Fermentation fundamentals: Dos and don'ts for beginners

Here are some simple tips and tricks to get you started with fermenting.
Here are some simple tips and tricks to get you started with fermenting. Photo: iStock

Three fermentation experts share their simple tips and tricks to get you started with fermenting.   

DOS

  • Aim for small amounts of a wide variety of ferments, says Sharon Flynn, founder of The Fermentary, which makes artisan pickles, sauerkraut and water kefir in Daylesford, Victoria. "That might be kombucha with dinner, milk kefir in the morning or a bit of sauerkraut with lunch." This will increase the diversity of your probiotic intake.
  • Check kombuchas and kefir for added sugar, caffeine and preservatives. "Some of the so-called fermented beverages are essentially soft drinks with some type of probiotic powder added," accredited practising dietitian and spokesperson for the Dietitians Association of Australia Melanie McGrice says. "Even though they might have less sugar than standard soft drinks, it can still be a significant amount." Flynn suggests looking for simplicity in a kombucha's ingredients if you want one that's properly good for you. "If it looks like something you can make yourself with grocery store ingredients, it's usually the real deal."
  • Use fermented foods as condiments. "I think they enhance almost anything," American food writer Sandor Katz says. "I'll add sauerkraut to any type of sandwich and I love kimchi with eggs. If I'm on the run and just grabbing a bit of bread and cheese, sauerkraut makes things so much better."

DON'TS

  • You shouldn't be worried about cooking with ferments and killing the probiotics if you're also eating enough of the ferments in raw form during the week. "Kimchi and melted cheese is delicious. Anything fatty like cheese, butter, mayonnaise and avocado are complemented really well by an acid such as kimchi," says Flynn.
  • Avoid leaving food or drink with live cultures in a spot where the temperature could reach 40C if you want to keep the probiotics active. Similarly, you want to trust a retailer hasn't left active kombucha sitting in direct sun on a loading dock before it was stacked in the fridge.
  • Consumers shouldn't think fermented products are a miracle cure for poor lifestyle choices, says McGrice. "It's great there's so much interest around these products, but kombucha isn't going to compensate for unhealthy eating if you're drinking it with an Uber Eats burger."
  • There's no need to get stressed about sterilising jars if you're fermenting at home. "Your hands aren't going to be sterile. Just work in a clean space, wash the jars with hot soapy water and rinse the soap off really well," says Katz, adding that the US Department of Agriculture has no documented cases worldwide of food poisoning or illness from fermented vegetables. "Statistically, vegetables are safer after you ferment them."