Fermentation on the page

I’m glad I bought the two best-known fermentation books, even though I probably won’t ever get to most of the projects they contain

John I. Carney
7 min readMar 16, 2023

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When I put the two book covers (both downloaded from Amazon) together for this graphic, I was startled to see that they were the same color.

I’ve been making yogurt off and on since 2016, although I would not have thought to call that “fermentation” at the time. In 2018, I began lactofermenting hot peppers to make my own hot sauce. Since I began lactofermenting peppers, I’ve tried fermented dill pickles a few times, with varying levels of success.

Since the first of the year, however, my interest in fermentation has expanded. I’ve made sauerkraut, and green beans, and carrot sticks, and while my dill pickles aren’t where they need to be, they are improving.

A quick explanation (as if I could ever do a quick explanation!) for those of you unfamiliar with fermented pickles:

Pickles have been around for thousands of years; in the days before refrigeration and rapid transportation, they were an essential way of preserving fresh vegetables so that some of them would last into the off-season.

We think of pickles as vegetables soaked in a vinegar-based brine until they become sour. But up until the 20th Century, most pickles weren’t made that way. If you submerge a vegetable in a simple salt-water brine, the salt restricts the growth of “bad” bacteria which might cause spoilage or food-borne illness. But certain “good” bacteria, such as leuconostoc mesenteroides and lactobacillus plantarum, can thrive in the salt water (provided it’s not too salty). They convert some of the sugars in the vegetable to lactic acid, which from a culinary standpoint gives the pickle its customary tanginess, and from a food safety standpoint makes the pickle and its brine acidic. This makes the environment even less hospitable to bad bacteria, effectively preserving the vegetable, at least for a while.

Fermentation is “wild fermentation” when you rely only on bacteria or yeast or mold which are naturally present in the original product and/or the environment. Often, that’s enough. But in some cases, such as if you are using irradiated grocery store produce or trying to ferment something after cooking it, or if you need to ensure that a particular strain predominates, you would need to add a starter culture…

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John I. Carney

Author of “Dislike: Faith and Dialogue in the Age of Social Media,” available at http://www.lakeneuron.com/dislike