Controversy: Pickl-It vs Mason JarsBy
I wasn’t aware until recently that the use of a Pickl-It instead of a mason jar is controversial. I have to admit that I was surprised because the backlash against the Pickl-it seems to be based mostly on the cost of the equipment and not on the science behind why it is needed or how fermention and gut healing works. So let’s look at all three issues. Today we’re go over the health effects of lactic acid bacteria and in a future post we’ll go over more details on how to produce them.
The problem with this comparison is that, although many in the fermentation world are making it, it isn’t accurate. The Pickl-It is not rivaled against the mason jar. It is rivaled against the Harsch crock. Both the Pickl-It and the Harsch are anaerobic. The other methods, such as an open crock or a mason jar, produce a different type of product with a different bacterial profile. So all of the buzz about the difference between the Pickl-It and the mason jar isn’t exactly an apples-to-apples comparison. We’ll go into great detail on these differences throughout the series.
First, I want to state up front that I have no financial ties to Pickl-It or their producers and I receive no incentive, no kick-back or other perk for my endorsement of their products. I endorse them because they work. I own both the Pickl-It and a Harsch Crock.
I believe this discussion is more critical for those who have gut issues, mold allergies or are trying to heal a health problem, but it’s still very important in the long-run for all fermenters to know the differences and the benefits and drawbacks to every available method. If you’re obviously healthy and have no need of gut healing, then there are likely pieces of kitchen equipment that need to take a higher priority on your spending list and you can put the Pickl-It on your list for after things like a crock-pot. However, if you are trying to heal your gut or having health problems, I consider a Pickl-It to be one of the first things for which you save. We’ll discuss that more later.
Since the most of the outcry against the Pickl-It seems to be about the cost, we’ll start there.
I really don’t consider the Pickl-it expensive. I’m scratching my head over that one considering one of the 1-1/2 Ls including shipping ($40 to NC) is less than a quality crock-pot ($100), a grain mill ($179 on the low end), or most other equipment for a TF kitchen. If you needed more, you could purchase three of the 5Ls for $135.15 including shipping to NC. That’s a comparable cost to other major items that are a small appliance. On the flip side, you save money from not having to throw out batches that go bad, get moldy or go soggy after a couple of months, so you’re saving additional money.
If you’re healing your gut, you likely wouldn’t blink about spending that much for supplements for one month. Isn’t a high-LAB food a major supplement to return you to health? It’s cheaper to ferment correctly than to have gut problems for longer periods of time and have to invest in more supplements and use the more expensive foods. Not to mention the suffering or possibly having to undo problems from the bad bacteria you introduced!
And as a blogger AND as a mother who doesn’t want to give my kids food poisoning, I would never hesitate to recommend the needed equipment. I don’t think any TF bloggers recommend unsafe canning methods to prevent having to purchase a pressure canner or inferior baking results from grinding grain in a normal blender. Fermentation really should not be any different.
The Issue of Probitics
Last I looked, Bio-Kult was expensive compared to comparable probiotics. $42 for one bottle on Amazon right now. In the beginning stages of GAPS or other gut-healing protocols, that $42 bottle wouldn’t even last you a month.
So if you can heal yourself one month faster by using high-LAB ferments from a Pickl-It (and I believe it would be faster), you save money in the long run while experiencing less misery. Having personally been through the gut healing process myself, I can say that less misery was worth a lot of money in my book.
The Science of Lactic Acid Bacteria
So let’s look at WHY these little probiotics, lactic acid bacteria (LABs) are the most important type to get into your food and into your gut.
“The proliferation of lactobacilli in fermented vegetables enhances their digestibility and increases vitamin levels. These beneficial organisms produce numerous helpful enzymes as well as antibiotic and anticarcinogenic substances. Their main by-product, lactic acid, not only keeps vegetables and fruits in a state of perfect preservation but also promotes the growth of healthy flora throughout the intestine.” – Sally Fallon, Nourishing Traditions, pg 89
You are undoubtedly familiar with LABs thanks to heavy marketing from yogurt makers about how their product is so healthy. However, LABs primarily occur on the outsides of fruits and vegetables. LABs are also used to make another product you know well- fermented cod liver oil!
So why do we want LABs instead of other species? The short of it is that most all of the benefits you associate with fermented food are actually from LABs. LABs are known to:
- Improve lactose intolerance. 
- Many studies have shown that LABs prevent, controls or stops viral diarrhea. [2-5]
- Might possibly play a role in preventing and controlling bacterial diarrhea including form sources such as E. Coli. [6-7, 17-18]
- Prevents or lessens diarrhea from antibiotics. 
- Stimulates the immune system to resist invasion via increasing phagocytosis. 
- Stabilizes  and reverses  intestinal permeability. This is why LABs are SO critical to those healing from leaky gut and food intolerances!
- Improves immune response when orally exposed to an allergen. [12-13]
- Is thought to possibly play an anti-inflammatory role in the body. 
- Enhances immunity to a variety of illnesses. I have listed a few here but the Handbook of Fermented Functional Foods by Farnworth lists many, many more. [15-16, 19-23]
- Is known to decrease constipation and improve gut motility.
- May decrease the occurrence of kidney stones.
- Breaks down carbohydrates for easier digestion.
- Possibly increases the seretonin produced in the gut.
Why Airtight is So Important
Research shows that LAB thrives best in an anaerobic environment as that removes their competitors that require oxygen. Anaerobic means that oxygen is not present; aerobic means that oxygen is present. In order to get LABs to proliferate, you must have an anaerobic environment to encourage their growth while discouraging the growth of all non-beneficial species, especially the aerobic ones. We’ll go over this in detail in later posts, as it will require a good bit of writing to answer all the questions surrounding this issue.
In order to get an anaerobic environment for home fermentation you need two things- a seal that prevents oxygen from entering and a way for carbon dioxide to escape. Open air fermentation will not produce large concentrations of LABs as they will have to compete with oxygen-loving bacteria for space and food. As the bacteria produce carbon dioxide and use up the oxygen, it reduces the population of undesirable, aerobic bacteria and allows the LAB to flourish in the oxygenless environment. The Pickl-It and a Harsch provides this type of environment, as it as an airtight seal and an airlock for the growing carbon dioxide to escape.
But I Thought Mason Jars Were Airtight?
They are once you have canned in them. The airtight nature comes not from the threads holding the lid onto the lip of the jar but from the heat processing. It is IMPOSSIBLE to achieve an airtight lock in a mason jar without heat. In fact, once that heat processing is through, the common recommendation is to remove the rings from the jars to prevent rusting. I store all of my home-canned goods without rings.
When you purchase or make a homemade air-lock for a mason jar, you’ll notice the common advice is to place a plate underneath in case you have liquid seepage out of the mason jar threads. There is little difference between the size of a molecule of water and a molecule of oxygen. It is impossible to get a seal tight enough in conditions outside of a lab to get your mason jar airtight. To know your set-up is airtight, you must see any seepage go into the airlock and not out the sides of the jar. Seepage, of course, can be prevented by not over-filling the jars, but where your seepage goes when it does happen is a very important indicator of where oxygen can get in.
As far as air goes, the threads on a mason jar might as well be The Grand Canyon. They will not prevent air from getting into your ferments. A wire bail and a thick rubber ring is required to provide enough pressure for an airtight seal. This is why the mason jar and the Pickl-It are not competitors. They might both be made of glass, but they do not function the same way.
Obviously, traditional cultures didn’t use mason jars. They used crocks, animal skins and other means, such as pits, that were buried. When you bury something, it’s air-tight and doesn’t allow oxygen to enter. In the case of animal skins, the skin allows carbon dioxide to escape but it doesn’t allow oxygen in.
In conclusion, if you want the benefits you associate with probiotic intake, you must be taking in lactic acid bacteria. LABs are best produced in an environment without oxygen. Currently, a Pickl-It or a Harsch is the only way I know to achieve that short of setting up a lab in your house.
Most of the people who frequent my blog who interact with me are wishing to heal their guts. And that is the bottom line of why I recommend airtight fermentation. You won’t get as much of the good stuff you associate with probiotic intake with air reaching your ferments.
All that being said, if you really can’t afford to purchase one right now, then continue using a mason jar while saving money for a Pickl-It. I say that with the caveat that I recommend you watch for mold and discard *anything* that goes moldy, even the ‘harmless’ white mold, if you’re trying to heal your gut. I encourage you to save as you can and purchase a Pickl-It as soon as you can to speed you on your way with your healing journey.
In my next post we’ll go over, in more detail, how airtight conditions produce LABs and my own experience with having no healing from mason jar ferments.
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