May
04

Salt and Lacto-Fermentation

By

I’ve received some e-mails recently about salt and fermentation. All have asked variations of the same question.

‘Is salt necessary in a ferment?’

Yes. Salt prevents bad bacteria from growing in a ferment during the initial stage of fermentation where the oxygen is used up and the lactic acid bacteria (LABs) begin to reproduce. Since fermentation always occurs in the same pattern no matter what you’re fermenting, you need to the salt to keep the bad guys at bay until the LABs kick in and start growing like crazy.

The correct salt concentration will actually encourage LABs to grow, giving them a competitive edge.  Too little salt gives the bad guys an edge, which can lead to spoilage, especially if your container isn’t airtight.

However, you can have ‘too much of a good thing.’  If you add too much salt, it will also cripple or kill off the lactic acid bacteria.  Plainly put, if you make it too salty, nothing will live, even the good guys.  If you don’t get it so salty that it kills all of the microbes off, certain yeasts can live, also leading to spoilage.

Fermenting in a container that isn’t airtight combined with no salt is a good recipe to not wind up with lots of LABs in your ferment at best, and an end product that will encourage yeast and bad bacteria in your gut, at worst.

 

Smooth Versus Chunky

Most of the problem with salt comes in that the different salts don’t have a uniform crystal size, so they will weigh different amounts when measure by the teaspoon.  That creates brines of different percentages.

I have three salts common to a traditional foods kitchen. I weighed one level tablespoon of each to give you an idea of the differences.

Redmond’s Real Salt- 15 grams
Himalayan Pink Salt- 15 grams
Celtic Sea Salt- 11 grams

The Redmond’s and the Pink salt are of very similar consistency, but the celtic grey salt is very large and chunky.  To create a 2% brine, you would want to use 19 grams of salt per quart of water. So that’s about 1-1/4 tablespoons of the Redmond’s and Himalayan, but it requires about 1-3/4 Tablespoons of the Celtic.  That’s a big difference. If you just go by tablespoons and you use a different grind than the person who wrote the recipe, you could be in for a failed ferment.

 

A Weighty Matter

Weighing your salt is the best means to getting the right brine. Kitchen scales that measure grams are relatively easy to come by.  These scales can cost as little as $10 so they’re a good kitchen investment if you’re serious about baking and fermenting. If a small, electronic scale is absolutely out of the question, then knowing the weight of your particular salt combined with the knowledge of math to calculate the correct amount is needed. I like math, but not that much, so I make it easy on myself and let the scale do the work.

How do you know what percentage of brine to make?  This page on the Pickl-It website spells out the details. Most things need a 2% brine, but there are some items, like beets and sauerkraut, that can be done with a higher percentage brine. When you want to create your own experimental ferments, making sure you have the right salinity and having an air-tight vessel such as the Pickl-It or the Harsch.  Those two steps are key to getting the end product to turn out tasty and teeming with LABs.

 

Want to read more about fermentation, including articles with references and more information on vessel types? See our Related Posts for all of the articles in this series. 

 

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KerryAnn Foster runs Intentionally Domestic, formerly Cooking Traditional Foods.  Intentionally Domestic is the home of the longest running real food meal plan on the internet, now in its eighth volume.

KerryAnn has over eleven years of real food experience.  Read about KerryAnn’s journey to health through multiple miscarriages, celiac disease, PCOS, food allergies and intolerances, obesity, adrenal fatigue and heavy metals. She is also an It Works! Independent Distributor and she loves that crazy wrap thing!

Founded in 2005, we help you feed your family nourishing foods they will love.  With two choices of Menu Mailers, multiple eBooks, Print Books and video-based classes, KerryAnn makes real food easy, accessible, affordable and family friendly for everyone.

KerryAnn founded Nourished Living Network, a network for traditional food and natural living bloggers, in 2011. NLN provides support, publicity and networking opportunities for bloggers all across the traditional foods spectrum. Our Recipe Gallery features recipes from the fifty member blogs and growing.

 

 

Comments

  1. Michele says:

    Ok. Very informative! What is the safe range amount of salt, Himalayan Pink sat, let’s say? A friend says 1 TBS per head of cabbage. ?? By accident I made my last batch of cabbage/carrot/zucchini kraut with 1 1/2 TBS per head (small) and it turned out way too salty. Also, 4 of my 14 – 16 oz. jars of kraut began molding after 5 days. Did i kill the good bacteria? Is it safe to eat? Thanx.

    • The problem is that when you say ‘per head of cabbage,’ you can get a wildly variable result depending on the size of the head of cabbage and how much core you cut out, how old the cabbage is and the like. It’s better to weigh the shredded cabbage so you know how much salt to use. It sounds like the LABs died from too much salt and oxygen was able to get in to form mold. I would dump it since it’s very likely salt cured and not a true probiotic ferment.
      KerryAnn Foster recently posted..Pickl-It: Invest a Little, Save a Lot

  2. Relative measures like “medium size” has always annoyed me, as someone else’s idea of medium is maybe not mine. How do I know how big those cabbages normally are? Same for the volume measure of dry ingredients. And if I don’t have measuring spoons and use a real table spoon is my spoon a big table spoon or a small one? Never liked those recipes. Anyway, rant over.

    I have done a fair bit of research on making lactic ferments recently and have a couple of popular books on the subject, but must say, what I have read here on your blog has made the most sense to me. I appreciate your in-depth research and hope to see the completed works made into the definitive layman’s book on lactic fermentation. Anything in the pipeline? I would buy it for sure :)

    One area where I am still looking for answers is salt. I don’t want to consume too much of it, even though I have very low blood pressure, because of other health risks related to salt or sodium. I also want to introduce two friends of mine to lactic ferments. Alas, both have hypertension (medicated), one had a heart attack, the other a brain haemorrhage. The amount of salt used in lactic fermenting would be a killer for them.

    You mentioned elsewhere that the bacteria consume it and that the lactic ferment tastes less salty (assuming, it is less salty?) after fermenting the required time. What happens to the sodium in the bacteria? Do the bacteria survive the entire gastric tract with the sodium inside of them and are then excreted? Is the sodium bound into a non-bio-available compound? Can you test salinity with a brewing hydrometer? I don’t like the idea of throwing away the brine either, with all the good juices, and am also worried that much of the salt penetrates the plant material, so discarding the brine would not solve the problem entirely anyway.
    judyofthewoods recently posted..Tree Sap

  3. Awesome, thanks!

    I think salt might be a concern a lot of people have, judging by the number of salt-free recipes there are. As salt-free wouldn’t allow for proper lacto-fermentation or long-term storage it’s not really an option.

    One thought that did occur to me though, would it be possible to inoculate a new batch with some brine from a batch where the first stage of fermentation is in full swing? Would that small army of introduced good bacteria be enough to keep the bad guys at bay? My main concern would be that the disturbance would introduce oxygen to the donating batch, which would be every batch in a rolling system. The new batch wouldn’t be salt-free, but much reduced, even more so in subsequent batches.

    I just read about your accident. Sorry you had to go through all that, but also glad you didn’t get hurt too badly – could have been so much worse. Wishing you a speedy recovery.
    judyofthewoods recently posted..Tree Sap

    • KerryAnn says:

      Well, the LABs use salt as a food during certain parts of the cycle and I do know that going below a 2% brine is a bad idea for that reason alone. I’ll see what I can find and write up another post.

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