Rethinking Lacto-fermentation: Are We Flippantly Fermenting?

by lydia on July 11, 2012

This post has been a long time and coming. I’ve upset many people by telling them I don’t think mason jars are ideal to ferment in anymore, along with other aspects of fermentation that I never knew because I had never studied the safety or science behind it all, even though I still believe there is a level of art to fermentation as well. I too was upset when this topic was questioned for me by first reading this post by Kerry Ann at Cooking Traditional Foods. I know I’m not the only one that was initially confused by this new information – read here for Jessica of Delicious Obsessions thoughts on fermentation. Also, here, a post done by Kristen of Food Renegade to ensure people that mason jar ferments are safe, but includes no real science, just quotes from those reputed to be fermentation experts. Which originally would have been enough for me to just take someone’s word who ‘knew’ better than me. Not anymore – even after all of Kerry Ann’s thorough informative posts, I still waivered in how to proceed. That’s why I had to start digging for answers myself.

Various Ferments

Back in the fall, I purchased a home brew kit for my boyfriend for his birthday. As we talked about ‘fermentation’ some scientific things came up, and I kind of brushed it aside. Then he and I watched a documentary on the history of beer making, ‘How Beer Saved the World‘, and that put some thoughts in the back of my mind. If we use special vessels to brew beer and wine to ensure that the air is kept out, why are we not just as concerned when we ferment veggies or beverages at home? (Photo Credit: Elizabeth Eckert of Fresh Garden Energy).

So fast forward to when I began to read Kerry Ann’s series, then started to read ‘The Handbook of Fermented Functional Foods’, and began to scour the Pickl-It site. I had to start to open my mind and ask myself some deeper challenging questions, that were actually quite logical. I realized I was in WAY over my head trying to read all the science behind fermentation, but I also realized, I really had not ever been presented with any science by any of the venues I had initially learned how to ferment from. Such as ‘Nourishing Traditions’ and ‘Wild Fermentation’. It was shortly after doing some further reading, that I decided to have some of my mason jar ferments tested by a local lab, Advise Labs.

Lab Testing My Ferments

The testing I had done on 4 different ferments, some pickled radishes (to test a recipe with brine), milk kefir, sauerkraut and beet kvass. I wanted to get a wide variety of the ferments that I typically do at home. The testing was minimal and very basic, further testing would have cost me more than I had to spend at the time. Specific types of bacteria could not be tested, so I am not really sure how much benefit it was to find out overall bacterial count, though each ferment varied in the total count. PH was tested, along with coliform, mold, yeast and ecoli. The ferments were clear for ecoli, coliform and yeast, thankfully.  My milk kefir had a showed a good amount of mold from the testing. I had not seen any detectable mold in the kefir, or on top of the kefir prior to getting it tested. The lab said that the amount detected was much lower than what they are ‘allowed’. Meaning there is a standard count of mold that is allowable for things to actually pass as safe. In my opinion, I don’t want any amount of mold in my ferment and the man who did my testing agreed. Mold is aerobic and only grows with oxygen – this shows me that my mason jar ferment with a plastic lid was not anaerobic enough to keep mold at bay. (for more about mold in your ferments, read this post). Lastly, the ph  – for milk kefir was 4.34, for the beet kvass it was 3.43, the sauerkraut was 4.30 and the pickled radishes were at 3.61. The ph alone can tell you a lot about your ferment. Thankfully, all of them had an acceptable ph. (I’ll have to go into that in another post).

Suffice it to say, this whole experiment has made me do some digging, as well as caused me to take my fermentation far more seriously. I was grateful there were no major issues, as I did take care to ferment as safely and properly as I knew to do. However, I no longer ferment in mason jars. Most of my mason jar ferments were, ‘wild ferments’, not controlled with any type of starter culture including whey. I never liked how my whey ferments turned out, except for the bread and butter pickles. I am now learning that you simply must control your ferment if you want to ensure the results are safe using a mason jar or other vessel that is not completely airtight. The best way to do that, is to ensure you are controlling the oxygen and performing a truly anaerobic ferment. With the anaerobic jars, you do not need to use a culture starter because they are truly airtight to begin with. (which is a bonus, you will never have to buy a culture starter if you use an anaerobic vessel. Cost was the main reason I never used the culture starters – now I know better.) Even with a culture starter you can’t prevent mold, just undesirables like bad bacteria and yeasts.

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Because I do not have the time, nor the energy to dig any further on all the issues surrounding proper fermentation, I decided to take the plunge and purchase numerous anaerobic vessels and Fido Jars. (It was my mother’s day gift to myself, and my family ultimately!) The Pickl-It site has so much information, you could read for endless hours. They also include loads of sources of information based on the scientific studies done. Tapping into ‘The Handbook of Fermented Functional Foods‘ would be another great resources to read up on all of this. Though there are many and far more exhaustive resources out there as well. I just truly felt if I wanted to take my health seriously and not have the potential issues with a mason jar ferment that I should invest in the best vessels I could get my hands on. The Harsch Crock was far less practical for me to obtain and would only allow me to ferment one thing at a time for the same price as 5 Pickl-It jars. Though, I do still hope to get one for my kraut making at some point.

Once I started fermenting with anaerobic vessels, I noticed the difference immediately. Consistent results each time. If you are gonna argue not using an anaerobic vessel, try one before you completely reject them. Like they say, you can’t knock it ’til you try it. I also found a way to incorporate more jars affordably. The anaerobic jar cost is due to the equipment needed to drill the hole in the lids. Once you have a few anaerobic (such as the Pickl-it, Boss Pickler or my new favorite The Probiotic jar) in your collection, you can then purchase Fido jars at a much more affordable price. These jars all use the same sized lids. So once you are done fermenting with the airlock, you can swap lids from the your jars to a Fido lid. I also love the variety of sized that they come in. If you think about it, an initial investment to start brewing beer is around $150-250. I don’t think it’s unfair to suggest investing a similar cost in safe methods/equipment to ferment at home, especially when it’s something you are doing to IMPROVE your health. (read more here on the cost effectiveness of investing in Pickl-It jars).  Also, take a look at this post from Melanie, of Pickle Me Too, about her thoughts on why anaerobic jars are a good investment.

Common Fermentation Issues

Here are the main issues with fermentation that I have recently learned of and adjusted in my own kitchen:

  1. Mason jar lids are NOT airtight. They are made for canning and have to be sealed airtight by pressure. All ferments, except for kombucha are anaerobic, meaning they do not need or desire air to ferment. In fact, oxygen is harmful to the fermentation process, as it is toxic to organisms that are obligate anaerobes. Many vessels used in the fermentation process that I have used or seen used popularly within the traditional/real food circles do not check out to be truly airtight. Not even a mason jar with a white lid is totally airtight. I now only use Pickl-Its and Fidos for fermentation and storage.
  2. Mason jar lids have formaldehyde. This is one reason I switched to the white screw on plastic lids long ago with my ferments. I don’t want formaldehyde in my food, do you? (check out this post by Melanie of the blog, ‘Pickle Me Too’ on why she gave up using plastic and mason jar lids)
  3. Sauerkraut is a process that takes 12 weeks for optimal benefits. I had only ever let my sauerkraut sit out for a week at a time, then move it to the fridge to allow for further fermentation. When I first started fermenting, I often ate it after 3-4 days – this is not a real ferment, as it hasn’t had the time to go through all the stages of fermentation and create all the good lactic acid bacteria that are so desireable in sauerkraut. Cabbage ferments are the only ferments that need to go through a much longer process, this includes cortido & kimchi (Read here for more on the ‘Science behind Sauerkraut Fermentation’) Additionally, with sauerkraut fermentation it is possible to get ‘free amino acids’ that can cause intoxications that lead to a histamine type reaction. This is namely in lacto-fermented sauerkraut that has not gone through the full process. This is how I was doing it, and the last thing I want is any kind of negative reaction to a ferment. The whole purpose of fermenting my foods is to ensure I am getting added nutrition, not detriment. (source) Since I teach a course on gut health, Heal Your Gut, I run into numerous people who have stopped fermenting due to issues with histamines from mason jar ferments.
  4. Fermentation needs to be done out of UV light – Unfortunately, I did not know this fact either. UV light can kill beneficial things you are trying to obtain within your final fermentation product. I’ve since switched all my ferments to cupboards, and if I run out of room those that are left on the counter get covered with a cloth. I did not learn this from ‘Nourishing Traditions’ or ‘Wild Fermentation’, where many beginning fermenters get their information for the process of lacto-fermentaion to begin with. Historically, ferments were done in animal skins, clay pots, buried underground or even in oak barrels. All of those methods are not only airtight, but avoid UV light as well.
  5. The risk of getting mold in a non-airtight vessel is highly possible, especially over longer term storage. (See above -Mold and my testing results.) Mold is systemic – and in my case the mold was detected within the kefir not just on top. I’ve read many accounts of people suggesting to just scoop off the mold on top and eat the rest. That is not a safe practice, because you can’t always see the mold that has developed throughout the ferment. Even the brine can get mold from the air, so just suggesting it has to stay under the brine to avoid mold is not enough. If you do eat mold, I sure hope you have adequate hydrochloric acid/stomach acid to kill it off. But, most people do not anymore – so that is something to consider as well. Read here, for more on the issues of consuming mold in foods.
  6. True anaerobic microbial lacto fermentation – I never learned about this until recently. I had learned that kombucha was an initial aerobic fermentation, and then an anaerobic one once the scoby was formed. But that was the extent of my knowledge on the science of fermentation. If you are in the real traditional food camp you may not have learned of true anaerobic fermentation either. It wasn’t until I started teaching others how to ferment that I started to dig deeper because I did not want to be responsible for giving out wrong information to others.

That is all I want to share for now. I’ll likely have a few more posts on this in the future, but in the meantime, be sure to read all the links I’ve included. I have many recipes for ferments here on my site that I will be revamping to include the appropriate methods and vessels are used. By no means am I an expert on this topic, however, I wanted to share what I have learned in the hopes of helping others. Don’t be afraid to dig deeper and alter the methods you’ve used for fermentation – your health is worth it!

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Lydia - Color - December 2013Lydia Joy Shatney is a certified Nutritional Therapist Practitioner through the Nutritional Therapy Association. Additionally, she is the chapter leader for the Weston A. Price Foundation in Delaware County, Pa. (Find the group here on Facebook). Lydia is also a member of the Nourished Living Network. Lydia founded Divine Health From The Inside Out in March of 2010. You can find Lydia on Facebook, Twitter & Pinterest. Sign up for the Divine Health From The Inside Out newsletter! Pick up a copy of Lydia’s eBook; ‘Divine Dinners: Gluten-Free, Nourishing, Family-Friendly Meals’.

Lydia offers specialized step by step counseling to transform your health. Personalized consultations to suit your specific needs are offered via phone or in person. Lydia offers a variety of packages offered to suit your individual needs. Lydia also offers 3 online courses: Heal Your Gut, Revitalize Your Health and A Calm Mind. Contact Lydia today to get started as well as to learn more about what she has to offer you!

 

 

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{ 46 comments… read them below or add one }

PattyLA July 11, 2012 at 12:45 pm

Thank you for sharing! Lots of great info here.

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Kathleen July 11, 2012 at 4:01 pm

Thank you for putting in all the hard work on this subject. I am afraid that I do just flipantly ferment, only a couple years now and sometimes I wonder about the quality of my kefir, kvass, kombucha, or kraut, etc. and think – well it still has to be better than eating processed foods. I just do the best I can with what I get, but do appreciate that someone else is looking deeper into this subject. I certainly appreciate your work here and hope to hear about any changes or improvements one can make on their day to day fermentations so to speak

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Elizabeth July 11, 2012 at 8:17 pm

Thanks so much for an informative and thought-provoking post!

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Jayne July 12, 2012 at 1:27 am

Thanks for the research and sharing of important information!

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Sue July 12, 2012 at 7:31 am

Thanks for an informative post however I think that you can get too ‘scientific’ about these things. Cultured foods have traditionally been made in kitchens or homes with whatever was available. The use of animal skins and clay pots would not have created an airtight vessel (I don’t know how you quite figured decided that they would…). The whole point of my eating my ferments is that they contain bacteria and yeasts and will ultimately help to improve my immune system. The whole ‘making sure it’s clean’ thing is a big part of the problem with people’s health today. Our immune systems need to be challenged as well as being supplied with good nutrition. I just think you’re going a little over the top and forgetting the point of fermenting food. Each to their own though I guess! :)

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Lisa July 12, 2012 at 8:44 am

Great post.

An important point in comparing modern fermentation to that of traditional peoples is that traditional peoples had a PERFECT gut and their toxin load was practically ZERO. They were not up against the onslaught of childhood antibiotics, vaccination, sugar, refined grains, HFCS, fluoridated water, brominated bread, dental amalgam, contaminated seafood, etc. etc. etc. They did not have gut dysbiosis as a starting point.

In our family, both my husband and myself had many, many rounds of antibiotics as children. Our own children never had antibiotics, thankfully, but they were born to a mother with less-than-ideal gut & vaginal flora/fauna.

In modern times, we need our ferments to do more than the ferments did in thousands of years ago.

I to, have been thrilled with my Pickl-It jars and am glad to know that I am optimizing the healing my family gets from our home ferments.

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Victoria July 12, 2012 at 8:45 am

I haven’t attempted fermenting yet myself but I am very intrigued and would like to get started soon. Thanks for posting your findings and helping us all ferment better! I will definitely be investing in Pickl-it when I do!

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Lisa Imerman July 12, 2012 at 9:34 am

This is good information. Thanks for looking at the issues and adding in some more research. I can understand your point, but I also think that things can get a bit too nitty gritty when we eat in the Nourishing way. Every time I turn around it seems something else isn’t good for us. It can get overwhelming very easily, I have been on this journey for about 8 years and I still feel overwhelmed and don’t do things near”perfectly”. The Pickle-It jars look great, I may get a few to try, I have a gallon size “Pickle Meister” that I bought at a local chapter event, years ago. It has the airlock but is a plastic lid. For 8 years we have been doing Kefir in Mason Jars and it helped our health, so I can’t really say I think I should change my method. I have always used Harsch Crocks for my sauerkrauts, I have 2 Harsch Crocks, they seem to me to make the best tasting, most consistent sauerkraut. I make my Kimchi in the Pickle Meister or in large Mason Jars. Since I keep it in the fridge after the initial ferment, I think it probably cuts down on the molds it grows. I may get a Pickle-It and try it in that jar, as I like the idea of the glass lids and jar. Interesting blog post, thank you!

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lydia July 12, 2012 at 10:49 am

Lisa Imerman – I kept my ferments in the fridge too and my kefir still got mold, and I couldn’t actually SEE the mold. I wasn’t able to test for undesireable bacteria and yeasts, but if mold could grow, which mold grows because of oxygen, then certainly certain bacterias/yeasts that occur becuase of oxygen could grow too. This is not about our performance and getting everything right, it’s about getting informed, knowing better because it matters to our overall health. You’ve been doing the best you knew how, just like I did for so long. Anyway, hope that helps some and glad you enjoyed the post!

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lydia July 12, 2012 at 11:02 am

Lisa – you bring up such good points! I think we can learn from history but we can’t assume that we can do it just like they did in this modern day, we are up against SO much more!

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lydia July 12, 2012 at 11:07 am

Sue,
Animal skins and clay pots are airtight and allow for off gassing, which is also what the Pickl-It does. Did you research this to know that they aren’t or is this just pure speculation? Oak barrels are as well and those are used for wine and beer traditionally. Why is it that wine and beer is done in certain vessels, yet we just flippantly ferment at home in any old jar with a lid? And believe me, I used to be completely ignorant of this information – but now that I’ve begun to learn more, I can’t just flippantly ferment anymore!

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ShorterMama July 12, 2012 at 12:16 pm

Are Fido jars what we need then or are the Pickl-it really necessary. I can handle the fido jars, it just seems like the pickl-it thing is way too expensive. I think it kind of sets up yet another barrier to traditional foods. It’s not enough to give up sugar, pay more for pastured meats and organic/local veggies, but you also have to shell at 100s to ferment. It’s also the only company I’ve heard of doing these things. Whenever there’s only one source for the right vessel that makes me a little leary of pickl-it. So – back to the question – are fido jars sufficient to achieve the results you’re talking about?

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ShorterMama July 12, 2012 at 12:17 pm

PS – Thanks for the post!

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lydia July 12, 2012 at 12:32 pm

Stephanie,
I hear your frustration – the only reason we have to re-learn this (many of us at least) is because the information was wrong to begin with. It’s unfortunate, but it is what it is. Now that we are learning and know better, we do better. Fortunately for you, you are still at the beginning of this process. Think of it like this, quality over quantity – would you buy a cheap ineffective probiotic over a therapeutic more expensive one just because it’s more affordable?
Fido jars would be FAR better than the mason jars and they are very affordable, where the cost comes in is in the lids that have to be done with special equipment -it’s not like these people are making hand over fist on their product, their really not. The Pickl-It’s are rather affordable if you look at it long term – you won’t have to throw out bad batches that go soggy or get slimy etc….I will write a post shortly on how to go about using and purchasing the jars. But using just a Fido solely may not be good for other reasons, like the build up of gasses. The reason the Pickl-It works is because it allows the ferments to off gas through the airlock (just like in beer fermentation which is also anaerobic in nature), but does not allow oxygen in. The Fido does not allow oxygen in, but also does not allow it to off gas. This is a problem for your ferment, you don’t want to inhibit your ferments with those gasses. I will use a Fido jar/lid for my sour cream and yogurt though – so go ahead and get a couple. You don’t need to worry about off gassing for yogurt or sour cream. Anyway, clearly I need to write more, I just don’t have time right now……..Hope that helps some.

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Grace Rollins July 12, 2012 at 1:20 pm

Fascinating Lydia, thanks…
I do the simple mason-jar ferment and have been meaning to look into the popular pickl-it’s. Part of me wonders though if it the benefits outweigh the risks of doing regular mason jar ferments in the absence of fancier equipment. I tell a lot of my patients how easy it is to make sauerkraut in an effort to encourage DIY and eating fermented food. But once you start adding in costly equipment the likelihood they’ll take the plunge decreases…

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Mandy July 12, 2012 at 1:42 pm

Nice, Lydia. Good research. Here is a site and resource we use also.
http://www.perfectpickler.com/categories/Accessories/

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Thomas July 12, 2012 at 2:27 pm

If the mason jar lids were not at least somewhat airtight, why would jars explode? Why wouldn’t they just let out the pressure.

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Bex July 12, 2012 at 3:33 pm

Wow. I was really excited about fermenting and had just started doing a bunch of it over the last couple of months…but now it seems impossible to do it correctly. Sigh.
Back to buying probiotics…

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lydia July 12, 2012 at 9:08 pm

Grace,
I hear you and I said those very same things just a few months ago. I guess you could look at it in this way, that instead of our clients needing to take probiotics/enzymes they can invest in a Pickl-It and have probiotics and enzymes in their food instead! It’s not that you can’t get ‘some’ benefit out of a mason jar ferment, it’s just that it is not as much and honestly, I don’t know if the pros outweigh the cons here because mold, and other undesireables if the ferment is not done with the optimal environment. Also, sauerkraut, which is what I started on and ate gobs and gobs of for years, needs to be done a certain way and takes a lot longer than the short ferment we learned of – if it doesn’t go through the full process it can produce toxins you don’t want to consume if you are trying to improve your health. Anyway, I hope to post more on this as time permits. Thanks for stopping by and commenting!

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Melanie July 12, 2012 at 10:10 pm

@Thomas, mason jars do indeed explode (been there, done that). The problem is they don’t let pressure off fast enough to keep up with the gases during the most active period of a ferment. Once the activity has died down, that’s when oxygen is able to seep in, still quite slowly. But even though it is a slow seepage, it does happen. I’ve had many ferments ruined by oxidation in the fridge even though I had the lid cranked down. I even had a jar of carrots where you could visibly see the line of oxidation about1.5″ inches down from the top. At the time, I thought that is just what ferments do. Now that I have all my ferments in fido jars or Pickl-It’s, there is none of that discoloration and they all taste fresh.

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Dawn July 13, 2012 at 8:20 am

Thanks for your post! I just picked up Wardeh Harmon’s new Idiot’s Guide to Fermenting Foods, as Wardeh has had a big presence all over the real foods blogosphere. I wonder how she will handle this topic?
While looking at some of the products you recommend, I wonder about this product I found, the Perfect Pickler Mason Jar Kit (http://www.amazon.com/Perfect-Pickler-Mason-Jar-Kit/dp/B0053CDOKI/ref=sr_1_36?ie=UTF8&qid=1342181585&sr=8-36&keywords=fermentation+pot). It seems to do what the Pickl-It does, but with mason jars. I use Tattler lids, so I’m not sure how it would work, but the versatility issue sure makes me curious. I’d be interested in your thoughts on both of these issues!
Thanks for a great post! Thought provoking and informative.

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Lea H @ Nourishing Treasures July 13, 2012 at 9:57 pm

Great post!

I do disagree with the broad statement “all mason jar lids are not airtight.” I have personally pressure and vacuum tested and even fermented in them on a 4 week stretch, and there are some that indeed keep out oxygen. I have all this info on my blog.

I also disagree with your statement that Fido jars don’t allow for off-gassing. The white gasket you see on the Fido acts as a built-in airlock. There is a photo of the Fido in my Sauerkraut Survivor series that shows the foaming on the side from the excess CO2 escaping. There are other people (bloggers and on the Wild Fermentation group) who have experienced this as well. The Fido is a canning jar and was made to keep out oxygen and yet let excess CO2 be released.

Finally, not all plastic mason jar lids have formaldehyde or BPA. They could have other chemicals that we don’t want, though.

I totally agree with you about the mold – nothing to mess with!

I look forward to your other posts on this subject :)

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lydia July 14, 2012 at 8:20 am

Lea,

Hey – so here are my thoughts; even if you vaccuum seal a jar you are not allowing for it to off gas appropriately, and I am now concerned with what those gasses do to the ferment. Same with the Fido, okay so some pressure built up and it attempted to get out, but does that mean it was allowed out appropriately – I find this is an issue, one that I have not gotten to the bottom of yet, BUT I hope to find more answers. So since I am not sure, I chose to use the Pickl-It because it’s honestly so simple and doesn’t have those issues. Also, I am not sure how you tested the jars to keep out oxygen – what marker are you using to prove that?
Here’s my issue with the lids, as far as I know all the ones I have looked up have formaldehyde – even if you say there are those that don’t I still think there are issues with having any acid in contact with the lids – they can leach whatever chemicals into the ferment, just like they do in canning and I don’t want that.
I think it will be interesting to see how the remaining jars you have (which I don’t recall what those are) fare after having sat for longer in the fridge. I also wonder what other things are in your ferments, correct me if I am wrong but you were only testing for LABs correct? I realize this was a home experiment, but I feel like there is so much more to understand. Some labs do tolerate oxygen, so if you are using this as your marker to say a vessel is airtight, that’s not really a good way to judge that. Anyway, so much to learn – perhaps further experimentation will be in order, but in the meantime, I’m gonna go by what I am reading in the research that is already out there done by microbioligists etc…..

Yeah, I was rather upset about the mold……hoping to do a further post about the issues with mold, since some people don’t seem to think that’s as big of a deal as I do!

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Brenda July 14, 2012 at 12:38 am

I appreciate your research and sharing. I recently used a Fido jar as a SCOBY hotel, and when I took it out and checked on it a week or so later. I had to clean up the jar and cupboard because of what the seal let out. Doesn’t that mean that it out-gasses? Thanks again!

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lydia July 14, 2012 at 7:58 am

Brenda,

The Fido does not have an airlock to allow offgassing so any pressure that builds up will try to get out. That is why the Pickl-it uses an airlock. I would not recommend doing a scoby hotel in a sealed jar – scobies need air as kombucha is an initial aerobic ferment, once the scoby is formed it becomes anaerobic, it creates it’s own environment therefore you do not and should not use a sealed jar. A Scoby hotel is kept the same way a bottle of brewing booch is kept, with a cloth cover and a rubberband. The Fido is airtight when internal pressure is not an issue. A Fido lid is good for storing your ferments, I wouldn’t recommend fermenting with it.

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Lea H @ Nourishing Treasures July 14, 2012 at 9:13 am

The pressure didn’t attempt to get it – it *did* get out. That gasket it comes with allows for excessive CO2 to be released. This is not just a theory, it’s been proven multiple times not just by me, but by others as well. I can see being shy about doing it initially if you aren’t sure, but let me tell you: we have done it, and it works.

We vacuum tested the jars to see if oxygen could be sucked in through the sides. This is a harsher test, as we pulled it in. Normally, the jar would just sit there – so it was a rigid test.

The Tattlers have formaldehyde, the white lids that are BPA-free do not.

So far they are doing well in the fridge. I plan on testing them this weekend. I did pull three of them out of the fridge after a day or two in there and left them on my counter. I dislike refrigerator kraut, so I need to see if it will do well on the counter until it’s consumed.

There is definitely way more to understand and test than I could have done. But what I did do proved you can find some lids that will prevent oxygen to get into your ferment, and that inexpensive jars can provide as many probiotics as expensive ones.

I have busted the other myths that were circulating out there, so I guess the final myth to bust is the CO2 toxicity issue. I would love to read any links or references of proof this is even an issue. I refuse to believe it until proven.

Mold is definitely a big deal, thanks for pressing on!

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Lea H @ Nourishing Treasures July 14, 2012 at 9:15 am

Lydia – Brenda was telling you the Fido leaked because it came out the gasket. The gasket is a built-in airlock. I have experienced this myself, as have others.

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Laura July 14, 2012 at 5:05 pm

Some of the information on the Pickl-It site is misleading, and incorrect. Many of their arguments against mason jars apply equally to their own system, they just don’t mention that.

Pickl-Its are not airtight either. Air moves through the water in the airlock. And if air can move OUT through a water lock, it can move IN through a water lock as well. It DOESN’T because of air pressure, NOT because the jar is airtight. Canning lids also do not need to be airtight, because if air pressure inside is greater than outside, it will only move one way, unless the lid is very lose (and fermented foods with live microbial action will always have a higher pressure inside than outside if they are not opened all the time). The majority of fermentation problems do not result from the kind of container they are fermented in, but because the cook keeps fussing with it – opening the jar and messing with the food is what causes the contaminations and problems.

You mention the mold tests done on your kefir using old methods, but do not mention it using the Pickl-Its. Kefir has mold in the matrix – it is not harmful. It is kept under control by the other microbes in it. Getting all mold spores out of your food is not merely impractical, it is impossible. This is why there are “allowable” levels. Without the other side of the science, mold levels in fermented foods prepared by one method are useless unless accompanied by mold levels in the same foods fermented by another method.
Read carefully, and consider the entire equation, because “science” doesn’t mean a thing when it is only partially presented – this is not a statement aimed at you, but rather, at the “science” presented which insists that an airtight environment is required, when the containers being used are not in fact airtight. In fact, the Pickl-It site states that their caps “reduce oxygen”, while criticizing mason jar caps for not being airtight. If theirs only “reduce oxygen” then they are not providing an airtight environment either, by their own admission. There is other incomplete and misleading information on their site, and on sites which quote their information.

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Laura July 14, 2012 at 5:19 pm

One other thing: Making beer and wine is not the same as making pickles. The goal in them is to concentrate the alcohol, and only allow those microbes in which will aid that goal. The processes have also been refined over the years to achieve certain flavors and results – this is why cultures are used with them, which are not needed with fermented foods. In fact, beer and wine were fermented for thousands of year WITHOUT cultures. Cultures just make the process a bit more predictable for specific flavors – and they make a nice lucrative business for those who sell brewing supplies!

If beer and wine are exposed to air, the microbes enter which consume the alcohol, and make it taste like vinegar. This is not a problem with pickled items, since you want a vinegar flavor anyway.

Beer and wine are also usually high sugar items (beer is high in carbohydrate sugars, not fructose). Fermented vegetables are not. Different foods culture different types of microbes.

Further, vegetables are fermented with salt. The salt in the brine inhibits the growth of many harmful microbes while allowing the healthy ones to grow. Further, oxygen transference in salt water is much lower than oxygen transference in fresh water.

Different goals. Different issues. And all of what I am saying is scientifically supported, by basic science which you can look up and verify easily.

The REAL difference here is that you do not have to open the lid to vent the container. That is essentially the ONLY major difference between airlock fermenting and using a regular lid of any kind. THAT is more convenient, and potentially less messy.

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Melanie July 14, 2012 at 9:44 pm

Laura, I’m curious where you got the info that the kefir matrix contains mold. Bacteria and yeasts, yes, but I’ve never heard mold. Yes, molds are found every where but we can take precautions to avoid consuming them. Our guts are not the same as our ancestors who never had antibiotics or any other number of things that can cause gut dysbiosis.

Lea, the gasket is not an airlock. An airlock allows gases to escape EASILY. In a fido, the air builds up until the lid can’t take it anymore and burps some of the built up air out, not easily.

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PattyLA July 14, 2012 at 9:52 pm

Laura,
I think you are confusing yeast and mold. They aren’t the same thing. I know kefir has both yeast and bacteria but not mold.

As for an airlock if there is one then there isn’t going to be significant pressure put on other parts of a vessel. That will mean that it needs to be able to fully seal against air moving inward (like threads in a screw on top or the gasket in a flip top jar). The air lock allows gasses that are formed with the fermenting to leave without exploding the vessel (since they form faster than can squeeze out through the threads of a mason jar). Yes it is theoritically possible for a tiny bit of oxygen to move through an airlock and back into the fermenting vessel but since carbon dioxide is heavier and it is saturating the water in the air lock that isn’t going to happen. It is also filling the space in the air lock above the water once fermenting gets going keeping oxygen from even reaching the water level.

I completely agree that different foods need different microbes to ferment. I don’t agree that I am trying to make vinegar in my fermented vegetables. Sour does not equal vinegar which is an aerobic ferment.

I ferment not just because I like the taste of fermented foods but also because it is the most cost effective way to heal my own gut and my families guts. After 2+ years of intense gut healing work we aren’t healed. Why not? My suspicion is that improperly fermenting until a couple of months ago is a big reason why. I’m spending a lot of time and money and energy feeling my family the foods that they can tolerate. I would so love to have them healed so that they can tolerate a wider range of foods and we can move on to the next part of our lives!
One thing that I learned recently was that Dr Price saw primitive peoples living with degenerative diseases. Just doing things the way they had always done them did not mean superior health. Listening to their mothers and grandmothers for how to eat did not bring perfect health to all peoples. Only certain groups had great health. Those were the groups that Dr Price studied and analyzed what they were eating and doing that contributed to their good health. He scientifically compared it to what the people with degenerative diseases were doing and could see what the differences were and what the healthy people had that everyone else was missing out on. If we rely on the fact that a particular practice has been followed for generations as the proof that it is health giving we aren’t going to get the good health we are looking for. Instead it is important to not only look at what is apparently happening but to also look deeper and see all the details and analyze the results for where the differences are. To simply adopt a few practices from another culture that sees better health than us without studying to find out what causes their good health is foolish and short sighted. What if we only are adopting the weak links in the chain?
Since I did not grow up in a culture that displays stunning good health in most of it’s members and I do not have an opportunity to join such a culture I will instead need to rely on science to help me understand what it is about those cultures that bring them good health and do my best to bring that into my daily life.

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Lea H @ Nourishing Treasures July 14, 2012 at 10:05 pm

“Lea, the gasket is not an airlock. An airlock allows gases to escape EASILY. In a fido, the air builds up until the lid can’t take it anymore and burps some of the built up air out, not easily.”

The gasket ACTS as an airlock. An airlock is “an airtight chamber with regulated air pressure used to gain access to a space that has air under pressure.”

The Fido gasket/lid act as an airlock.

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Laura July 14, 2012 at 11:14 pm

The thing that helped me the most is eliminating as many chemicals as I could from my diet. That isn’t as easy as it sounds, not all chemicals are labeled – most fruits and veggies from the stores have them, many organic items have been washed with an “organic” detergent which is none-the-less harmful to the gut (it is designed to kill living cells, and does so on the apple or sprouts, and in your body – soaks into the food, you can even smell it). The biggest harmful influences are Sodium Nitrate (which is in all standard cured meats, and a lot of meats labeled with being injected with “a solution”), and its cousins, Sodium anything other than plain salt, MSG (another cousin to sodium nitrate), preservatives in baked goods, soy anything (GMO’d), corn anything (also GMO’d, even organics not trustworthy anymore), and the sprout inhibitor that is on many potatoes (including frozen potatoes and canned or dried potato products).

Chemicals, especially preservatives, are designed to kill fast growing cells. They don’t know the difference between a bacteria cell, and an intestinal cell (some of the fastest growing cells in your body). A bit of ham once a week is something your body can compensate for, but today, every single meal you eat is saturated in preservatives and similar chemicals, plus the chlorine in your faucet water (some of which can be resistant to evaporation from boiling). Chlorine is also a chemical which is put in water to kill fast growing cells. A steady diet of this stuff causes intestinal deterioration, and the entire cascade of problems associated with it. I have a soapbox, I’ll admit it!

VERY hard to maintain a diet that is free of those things – very expensive too. I can’t do it all right now, and my gut is a bit sore again, but when I can keep my diet clean, I completely heal up. I had Crohn’s – pretty bad – the auto-immune stuff is gone now, just some residual IBS. Got to the point of wheat intolerance, dairy intolerance (protein and lactose), had daily headaches, joint pain, multiple chemical sensitivities, serious depression, hormonal problems, extreme fatigue and exercise intolerance (muscle pain), and a bunch of other oddball things going on. At one point there were exactly 11 foods that I could consume, and they were things like peeled zucchini, homemade apple juice (not commercial which has seed and peel residue in it), brown rice, olive oil, etc. Just barely enough to survive on.

I can now eat things I haven’t been able to eat for most of my adult life – tuna, eggs, dairy of all kinds, peanut butter, beans, etc. I’m using kefir, and some homemade pickled foods on a regular basis. Whole wheat has been a huge help for me also – fresh wheat, not commercial flour. Growing my own food has been the most dramatic help, but we had a setback on that, and are starting over.

No, I’m not confusing mold and yeast. Kefir adapts regionally and develops a different balance in each environment, based on what it is fed and local conditions. Molds just don’t proliferate to any great extent because conditions are maintained to encourage the healthy bacteria and yeasts. Kefir that is out of balance can make you sick – it does grow mold, which was already there, it does not just come to visit when things get out of hand. It is like dust in your house – always THERE, but only SEEN if it builds up to an abnormal amount, and only harmful if it builds up enough to overpower the good stuff, which it won’t do if you keep the grains happy. Mold in it CAN make you sick before yo can see it – but you can smell or taste the difference when it is not culturing properly, so risks from serious contaminations are fairly low. :)

I actually make and sell an airlock cap. But my research indicates it is more of a choice for convenience than a requirement for anything. People tend to change their fermenting habits when they purchase a “system” for fermenting, and many of the changes can be attributed to just keeping the food under the brine, and to not messing with it while it is fermenting.

Oh… one other thing to look into… Mushrooms. They can help to reduce the damage from chemical exposure. White buttons are the least effective. Brown Buttons (Portobellos, Criminis) are better, and other types are better still. Personally, I can’t stand them, but I eat them anyway, and it seems to help me heal.

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Bex July 15, 2012 at 12:49 am

So, there is a lot of mention here about “mold.” This is a huge category and I’m wondering what exactly is meant by the term. Not all fungi are bad and I’m not necessarily into trusting a USDA-based research lab’s specifications about mold – as the USDA has already demonstrated itself to be bacteriophobic and fungiphobic.

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Joyce Campbell August 23, 2012 at 8:30 pm

I appreciate this thoughtful post. I have had problems with fermented foods. Although I have been eating a very good, WAPF-type diet for over 12 years, I STILL have odd reactions to fermented foods. I read about how excellent they are supposed to be for us, I LOVE the taste, and I have made many myself, particularly sauerkraut, beet kvass, clabbered milk and whey and others. However, if I eat even a small amount on a daily basis, I actually find that lacto-fermented foods seem to act as a stimulant in my body. After a few days, I don’t sleep well, and my heart rate speeds up. Initially, this feels good, as if I have more “energy”. But after a while the sleep issue becomes impossible to ignore. If I stop the fermented foods, I feel exhausted for a day or so, and then I sleep like a baby. Whether this has any connection to molds in the foods, I don’t know. I use a Harsch crock for my sauerkraut, which is supposed to be airtight, but it only is if you don’t forget to fill the water lock regularly. So, not sure what to do…..

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Annette December 12, 2012 at 3:06 am

I also like the air locks at
http://www.cookinggodsway.com/eshop/lacto-fermentation-air-lock-kit/
It uses a white plastic lid but has a big gasket inside then has the air lock on top.
Thanks for the interesting article!! :)

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Bee February 9, 2014 at 10:05 am

Are these lids better than using fido jars?

Do they fit standard Mason jars?

I’m on a budget, so I want to make the right investment

Also, how do I best store the finished product…. Can the coconut milk Kefir be stored in a Mason jar with a standard Mason jar lid?

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Jeferry January 14, 2013 at 7:49 pm

BEWARE OF CANCER CAUSING CHEMICALS… I bout a pickle pro fermentation lid (which is a tattler storage lid with an airlock on it to release pressure and keep your jars from exploding) …. It turns out that these lids were made with formaldehyde which is a toxic cancer causing chemical. Watch out for this product! I was using these things for years and had no idea they were so toxic.

If any of you were using tattler lids and want a Non Toxic replacement, then you should check out these….

http://www.amazon.com/Kraut-Kaps/dp/B009RT4W9U/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1358204831&sr=8-1&keywords=kraut+kaps

These are the only real food safe caps I could find.

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Rachael June 5, 2013 at 10:33 pm

Thank you. I learned to ferment from Donna Gates. She covered most of what you have here. I stopped making ferments because my nutritionist was worried about them. I had a very leaky gut at the time. I’m not sure if he was afraid of the yeast or the foods (cabbage and coconut). Anyway, I’m ready to try again. Thank you for your informative post. It makes life easier. I’ll get some pickle-it jars when I can. In the meantime, my wire bale jars will have to suffice.

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Bee February 9, 2014 at 9:23 am

How would I best make coconut milk Kefir? Every source I’ve read said to place milk grains in a Mason jar and cover with a cloth or paper towel. Does it really need to be anaerobic with a tight lid? I’ve never seen any other sources say this, but mold is a concern for me and my health.

I cant do dairy but I need the health benefits from coconut milk Kefir. Won’t the grains prevent bad stuff from growing?

Please advise…. Should i start fermenting the Co ilk with the solid lid? Would this make the time to ferment longer? Does it make the Co milk thicker and richer in probiotics? And how would this change the probiotic strains, since there are some beneficial strains that are aerobic in the kefir grains, right?

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Tom February 13, 2014 at 10:20 am

Hi Lydia,

“The ferments were clear for ecoli, coliform and yeast, thankfully”. Even your milk kefir, a product of a yeast and bacteria community ferment was free of yeast? That sounds surprising to me. The environment of a lacto ferment is not conducive to E. coli, and some coliforms (but not E. coli) are a natural part of the microbial succession of a successful ferment. Most strains of E. coli are not harmful, but form an integral part of the healthy gut microbiota. But yes, there are some few strains we would call pathogenic. To laboratory test for E. coli in the broad sense is easy and quick, but a further test to determine whether the E. coli is a benign or beneficial strain, or a pathogenic strain, is expensive and slow. So you would have been wasting your money on your tests, because they most likely would have tested only for E. coli sensu lato, not for any particular known pathogenic strain. Given the unreliability of the yeast result, I might legitimately question the mold result too, but assuming the lab got that right, you always have the option of using jars with replaceable rubber rings, and replacing the rings at each ferment. This is what holds intrusive mold generally. But, like bacteria, and like yeast, mold is everywhere. And like everything, when all is as it should be, when all is in balance, then all is well.

Rather than worry about what will always be there, I practice the putting of love energy into my food. If we wish our ferments to be optimal foods, we prepare them with love. If we prepare food from within a fear-based reality, we can hardly expect it to do us good. In every moment of our lives we have the choice of allowing the energy of love to shape our reality, or the energy of fear. I chose love every time.

Now, until I can get my hands on a goatskin (which will not be more airtight than a good metal lidded jar with a new rubber ring in my opinion), I’ll just carry on as I have been thanks.

I would like to wish everyone here the best for their personal healing journeys. Love and blessings to you all, and to your families and loved ones.

Tom

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Karen February 13, 2014 at 11:14 am

I suppose everyone is entitled to their point of view. I personally practice good hygiene and ferment in an anaerobic chamber, so that I don’t have to fear or worry. Because I believe that there are microbes in the world that will harm me that will thrive in an aerobic environment regardless of how much love I put into it.

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lydia February 13, 2014 at 11:20 am

Tom,

I too think everyone is entitled to choose their own path. Personally, I choose to work with a more controlled environment that is anaerobic in nature rather than what a mason jar with any type of lid provides (not airtight). Rather than worry, I use a controlled environment and absolutely LOVE that I have this option that allows me not to worry -I never made my food in fear before, but once I learned more I chose to do things differently. My choice had nothing to do with fear, but everything to do with learning more about the process. I’m not trying to fear monger anyone here but to share information so people can consider it. I also have a child that is allergic to mold and therefore need to ensure my ferments are truly as airtight as possible.

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Gina March 25, 2014 at 2:20 pm

Has anyone here tried the less expensive Kraut Kaps? They seem like a solution to the cost of fermenting foods. Also I was wondering, if you ferment say a jar of pickled garlic, and you have used the special anaerobic lids, once the fermentation process is finished can you switch the lid to a normal plastic lid (say from Kraut Kaps)? I just don’t know if that defeats the purpose… because as soon as you open the anaerobic lid, the whole jar would have air and bacteria introduced wouldn’t it?

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Michele Burris RD April 19, 2014 at 3:16 pm

I am still confused about whether fermented foods might be counter indicated if one is dealing with a candida issue. Can you reply back and let me know where and how these fermented foods fit into the picture of trying to resolve a lifelong candida overgrowth? thanks Michele Burris RD

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Alice April 20, 2014 at 8:15 am

Hi there,

I have histamine intolerance.

I have heard that fermented foods are high histamine foods and should be avoided.

Can fermented foods be eaten if Pickl-it jars are used?

Thanks

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