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
Wholesale, Export, and Manufacture of this product by other companies is an option. International distributorships are available for those wishing to export. Please email us to inquire about access to our wholesale website, or in regards to manufacturing any of our products.
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