Tips for Home Fermenting
Words by Luke Regalbuto & Maggie Levinger Photographs by Trinette Reed & Chris Gramly
Luke Regalbuto and Maggie Levinger, the folks behind Wild West Ferments, a fermented food and drink company in San Francisco, share some recipes and suggestions for home fermenting.
The healing properties of fermented foods have been recognized in many cultures for centuries. Using locally grown organic produce and wild, indigenous yeasts and bacteria, these preservationists and food lovers create delicious, healthful traditional foods and drinks and seek to make the highest quality and tastiest ferments possible, including sauerkraut with coriander and seeds, kimchi, seasonal shredded beet or carrot salad, wild fermented sodas and rejuvelac, an unsweetened probiotic drink made from sprouted grains. We asked Luke and Maggie to share their best tips for fermenting at home.
Fermentation is entirely dependent on bacteria, which are vital not only for the functioning of the human body, but for every ecosystem and living thing on the planet. The goal is to mix salt and vegetables and submerge them in brine. Here are a few variables to keep in mind:
All fermenting vegetables should ideally be completely submerged in brine to protect them from mold. Ferments that contain lots of floating matter should be stirred regularly to discourage mold growth.
As temperatures rise, biological processes speed up. It is ideal to keep ferments in room temperature areas for the first few days, then at cellar temperature for the remainder of the time. Refrigeration slows all processes down significantly. We recommend that temperatures remain stable.
Nutrition, flavor and texture will all change and often improve with time. At room temperature, most ferments need about one week to develop the acidity required for preservation.
We recommend that you always use high-quality salts for fermenting and consuming alike. Use salts that have not been leached of their vital minerals or compromised with chemical conditioners or flowing agents. The amount of salt you use will greatly affect the outcome of the ferment. Higher salt proportions will keep vegetables crunchier, while lower salt proportions will leave you with softer ferments. Too much salt will inhibit fermentation. Salting is not an exact science; just make it a little bit saltier than you would want to eat raw.
All water used must be non-chlorinated—whether it’s being used to wash vegetables or make brine. Chlorine kills bacteria and will prevent your project from fermenting.