Adding real sauerkraut and other lactic acid fermented vegetables to your diet is a fantastic source of living, beneficial probiotics. The challenge is that store-bought sauerkraut is pasteurized and has no probiotic benefits and before now the only truly good option to make your own was to make large batches of fermented vegetables in expensive purpose built ceramic fermenting crocks. For many people the expense, the large quantity or both were impractical.
The Jar Top Fermenter solves expensive / large batch problem by allowing you to inexpensively make small batches of sauerkraut or other lactic acid fermented vegetables reliably in one or two quart wide mouth canning jars. People have used mason jars to do fermentation for generations but there has never been a truly good way to both allow the release of carbon dioxide (a natural byproduct of the fermentation process) while keeping oxygen from sneaking in. The jar top fermenter solves that problem with an innovative water seal air lock that allows you to have a tightly sealed canning jar lid that allows the CO2 escape while keeping new oxygen from getting in. The challenge with mason jar fermenting without the jar top fermenter, has been that if oxygen sneaks in it can contribute to mold or a slimy film on the surface of the brine. This has the potential of altering flavor or even ruining a batch. The Jar Top Fermenter can be installed on any wide mouth canning jar (Mason, Kerr, Ball, etc..)
1 air lock unit (stem unit, inverted cup float, cap)
1 plastic disk lid with center grommet
1 plastic lid sealing ring
1 stainless steel cup
1 jar lid (ring & lid)
1 Instruction sheet.
Overview of How Lactic Acid Fermentation Works:
Lactic acid fermentation works when a culture of beneficial bacteria are used in a brine solution to preserve vegetables like cabbage. The bacteria produce lactic acid which builds up and when it reaches a certain level it kills off all other harmful bacteria, including the bacteria that cause food to decay. The lactic acid producing bacteria continue to thrive in this high acid environment. This is why they can also live in the high acid environment of the digestive system. Vegetables preserved in lactic acid will keep for many months, or even longer when refrigerated.
Vegetables are sliced, diced or shredded and submerged in a brine solution made of chlorine free water (boiled or filtered) and iodine free salt (sea salt or real salt). The vegetables should be weighted down so they stay below the surface of the brine. It is important for the vegetables to be oxygen free for the process to work, so keeping them submerged is critical. A lactic acid forming bacteria culture is added. The brine will retard the growth of harmful bacteria that might be present for long enough for the lactic acid forming bacteria to lower the pH of the solution (acidifying it) to a pH of 4 or lower. Once that occurs, typically within about two or three days, the acid kills off any harmful bacteria. Without exposure to harmful bacteria or oxygen, the vegetables begin to ferment and acquire their characteristic sour flavor.
The fermentation process produces surprising amounts of CO2 (carbon dioxide), so it is important that the fermentation vessel has a means for this gas buildup to escape (your jar top fermenter), but also keep any fresh air or oxygen from entering. Your fermented vegetables or sauerkraut can be ready as quickly as four days, but the longer the vegetables steep the more flavorful they become.
Beneficial Bacteria Starter Culture: One of the critical ingredients is a culture of lactic acid forming beneficial bacteria. These bacteria are replete in milk products like kefir, buttermilk, yogurt and sour milk. If you are okay with dairy, these are a suitable source for a starter culture. Take a half pint of buttermilk and strain it with a strainer lined with cheese cloth to separate out the whey. Add the whey to the brine and you are good to go.
But what if you are vegan? Not to fear! Lactic acid bacteria are common to milk products, but not exclusive to them. In fact lactic acid forming bacteria are common on the surface of fruits and vegetables, so it’s possible to start fermenting without any sort of dairy derived culture. The white powdery film on fruit like plums and grapes is the salts left over from the action of lactic acid forming bacteria that live on the surface of the fruit.
The trick is using an approach called “wild fermentation,” which means fermenting without a starter culture. Green cabbage is particularly high in naturally occurring lactic acid forming bacteria, especially organically grown cabbage that is free of pesticides. Cabbage is so high in these bacteria in fact that it is really the best vegetable that you can reliably ferment without any additional culture as a starter. Cabbage in appropriate salt water brine will develop its own beneficial lactic acid culture in time to carry off a successful batch. If you are just starting to ferment, make sure that your first batch is a good, dense green cabbage. Don’t worry about adding whey or any type of starter culture. The culture will develop naturally. Once you have your first batch of sauerkraut, save some juice in a sealed container in the refrigerator to act as your “lactic acid starter” for your next batch. It is the same principle as sourdough starter (another type of fermented food, by the way). Your next batch need not contain cabbage as the starter from your previous batch will do the trick. 100% vegan, dairy free, lactic acid culture!
Here are some tips to follow on your first wild fermented batch:
Make sure that the bulk of what you ferment is green cabbage, if not exclusively green cabbage.
Peel the outer leaves off and rinse, but do not rinse the interior leaves, before or after shredding.
Give shredded leaves an extra good pounding. You want to squeeze plenty of juice from the cabbage to include in the brine.
Use the recommended full measure of salt, especially on this first batch. The salt acts as a bridge to allow the lactic acid forming bacteria time to take hold. This is especially important when fermenting this first batch without a starter culture.
Carefully examine your first batch when it’s done. Watch for signs of rot, sliminess or uncharacteristic odor. The presence of any indicates that the lactic acid didn’t reach critical mass in time, and you should discard the spoiled batch and start again.
A successful batch will carry the unmistakable, pungent sauerkraut smell.
If your first batch fails, include a little lemon juice or vinegar to increase the initial acidity of the brine as an additional help on your next try. You can also puree one of the outer leaves with a little water and add to the brine to increase the initial amount of starter probiotics.
Yield: 1 head of cabbage is about right for a quart canning jar. 2 heads is about right for a 2 quart canning jar.
Chlorine free water (filtered or boiled and cooled)
Iodine free salt (sea salt)
One or two large bowls
Kitchen knife or cabbage shredder
Optional: Kraut pounder or meat mallet
Wide mouth canning jar (1 or 2 quart size as you prefer)
Green Cabbage (1 or 2 heads)
Handy Pantry Jar Top Fermenter
Optional Spices: garlic cloves, shredded horseradish, black pepper corns, juniper berries, caraway seeds, dill, bay leaves, wasabi, sage, rosemary, thyme, fresh jalapeno, curry, kimchi spice.
Step 1: Remove the outer leaves of the cabbage head (1 head for a quart jar, 2 heads for two quart jar) and set them aside. Shred the cab- bage into large plastic bowls. Sprinkle salt on the shredded cabbage. (1/2 tablespoon for one head, 1 tablespoon for 2 heads).
Step 2: Use a kraut pounder or meat mallet to mash and bruise the cabbage. You should soften up the cabbage so that the juice in the cab- bage is unlocked. The bruising can also be done by massaging the shredded cabbage with thoroughly washed hands.
Step 3: Option: Mix in some spices to your shredded cabbage to spice up the sauerkraut. Caraway seeds are the most common sauerkraut spice, but enjoy experimenting and mixing different combinations of the optional spices listed in the ‘materials needed’ section above.
Step 4: Pack the shredded, bruised cabbage fairly tightly up to the shoulder of the mason jar. Depending on the relative size of your heads of cabbage you might end up with a little more cabbage than you need. Make sure to add any extra cabbage juice into the jar.
Step 5: Rinse the outer leaves you set aside earlier. Use the orange lid ring as a template and center it across the rib of one of the outer cabbage leaves. Cut a circle about a quarter inch larger than the ring. Repeat on a second cabbage leaf. Cut the two leaf circles horizontally across the main rib, so that you have four half-circles. Insert these four pieces in the mouth of the jar over the top of your shredded cabbage, overlapping them with the curve facing downward. These leaves should hold the shredded cabbage down under the surface of the brine.
Step 6: Add chlorine free water into the jar until it comes up to above the shoulder but an inch or more below rim of the jar. Your cabbage should be completely submerged. You will need to agitate the jar a little to free any trapped air bubbles and to make sure that the salt is evenly dissolved in the water. Place the stainless steel cup upright on top of the leaves. The cup acts as a stopper that prevents the cabbage from rising above the surface of the brine as it ferments.
Step 7: Dampen the inside of the black rubber grommet in the plastic disk lid. Carefully but firmly seat the narrow end of the stem of the air lock unit into the grommet so that air or liquid will not leak past the stem. Make sure that the plastic cup float is upside down over the stem inside the air lock unit. Fill the air-lock with tap water to the fill line. Snap the small plastic cap in place at the top of the air lock. Dampen the red rubber ring to create a good seal and place it between the lid and jar. Screw the assembled air lock onto the jar using the metal ring that comes with the jar.
Step 8: Place in a cool, dark place (68 to 72 degrees F). Check on the batch periodically. If the sauerkraut juice overflows into the airlock unit, open the jar, discard the brine from the stainless steel cup, refill the airlock with fresh water, and replace the device onto the jar. Any oxygen you let in will quickly be displaced with CO2 given off by the fermentation process.
Step 9: Your sauerkraut can be ready in as fast as 4 days. The longer you let it steep, the more of the sour flavor it acquires. Experiment with times to your taste. To store your sauerkraut, simply replace the fermenter assembly with a regular canning jar lid and store in your refrigerator. Start another batch of fermented vegetables so you never run out.
Making Other Fermented (Pickled) Vegetables
When making other fermented vegetables or vegetable mixes follow the same basic steps as outline above with the following changes:
Cut the vegetables into bite-sized pieces and use instead of cabbage. The vegetables don’t need to be bruised like cabbage. Vegetables suitable for lactic acid fermentation include: celery, cauliflower, broccoli, boc-choi, napa cabbage, green cabbage, red cabbage, carrots, radishes, green tomatoes, green beans, cucumbers, turnips, yams, beets, kohlrabi, rutabaga, peppers etc… Experiment with different combinations.
Without green cabbage in the mix, it is possible but more difficult to get a wild lactic acid culture established. Adding a table spoon or two of juice from a prior batch of sauerkraut or fermented vegetables will be very helpful. You can also use whey as described on the start culture section above.