52 Weeks of Bad A** Bacteria – Week 18 – Fermenting Methods: We’ve Had it All Wrong

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UPDATE 12/10/13: This post was written in May of 2012. I have since learned a lot about fermenting and the role it plays in my own personal health journey. I’m no longer overwhelmed about this and I am not experiencing any angst. This post was not written to make people more confused and ultimately leave some pretty hateful and nasty comments on this blog, but it was written as an honest reflection of a time in my life where I was being confronted with new information and didn’t know where I stood on that new info. This happens to all of us from time to time, and I wanted to share that experience with my readers.

After experimenting with various fermenting methods, I found that the quality, taste, and texture of those in the anaerobic vessels far exceeded anything I ever made in Mason jars. For this reason, I am now exclusively fermenting in anaerobic vessels. This is what I believe is best for my own health needs, but I do encourage everyone to do their own research, take time to experiment, and most of all, have fun. Fermenting is fun stuff!

For a big list of ferment recipe ideas and to read more of my adventures, click this link.

For even more ferment recipes, please check out three of my favorite sites:

Divine Health From the Inside Out

Pickle Me Too

Lisa’s Counter Culture

Original post | May 7, 2012

This week’s post has been causing me a lot of stress and it’s time to share my thoughts on the matter.

Please note my disclaimer: I am not a scientist, nor do I really have any science background, other than the things I learned in grade school (which honestly, I probably retained about zilch). Please evaluate all of the information and make the best decision you can for yourself and your family.

We’ve Had it All Wrong!?

So, why on earth has the subject of fermenting been causing me so much stress, you ask? Well, because it turns out that we’ve had it all wrong. Everything we have been taught (at least the vast majority of us) up until this point has been not 100% accurate, and we could potentially be doing more harm than good to our bodies. Most of us probably first got introduced to fermenting by Sally Fallon in Nourishing Traditions. I know that’s where I got my start. Eventually, I moved on to Sandor Katz’s Wild Fermentation. Neither one of them discuss this issue in their books. Why they don’t discuss it, I don’t know. I am wondering if they will be exploring this issue in future editions of their books? That is purely speculation on my part, but it would be great to see what their thoughts are.

I’m sure some of you have seen my friend KerryAnn’s recent series on fermented foods. KerryAnn is the publisher of the Cooking Traditional Foods website, which is one of the leading resources for traditional food recipes and information on the Web. Her articles have been circulating the Web and Facebook and causing quite a buzz! I know a lot of people, including myself, are confused and frustrated by some of the info she shares. That is no fault of KerryAnn’s — I’m not saying that. She is simply sharing the information that she has discovered and that she believes will help those who are fermenting the “old way”.

So, KerryAn is putting the information out there.

Now, it’s up to us to make our own decisions.

But, please note that the last thing that I want to do is to discourage people who want to ferment and are just starting out. This post is in no way intended to do that. I’ll explain more towards the end of this post.

The Science of Lactic Acid Bacteria and Why Airtight is so Important

Now, since I have stated that I am not a scientist, I am going to do my very best to paraphrase some of the key elements of her posts. I encourage each and every one of you to read all of her posts on this topic and come to your own decision. This information is especially critical for those who have gut issues that they are trying to heal.

This information is not completely new to me. I was first introduced to the thought that our fermentation techniques might be causing more harm than good a few months back when I spoke to the creator of the Pickl-it jars. The info she shared was way over my head, so, I didn’t do anything with it at that time. The gist of all of this comes down to one key point:

If your fermentation vessel is not 100% airtight, then you could potentially be doing more harm than good.

What! Why?

KerryAnn tells us in her post “Controversy: Pickl-It vs Mason Jars“:

Research shows that LAB (Lactic Acid Bacteria) thrives best in an anaerobic environment. Anaerobic means that oxygen is not present; aerobic means that oxygen is present. In order to get LABs to proliferate, you must have an anaerobic environment to encourage their growth while discouraging the growth of all non-beneficial species, especially the aerobic ones.

In order to get an anaerobic environment for home fermentation you need two things- a seal that prevents oxygen from entering and an airlock that allows carbon dioxide to escape. Without an anaerobic environment, the LABs will not flourish. Open air fermentation will not produce large concentrations of LABs. As the bacteria produce carbon dioxide and use up the oxygen, it reduces the population of undesirable, aerobic bacteria and allows the LAB to flourish in the oxygenless environment. The Pickl-It provides this type of environment, as it as an airtight seal and an airlock for the growing carbon dioxide to escape.

An open bowl provides a continuous supply of oxygen, never increasing the amount of LAB present and giving an environment that is ideal for the undesirable, aerobic bacteria to flourish and out-compete (read: kill) the LABs. A mason jar would not, either, as it has to be burped regularly to allow the building carbon dioxide to escape. When you use a mason jar alone, you MUST burp it to release the pressure so the jar doesn’t explode. Every time you burp it, you don’t create a vacuum. And you can’t re-tighten it fast enough to avoid the re-introduction of oxygen. That allows oxygen to rush into the vessel, starting the process all over again. Not burping the jar would cause explosions, as I have had happen in the past. An air-tight vessel with an air lock is the only way to see the LABs flourish.

So, for those of us who ferment in Mason jars or other similar methods, we are probably not getting the true benefit of the LABs and over long-term use, could be causing more problems than good. Mason jars are not airtight, nor can they ever be airtight. From everything I’ve read, it is impossible. Based on the information KerryAnn has shared, there are only a couple vessels on the market that give you a truly anaerobic ferment.

Why are LABs so important?

KerryAnn tells us that as well (read her full post here):

  • Improve lactose intolerance.
  • Many studies have shown that LABs prevent, controls or stops viral diarrhea.
  • Might possibly play a role in preventing and controlling bacterial diarrhea including form sources such as E. Coli.
  • Prevents or lessens diarrhea from antibiotics.
  • Stimulates the immune system to resist invasion via increasing phagocytosis.
  • Stabilizes and reverses intestinal permeability. This is why LABs are SO critical to those healing from leaky gut and food intolerances!
  • Improves immune response when orally exposed to an allergen.
  • Is thought to possibly play an anti-inflammatory role in the body.
  • Enhances immunity to a variety of illnesses. I have listed a few here but the Handbook of Fermented Functional Foods by Farnworth lists many, many more.
  • Is known to decrease constipation and improve gut motility.
  • May decrease the occurrence of kidney stones.
  • Breaks down carbohydrates for easier digestion.
  • Possibly increases the seretonin produced in the gut.

Based on the science that KerryAnn has researched (did you know that she is only one class away from a degree in degree in both biology and chemistry?), she feels that the reason we should switch to airtight fermenting vessels is simple.

There isn’t a ‘more’ or ‘less’ anaerobic environment. Either it’s anaerobic or it isn’t. Either it’s airtight or it isn’t. There isn’t any in-between. If air is being let in, even in small amounts or inconsistently, the oxygen-loving bacteria that can wreck a ferment will stay alive.

If it’s truly airtight, once the oxygen is used up, the LABS are able to out-compete and completely kill off the aerobic bacteria. Completely killed off, the LABs will preserve the food for years. If your ferments go slimy, moldy, gray, nasty, etc. after six months or a year, they weren’t airtight and the oxygen-loving bacteria were never completely killed off. The rottenness come only from aerobic bacteria and not from LABs.

There’s also lots of evidence that the yeasts which grow in ferments that are not 100% airtight encourage candida and other bad yeasts, which in turn can harm the body. KerryAnn will be presenting more information on this topic as well and I am looking forward to reading it.

But, They Didn’t Have Anaerobic Jars in Traditional Cultures

That was one of the first things I said when I started hearing about how we’ve been fermenting incorrectly all this time. They certainly didn’t have fancy jars in traditional times. So, then, how did they ferment their food?

Burying the ferments was common. Animal skins are actually airtight and allow for off-gassing. Another method is a sealed clay pot. It is also airtight but allows for off-gassing.

What Ferments Require an Airtight Vessel?

Everything except kombucha.

Yep.

You read that right.

Kombucha is the only ferment that needs exposure to the air. Everything else should be done in airtight vessels for optimum benefit. This includes your kefirs, dairy, veggies, fruits. etc.

Also, it’s important to understand that a Mason jar with a homemade airlock is not air tight, nor can it ever be. I have made several airlock jars with things from home brew stores, but those jars are not airtight.

What About Salt?

Salt is an important aspect of the fermentation process. According to KerryAnn, the “correct salt concentration will actually encourage LABs to grow, giving them a competitive edge. Too little salt gives the bad guys an edge, which can lead to spoilage, especially if your container isn’t airtight.

That said, “you can have ‘too much of a good thing.’  If you add too much salt, it will also cripple or kill off the lactic acid bacteria.  Plainly put, if you make it too salty, nothing will live, even the good guys.  If you don’t get it so salty that it kills all of the microbes off, certain yeasts can live, also leading to spoilage.

As you can see, it’s a delicate balancing act. I know I am guilty of both over-salting and under-salting my ferments.

Learn more about proper salting techniques in KerryAnn’s post, “Salt and Lacto-Fermentation“.

Where Do I Stand on This?

Well, thanks for asking. The simple answer is I don’t know. Here are my thoughts — in no particular order:

1. I can’t dispute the science behind the info KerryAnn has shared. I may not want to believe it, but I can’t dispute it, at least at this point in time.

2. I simply cannot afford to purchase fancy jars at this time.

3. If I can’t afford to do it correctly, is there even a point in doing it at all?

4. Since I do not have any gut issues that I am trying to heal, do I need to worry about it? I have since found out that I DO have leaky gut, which has lead to an autoimmune disease, so this is a VERY important thing for me to pay attention to.

5. Should I just give up all LAB ferments and stick with kombucha? Based on the research, two of my favorite LAB ferments, water kefir and milk kefir, should be done in an airtight environment. I love those two ferments and I can’t see myself giving them up, but am I doing more harm than good by continuing to utilize the “old way”?

6. Do I have to make a decision right now? No, I guess I don’t. I can save up and purchase the jars I need over time. Until then, I might reduce the amount of fermenting I do though, which in turn leads me to thought #7. But, if you know me at all, you know that I hate being in limbo.

7. I’m not quite sure yet where this leaves the rest of my 52 Weeks of Bad A** Bacteria series.

8. I’m still confused, frustrated, conflicted, and discouraged.

9. I in turn don’t want to discourage and frustrate any of my readers. I know many people who are just starting out on the real/traditional food journey and the last thing I want to do is discourage them. Getting started with fermenting is often frustrating and overwhelming enough as it is, let alone adding all of this new info to the mix. My personal feeling is if you have specific gut issues that you are trying to heal, then I would be very careful as to how you ferment and would consider investing in the proper tools. If you have no gut issues and are just wanting to get started, then I say go for it, even if you’re doing it the “old way”.  Kefir is one of the easiest ferments to start off with. As you gain experience and confidence, you can branch out and invest in the more expensive tools.

That said, I am not a doctor, nor am I an expert on gut health and healing (since my autoimmune diagnosis, I have become somewhat of an expert, so this is an area I take very seriously now), so please, please, please do your own research, ask your own doctor or naturopath, talk to experts, and make the best decision you can for your family.

I Am So Confused, But I Want to Know More

Yeah. Me too. So, let’s just keep an eye on KerryAnn’s blog. You can sign up for email updates for Cooking Traditional Foods here. That way, we won’t miss her new posts. You can also find her on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.

For now, you can read through her entire lactofermention series here.

I really can’t wait to hear your feedback. Bring it on! Leave a comment below and tell me your thoughts. Are you going to change your methods, or stay the same? Any advice to share with others (and me!)? Let’s start discussing!

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About Jessica Espinoza

Jessica is a real food wellness educator and the founder of the Delicious Obsessions website. She has had a life-long passion for food and being in the kitchen is where she is the happiest. She began helping her mother cook and bake around the age of three and she's been in the kitchen ever since, including working in a restaurant in her hometown for almost a decade, where she worked every position before finally becoming the lead chef. Jessica started Delicious Obsessions in 2010 as a way to help share her love for food and cooking. Since then, it has grown into a trusted online resource with a vibrant community of people learning to live healthy, happy lives through real food and natural living.

Discussion

131 comments

  1. A listener of mine pointed me to this article and he is now as confused as the author Jessica.

    My reply?

    Yawn.

    – Bryan

    Bryan Davis
    Posted 05/07/12

    • Why “Yawn” Bryan? Do you not think that it’s worth the concern? I’m still on the fence about all of this, so I really would appreciate any feedback. Especially now that I see what your email address is. Seems like you may have lots of fermenting experience! 🙂

      Jessica
      Posted 05/07/12

      • Jessica,
        It’s much ado about nothing.
        I love Pickl-It. I am a reseller of Pickl-It. I have and use Harsch crocks and many various types of sealed ferment vessels. My favorite crock? A 15 gallon ancient ceramic open crock.

        I can’t spend the time to debate it all here, but I just wanted to say- That I am not concerned.

        As in any other great pursuit- technique, instruction, practice, care, commitment and experimentation are required.

        Fermentation- Much like life!

        Bryan Davis
        Posted 05/07/12

        • Thanks for your feedback! 🙂

          Jessica
          Posted 05/07/12

  2. I found airlocks at a local brewery store for 99 cents and little seals for 35 cents All I need is my husband to drill a hole in my white plastic lids to stick them in. I will also use electrical tape around the lids when fermenting to keep it air tight. Ta Da…

    Jessica
    Posted 05/07/12

    • Unfortunately, those homemade airlocks are not airtight and still allow lots of oxygen into the ferment. I was extremely disappointed to hear that from KerryAnn, because I have several airlock jars that I have made at home, using supplies from a home brew store. 🙁

      Jessica
      Posted 05/07/12

      • Hi Jessica.

        Don’t be discouraged. Use rubber stoppers/ thick rubber lid seals, if they work for pickl-it, they will work for all of us too. Grommets just don’t seem to seal very well.

        I suggest an airlock and #3 (or #4) rubber stopper in a glass soda bottle for kefir secondary fermentation. If rubber to glass didn’t seal, I couldn’t make wine that way either. I would end up with a bottle of yeast and no alcohol.

        For veggies, I am using a Tattler lid with it’s thick rubber seal and a (clean) hole drilled for a #4 rubber stopper on the top. So far, so good.

        As for diffusion, I use wide mouth jars and a smaller 125ml or 250ml small mouth jar as a “dunker” inside the big jar. They fit perfectly together.

        On it’s own, the inner jar will limit air contact with the brine to a ~3mm ring between the big jar rim and the smaller one, so even if you have to open the lid and let in air, it will not readily diffuse into the brine. Carbon dioxide is heavier than oxygen and in an active fermentation it should eventually displace any air you may let in before it seriously affects the brine.

        I wonder what KerryAnn might add?

        Rick
        Posted 05/11/12

    • Jessica, the white plastic lids are not airtight. Just tip it and shake, and your liquid will come out. This is why you can screw one of these on a mason jar and never have an exploding jar.

      I would suggest you use the lid and ring that comes with it if you want airtight, and fit the airlock in there with a stopper. But then you have the issue of BPA in the lining.

      I personally have an airlock in cork. It’s not 100% airtight due to cracks in the cork, but it’s pretty darn close, and closer than the white lid.

      Like Jessica, I am frustrated and confused and would prefer a less expensive option.

  3. My family has been spending lots of time and money on the GAPS diet for over 2 years. We are not healed and I do wonder if our lack of correctly done ferments is to blame. I went ahead and ordered some pickl-it jars this weekend after reading KerryAnn’s posts and some others. It is a small investment to make for our healing (Especially compared to what was already spend of food and Doctor’s visits). Like you I wasn’t thrilled to learn that I had been wrong and I wasn’t thrilled with the idea that this expensive vessel was needed to make it happen right. I guess I could request the stomach from my next half beef to do it the truly traditional way. Somehow this seems more reasonable. Better late than never as they say.

    PattyLA
    Posted 05/07/12

    • Patty – I really hope that you notice a significant difference. I look forward to hearing what changes you notice. In your case, where you know that you and your family have specific gut issues that need to be healed, it’s probably wise that you are looking into better methods! Thanks for your feedback! 🙂

      Jessica
      Posted 05/07/12

  4. Read Sandor’s new book. He still outlines all the various methods – including the jar method. So far, I can’t find anywhere that he directly takes on this issue. I plan to email him because he’s spent the last few years really studying the science of fermentation. The Pick-it is similar to the Harsch crock just less expensive and much lighter. I have two Pickl-its and got them because I found with the jar method I could not do long ferments. Let’s not forget that without Sandor and Sally a lot of people would not be fermenting right now. Both of them made it very approachable by outlining a simple and very affordable way to get into fermentation.

    Angela
    Posted 05/07/12

    • Angela – I have Sandor’s new book on my to-read list. I am very excited about it. I am going to ask him his thoughts on this as well. I am hoping to feature and interview with him later this summer as part of this series! 🙂

      I totally agree that without Sandor and Sally’s books, most people would have no idea about fermenting. Whether it’s “right” or “wrong” their books are invaluable.

      That said, I still don’t know where I stand. I hate that this post might discourage people. That is not my intention. The intention of this blog is to keep it simple! 🙂

      Jessica
      Posted 05/07/12

      • Yes, I agree. I’d love to keep it simple too. I give fermentation classes and want to provide the right information to people. I’d love people to not have to pony up so much money when they are just getting started but if it’s necessary then I will say so. I’d like to find a middle ground though.

        Angela
        Posted 05/08/12

        • Sandor commented on a facebook group called Wild Fermentation. His response and information is quite lengthy but in summary he says this: “I hear that much controversy is brewing on the internet over vessels for fermenting vegetables, and the implications of whether or not they are totally anaerobic. I have made hundreds of batches of kraut in all sorts of vessels (most of them open crocks), and I have witnessed, consistently, that it doesn’t matter.”

          Nichole Sawatzky
          Posted 05/09/12

  5. yes, you NEED airlock because otherwise you will be eating yeasts and molds you cannot see!!!! That is why older generations used fermenting crocks!!!!!!! please do NOT ferment in mason jars. I make an exception at kefir, it is a SCOBY similar to Kombucha and airlock can kill your SCOBY. If you “second ferment” your kefir after removing the SCOBY grains then an airlock container is used.

    DelrayMom
    Posted 05/07/12

    • Thank you for your feedback! 🙂

      Jessica
      Posted 05/07/12

  6. If my options are burying a crock or animal stomach in the ground or buying an expensive Harsch crock to do this right then the Pickl-it jar seems much more reasonable. I’m getting ready to start the GAPS diet and don’t want to spend months or years on it with little improvement so this seems like a worthwhile investment. It is disappointing though how inaccessible this makes fermenting to the general public. I’ve been eagerly sharing water kefir grains with anyone who will take them. I imagine if I mention that they also need to purchase an expensive jar to make it work well then there will be much less interest. I do have to wonder with water kefir at least if it was ever traditionally fermented in an airtight container. I’m very curious what type of container that would have been. I used a balloon over a soda bottle a few years ago when making ginger ale with a ginger bug. It worked wonderfully for building carbonation but I suppose it’s a) probably not airtight, b) more plastic then anyone wants exposure to regularly. I may give it a try with my water kefir though. And then what about secondary ferments with the water kefir? Does that screw it up? I’m getting more confused as I type.

    Rachel
    Posted 05/07/12

    • Water Kefir is a SCOBY and does not like airlock!!!! SCOBY is different, like Kombucha tea.She is fine making her water kefir 🙂

      DelrayMom
      Posted 05/07/12

    • Rachel – I completely understand! The last thing I want to do is discourage people! I want to keep it simple and uncomplicated, which is why it was very difficult for me to write this post.

      I don’t know where I stand. I make lots of water kefir and I still use the mason jar with a coffee filter on it for the first ferment and then I bottle the kefir up for a second ferment, either in Grolsch bottles or pint mason jars. But, according to the research, I think I’m doing that all wrong! 🙂

      Jessica
      Posted 05/07/12

  7. I am sorry, but this is silly. It sounds like a sales gimmick to me. I am no scientist either, but let’s put this in perspective. Remember that we are talking about a traditional food storage method here. Air tight would have never worked – remember the explosions you referred to? Lack of refrigeration? What creates the anaerobic situation is the submersion. Your food is submerged under water – no oxygen. A small amount of oxygen is going to be in and may mix with the water, but that is what the salt is for – to inhibit critters who use oxygen.
    This does not worry this reader at all. I will proceed with my mason jars. The bubbly atmosphere I observe tells me it is working just fine.

    Carol
    Posted 05/07/12

    • Carol, check my blog this Friday when I show you that submersion does not mean airtight. There is a basic scientific principle called diffusion and it occurs at a set rate. But the time your mason jar ferment is done, most of it has been oxygenated by diffusion!

      Those carbon dioxide bubbles aren’t proof fermentation is taking place because carbon dioxide is released by both the good bacteria and the bad bacteria.

      Salt does NOT inhibit critters who use oxygen otherwise no bacteria would live in the sea and we know that is false! And the sea is saltier at 3.6% than the 2% brine most people use for fermenting.

      KerryAnn @ CookingTF.com
      Posted 05/07/12

      • Diffusion of oxygen in water is a very slow process. See the following graph, which assumes normal water (not brine) and that the water has full surface access to oxygen (which is not necessarily the case with many fermentation setups). In normal basement temperatures it can take a couple months for oxygen to diffuse down just a couple inches. If your brine is sufficiently high above the plant matter, then oxygen shouldn’t be able to diffuse to that depth before fermentation is finished. And if your setup significantly reduces the total surface area of the brine (e.g. by putting and old glass kombucha bottle into the mason jar to press down the veggies) then that should further reduce the diffusion time.

        http://personal.stevens.edu/~ebrennan/images/5%20research/diffusion%20vs%20temp.jpg

        Brian
        Posted 09/14/13

        • Thanks for sharing! 🙂

          Jessica
          Posted 09/15/13

    • Thanks for the feedback, Carol. It is much appreciated. Like I said, I don’t know where I stand, nor do I have the funds to invest in new equipment. Maybe some day, but nor right now.

      Jessica
      Posted 05/07/12

  8. Great post Jessica. I thought my home made version was sealed, so sorry for that. I’ve come across this information before and I too just wasn’t sure what to do with it. I’ve mentioned to you before that it seems like my ferments go bad quickly so I’ve stopped fermenting until I too can afford pickl-it jars. Hopefully that is soon since the garden should be producing some yummy stuff soon. Thanks for sharing and being honest about your thoughts on the subject.

    Cari
    Posted 05/07/12

    • Hi Cari – Thanks for the kind words! I’ve still got the airlock you made me and then I made a couple others too. I am still on the fence, but I feel like I will be slowing down a bit until I sort it all out!

      Jessica
      Posted 05/07/12

  9. Check out the air lock lids from Cooking God’s Way. http://www.cookinggodsway.com/eshop/lacto-fermentation-air-lock-kit/

    Katie P
    Posted 05/07/12

    • Thanks Katie. Those are almost identical to the ones that I have made here at home. 🙂

      Jessica
      Posted 05/07/12

  10. Have you seen the air lock kits sold by cookinggodsway.com? There is a rubber gasket under the lid, and another one in the middle of the lid, where the air lock goes. I can’t see how it is other than air-tight? I have been using these for over a year, and have been very pleased. I always get great tasting sauerkraut, never moldy of funky. They are a good value, too. I agree that burping the mason jars is not a good option, because it can allow mold spores, yeasts and bad bacteria in, potentially food poisoning yourself. But the claim that the Pickl-It jars are the only viable air-tight method is simply not true. Check out the Good Eats episode on pickling… he makes his own pickle crock, and explains all about lacto fermenting.

    Kim
    Posted 05/07/12

    • Kim – That’s funny. Katie just posted the link to the airlocks right above you. Those look almost identical to the ones that I make at home. I didn’t know about the rubber gasket under the lid, though. I will have to check out the Good Eats episode. I love that show! 🙂

      I’m still staying on the fence!

      Jessica
      Posted 05/07/12

  11. I have to admit I was a little turned off by this series. It seemed very brand specific. And the idea that I have to buy more expensive kitchen equipment…I don’t know about you all, but working towards a traditional foods diet is expensive. Not only is the food more expensive, but all the kitchen equipment too. Vitamix, grain mill, new pots and pans. I haven’t had a Xmas, birthday, or mother’s day present in years. All I do is save up for kitchen stuff. Sigh. I would be very interested to hear what Sandor Katz has to say about this…

    livesimplylovestrongly
    Posted 05/07/12

    • I think Sandor would say BS!

      Laurel
      Posted 05/07/12

    • Hi there. I hope that it’s not my series that you’re referring to. My intentions were not to upset and frustrate people. I had a very hard time writing this post, because I don’t know where I stand yet. The goal of my blog is to keep it simple and I hate putting info out there that does the opposite. That said, I thought it was important to at least share my thoughts, considering how much buzz was circulating.

      I agree with you on the expense side of it. I am in no position to buy new kitchen equipment, which is why I feel like I’m in limbo. Haven’t yet decided where I’ll land.

      Jessica
      Posted 05/07/12

  12. Yeah, this seems silly to me too. How did our grandparents ferment their barrel of kraut in an anaerobic way? It if was good enough for them…

    Also, if you are burping a mason jar and screw the lid down tight again before it is quite done hissing HOW CAN AIR GET BACK IN? It can’t. I agree that the white plastic lids are not sealable, but the two piece lids are. Um, that’s what they were designed for.

    Nor would I worry about the tiny amount of bpa that might, or might not, touch the food for a short amount of time.

    Maybe if the pickl-its weren’t horrendously expensive I’d try them. Also on http://www.cookinggodsway.com for $20 sells a few items of plastic and rubber. $20, really!?! Can you say exhorbitant?

    Laurel
    Posted 05/07/12

    • Thanks for the feedback Laurel. I also wish the Pickl-It jars weren’t so expensive. Until I can save up money to try them, I’m left with fermenting the “old way”.

      Jessica
      Posted 05/07/12

    • Maon jars are only airtight when canned- a vacuum creates a consistent, even pressure. During fermentation, you have inconsistent, changing pressures going out and in. A mason jar is not airtight during that!

      KerryAnn @ CookingTF.com
      Posted 05/07/12

  13. *Sigh* — so frustrating. My jury is still out on this issue as well. My question would be if Pickl-It is the only game in town, would they be willing to run a killer special for all of us to at least give it a try?

    elaine benson
    Posted 05/07/12

    • It isn’t the only game in town, and it’s not necessary for proper fermentation.

      Jenny
      Posted 05/07/12

    • Hi Elaine – I feel your frustration! 🙂 I don’t know if Pickl-It is the only option out there for sure. I know based on KerryAnn’s research, that is the only brand that she feels comfortable recommending (besides the Harsch crocks).

      Jessica
      Posted 05/07/12

  14. I picked up an old Foodsaver at a thrift store for $2.99, because I wanted to try and vacuum seal my mason jars (with dry seeds and grain) with the special attachment for lids that they sell. I wonder if that would work with ferments? After you burp the lid, just reseal with the attachment? (Just thinking out loud here). I have one Vegetable Master from Cultures for Health that wasn’t expensive, but I admit, I have only fermented once.

    pak
    Posted 05/07/12

    • Thanks for the comments Pak! I love my vacuum sealer, though I don’t know how that would work with ferments. I will make a note to ask KerryAnn her thoughts.

      Jessica
      Posted 05/07/12

  15. I love the Pickl-it. I have 6 sets, and I often give them away as gifts, but it is utter nonsense to imply that the pickl-it is the only way to safely ferment foods. First, it is absolutely true that fermentation is an anaerobic process. When your fermented food is submerged in brine, it is in an anerobic environment. A good quality crock (or mason jar) with a small weight (a sterilized rock, a ceramic ramekin or even a resealable plastic baggy filled with brine) works to submerge your ferment beneath the brine level. It is fine. You don’t need an airlock or other special equipment.

    Jenny
    Posted 05/07/12

    • Thanks for the feedback Jenny! 🙂

      I’m still on the fence, that’s for sure!

      Jessica
      Posted 05/07/12

    • Jenny, study up on diffusion. Basic science that you learned in elementary school shows your belief that submersion makes something airtight is incorrect.

      KerryAnn @ CookingTF.com
      Posted 05/07/12

  16. Yet another thing to stress out about. I did see KA’s post about this matter. Like you, Jessica I was frustrated. But do you know what I decided to do? Nothing. I don’t feel the urge or compulsion to stress over one more thing. I do think that we need to vigilant about our food. But LF has been working for me. I do use those two piece BPA laced lids (which is not a lot of BPA, btw). In my heart I don’t think that they are causing all that much harm and they seal pretty darn well. I have jumped through just about every hoop in real food and I am sure I have more to learn. But I am not going to take this leap. Not yet. And I am choosing not to stress out about it. Yet. . . . 🙂

    Jen
    Posted 05/07/12

    • Hi Jen! Thanks for your honest reply! It is much appreciated and your thoughts are similar to ones that have been racing around my head! 🙂

      Jessica
      Posted 05/07/12

  17. I’m going to research some more, and have consulted with several friends who have researched historical foods. But, my initial perspective is that LAB is not the only goal of fermenting. I believe that increased variety of microbials have benefit over exclusive focus on reproducing a singular microbial.

    There are some 500-1000 different microbials which inhabit and reproduce in the gut. Some are only there transiently and therefore, to have a “healthy” gut balance (based upon our historical traditional cultures), we need to consume a VARIETY of beneficial microbials regularly.

    Additionally, ferments improve stomach acid, a first step in digestion of foods into absorbable nutrients. Ferments predigest proteins, another variable in nutrient bio-availability.

    Furthermore, ferment ph inhibits a variety of “non-beneficial” microbials. However, the symbiotic combination of microbials benefit the gut, MORE THAN individual probiotics.

    There is no way that I believe traditional cultures had to “save up and purchase the jars” to make ferments.

    Pat Robinson

    Pat Robinson
    Posted 05/07/12

    • Hi Pat – Thank you for your feedback! I really appreciate it and you make some good points. I would love to hear your thoughts on it after you do more research. I consider you an expert in the nourishing food world and would value your insight! 🙂

      Jessica
      Posted 05/07/12

    • That, too, crossed my mind: the focus on LAB specifically versus fermentation relative to a broader spectrum of microbes.

      Charlene Vartanian
      Posted 05/10/12

  18. I started fermenting in mason jars, but after reading many of the experts, I decided that I’d really love to have a Harsh crock until I saw the price. That’s when I stumbled upon the Pickl-it and purchased a set of them. I was under the impression that the only reason you needed the crock or Pickl-it type container was to eliminate the risk of having the bad tasting mold that could possibly grow on top of open ferment containers. I wanted to make sure I never got that stuff!!

    I love my Pickl-its and won’t ferment without them now, but I would love to see someone actually have the products from both mason jar and air lock containers tested for bacteria and see if there is a difference. I have read many stories about people curing health issues with ferments done in mason jars. I would think there has to be something good in them for people to be getting such a benefit.

    I still make my kefir in a mason jar with a coffee filter over the top. My kefir turns out awesome and my grains multiply quickly. Since I have been drinking kefir my IBS is pretty much non-existant. So I think there are good things going on in there.

    I would say, if you can’t afford the good jars, don’t give up fermenting. People have been doing it a lot of different ways for ages and they all seem to be healthier than when they were not fermenting at all.

    I have one question. I saw in the store that Bubbies (I think that’s correct) sells not only pickles, but also kraut and other veggies. I wonder how they get the jars air tight without heat? And why the jars that are not kept cold don’t explode? It seems to go against all I know (which is very little! LOL) about ferments.

    Claudia (Lacey)
    Posted 05/07/12

    • Thank you Claudia (Lacey)! I really appreciate your feedback. 🙂

      The only Bubbies products that I’ve ever seen have been in the fridge at my health food store. They carry their kraut, pickles, and horseradish. I am not 100% sure how they process everything, but I know that I LOVE their kraut! 🙂 I will have to look into that.

      Jessica
      Posted 05/07/12

  19. “Human beings are known to have made fermented foods since Neolithic times. The earliest types were beer, wine, and leavened bread (made primarily by yeasts) and cheeses (made by bacteria and molds). These were soon followed by East Asian fermented foods, yogurt and other fermented milk products, pickles, sauerkraut, vinegar (soured wine), butter, and a host of traditional alcoholic beverages.”
    http://www.soyinfocenter.com/HSS/fermentation.php

    “It is impossible to set a date as to the first time fermentation was performed. It is possible, however, to guess, and this guess is roughly 8,000 years ago.”

    http://www.directessays.com/viewpaper/16709.html

    No crocks or air locks, I presume.

    Pat

    Pat Robinson
    Posted 05/07/12

    • Thanks for sharing this Pat!

      Jessica
      Posted 05/07/12

  20. This subject has me really baffled. My first instinct has been to dismiss the topic because of my suspicions over it all. Honestly, there have been stories of great healing attributed to fermented food for years and years before these products like Pikl-it came to market, haven’t there? Wasn’t Wild Fermentation written by Katz to share his experience of healing? (I can’t remember the details, it’s been so many years since i read it). If people have been doing it all wrong why has fermenting continued to be promoted as a road to healing, even by people who have been doing it “wrong”?
    Thank you for this post Jessica. You’ve inspired me to dig in to this topic and learn more.

    carmen
    Posted 05/07/12

    • Yes, Sandor did experience great healing from his ferments. That is one thing that I keep going back to in my mind. I too have heard many stories of ferments healing people and they aren’t always using the “right” equipment.

      I am still on the fence. Not sure where I’ll land. If you discover anything you’d like to share, please come back and comment, or feel free to shoot me an email! 🙂

      Jessica
      Posted 05/07/12

      • Sandor is HIV positive. He says that it has helped to support his immune system but he still must take antiretroviral medication. In his new book, he says that fermented foods are not a cure all.

        Angela
        Posted 05/08/12

  21. Tempest in a teapot – sorry! Lactobacillus is a facultative or microaerophilic anaerobe, meaning that it can utilize oxygen to produce energy. You can safely produce veggie ferments in mason jars and crocks. The concern/worry/hype is based on a misapprehension of the science and also the basic tradition of fermentation.

    Todd Caldecott
    Posted 05/07/12

    • Thank you for your feedback, Todd! 🙂

      Jessica
      Posted 05/07/12

    • Todd, that’s quite a dismissive comment when many of the LABs are obligate anaerobes and there are many studies about gut healing with those. Facultative LABs aren’t the only ones present and they aren’t the only ones that heal the gut!

      KerryAnn @ CookingTF.com
      Posted 05/07/12

  22. Tempest in a teapot. Just KEEP YOUR GOODS BELOW THE BRINE and you’ll be fine. (Sandor is laughing all the way down the mountainside!)

    Susan
    Posted 05/07/12

    • Haha! Thanks Susan! 🙂

      Jessica
      Posted 05/07/12

  23. I hope perspective will enter in here. What did people do for the last few thousand years (even leaving out the last thousand years) who used fermentation processes (since at least Abraham that I have proof of) for their dairy and food? They didn’t have fancy airlock systems or even anything as tight as a mason jar lid.

    Keeping the food below the water or brine if you will, is all that is needed to create the environment of no oxygen. Whatever oxygen does touch and grow on the top is lifted away before consuming.

    Thinking back to earlier times helps us. It took all of us time to get used to leaving the food out to ferment, we were all taught refrigerate, refrigerate!!

    Dev Arndt
    Posted 05/07/12

    • Dev – That is the very first question I asked when approached with this new information. I was told that they buried it in animal stomachs or clay pots. I definitely want to do more research in this area, because it is one of the biggest things I keep coming back to.

      Thank you for your feedback! 🙂

      Jessica
      Posted 05/07/12

  24. @Kim, thanks for the mention of the Good Eats episode. It took some time searching, but I found it. In case anyone else is interested, here’s a link where I found it on YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_1l0NKF7VxI&feature=related.
    Just stop watching when he gets to the part of making fried pickles, no more useful info beyond that. 😉

    Melissa
    Posted 05/07/12

    • Ooooh! Awesome! Thank you for sharing! I will watch this tonight. And, thanks for the tip on the fried pickles. I just never could get into the fried pickle hype! Ick! 🙂

      Jessica
      Posted 05/07/12

  25. I’m on the fence but leaning more toward not worrying, especially since I do my best to make sure the fermented veggies remain submerged. Truth be told, I would rather see more people doing this alright but not perfectly than having them scared away because of all the equipment needs.

    Soli
    Posted 05/07/12

    • Yes, not worrying! Something you know that I need to practice! 🙂 Thank you for your feedback, Soli. It is always lovely to hear from you! 🙂

      Jessica
      Posted 05/08/12

  26. As I understand traditional, non-airlocked fermentation, the liquid and the weight holding the fermented product below the waterline are the “seal.” The salt and the general lack of oxygen in the liquid takes over from there.

    It’s imperfect, but certainly does work – as millennia of experience have shown us. 🙂 There will be some surface molds, yeasts, and aerobic bacteria (which is why we scrape off the “scum,”) but they are in the extreme minority.

    For serious health/recovery issues, by all means, go the full nine yards and grab an airlocked vessel; however, for the casual, at-home fermenter, my personal (non-medical) opinion is – we’re doing just fine. 🙂 No need to panic.

    Erin D.
    Posted 05/07/12

    • Good feedback. I think that’s the direction I’m leaning. If you know you have gut issues, then by all means, you need to do whatever you can to get those resolved. In all of the batches of things I’ve made, I’ve only ever had mold once. And, our ferments get eaten pretty quickly, so they’re not sitting around forever.

      Thanks for commenting! 🙂

      Jessica
      Posted 05/08/12

  27. Just saw this from Sandor Katz. I haven’t read it yet: https://www.facebook.com/groups/63032745368/permalink/10150822500915369/

    Pat

    Pat Robinson
    Posted 05/08/12

    • I wish to heck I could get to that page on Facebook. The type of account I have won’t allow it, apparently. I’m facebook clueless, try my best not to use it.

      Any other way to see that page?
      Thanks,
      Bryan

      Bryan Davis
      Posted 05/08/12

    • Someone (allegedly named Jim) emailed me Sandor’s Facebook comment. Thank You sir!

      Bryan Davis
      Posted 05/08/12

    • Thank you for posting this! I will go read it now!

      Jessica
      Posted 05/08/12

  28. Yes, Sandor has given a long and thoughtful response. Please read everyone!

    Angela
    Posted 05/08/12

  29. As a baby fermenter I am, of course, concerned about culturing the good while eliminating the bad. The jars are neat but cost prohibitive for someone who isn’t even sure that this will become part of our food plan. Those things being said, crocks seem to be a historical standard with even folks like Alton Brown showing the method on TV.

    After reading this the wheels started turning though. I stopped by the local homebrew place this morning. They didn’t have gaskets to fit mason jars but they of course had airlocks available, they also had grommets and both drilled and solid plugs. I bought two each of the airlocks, grommets and drilled plugs for a total of $6 tax included.(I wasn’t sue whether the gromets or the plugs would be the better option on the plastic lids so I bought both). I was planning to search for a size gasket that would fit the interior of the plastic lids at local hardware, automotive and pool stores to create the possibly-needed airtight seal. An internet search turned up another option: http://www.canningsupply.com/product/Reusable_Widemouth_Plastic_Canning_Lids_and_Rubber_Gaskets/canning_jar_lids

    I can see no issue with fabricating something using these options… should be able to do an airtight seal on 2 jars for about $20 and the gasket and lid sets come in a pack of 12 so each additional jar would cost under $3 (since I will have discovered whether the grommet or plug works better at that point). I am not factoring in the cost of jars since I have those (and I would think that even mayo jars and the like would work in many cases.)

    Thoughts? Feedback?

    Rhonda
    Posted 05/08/12

    • The local homebrew store is where I got the stuff to make my airlocks too. Can I just say that those types of stores are AWESOME? I spent a good hour in there, just poking around! So many cool gadgets.

      That said, I know many people who use that type of airlock, including me. KerryAnn’s research shows that those types of airlocks are not airtight though, which is what she is saying causes the problems.

      I am still on the fence about this. Until I can come to a firm stance one way or the other, I think I am going to keep on doing what I’ve been doing. But, I don’t have any specific gut issues that I am trying to heal. If I did, I think my views might be different. Not sure.

      Thanks for your feedback! 🙂

      Jessica
      Posted 05/08/12

  30. Further educational reading:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lactic_acid_fermentation

    Erin D.
    Posted 05/08/12

    • Thanks for posting this link. I’ll go read up! 🙂

      Jessica
      Posted 05/08/12

  31. I’m sorry Jessica, but I find this to be a crock – pardon the pun. I think that it sounds like a sales pitch from someone getting commissions on Pickle-it referrals. I appreciate that you’re response to people has been positive – “thanks for the feedback” – but I am rather disappointed by the hostile tone of some of the other responses.

    I say don’t complicate it. It’s hard enough to work full time, have a family & friends and do all the food prep called for in this lifestyle (totally worth it, but hard). Let’s not make it harder than it needs to be by worrying about crocks vs. mason jars and salt vs. whey, etc. Know that whatever you do with the ferments will contribute to a healthier life for you and your family and enjoy! Bring back the articles – your fermented garlic recipe remains my all-time favorite ferment and I never would have tried it without your post. Keep up the good work!

    Valerie
    Posted 05/08/12

    • Hi Valerie – Thank you for your kind words. They are much appreciated! 🙂 I am actually working on a follow up post about this and I do plan on continuing the series, so there will be more articles! I am so happy to hear that my fermented garlic post inspired you to try it. That garlic is just so darn good!

      I completely sympathize with the feeling of let’s not complicate it. That’s why writing this post was so tough on me in the first place – to goal of this blog is to keep it simple and I really felt like I was throwing a monkey wrench into things. But, I wanted to share the information, seeing that I am doing this fermentation series and I also wanted to share my personal feelings.

      I want to thank everyone for their comments, no matter their position on this topic, because I do appreciate them. This is how we all learn and I am thankful that people are not afraid to share how they feel! I think as with any controversial subject, emotions tend to get involved, so that could be why some comments come across as hostile.

      Thank you for taking the time to comment! 🙂

      Jessica
      Posted 05/08/12

  32. I personally do disagree with Kerry Ann’s science on this. Talk to people who actually did old-time fermenting … like, Koreans, or what my grandparents passed on. Most lacto-ferments were not airtight, and never have been: skins aren’t totally airtight either. Mason jars are the most airtight thing humans have invented. So airtight they explode on occasion from gas buildup.

    For gut healing, I think one of the main issues is that people think that “fermenting” is somehow going to magically heal their gut. Lactobacilli are nice things, but by themselves they aren’t going to undo a lot of damage. The fermented yogurt used in SCD is a very different thing than fermented cabbage. Lactobacilli don’t colonize the gut, they don’t replace inappropriate bacteria. Fecal transplants have a very good track record if you really want to replace gut bacteria, like a 95% success rate in studies. Someday maybe there will be a probiotic that replicates a fecal transplant, but my guess is that it will make a ferment that smells pretty much like feces. Not for dinner!

    I suspect that the fact yogurt is an iron-blocker might be what helps some of the kids on SCD. Iron coats the intestine and feeds the worst kinds of bacteria. Foods that protect against the iron can help. Not too useful for me personally, because I can’t do dairy.

    What I found was that konjac worked really well, and was more, well, socially acceptable than a fecal transplant. To keep the gut bacteria happy, you have to feed them the right things. Konjac tends to discourage the bad bacteria and feed the good ones.

    HeatherT
    Posted 05/08/12

    • Very interesting insight, Heather. Thank you for sharing. You touched on some things that I didn’t know and I appreciate that! I agree that there is no one, single cure-all for anything. It’s all a balancing game!

      Jessica
      Posted 05/09/12

  33. Jessica, I’ve had nothing but success making sauerkraut in ordinary mason jars with metal lids, keeping the lids tightly closed and periodically loosening the lids just enough to vent off the gas pressure. I am very disappointed with the FUD (fear, uncertainty and doubt) being dispensed by the Pickl-It pushers, but they did inspire me to check out an alternative to mason jars: Fido jars, which are Italian wire bale canning jars with excellent rubber gaskets.

    Fido jars are more expensive than regular mason jars, but they’re still a fraction the price of a Pickl-It. I’m running my first batch with one right now, and venting the pressure was much easier with the Fido jars than with regular mason jars. The kraut is now aging in the fridge for a few weeks, but from the look of it, it should turn out just fine.

    With respect to airlocks, one thing to consider is that they are not one-way check valves. They are merely little columns of water that allow gas to flow from the high pressure side to the low pressure side. They were designed for yeast ferments, and the design assumes that the inside of the fermentation vessel is always the high pressure side. Since yeast ferments generate a lot of gas and do so throughout the entire fermentation period, the inside of the vessel usually is the high pressure side. However, that is not the case with cabbage ferments, which generate less gas and only during the first week or so. If a Pickl-It jar is sitting there, generating little or no gas, with the inside and outside pressures at equilibrium, anything that increases air pressure outside the jar will cause air to flow through the airlock and into the jar.

    Using a Fido jar to make sauerkraut and venting off the gas pressure as needed, you’re effectively creating a manually operated check valve that will not allow air to enter the jar as long as you do it correctly. Correctly means the jar is never opened more than just the slightest amount needed for gas to hiss out, and the jar should be closed before the pressure has completely finished venting; that ensures that air never has an opportunity to flow into the jar. Also, when it gets to the point where the venting becomes weak and little gas comes out (after ~5-7 days), stop venting; at that point, there’s no longer enough gas generation to worry about. So, if you’re going to buy into all the hysteria over Teh Ebil Oxygens!, the Fido jar check valve method, done correctly, actually accomplishes the Pickl-It agenda better than an actual Pickl-It jar.

    Alex
    Posted 05/09/12

    • Hi Alex. Thank you for your lengthy response. I appreciate your insight and you taking the time to share. I haven’t used the Fido jars, but I have seen the name tossed around. I will have to look into those. I too have had much success making my ferments in Mason jars. So far, I’ve only had one batch go bad, and that was my own fault, because I didn’t keep it submerged in the brine and let the top of the ferment touch the air.

      I think KerryAnn’s concerns stem not whether or not our ferments are successful, but whether they are culturing the RIGHT levels and kinds of bacteria. This is all stuff that we can’t see, nor can we taste and for those with serious gut issues, it seems like it could be harmful.

      That said, I’m still on the fence! 🙂

      Thanks again!

      Jessica
      Posted 05/09/12

  34. I often can’t help wondering if we’ve become germ-phobic/microbe-phobic because science can be a two-edged sword. On the one hand it shows us what’s beneficial about fermented foods, but on the other hand, it utters seemingly panic stricken cautions that can make us crazy with doubt and fear!

    Someone once said, “IF IT AIN’T BROKE, DON’T FIX IT.” If simple and inexpensive works, why spend more money? I can buy a whole case of quart mason jars at my local hardware store for less than half the price of one of those expensive jars.

    I have been using mason jars and lids for a couple of years now, and my experience has been that I often have to work to break the vacuum seal of the 2-piece lids (even multiple times with the same ferment), but I have never used a canning process – just pour, mix, and close tightly. I do have strong hands, so maybe I am able to tighten them tighter than other people. . . .

    And perhaps I shouldn’t admit this publicly, but it seems appropriate in this discussion. I have lacto-fermented salsa, cucumbers/pickles, and a few other things in mason jars, and I didn’t have any weights to hold everything down in the brine, so I just did it anyway. I don’t remember that I ever had to skim the top, but we ate those ferments, enjoyed them, and never got the lease bit sick from them. Now that I know about glass weights and zipped bags of brine, I would probably do that the next time.

    If we’ve got it all wrong why aren’t we all getting sick from our mason jar fermented foods, instead of healthier and more satisfied? If we’ve got it all wrong, why do so many of us still value these foods so much that we keep on fermenting? Panic and fear can be paralyzing, so why go there?

    HAPPY fermenting, everyone! 🙂

    Brenda
    Posted 05/09/12

    • Thanks for your feedback Brenda! I think the main concern surrounding all of this is that some people are concerned that there is a lack of the good bacteria being cultivated due to the presence of oxygen, and perhaps some harmful bacteria is remaining in the ferments. Just because it tastes OK or doesn’t smell bad doesn’t mean that there is not harmful bacteria in it. It might not be enough to make us sick now, but over time, there is speculation that it could. That is a potential concern especially for people who are trying to heal the gut. This, I believe, is where KerryAnn is coming from, as she has personally dealt with severe food allergies and issues surrounding ferments that were not providing the right types of bacteria to heal the gut.

      That said, I’m still evaluating the evidence and haven’t made a firm decision yet! I really would like to just keep it simple and affordable for everyone! 🙂 Thanks for stopping by and sharing your thoughts!

      Jessica
      Posted 05/09/12

  35. If we knew just how much good bacteria was enough I am sure some pharmacetical company would try and slap a patent on it. We know everyone is different. We know that Dr. Natasha Campbell-Mcbride healed her son with GAPS,She writes in her book “even dead the probiotic bacteria will do a lot of good in your gut” We know of testimonies from many people who have followed Sally Fallon’s recipes from “Nourishing Traditions” and have had dramatic health changes.Sandor Katz own life is changed. None of this people had the Pickl-it jars.In fact I am sure the inventors of this jar are long time brewing aficinados,because it smacks of that type of duplicable technology needed to reproduce the same taste in wine and beer making. So we using old fashion methods leave more room for bad bacteria to flourish. You learned the first you had a bad batch,you retraced your steps and vowed not to do “that ” again. Challenging the immune system will ever make it stronger. I don’t see why there is a need to have a ferment last longer that 3-5 months. Spring will come again and you can grow more food.Beside we now have refridgeration.

    Cindy
    Posted 05/10/12

  36. Hi,

    If you open a crock to eat the kraut then you would get air inside too…

    So how does it work then? Eating 5 or 10 liters of sauerkraut at once?

    I mean you could not remove 100 gramm daily until its finished….the air would be more and more as you remove more kraut…

    And secondly…what is with jars you dont open and which didnt explode?

    I never released air so far and i never had an explosion…..the first days some liquid comes out of the jars….thats it… Is this not air tight either?

    Peter
    Posted 06/11/12

  37. I recently started adding a layer of olive oil to the top of some ferments that wouldn’t be bothers by the little bit of it that is hard to remove. It floats on the top, and seems to work flawlessly, if you don’t mind the process of removing it, and the specks of oil that may remain on your juice or whatever at the end.

    Mike
    Posted 07/28/12

    • Mike – Thanks for stopping by! I would personally steer clear of oil topped ferments. Adding oil to the top if ferments can run the risk of botulism.

      “If you check a variety of county extension agency websites, the botulism issue is why oil-preserving methods are no longer recommended for food preservation. The only safe way to preserve things in oil is to heat the product to a temp high enough and long enough to kill the botulism toxin- it’s almost like a form of pasteurization. Oil gives an anaerobic environment without the pH drop that is the ideal environment for botulism to grow. By only having a brine ferment, the botulism comes into contact with the dropping pH and is killed. When you add the oil, you give the botulism a place to hide and thrive, producing its toxin.” Source: http://www.cookingtf.com/is-topping-a-ferment-with-oil-an-acceptable-replacmeent-for-an-anaerobic-environment/

      Here’s another article on the same subject: http://www.picklemetoo.com/2012/05/18/oil-as-an-air-lock/

      Jessica
      Posted 07/28/12

  38. Jessica, have you seen this? http://www.nourishingtreasures.com/index.php/2012/07/03/sauerkraut-survivor-final-report/

    Melinda
    Posted 09/22/12

    • I have seen it, though I don’t agree with the findings and the process used. Thanks for sharing!

      Jessica
      Posted 09/22/12

  39. I know I’m late to the conversation, but I just ran across this site. First let me say that I am a nurse (for 7 years) and am currently a biotechnology student, so I can appreciate fully the microbiological processes at hand here.

    My sister-in-law is Korean, and both she and her family have been making kimchi at home for many years. She currently ferments it in either glass jars or plastic food storage containers. I have also made kimchi for the past several years in both of these types of containers and have had no problems. There have been many studies done in Korea on the safety and benefits of making Kimchi at home using these methods. Of course there is always risk of contamination, even using “air-tight” containers. This is why being meticulous about asepsis is key.

    Just an aside about anaerobic vs aerobic conditions. There are many types of bacteria that can live in varying degrees of oxygenation and can exist in both aerobic and anaerobic environments (lactobacillus being one of them). For instance in a non airtight jar of kimchi the upper layer may contain some oxygen but as you move down the levels of oxygen decrease. Lactobacillus can thrive at any layer as they are faculative anaerobes. Also, while fermentation is an anaerobic process it does still occur with oxygen present and does not require a strict anaerobic environment.

    Sorry for the long post, but this topic certainly needs more discussion as it seems there are many unqualified people out there stating misleading things.

    Trial and error… best to do your own research. Happy fermenting.

    Michael M
    Posted 09/28/12

  40. I too am joining this conversation late but hopefully it’s not over yet, as I feel I have some valid and original input! haha
    I read the above blog and the majority of comments. It has been an interesting 45 minute ride. Kerry Anne’s claims certainly piqued my interest and raised a bit of concern, as I’ve been lacto-fermenting for about a year now — mostly the shredded variety (A cabbage, beats, carrots, onions, garlic, and jalapeno kraut), and recently more of the chunky finger food types. My first impression is that it is just plainly and obviously untrue that mason jars are not airtight. If this was true, then why would they spew and boil over when i open them after a few days? Why are they known to sometimes explode? How could this possibly occur if the jars were not airtight? Allowing the air to escape (which I generally do) doesn’t strike me as an issue either and I will explain why. First let me remind anyone reading this that you should inoculate your veggies with whey or a veggie starter first (I’ve used veggie starters alone, such as the one available from Body Ecology and NO SALT with fantastic results..well apparently). Why do we inoculate? Well it is clearly for the purpose of starting the culture of beneficial bacteria. This is where I need someone to correct me if I am wrong — Doesn’t the proliferation of these anaerobic beneficial bacteria inhibit the growth of the bad bacteria?! Further, and most importantly, doesn’t the production of lactic acid prohibit/kill the bad bacteria? Isn’t that the whole point of it? And isn’t that the reason it acts as such a wonderful preserver? And there is no mystery as to whether or not lactic acid is produced..none whatsoever. Lactic acid is pleasantly sour/tangy and leaves the vegetables obviously preserved. So the only possible way there could be a shred of merit to Kerry Anne’s claims is if bad bacteria and damaging yeast could a lactic acid environment. Maybe this was answered above and I simply missed it. If not, I’d greatly appreciate a free education on this matter!
    -Bob

    Bob
    Posted 10/10/12

    • Hi Bob – Thanks for stopping by and sharing your thoughts! We’re all still learning, but I have experienced amazing results having switched to anaerobic fermenting, and I am also still a believer that anaerobic is the best way. We all must make our own decisions though and I love the sharing of ideas! 🙂

      Jessica
      Posted 01/09/13

  41. Having oxygen above the liquid does not make the environment aerobic (as Micheal M alludes). Maybe if you shake the jar and introduce air into the liquid.

    Think of a fish tank. Take the aerators out, and all the fish die, even without a lid. Why? No, or very little, oxygen in the water. Thus the aerators.

    Anyone on the verge of a degree in biology and chemistry should know this. (BTW, I hold a BS).

    This is specifically why something is used to hold the fermenting goods under the brine.

    Use the same logic in whey vs veggie lactobacilli. All the answers are in our environment and in everyday usage.

    Scott
    Posted 10/15/12

  42. Her I my take on it as far as the sealing goes. I use mason jars with the homemade lid/airlock contraption. Now when fermenting the waterlevels in the airlock become uneven. This is due to the pressure from the gas generation of the fermentation. If the lids did not seal, the gas would simply leak out through the seals and the water levels in the airlock would remain even. Basic physics.

    Chris
    Posted 10/17/12

    • Thanks for sharing your thoughts! 🙂

      Jessica
      Posted 01/09/13

  43. I haven’t read all the responses, so maybe someone mentioned this.

    Pickl-its are great but very expensive. I just buy plastic mason jar lids, drill a hole in them and pop in a beer-making airlock on a cork. Voila! An airtight pressure releasing solution for about 1.50$ each.

    Hope this is useful.

    sarah
    Posted 10/19/12

    • Sarah – Unfortunately, you will not be able to achieve a true anaerobic environment with a plastic Mason jar lid. I avoid plastic whenever possible, but regardless of that, homemade airlocks are not airtight and oxygen can get inside the jar via the rings on the lid. There is a lot of discussion about this topic in comments above, I believe.

      Jessica
      Posted 10/20/12

  44. So here’s my question. I keep hearing “mason jars are bad, Harsch crocks are good.” Mason jars are bad because a layer of water/brine doesn’t create an airtight seal. Harsch crocks create a seal with a water-filled rim.

    How is it that the water barrier on a Harsch krock is good but a water barrier on a mason jar is bad? This isn’t a science question, this is a logic question.

    Dan
    Posted 10/27/12

    • Hi Dan – Thanks for stopping by. The mason jar isn’t a water barrier. Oxygen doesn’t diffuse into an airlock because there is no concentration gradient- there are no bacteria to use up the oxygen to create the gradient needed to draw oxygen in. But once oxygen diffuses into the water, it doesn’t diffuse back into the air in the vessel. Does that make sense?

      Jessica
      Posted 10/28/12

  45. I think you and KerryAnn are overthinking this. The fact is that lacto-fermenting has been done for thousands of years and there are no known cases of anyone being poisoned by it. If your batch goes bad you will know; you won’t be able to eat it because it will stink. This is what happens if unfriendlies out-compete the friendlies. But once the initial fermenting stage kicks in, your jar will be pushing gases out, not pulling them in. Even if unfriendly bacteria do find there way in (and my guess is they always will), they will not be able to get a foothold if your friendly fermenters are on hand to keep them in check.

    It might be true that mason jars allow fermented foods to go bad more quickly. It might be true that your food, if fermented in a mason jar, will not last years without spoiling. But my homemade kraut doesn’t even last a week, because we gobble it down long before those unfriendly but lazy bad bacteria have a chance!

    I’ve lately moved to making bigger batches in a water-sealed crock (I have a Harsch and a Schmitt) but I still use mason jars for experimental recipes, small batches, and short-term fermenting. I have no intention of tying up my $100 crock so that I can ferment a dozen hot peppers for hot sauce or so that I can experiment with new spices with my pickled brussel sprouts. The choice of vessel does not seem to affect the flavor of the veggies. (The choice of spices however does!)

    Peace,
    Dave

    Dave
    Posted 11/08/12

  46. I found three pickle pro airlocks that you put on your own fido jars on ebay. Do a search. They were way cheaper than going the Pickl it route. I paid $12 for three. Just do a search.

    Jo
    Posted 12/03/12

    • They are indeed cheaper, however, they do not allow you to achieve a truly anaerobic ferment. 🙁

      Jessica
      Posted 12/03/12

  47. If you are looking to keep oxygen out but allow gases to escape, perhaps you could use a wine airlock type approach by submersing your sealed jar in water. It would be cheap and easy enough to do.

    MikeH
    Posted 12/06/12

  48. There is a lot of alarmist info here. You want to make your container airtight but you still have to open it at some time! All you can do is limit the air exchange (diffusion, if you will) Europeans made (still make) their sauerkraut in wooden barrels. Airtight? I think not! Even with beeswax for sealer. Every time I opened my Harsch crocks there was Kahm yeast inside. Captain Cook made a 3? year voyage around the world with 49 barrels of sauerkraut. Did the sailors have mold tendrils coming out their ears? So, back to the ‘limit exposure’ comment.
    Bobbo

    Bobbo
    Posted 05/12/13

    • Hi Bobbo – Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

      Jessica
      Posted 05/12/13

  49. Jessica, why insist on a truly anaerobic ferment? The Great Wall of China was built on Kim Chi and rice. The Roman soldiers travelled with barrels of sauerkraut and none of this was truly anaerobic. So for literally thousands of years we didn’t have it. Why is it necessary in just the last few years? To try for perfection means you will always be frustrated for it is an impossible goal.
    Bobbo

    Bobbo
    Posted 05/12/13

    • Hi Bobbo – I am not insisting anything, so I’m sorry if it comes across that way. I am simply sharing the information that I was presented with at that time. It is up to each of us to do our own research and see what we decide is best for our families. I have learned a lot from people sharing their thoughts on the matter, so I appreciate you stopping by and taking the time to comment! Have a great day! 🙂

      Jessica
      Posted 05/13/13

  50. I must admit I haven’t read all of the posts here, but after about half of them, I was wondering: has anyone used the perfect pickler. I see all sorts of comments about two other products or just going with home made versions, but no discussion of the perfect pickler which is the only brand I’ve seen used, and it uses a mason jar. If a mason jar can’t seal how do we can peaches and pears every year? How is my chicken that I’ve canned safe?

    Julie
    Posted 05/18/13

    • Hi Julie – I have not personally used the Perfect Picklr, nor have I done much research on it. There is a big difference between canning foods and fermenting foods. When you can food, the jars actually do seal, but you can’t can ferments, as it would negate the probitoics you are trying to create. I say do the best you can with the resources you have! Happy fermenting! 🙂

      Jessica
      Posted 05/19/13

  51. from my winw making experience most fermations give of a blanket of CO2 to protect the yeast it doesnt matter if what you are using is airtight because the C02 blanket protects the yeast from oxygen exposure in experimenting with youghurt and kefir they are giving off C02 too
    An air lock is added later in winemakingn only to protect the yeast as less Co2 is given off but you are talking a long ferment 4-6 weeks
    hope this helps

    paul
    Posted 06/12/13

    • This is correct. I’m only doing my first pickling experiment now in Mason jars, but I’ve been homebrewing alcohol for years.

      As Carbon Dioxide is heavier than air/Oxygen, it creates a blanket above the water layer, and then the lighter gases are above that, IE Oxygen and Nitrogen.

      If there is pressure buildup in a mason jar and it needs to be vented, guess what the first gases are that get vented out? That’s right, the Oxygen and Nitrogen as they are sitting on top of the Carbon dioxide.

      Also I don’t believe that much fresh air would somehow manage to get back into the Mason Jar after slightly venting it, as the gases escaping from said Mason jar direct the flow of traffic and wouldn’t allow fresh air to get back in. Even if it did, guess what. The layer of carbon dioxide will still be smothering the water layer

      Michael
      Posted 07/23/13

      • Thanks for sharing your thoughts! 🙂

        Jessica
        Posted 07/24/13

  52. Your making a huge deal out of it. Just use a small HDEP bucket and fit an airlock on top of it.
    This is how I make pickles and also allow feta cheese to ferment (as it sometimes does, despite high salinity of the brine).

    Tomer
    Posted 07/06/13

    • Thanks for the tips! I still stand behind my research when it comes to healing leaky gut. Those who do not have any gut or digestion issues may find that their fermentation vessel doesn’t matter, but for those who are suffering from leaky gut and other digestive disorders, proper fermentation can make all the difference in their healing.

      Jessica
      Posted 07/09/13

  53. What Paul above said is true. Once the headspace fills with CO2 the vessel is almost anaerobic. What no one has mentioned, and apparently don’t think about, is oxygen dissolved in the brine so even with your locks etc. you can never really eliminate all the oxygen. IOW, the brouhaha illustrates nothing more a little knowledge is a dangerous thing.

    mysterian
    Posted 07/14/13

  54. From my beer brewing experience, carbon dioxide is heavier than oxygen. So I always assumed that as long as the stuff in the mason jar was fermenting, there will be only co2 in the jar, and at most only a thin layer of oxygen on the surface. This is why the mold and scum grow only on the surface because they need oxygen to survive. If there was a substantial amount of oxygen in the ferment, we would see it spoiling more than fermenting, which we all know doesn’t usually happen. As the fermentation slows, more oxygen can come to the surface, which is why we usually see more mold growth if we leave the ferment for too long exposed to the open air.
    In my experience, the airlocks just seem to prevent that surface scum from forming by keeping the oxygen out of the top of the jar
    Just my 2 cents, but I enjoy the discussion

    Kyle
    Posted 08/13/13

  55. Thank you for your article! I ferment in Mason jars so I was completely thrown by these conflicting ways to ferment. Try listening to this interview with Caroline Barringer and Dr. Mercola regarding fermenting vegetables. She uses Mason jars and discusses this issue about 35-45 minutes into the interview, although the entire interview is worth the time.

    http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2012/03/18/mcbride-and-barringer-interview.aspx

    I am a little late to this party and I haven’t studied both sides of the argument completely, but I just thought I would share this since you have.

    Gina
    Posted 08/28/13

    • Hi Gina – Thanks for sharing. I am an advocate of doing the best we can with the resources we have. I personally have experienced such a dramatic improvement in the quality of my ferments since switching to anaerobic vessels. Much better taste and texture and I never get any mold or spoiled batches. Happy fermenting! 🙂

      Jessica
      Posted 08/28/13

  56. Pouring a layer of oil on the top of your fermenting veggies will create an air barrier that will still allow the CO2 to escape.

    Martha
    Posted 10/23/13

  57. As a home winemaker, may I suggest that your concern is way too high?

    When making wine, it is true that for the most part, you don’t want much oxygen contacting the wine or it could ruin it.

    However, during the initial fermentation, there is so much CO2 being produced that it provides a protective layer. That is why an initial or primary fermentation can take place in a pail with a loose fitting lid.

    The same thing occurs with this anaerobic fermentation. It is producing loads of CO2, and when you “burp” the container, it is releasing the build up of CO2 – some CO2 will still remain. The processes are inside the liquid; not at the surface, and it is HIGHLY unlikely that you are going to introduce harmful oxygen.

    Think about making yogurt – it’s a similar bacteria at work – and you don’t make your yogurt containers “air tight,” right, when making it?

    The thought that introducing oxygen may do harm is a great marketing ploy for a product – but it’s not really true.

    The biggest concern is AFTER the completion of the fermentation, and leaving lids off the containers, which would allow oxygen transfer as well as contamination by other airborne bacteria and mold spores.

    Hope this is helpful to you.

    Ian Scott
    Posted 11/20/13

    • Hi Ian – Thanks for sharing! I am standing behind my research, because I have noticed such a HUGE improvement in the quality of my ferments using the anaerobic method. For me, the proof is in the pudding, so to speak. The ferments taste better, have better texture, and I never have mold issues like I did with Mason jars. I appreciate you stopping by! 🙂

      Jessica
      Posted 11/24/13

  58. Here’s another way to think about this as well. You are using a brine consisting of salt and water for the fermentation.

    What is water? It’s H2O. Each molecule of water consists of two atoms of hydrogen and one atom of … wait for it… Oxygen! That oxygen in the water is not harmful to your fermentation process.

    So for a chemist to suggest that this process takes place without oxygen, (ie. the suggestion above “There isn’t a ‘more’ or ‘less’ anaerobic environment. Either it’s anaerobic or it isn’t.” – well.. there IS oxygen present in the water, right from the beginning, so this statement must be false).

    Ian Scott
    Posted 11/20/13

    • Thanks for stopping by and sharing, Ian!

      Jessica
      Posted 11/24/13

  59. Hi Jessica, just wondered why you suggest that kefir should be made using the airtight containers. I was under the impression that the SCOBY was aerobic illustrated by the fact that it rises to the top of the milk, so it can breathe. Many thanks for reply and sorry if it has been addressed in the comments already.

    Martin
    Posted 11/22/13

    • Hi Martin – A SCOBY is used to brew kombucha, which is an aerobic ferment and needs access to air. Water kefir is a different type of ferment and uses a totally different type of starter culture called kefir grains. Kombucha always needs to be aerobic, water kefir (and milk kefir) need to be anaerobic. Hope that helps! 🙂

      Jessica
      Posted 11/24/13