Fermentation Tips & Tricks - What went wrong?
“I just checked on my fermenting batch and it smells/looks awful. What happened?”
Here at Stone Creek Trading, we don't just want to sell you something. We want to make sure you also have all the information you need to enjoy the things we sell. That's why we take the time to answer your personal emails and share our knowledge about the products we sell.
A lot of our customers are first time ferment-ers, which means we often hear about fermenting mishaps as they figure out process. But for every customer that reaches out to us via email (email@example.com), I know there are others out there who don't. So here's our advice if something goes wrong!
If the contents of your fermenting crock don’t look or smell good, you definitely need to throw it out. If you think it might be rotten, trust your gut!
With fermenting there are a lot of variables so it's hard to know exactly what went wrong but here are a few suggestions -
- Wash the crock with soap and hot water and let it dry completely. You may also want to rinse it out with boiling water. (Note - some people (Kryz’s grandfather included) believe that you should never wash a fermenting crock as the bacteria in it should be allowed to pass between fermenting recipes!)
- Make sure the water in the airlock rim does not completely evaporate, since this will allow air to enter the crock and possibly let mold in.
- Conversely, make sure you do not overfill the rim as this water can then get into the ferment and let bad bacteria in.
- Check your ratio of salt to water. You may need to add more salt. Salt is what kills the bad bacteria, so you need enough of it to get rid of the bad bacteria but not too much that it also kills the good bacteria. (Note - if you do get a good batch of sauerkraut that tastes too salty, don't throw it out. Put it in some mason jars in the refrigerator and let it sit for 1-2 weeks. The saltiness will decrease with some time!)
- Make sure you are using either distilled water or water that has been boiled and allowed to cool when making brine. This makes sure there isn't anything in the water that is changing the bacteria in the ferment.
- While you don't have to, you can check the ferment every few days by removing the lid and looking at it. If you notice any mold on the top, use a clean dry wood utensil to skim the mold off the top and remove. If any mold happens to get in the crock, skimming it off the top will keep it from developing and overtaking everything.
- The ingredients need to always be below the brine. This is one thing you can check for when you open the fermenting crock. The stones should hold all the ingredients below the water. If you are making sauerkraut, you can place a couple large cabbage leaves on top of the shredded cabbage before putting the stones on top to help keep everything beneath the water
Those are our quick suggestions, but remember every batch will be different. Every cabbage/cucumber has a different amount of natural bacteria, and the salt water ratio, and temperature and humidity all effect the outcome! We have had bad batches ourselves with no idea why. You just tweak things the next time and keep a closer eye on it.
And of course, you are always welcome to send us an email (firstname.lastname@example.org) and we can troubleshoot what went wrong together!
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