Monday, November 6, 2017

A Fun Lacto-Fermentation Class

Yesterday I gave two women a private fermenting class in their homes. Though I've discussed many times how to ferment various things on my blog, some people prefer a more hands on approach, to have their hands held while they're being walked through the steps in fermenting. I decided to share with you here, in this post, what I covered in the class, which is a brief summary of what I have posted about fermenting throughout the years.

I started with a basic overview of what fermentation is, what lactic acid bacteria are, and the benefits of them. Fermentation with lactic acid bacteria is providing food and a good environment for beneficial bacteria, also called probiotics, to grow, and as they grow, they create lactic acid, making your ferment more sour, like pickles. There are different things required to make lactic acid bacteria grow, but in general they do well in a salty environment that isn't too salty.
Eating fermented foods regularly are a good way to provide your body with beneficial probiotics, allowing your gut to work properly and heal from damage. I mentioned that, according to traditional foods diets, such as the Weston Price diet, GAPS diet, and Paleo diet, it usually is a combination of removing foods from your diet that cause gut issues, as well as consuming a lot of collagen rich bone broths, and probiotics to get the system in better shape. By doing this, I've discovered that I'm now more tolerant of foods that previously I couldn't handle. (For example, in the past, any amount of dairy, even yogurt and goat's yogurt and butter would make me nauseous and give me a bad stomach ache- now, after being off gluten for a few years, eating mostly paleo, and eating bone broths, gelatin, and fermented foods, I can have aged cheeses without a problem, and can have 1-2 fermented yogurts, and a small amount of dairy chocolate and/or caramels, (not more than one snickers sized bar), without causing me stomach aches.)

The first type of ferment we made together was sauerkraut. Since it was organic cabbage, I suggested to not wash off the cabbage, because plants have wild beneficial bacteria growing on them already, so no need to wash them off- leaving it unwashed would give it a headstart on the fermentation process.
We chopped the cabbage (food processor helps) and then mixed it with salt (roughly a tablespoon for the whole head of cabbage), then pounded it and kneaded it to release as much of its liquid as possible, tasted it to see its saltiness level, and then packed it into a glass jar, pushing it down as much as possible, and then poured the liquid that was released into the jar. More water was added because the released juices weren't enough to cover the cabbage, and then additional salt was added to make it reach the desired saltiness level. You want it salty, but not too salty that it isn't palatable- too much salt would also stop the beneficial bacteria from growing.

Though I don't usually bother, the person I was teaching was very worried about anything floating up in the jar, so we used a whole cabbage leaf to cover the sauerkraut, and then weighed it down with a glass weight, so everything would stay submerged.
We covered this and set it aside to ferment, with instructions to burp it (release the built up carbon dioxide that lactic acid bacteria produce) daily, and that when it tastes acidic then you can start eating it, but the longer you let it sit, the more probiotics there will be in there. I also shared that the amount of time it takes to ferment varies depending on how warm it was where it was fermenting.

Next we made dill pickles. I find for pickles, if you want to make sure they stay submerge below the brine, it is best to use a jar that gets narrower towards the top. We packed fresh dill and chopped garlic and as many spears into it as possible (we started by laying the jar on its side as we filled it) upright until there was not a single drop more room to put in more cucumber spears. By packing them very well, especially with the tapered top, it stops the pickles from floating upwards. We then made a brine (I usually find this works best to taste, but works out to be something like 2 teaspoons salt per 2.5 cups of water) and poured it over, covering the cucumber spears by a good centimeter or more. I warned them that the fresh garlic will likely turn bright blue during the fermentation process, and that it is perfectly normal and safe and healthy, and just a weird chemical reaction that happens with fermenting garlic.

After that, I explained to them about kombucha, how it is a fermented tea drink made from caffeinated tea, sugar, and something called a SCOBY, which stands for Symbiotic Culture of Bacteria and Yeast, also known as a kombucha mother or kombucha mushroom, which is a cellulose mat infused with beneficial bacterias and yeasts. I mentioned that kombucha, while probiotic, is more detoxing and healing than specifically probiotic, and that you shouldn't drink too much of it at one go if you have mercury fillings because it can cause you to have uncomfortable detox reactions, so to start with just a little bit at a time. However, if you don't have mercury fillings it doesn't usually cause such a reaction, so you don't need to have such a small amount at a time.
I explained that the kombucha mushroom's causes the sugars and caffeine and tanins in the tea to turn into an acidic fermented drink, and the more sugar added and the longer it sits, the more strongly acidic it'll become, and can even become vinegar. I mentioned that I like to use a minimal amount of sugar in mine- just about 1/3 of a cup for my large 2 liter jars, which ends up with kombucha that
pleasantly acidic but not sugary when finished.
To make our kombucha, we made lukewarm green tea (one cup hot water made into tea with two tea bags, one cup cold water) so that it wouldn't be too hot and kill the probiotics, added 1/4 cup sugar, and the kombucha mushroom and a little bit of the previous batch of kombucha (it filled the 850 milliliter jar about one centimeter deep). I explained that if one didn't have the previous batch of kombucha to use, they could just add a little bit of pasteurized vinegar to the tea, which makes it acidic enough to start the kombucha growth on the right note.
I explained that if the kombucha jar isn't shaken, a new scoby will form across the surface of the liquid, and you can pass on these scobys to other people. I also explained that if one only has ready kombucha and no mother, they can even grow their own mother by adding sugar to their ready kombucha, not disturbing it, and letting it ferment and form a new mother.
Once the kombucha is made, I explained that they can take the ready kombucha, add more sugar and other flavorings like fruit, and let it do a secondary ferment.

Lastly, I showed them how to make beet kvass, a fermented beet based drink, that ends up tasting somewhat like pickle juice, but oddly addicting. We cut beets into small cubes (not grated, since grating beets before fermenting them causes this weird reaction and ends up with lots of magenta slime, because of the sugar content) and then topped it with our brine as we did with the cucumber pickles, and then covered it and let it sit.

Before I left, I mentioned that once you get the basics of fermentation down pat, you can play around with it- mix carrots in with your cabbage for sauerkraut, add spices like curry powder, etc... I explained how but didn't actually make kimchi, that they could use either chinese cabbage or regular cabbage, and either mash and knead like we did for the sauerkraut, or just pour a brine over it, but what makes it kimchi instead of sauerkraut is the addition of ginger, garlic, hot pepper, and scallions. It's delicious. I also explained about how to make ginger carrots, with grated carrots, grated ginger, and brine.

It was a fun fermentation class, and we had a great time. I'm planning on running a fermentation workshop from my own home in the near future, and if you are local to me (those that are local to me know they are) and are interested in setting up a private or group fermentation class, contact me at

Have you ever fermented? What did you ferment? 
If you're a regular fermenter, what things have you most recently fermented?


  1. HI! Is there a way to make sure the pickles stay crunchy? I tried this before and they got mushy when I took a bite! Do you find cutting them into spears helps vs leaving whole?

    1. If you let them ferment less time they'll be crunchier. Adding a grape leaf or oak leaf or something else with tanins is also supposed to help with the crunch. Try tiny baby pickling cucumbers, maybe if they're whole they'll work better and be crunchier.

  2. I make half sour pickles and also brew beer and apple cider.

  3. My mom tops her garlicky dill pickles with a slice of rye bread with caraway seeds, distinctive and delicious

  4. We ferment basil, sauerkraut, and pickles. We did try to make wine one year when I was kid, but it didn't turn out well.

  5. Interesting & thank you for explaining about how to make kimchi something I love to eat but was unsure about how to do it

  6. how can one use the pickle juice after eating the vegetables?


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