. But the rules are flexible, because the process of pickling is flexible. Learn the rules, and the ferment will tell you what it needs, and when to change the conditions.
The color was pale gold, and translucent. The texture was still mostly crisp, slightly squeaky on the teeth. The flavor was boldly sour, not sulfurous at all, with mellow overtones. It was too salty. This batch was too salty right from the start. But then, the kraut I was sampling was easily 10 months old. Made nearly a year ago, shoved to the back of the fridge, and forgotten as other things circulated in and out of the fridge around it.
It had been fermented using an airlock, and a dunker extender with weight on top. After about five days on the counter in mid-summer heat, it was put in the fridge for about a month with those items still in place. Several servings had been removed, leaving a larger percentage of brine behind. After about a month in the fridge, the weight and extender had been removed, leaving the solids free-floating in the brine – for the most part, they stayed under by this time. The airlock was replaced by a standard canning jar lid. A few more servings were removed before it was forgotten – it had a lot of airspace in the jar. More airspace than food, in fact.
The fridge was the last thing we packed as we loaded the trailer to move. “Toss that.” I said to my husband, as he pulled the kraut out of the fridge to put in the cooler. “No! Wait!”, I had second thoughts… we were pretty low on veggies, maybe we’d need it, if it was still good. Worth a chance. “Keep it, please.” One of the after effects of having had Crohn’s Disease is that I need a lot of fresh veggies to supply certain nutrients. Without enough, I have headaches, muscle issues, blood clots, and heart palpitations (harmless, they say, but uncomfortable).
The new house did not have a refrigerator. Ours was packed away in a trailer that had to travel to our new destination later. We would be at least several days without a refrigerator – you can’t stock up on things with a short shelf life in 90 degree weather when you only have a large cooler for storage.
Sure enough, by the third day, I needed some more vegetables. Time to see if the kraut was still good.
First, the visual inspection. Even color. The color had dulled and deepened, but was not gray or nasty looking. It still had the faint appearance of having once been green. The top layer was the same color as the bottom layer (this is a major indicator of when things are going bad – the classic change is that the top layer will darken or turn gray).
Second, the nose test. Smelled like… kraut. Well, not like store-bought canned kraut, a little different than that. But edible smelling. Like food.
Third, the texture test. Still firm, slightly crispy. Pretty much, if you make it to this point, and the texture is not mushy and broken down, you can be fairly certain it is good to eat.
Last, the taste test. A tiny piece. The flavor was good. Krauty… deeply flavorful.
I served up a helping (which I rinsed with fresh water, first, to reduce the saltiness), and enjoyed a cold treat in the middle of a hot afternoon.
So how long do fermented foods keep? The answer is not simple, because it depends on many factors: The food in question, the way it was fermented, the storage methods and conditions, the saltiness of the brine, etc. When things are fermented properly, and stored in a dark, cool location, they can keep for anywhere between 4 and 18 months. There have been reports of some foods keeping longer, under ideal conditions, but we don’t usually have that.
Ferment your foods properly. Keep the solids under the brine, let the gas out.
Store them in a cool and dark location, with a lid that limits air transmission. It need not be airtight. It just needs to let air OUT more than it lets air IN during the first month, and after that, it just needs to limit it to the point that the amount becomes negligible – canning lids on mason jars are fine, as are plastic storage caps, with or without a gasket. They all work just fine for this, because what ACTUALLY keeps the food fresh, is the brine.
Use a reasonable amount of salt in the brine. Honestly, salt is NOT bad for you! Your body requires it – too little and you die! If you are not eating much in the way of processed foods, salted brined foods provide a necessary source of essential salt. Recommended amounts vary widely, so look up many recipes, and experiment with many amounts to see what works best for you and what you like best. Go with your tastebuds – they KNOW whether you need salt or not.
Then, watch your food. If it is more than a few months old, just run the tests: Appearance, Smell, Texture, and Taste. In that order. The first three will always tell you if the last is worth the risk.
Living foods die. It is the nature of life. There will never be a way to assure that they will never spoil, if they are still living. The great benefit of fermented foods is that they are still living foods (the ingredients are dead, but the fermentation process creates new microbial life in it). As such, they can die, and when they do, they become unhealthy for YOU to eat – then it is time to give them back to Mother Nature, and let her compost them down for plant food. Keep things in their proper order!
We have forgotten how to use and judge living foods. But you CAN do so. It really isn’t hard. You may read this, and it may feel unfamiliar. You may not quite know what I mean. But if you SEE it, or SMELL it, you WILL KNOW! The first time, you will instantly recognize and know, “Ah! THAT is what she meant!”.
Leftovers from almost a year ago, proved a great benefit in a time of need, because I learned how to check to make sure it was still good.
The ORIGINAL one-way valve fermenting airlock! Imitation IS the sincerest form of flattery, and we have noticed that our product has been copied by other sellers of fermenting products. Remember, if you see someone else selling a one-way valve airlock for fermenting, THEY copied US, not the other way around! Fermenta Lock is still the only original invention, handmade in the US. If it isn't orange, it isn't the original!
We invented Fermenta Lock, Fermenta Free, and the valve used for Fermenta Fido and other Fermenta Airlock products. We invented Fermenta Dunk Extender. Patents are prohibitively expensive, and designed by the government not to protect the rights of individuals, but to provide another source of revenue and control for the government and lawyers. We are good at what we do. We have endless ideas and endless creativity, and competition does not scare us. Impatient thieves do not scare us - they are too busy taking shortcuts to make a success of it anyway, and they won't want to take the effort to actually MAKE a product and fill orders.
So if you want to copy our idea, go right ahead. If you want to market and sell a competing product, you are welcome to do so, as long as you do not patent our idea - we had it first, and our posts on FaceBook announcing the invention and launch of it will prove that. This idea is officially in the public domain, placed there by us. We will NOT release supply sources, or part names unless you want to buy them - we'll be happy to sell you an instruction kit. If you buy our product, or look at the images and figure it out for yourself, good on you. Compete with us if you like, just don't screw us, and we'll get along just fine. Big companies who might want to screw us may have more money, and more lawyers than we do, but we have more to gain by suing the pants off a big company, and believe me, we will be well motivated to do so if anyone patents our idea and claims it as their own - this is a free idea. Everybody now owns it.
Published June 23, 2012
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