UHF: Fermentation Failure

Back on my New Years Resolution post, I said I would talk about my fermentation so I suppose I must. It was a discouraging year but after some research I have determined what went wrong in each case and I feeling better about trying again now.

This was one of the odd things I first heard about from the Nourishing Traditions books and immediately rode off as being too strange to consider but have since changed my mind about. Basically, the point of eating fermented, or cultured, food is to help build up the good bacteria in your body, just like those yogurt commercials keep telling you. It's not just good for your digestive track, but your overall health. One way to get them is probiotic supplements, but I'd rather get it from food.

Some of the more normal foods that contain cultures are most yogurts, buttermilk, Kimchi, and traditional sauerkraut and pickles (but not the canned stuff, they are either made differently or those little guys are now dead). I like yogurt and eat a fair amount of it, but don't get enough Kimchi or buttermilk to make a difference in my health so last fall, I tried to make some things on my own. Most of the recipes are just vegetables that are pounded to release juice. Then some salt is added to keep bad bacteria from growing until the good stuff takes root. Lacto-fermentation involves the addition of whey to jump start the good guys but supposedly lead to a mushy end result so I stayed clear of that.

First try - Sauerkraut. Supposedly sauerkraut is a good first time cultured food. The recipe is just cabbage, salt, and time. It definitely started fermenting and seemed to be working just fine but when we tasted it, it was super salty. Apparently the recipe was supposed to read 3 tsps but there was a typo that had it reading 3 tablespoons. And on top of that the Nourishing Traditions recipes tend to run on the salty side even when written correctly. I tried rinsing and replacing the brine but it was still way to salty to eat.

Outcome - Failure! But not really my fault and I think I could easily make it again with much better results. But since then Craig has discovered he doesn't like it and I like it but only heated and every once in a while. I don't see myself eating even a few tablespoons cold every day.

Second try - Pickles. We loved pickles and so when I saw Alton Brown make a tradition pickle recipe I had to give it a try. I haven't ever had a Alton Brown recipe not work so I was very optimistic. However the two options for storing it while it was growing were either a cold cellar area or a cooler sytem thing he described. Our apartment in Texas in August was just too darn hot. Even with a cooler I couldn't keep it cool enough. We started getting a lot of scum forming that while wasn't truly harmful, gave me the creeps. So we moved it to the fridge before we probably should have. When we cut into them, they were only half pickled, the inside was still a cuke.

Outcome - Failure! This one was more time consuming but I think could end up being something we like. However, Texas in the summer just isn't the right place to make them. And for cruel irony, the weather is now perfect and I could probably leave them on our porch to culture but I can't get pickling cucumbers in January! I'll try again if I ever have a place with a basement.

Sourdough - While it is a culture food, it obviously is baked so it loses much of the fermented benefits. It still has lots of good enzymes and is supposed to be more digestible due to the soaking. Besides, it just tastes good. The recipe I used had two ways to make it, one by hand and one that used a bread machine. Despite my previous failures, I was optimistic. But again, the weather bit me in the butt. I didn't add any sugar so from what I have read, I shouldn't have had a problem with my started getting exhausted too quickly but it did. On top of my starter was a layer of alcohol and the poor guys suffocated. I can only blame the heat for causing it to grow too much too fast.

Outcome - Failure! If I try sourdough again I will probably buy a started and just keep it going. But I won't until I am somewhere for a while and have the ability to keep up with it.

Next time: I am going to try again. I will start with fermented salsa. Basically, you make pico de gallo, adding a little extra salt to prevent bad guys from growing and leave it on the counter for a couple days. The point of most of the fermented veggies recipes is to eat a small amount (like a garnish) everyday. I can't really see doing that with ginger carrots or sauerkraut but I can see us eating salsa quite frequently. Also, if we don't like fermented salsa, I really don't think we will like any fermented veggies so I can just give up if this fails. But it won't. I'm feeling good about it.

Another option on the lacto side of fermentation that I want to try someday is Kefir. It's like a drinkable yogurt that is slightly sour and bubble. I like the Kefir you buy at the store but not only is it kinda expensive, but it is also full of sugar and artificial flavors. It doesn't sound that difficult to make your own if I could just get past the weirdness of the "grains" although I don't think I will even consider doing this until we are in a more stable location.

So that should fully convinced you that I am a hippie, I mean I want to grow my own edible bacteria! But if it hasn't, you at least now I am stubborn. Or determined. Yeah, determined sounds much better.


  1. Hey, that reminds me, could you help Beave come up with a science experiment for the Science Fair? Nothing fermented, though, and I can't believe Craig hasn't tried his own brewsky.

  2. So many people make beer so well, I figure there's no need for me to bother.