Pickles, kimchi, hot sauce, sauerkraut, sourdough, yogurt, cheese, kombucha, salami...there are so many delicious fermented foods! And while fermenting foods at home may seem daunting to some people, human beings have been making ferments since the dawn of civilization, which means that you can do it, too.
If you're just starting out, or if you want to brush up on the details, you'll want to read our in-depth look at the science and history of fermentation. But if you're here for some recommendations for fermentation equipment from our recipe developers, read on.
It's important to note that none of these items are necessary for fermenting things. But we've found that with the right tools, you can ferment with ease and confidence while you produce millions upon millions of (delicious) microbial buddies.
The simplest, most affordable vessel for canning is a glass jar. Tall, narrow jars are ideal for fermentation, like these quart jars. You could go larger, but remember that wider containers will expose more of your ingredients to oxygen. Reduce that surface area by keeping your containers nice and narrow.
Canning Jar Upgrades
If you're sticking with glass canning jars, consider picking up specialty fermentation lids to make the process a little more fool-proof. Daniel tested quite a few of these for his sauerkraut recipe and liked the Easy Fermenter lids best. The set also comes with a vacuum pump to remove oxygen at the outset. From there, you can rely on the waterless airlock valve to let carbon out and keep oxygen from entering—meaning you don't need to worry about burping your pickle jars periodically.
For his fermented hot sauce recipes, Tim Chin went with this airlock kit, which will work with both wide-mouth and more narrow jars. This set uses water airlocks: As the ferment produces gas and pressure builds up, gas will force its way through the valve and through the water chamber, finally making its way out through the pinhole in the top cap.
Before screwing on your lids, drop some weights on top of your ingredients to keep them submerged in brine. We like these weights, which are designed for wide mouth mason jars.
A Fermentation Crock
While glass mason jars are ubiquitous and affordable, there are some benefits to upgrading. Take this ceramic fermentation crock, for example. It's heavy-duty and dark, offering a nice cool space for your pickles to pickle. (Light can negatively affect fermenation.) It comes with its own weights to keep your ingredients in their brine and a little muddler, for fermenting mashes. It also comes with its own built-in water valve—and everything is dishwasher safe.
The team also likes this Korean fermentation crock, which is made of BPA-free plastic and is dishwasher- and even microwave-safe. These come in a wide assortment of sizes, whether you're making just a small batch of pickles or a massive container of kimchi. You won't need any weights with this crock—simply press down on the lid to keep your ingredients submerged.Continue to 5 of 6 below.
pH Strips and Meters
One way to know if your foods are properly fermented is by testing their pH. The FDA recommends that acidified foods have a natural pH of 4.6 or lower, but Tim Chin goes further, saying that for a truly shelf stable hot sauce, you’ll want an even lower pH of 3.4 or below. (pH ranges from one to 14; one being the most acidic.) To test the pH, pick up some test strips or a pH meter. Christina Ward, our contributor who has written for us extensively about pickle science loves this digital pH meter, which takes you out to the hundredths. It might feel like overkill, but this will ensure your fermented foods are safe to eat and to leave out on the counter.
A Gram Scale
When you’re making a brine, you’ll want to be precise about how much salt you’re using. For example, in Daniel’s sauerkraut recipe, he requires 2% salt by weight. Whether you’re pickling three pounds of cabbage or half a pound, it'll make your life if you pick up a gram scale, which can easily measure out the precise quantity of salt you need for large- or small-batch ferments.