There is very little chance of getting sick or infecting oneself with Botulism with active vegetable ferments (i.e. not sanitizing then canning). Vegetables are covered in natural bacteria, and the conditions created inside the ferment make it essentially impossible for Botulism to thrive. Canning can be dangerous because the process of heating (i.e. killing off microbe activity) of a ferment leaves only Botulism because it has spores that protect it from heat. Some meat ferments require more care, and I've heard of some issues with say: fermenting garlic inside of olive oil. Overall, though, fermentation is one of the safest food preparation techniques we know of.
But...I'd like to get some terminology and what appears to be a small misconception straightened out here:
> infecting oneself with Botulism
It's not an infection, it's poisoning.
> heating [...] leaves only Botulism because it has spores
"Botulism" is the condition of being poisoned; the poison is "botulinum toxin". It is named after the organism that produces it, Clostridium botulinum (and there are other closely-related species). And it is that organism that has the spores.
> the conditions created inside the ferment make it essentially impossible for Botulism to thrive
I think this is important to get right. Specifically, it's the highly acidic environment. The acid remains effective even when the food is heated, inhibiting bacterial growth and toxin production.
Also worth noting is that the spores can indeed be destroyed by getting them hot enough for long enough. The difficulty is that the "hot enough" temperature is above boiling. This is why pressure canning is required for low-acid foods like soup or fish. (The toxin itself can also be destroyed by proper heating.)
Initially -- before canning -- the presence of oxygen is an essential factor. The bacteria won't produce toxin except in a low-oxygen environment. You mentioned garlic in olive oil -- the lack of oxygen is precisely the problem here.
(For completeness, another factor in inhibiting growth is what's called "available water": a large amount of dissolved sugar sort of "locks up" the water in the food. This is the main factor preventing spoilage in jams/jellies.)
Final side note, FWIW:
> Some meat ferments require more care
Indeed; if they're sealed in a casing (e.g., salami), sodium or potassium nitrite is necessary to ensure safety.
The chutney you have encountered is most likely one of the following
A few minor points: the chutney is not a pickle in the sense of not being a fermented item, it's made and eaten fresh, just some ingredients ground up together, maybe fried lightly or not.
>mixing fermented rice and fermented dals
Close, but not quite. The rice and (urad/udid) dal (black gram - not black chickpea, a different species), are wet-ground together and then left to ferment overnight or so. Then the same flour/batter is used to make either idli or dosa. I don't have scientific evidence but idli is likely healthy, so is dosa, due to the fermentation, and idli is nice and light, as you noticed.
>I tried making it in my apartment but the fermentation failed a few times so I gave up.
Try asking an Indian or South Asian friend or acquaintance for advice, or ask on the IndianFood reddit.
Edit: Added Wikipedia links.
Tastes great with a coconut based chutney, or even a nice Spicey peanut sauce.
I eyeballed my brine solution and got mold growing on my chilis though, for what it's worth. I was roughly following youtube channel `Brother green eats` video . I guess I should have followed more carefully.
Ideally nobody is sticking up out of the water, as that's where mold will form. You can use a plate or some kind of weight, or stir it all once a day, or just let it sit and throw out anything that starts getting moldy.
Let this sit on the counter for a week or two until the brine and the peppers get sour from lactobacillic fermentation. It's up to you. When you like the taste, blend it all smooth and put it in a jar in the fridge. You'll get the same sour spiciness you're used to in hot sauce, but much more umami and depth in the flavors. Vinegar-based hot sauce is quite one-noted in comparison.
Note: I really recommend Katz's "Art of Fermentation" as a source of inspiration. I used to get annoyed by the fact that he doesn't actually give recipes, but have come to realize that you don't really need them. There are really only a few core processes with infinite variations, and precise measurements would most likely just lead you astray because you'll invariably need to respond to different produce and different temperatures.
Troubleshooting: Sometimes the brine starts to get cloudy, or a thin layer of surface yeasts forms. It's harmless but can lend a funk to the flavor. If you don't like this, change the conditions to select for the desired bacteria: make the brine saltier and/or keep it somewhere cooler. You can even keep it in the fridge, but then fermentation will be much slower. Also, sometimes the garlic turns blue. Also harmless.
Bonus: Sauerkraut couldn't be easier: Shred a bunch of cabbage (it's such a pleasure to use a mandoline for this) and add 1.5% salt by weight. Squeeze and knead the cabbage until it feels like wet laundry. Pack it into a jar; there should be enough liquid to submerge the cabbage. Again, find a way to keep it covered and wait 7-10 days. If you keep the brine from an old batch, you can dramatically speed up the next batch by mixing some in.
Storing your product in the fridge makes getting started with fermentation really simple!
This amused me: "She grew up in a family where, when concerned if the milk was OK, they wouldn’t look at the expiry date but instead sniff it."
Everyone in our family always did this and so do I; I never realized people did otherwise. If it smells good (or doesn't smell at all), eat it. If it smells kind of bad, wash it. If it still smells bad after washing, then throw away.
> "Best Before" doesn't mean "Bad After"!
At our house now, when we look through the fridge and see something approaching/past its Best Before date, we brainstorm something we can make to use it up before it spoils. Pudding is a great way to use up any quantity of milk. Random Vegetable Soup: throw all of the questionable vegetables in to the Instant Pot with some chicken stock, pressure cook for 10 minutes, blend with a stick mixer. If cheese grows a bit of mold, we just cut it off and put it in a new container. Meat gets kept in a fridge that is just a hair too cold, and either gets used right away or frozen.
Writing all of this, I just realized that we produce very little food waste here. Occasionally some leftovers are forgotten in the back of the fridge and get moldy, but that's pretty rare.
My wife calls me the "Half price king" because I wander around looking for things. Bizarre stuff you can get on sale includes wine (where they have no room on the shelves and have to sell their old stock to accommodate the new stock -- companies pay for placement!), but also stuff like cultured butter or yogurt (yogurt fermented with a theromophilic culture by a reputable supplier will last months and months), natto (well... I like it), pickles, etc. I also look for beef that's gone off colour, or deep sea fish that's been kept frozen. Also, fruits are often great just before they go off, so as long as you intend to eat it that day, you can often get really good discounts.
On the downside, I have to warn my wife about buy bread and spices on sale -- some things really go down hill with age.
"Best before" is product quality information. "Use by" is product safety information. If a product says "best before mm/yyyy" you can use the product after that. There'll be a gradual deterioration in quality. But it may well be safe for years after the date (depending how it's stored and whether the packaging stays in shape).
"Use by" means you risk illness if you eat it after the date. Obviously there's a bit of a safety margin built in, and some people are at much higher risk of illness than others.
But I have two questions for you:
- where I live, most beer has only a "born on" date, and apparently never expires. What about over there?
- and my only test for egg goodness is that good ones sink and bad ones will float. I've heard that eggs in the UK are prepared for sale differently - does this test work for them?
If I found mould on my cheese I'd just slice it off, and eat the rest. (Though now I think about it, if I saw bread with mould on it I'd throw the whole loaf away.)
Idk, but if there's mold on one part of the loaf the whole thing smells funky.
Cheese is already off milk, many have added mold, its a feature.
The only thing that I'm aware you should be really careful about is leftover rice. Bacteria can produce a toxin which isn't destroyed by heat and can be deadly. I cant think of any other counter examples to where, if it isn't obviously off, it's ok.
And indeed, keeping rice for too long is really not recommended.
I guess they mean "wash the neck of the bottle". The neck can gather milk that goes off and smells even if the rest of the milk is ok.
> I think the fear of contamination and making one’s self sick is the biggest barrier.
This is a big deal, but the article makes light of it, doesn't even give it its own section, and instead presents a bunch of flowery prose about making death a part of life.
As one example of this, how are you supposed to protect these fermented foods from pests? I get the sense you're supposed to leave them out, uncovered, but that assumes you live in an area that allows you to do that.
"Lewin learned to keep his projects out in the open: ‘One thing I do is I leave all of my fermentation projects in plain sight. I see them every time I go in the kitchen."
So the article is saying they keep their ferments indoors, which is what other posters say they do. I think you might be worried that the ferments are left out of the fridge? Well, they mostly have to be because fermentation almost shuts down at temperatures that cool.
Fermentation is exceptionally safe. The lactic acid created in the fermentation process plus the salt makes for a badass combination against bad bugs. Sandor Katz wrote in the Art of Fermentation that if it tastes bad, throw it out. Even if a bit of mold grows on top, you can pick it off and let the fermentation continue (only if the mold grows for too long and it gets really rooted into the ferment should you throw it out, and that is just because it would taste terrible). If you are worried about botulism (a nasty toxin that has no taste), you shouldn't be:
I'm far more worried about getting sick from e. coli in romaine lettuce bought fresh from the grocery store than from any of the ferments I make.
I somewhat recall having seen an interview of a doctor talking about mold (in e.g. jams) and stating that you should be generous with the part removed because mold has roots that go far deeper that what you actually see.
Furthermore, he mentioned it (or byproducts, I don't recall) being carcinogenic, i.e. definitely not just bad taste.
Leaven is happy in a small jar, just let the cover on top, unscrewed to prevent pressure buildup. When stored in the fridge, you can screw the cover, only not too tightly.
Vegetable pickles are happy in a mason jar (or Le Parfait jar, in France), just open carefully a few times at the start of the fermentation to let the gas out.
We ferment kefir and kombucha for several days (kefir) or weeks (kombucha) at ambient temperature in a large (~2 litres) jar, covered in gauze to stop airborne contamination and flies.
I imagine fermenting things outdoors would be a bit more tricky, mainly because you need stop things bigger and smarter than fruit flies.
You don't leave your ferments uncovered, and while you can do fermentation in ways that you'd need to worry about pests, cheap fermentation equipment that will make the question irrelevant is easily available.
Typically the recommendation is doing ferments indoors with a cloth on top to protect from pests. I use jars with one-way valves that allows gas out but not in. Vegetables are covered in natural microbes and you don't have to keep them uncovered or out. I do my ferments in a city apartment with no issues. :)
If microorganisms gather on the surface of your fermented food in large enough numbers that you can see them, you have two choices: (A) try to save it, or (B) throw it out. If you don't see any, then there hasn't been an environment suitable for them to grow, meaning they aren't there in nearly enough numbers to get you sick.
As far as pests, you're generally expected to cover your fermentation somehow. Something like a tea towel or cheese cloth can work, or even a pot lid, probably depending on the fermentation in question. Just follow the instructions and it should turn out okay, but I don't see any reason to keep it uncovered.
I think salt rising bread is delicious, though my wife is a bit put off by the smell. And from the fact that she wrote up a bunch of necropsy reports on animals where one of the factors that led to their demise was Clostridium perfringens. But, as Howard McGee (author of the amazing On Food And Cooking) writes, there is a "lack of any known cases of the bread causing illness". His article on the topic is pure awesome.
This is the real danger. Although we weren't fermenting the eggs (vinegar recipe), no matter what you are doing, you need to be very careful about the amount of salt/acid you are using. Additionally you need to be very careful about sanitisation (For our pickled eggs, I showed my wife how to sanitise the jars using iodophor). Once you have that sorted out, there really isn't anything that can go wrong.
Basically follow the recipe to the letter. Read it ahead of time a few times so that you know what you are doing. Double check that you did every step and that you measured the amounts correctly. Avoid any recipe that has a "Oh it's natural, you don't have to measure anything" approach and you will be fine.
As for pests, I suppose some things may be fermented uncovered, but I've never done that. For fermented pickles, I just loosely cover the jar. The biggest pests you are likely to encounter is fruit flies -- but they really only go for yeast fermented products (they eat yeast). For things like that (i.e. making beer, etc) you want to use a covered vessel with a fermentation lock.
I've never had problems with lactic fermented things including lactic pickles, sauerkaut and even cheese (though my cheese is in the fridge most of the time and when it is air drying, I've got a cheese cloth over it). We've got every sort of beast you can imagine here (rural Japan), including 2 inch long cockroaches that can fly, venemous foot long centipedes, skinks, hunter spiders, etc (the skinks and spiders eat the cockroaches, thankfully). In my old falling down shack that I used to live in, I even had a rat that would eat all my chocolate and cold medicine, but leave the yummy, yummy grain alone (go figure).
Basically, you are right to be cautious, but you have no need to worry if you are cautious.
On top of that most of us will have had food poisoning from restaurant food where you didn't actually get to see the potentially spoiled ingredients before it was used in a dish. So an experience where you got sick from food that seemed totally fine to you. You might have actually refused to eat it if you had seen or smelled the raw ingredients that ended up making you sick, but we aren't getting those experiences anymore.
Fermentation is all around us. If you eat bread or drink beer, you can thank fermentation.
Also the author references the "ethics" of fermentation. Give me a break...
The ethics stuff in the article comes off a bit strong to me though. My ferments are a bit like a pet. Heck, many people name their sourdough cultures!
I bake bread and brew beer at home. If you search Youtube for these topics there is no lack of DIY videos... Youtube never ceases to amaze me because you can deep dive into almost any topic - even something as mundane as baking bread.
I have been doing home sourdough for years. A couple of years ago my partner got kefir grains from a relative, and she's been using it weekly. A few months ago we got a kombucha mother when giving away a rescued kitten, and the second batch (kombucha, not kitten) is in progress. She also started fermenting vegetables (carrots, cabbage, so far), that's great for spicing up salads. Hint: do not throw away mature leaven, keep it in a jar in the fridge, it makes awesome waffles.
Really, every household should be doing fermentations. It's easy, tasty, rewarding, safe and very good for your gut microbiome.
Try a kraut of 2/3 cabbage and 1/3 onion with 2% salt by weight and some caraway seeds tossed in (that onion can also be 2/3 white and 1/3 red). I like this a lot better than no onion kraut. Would also highly recommend you look into making your own kimchi. The stuff is freaking delicious and can go on most anything. Baked potato? Check. On Tamago Kake Gohan? Check. Panini? Check. Nachos? Check.
I'm not 100% convinced that ferments are good for the gut microbiome. There is some thought that a lot of the beneficial stuff gets killed off in the stomach and the rest gets simply overwhelmed by the existing gut flora you've already got. But it probably can't hurt (except maybe for the salt that comes along for the ride if you have salt sensitve hypertension - fermenters don't talk about this much). Whatever. I am 100% convinced that fermentation = deliciousness and that is what is most important to me.
Yeah, it's in French.
Thanks for the kraut advice!
When I tried making my own Sauerkraut following a recipe, it told me to keep in the warm appartment for the first week (to kickstart fermentation), and only put it in cold storage afterwards.
Homemade yogurt tastes so much better to me than store-bought!
Welcome to Saskatchewan, Canada, where there aren't any places in the house that are at the right temperature in the winter :). That's roughly what the Instant Pot does though. You bring it to a boil first, let it cool off, and then it'll keep the pot at the right temperature while it ferments. Nothing special, other than a nice place that's kept around 43degC in a house that's usually around 17degC overnight.
Ha ha, good one. I stand corrected, probably, if I didn't mention earlier, that the yogurt-making procedure I gave, was specific to the warmer temps of most regions of India. And even some of those regions get pretty cold in winter (at least by sub-tropical country standards).
>a nice place that's kept around 43degC in a house that's usually around 17degC overnight.
Like where I am now, min temp has been 7 C or even 6 C at night lately, and in some places I've been (which are not even in northern India, which is colder), the min has been known to drop to 2 C at times, though rarely. Goes to zero or below, in some places, sometimes, of course.
(I do know that places in the world further north (or south) can get a lot colder, like -40 C (= 40 F) or more.)
The basic steps in warm parts of India (which is much of India) are easy:
- boil some milk, say half a liter to 2 liters or so
(or it was already boiled for other use and cooled, warm it up some)
- add a spoonful or so of the previous batch of yogurt to it (the starter)
- leave it covered to sit in some place in your house which is at the right temperature for fermentation to not only happen but be facilitated - this could be a cooler part of the house or a warmer part, depending on what climate you live in
- wait for some hours, maybe half a day or so
- eat it
Easiest sauerkraut. Get cabbage. Shred it. Add some salt and chuck it in a jar. Then wait.
I love kefir too. Just milk and some kefir grains replaced daily.
Can get addictive quick though. Before you know it you have jars of pickles, tomatoes, kimchi everywhere
And if you add a bunch of chili powder, it's kimchi.
source: my homemade kimchi sitting in my fridge right now has napa cabbage, daikon radish, green onion, ginger, garlic, gochugaru, carrot, sweet rice flour, fish sauce, asian pear, and some other stuff I'm forgetting right now.