22 fermenting tricks and tips

Last week I gave away tickets to a fermenting workshop with Sandor Katz to the reader who shared the best fermenting trick with us all. Congratulations to our winner Krysten Ioannides! If you missed out, come along anyway. The IQS team is attending one of the Saturday workshops.

My weekend cookup for the gut: fermented sauerkraut , sprouted mung beans , kombucha and cauliflower rice ready to freeze.
On the weekend I got totally fermented and cooked up sauerkraut, sprouted mung beans and kombucha (my first time!).

But since all of you shared such great witchy ideas I’ve pulled together a little list below so we can all enjoy. And I’m answering a few questions about fermenting, too, at the bottom. It’s a big focus in my second book, I Quit Sugar For Life (which you can preorder now and get a copy of the Chocolate Cookbook FREE). But moving on…

If you haven’t caught up on what fermenting is and why it’s good for you, click here. So, your tips:

Andrew: If you live in a chillier climate or it’s the middle of winter a great way to keep your fermented drinks going is to set your jars/bottles on a Brewer’s Heating Pad which can keep a constant gentle temperature perfect for fermenting. It’s been a lifesaver for keeping my kefir going over winter.

Klyne: Mix miso paste, almond butter and a little hot water for the yummiest spread on toast (especially sprouted spelt bread). If you add more hot water and make it a runnier consistency it’s also a super easy and delicious dressing for steamed vegetables!

Macbee: I’ve just started experimenting with kefir grains in the past 3 weeks to alleviate my IBS…I found my grains via eBay! The milk ones I collected here in Melbourne myself, but the water ones came all the way from Perth in a regular mail envelope (in a snap lock bag inside of that of course) and have been doing me proud since they arrived. I’ve been making loads of lemon and ginger fizzy kefir water.

Bec at Growing Home: You can buy kefir grains on eBay or several places online, they are quite transportable as long as they are packed with a food source and arrive quickly! You could try asking on your local Freecycle, maybe relevant Facebook groups, classifieds, or put a wanted ad up on a local noticeboard (in a health food store!) for anyone who has some to spare. Good luck, it can be fun trying different flavours too… we did our water kefir second ferment in apple juice for a fizzy, slightly sweet drink!

Tanya: My tip is to join a like-minded group of fermenting people. Fabulous Food Ferments have been one such group who are a wealth of knowledge and inspire me to keep learning and experimenting.

Alvaklim: Depending on what your making, if you don’t mind the taste of olive oil, add a layer of extra virgin OO on top of your ferment to keep out oxygen and making the good bacteria (lactobacillus etc) happy and bubbling away, while allowing the CO2 to escape. Also make sure the ingredients are all submerged under the oil/brine. A great trick especially if you don’t have a good pickling jar! It was handy for my nashi pear-macadamia nut-dried mango concoction.

Kavisha: When making kombucha, use a mix of white tea bags and chai tea bags. Then in the final brewing/flavouring stage add 1 tsp of cinnamon to the brew. Best flavour combo!

Mandy Darby: Making your own fermenting jar – use a Fowlers Vacola preserving jar with a plastic snap on lid (which are sold separately). Ball preserving jars have a similar plastic lid option. Drill a hole in the plastic lid and insert a rubber bung and airlock. Both rubber bung and airlock can be bought from the homebrew supplier. There you have it! A fermenting jar which allows gases to escape without your precious ferment spilling over onto your bench.

Sophia Palmer: I use my pestle basher from my pestle and mortar to extract brine from the sauerkraut, pack the cabbage into the jar tightly, then I put a smaller jar inside the jar of pre-fermented sauerkraut, and weight it down with the pestle, then cover the entire jar! Weighing down the sauerkraut prevents bits of cabbage floating to the top, which causes mould to grow.

Sanja: I make a yummy sauce with kefir, tahini and stacks of chopped herbs and spring onions to pour over veggies and as a salad dressing.

Sara: You can use SCOBYS to fertilise your garden, as a chew for your dogs, and as a frisbee (maybe). Bottle your kombucha then add ginger and passion fruit and ferment again for 3 – 5 days. Bloody awesome.

Cassie Hower: Give your kefir grains to friends when they multiply so you can share the fermenting love! I’m loving making sauerkraut, coconut milk kefir and regular milk kefir and I’d love to learn how to make kombucha and pickles. I’m hooked on fermenting and actually crave those types of food. Its fantastic and I recommend it to anyone who’ll listen.

ErinBefore going to bed each night I put on some raw milk kefir to work it’s magic while I sleep. Then in the morning I strain it and use it to make my 10 month old a delicious berry kefir smoothie and a raw milk vanilla kefir panacotta for us all to enjoy as a gelatin rich luscious dessert (or snack!

Emily Hardwick: I make my own kimchi at home, and use the ‘lock and lock’ (snap-lock?) containers sold at Korean/Asian supermarkets everywhere. These are pretty much specifically designed for holding your kimchi and other fermented (and fresh) side dishes and make it really easy to store everything in your fridge and let the gases out- turn it over etc. I store up to two kilos of kimchi and it just lasts and lasts and lasts! (Kimchi is a kind of spicy sauerkraut by the way).

Ang Roberts: A tip for all of you who are scared to try fermentation or want the probiotic benefits but don’t like the taste of pickled veg – start with water kefir! As a couple of other lovely people have mentioned in the comments (in case you missed them) you can get the grains on eBay if you don’t know anyone who makes their own kefir. It’s fine for people with lactose or casein intolerance (like me), and so, so easy to make! They’re super hardy little guys, and if they ever get grumpy just give them a 12 hour soak in some coconut water, and they’ll be back to floating up and down like tiny elevators in no time. Plus the grains are quite innocuous looking – I still can’t muster the courage to grow a kombucha SCOBY no matter how good the final product is… I usually toss organic dried mango in with my water kefir on its first ferment, it makes fizzy mango lemonade – so tasty and refreshing on a hot day!!

Oh, an extra tip – start with a really small amount and build up to bigger glasses, until you get used to getting so many delish probiotics in your belly at once (as it’s sooo much more than store bought probiotics) you can have a bit of tummy shame… Be gentle with your tum.

Nadae: Add spices and/or to the veggies. Fennel, cumin, caraway or nigella seeds, bay leaves, dill, thyme…

Sara: I brew raw, organic kombucha in Melbourne and my tip is placing your jars of Kombucha to brew in the cupboard above the fridge to take advantage of the gentle heat from the fridge to safely increase fermentation in less time.. especially helpful during the cold, winter months!

And here’s a few questions which I’ll try to answer:

One of you asked whether kombucha is sugar-free?Nope, it’s not, technically. I made my first batch on the weekend and I’ll be reporting back with a recipe and results. For now, know that the sugar is what ferments and feeds the “mushroom-like” culture so minimal sugar is actually left behind in the drink. But more later.

Some of you asked whether you need clean jars –  should they be sterilised?

Many people say yes. Michael Pollan in his book Cooked advises not to – to simply rinse in water. The “local” bacteria of the area you live in will assist producing the best culture for you and your gut. Me, I rinse in hot water to ensure there’s not dust. As an aside, I really recommend reading Cooked. One of my favourite reads of 2013.

Helen: I love sauerkraut but my question is when is the best time to eat it? Before during or after meals? And how much would be optimal to consume every day? The best idea is to have a tablespoon or two just before or with your meal.

EliseHow do you know when your ferment is ready? I put mine on the bench, and it’s a bit hit and miss with the ‘funk factor’! Yep, that’s part of the fun. I look for little bubbles, then leave it half a day to a day longer before moving to the fridge/cold storage.

Sonja: Can you ferment raw food or do to have to cook it first, some recipes tell you to cook it first for e.g. beetroot? If you’re grating or chopping finely, raw. If you’re doing big pieces, you cook. I’ve not tried the latter yet, but will. I’ll report back.

Rachel Alt: Will adding fermented foods to my diet boost my immune system? Yep, yep and yep again. Ferments are little morsels of probiotics and other good things to boost your immune system. It’s the entire point behind fermenting.


I’m going to give kefir a crack next. Stay tuned for my kombucha results in a week or so….

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