Fermentation Cautions and Misconceptions

Before venturing into home fermented foods it is important to understand what is going on. The 3 most important things to commit to are cleanliness, cleanliness, and sanitation. Fermenters need to be compulsive about cleaning and sanitizing. Cleaning involves removing all dirt and food residue from all hands, tools, and containers. Sanitizing commonly uses heat or a bleach solution to kill any microbes on surfaces, tools, and containers.

A prerequisite I’d recommend for anyone thinking of producing a food or beverage with a living culture (yogurt, kefir, home brewed beer etc.) is baking bread. Because bread ends in an oven, there is no danger of any microbe being alive if cooking time and temperature is followed on any published recipe. Its good to know what yeast smells like and how it grows. Understanding the effect of temperature, sugar, and salt on yeast activity is valuable. If you have the patience and skill to make a good loaf of bread, you likely can be successful with fermented foods.

Fermenting provides ideal conditions for microbes to grow. Cleaning and sanitizing ensures that the only microbes growing are the ones you want. Last week there were news stories in both India and Africa from bad home brew resulting in deaths. Proper cleaning and sanitation is crucial. Following safe procedures is not difficult, but it is also not optional.

Recently, I shared a kombucha mother with a person whose doctor recommended adding more live culture foods to her diet. I gave a printed recipe along with the mother. I told her that she should expect to see bubbles at the surface around a new forming mother. Three days later she told me she didn’t see anything happening. My first question was if she had waited for the tea to cool to room temperature before adding the mother. She had; so heat hadn’t killed the culture. When I asked if she had followed all the directions, she said she left out the sugar. She knew sugar wasn’t healthy. But without sugar there was no food for the yeast and bacteria to grow. She stirred in some sugar and things started working. A few days later the microbes had transformed the unhealthy sugar and she had a good probiotic beverage.

The alchemy of fermentation is an interesting and sometimes misunderstood process. I enjoy the smells and flavors it produces. The good flavors come with health benefits. Following the right procedures makes home fermentation safe.


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