Five years ago I had barely preserved anything apart from throwing some berries into the freezer. My first forays into serious preserving all involved canning, which is a fabulous and addictive way to save food. Every season I still put up many more canned jars than I ferment. I’ve also, more recently, started dehydrating many pounds of food every season.
For more on different preserving methods read 5 Reasons to Choose Canning for Food Preservation and 5 Reasons to Choose Dehydrating for Food Preservation.
However, over the last couple summers I have become enamored of the bacterial magic of fermenting. The reasons are all below (my emotional favorite is the second one listed here). Read on to learn why to choose fermenting—my new favorite form of preserving. Some of these links are affiliate, which means I purchase may provide a small commission to GWR at no cost to you.
6 Reasons to Choose Fermenting
Fermenting Maximizes Nutrients
Let’s put this reason front and centre. Nutrition is one of the main reasons to choose fermenting. Heat and cooking can often degrade nutrients in foods. Canning requires a certain degree of heat—especially high temperatures are needed for pressure canning vegetables.
In contrast, fermenting preserves nutrients, and can even enhance them. Choose produce that is as fresh and organic as possible, no matter your method of preserving. Also, read on to find out more about the now-ubiquitous term: probiotics.
My friend Autumn has done a thorough post on nutrition in various ways to preserve produce over at her blog if you would like more info on the subject.
Fermenting Creativity Has No Limits
One of the hardest things for me to get used to when I started canning was recognizing that I could never deviate very far from approved recipes. In canning, recipes must be followed closely.
However, fermenting allows for a high degree of flexibility. As long as you have a rough understanding of the science behind a ferment the flavours can be adjusted according on a whim. This is especially true of lacto-fermentation, which requires only veggies, salt, and water to get started.
Dairy (Need I Say More?)
Dairy has a long and proud history of being fermented. Perhaps the most well-known fermented food is yogurt. Additionally, most traditional cheeses are fermented. You can also delve into lesser-known fermented dairy products such as kefir and skyr. It is even possible to make cultured butter, buttermilk, and sour cream.
Fermentation can also be harnessed for other applications such as sourdough, tempeh, or salami. Check out my Kombucha Making Guide for Lazy Beginners if that’s an application that interests you.
Simplicity Around Safety
Let’s be honest; Canning can be scary, especially for someone starting out. Lacto-fermentation can be an easier way to get your feet wet in the world of preserving.
The bad guy in the canning world is botulism. It is a bacterial toxin that is impossible to see, smell, or taste. Botulism won’t grow or thrive in a ferment. However, in rare cases it can exist in home canning. That’s not to say you should be scared of canning at home! (Again. I’d never truly hate on canning.) Just learn about safe canning practices before jumping in. My post Canning Tips for Beginners is a great place to glean the basics.
In a ferment you are creating conditions where beneficial bacterial will outperform the nasty ones. Keep an eye out for mold or bad smells and then go confidently forward.
Catch Word: Probiotics
If you’ve done any reading around reasons to choose fermenting then you’ve already heard about probiotics and the microbiome. Scientific research on the human microbiome—the community of microorganisms living in our gut—is relatively new and fascinating. If you ever want to lose a few hours feel free to dive into some research on the subject.
Basically, probiotics are microorganisms that are thought to provide health advantages when eaten. A raw ferment is full of bacteria that could benefit your microbiome. Getting probiotics in a diet is preferable to relying on supplements. So get your ferment on.
No Need for Expensive Equipment
What do you need to start a basic ferment? A glass jar and a tea towel or paper towel.
Do you think I’m kidding?
For most ferments you will want a clean glass jar or a modern crock. An upcycled glass jar will be fine. Follow the recipe for your particular culture or lacto-ferment.
(As I mentioned above, a lacto-ferment requires only the vegetable and a brine made with salt or water. Cabbage creates it’s own brine when massaged with salt.)
The only other product that I have personally purchased is these glass weights. They are fantastic, and are a cheap investment. You could sterilize rocks to use, but I prefer a nice non-porous glass weight.
The other items that could help you get success ferments are airlocks. They’re also incredibly cheap—maybe this year I’ll invest in a some. (what can I say? I’m thrifty.) You could also put up a small start-up investment and get a kit like this one.
Oh, and as a side note: Fermenting doesn’t run up your electricity bill. Canning can be energy intensive between the reducing, boiling, and sterilizing.
I have personally used each of these books in my own kitchen.
This is by far my top recommendation for fermentation books. It covers the topic so incredibly well, and is one of the few cookbooks I have read through from the beginning. Each section goes heavily in-depth, but with enough introduction to engage even beginners.
A simpler, brighter book, Fermented Vegetables is a great place to start. These recipes suggest a gamut of ways to ferment produce and also offer ways to use the ferments.