Friday, June 27, 2014

DIY Airlock for Lacto-fermentation

Today I want to talk about lacto-fermentation. You may or may not know what it is, so let's start there. 

The gist is that you take any kind of vegetable and chop it up, add salt and sometimes a little bit of water and let it ferment for anywhere between 3 days-4 weeks. The salt in the recipe kills off the bad bacteria, but there are good gut-friendly lactic acid bacteria that can survive the salt solution. The lactic acid bacteria (LAB's) feed off the sugars in the veggies and produce lactic acid and a whole bunch of probiotics that help to repopulate our gut with beneficial bacteria and sway our gut culture in the right direction :). Also, the process of lacto-fermentation preserves the veggies without having to use any heat (I've had batches of kimchi and sauerkraut last for months in the fridge and it just gets better with age). Also, fermentation makes the nutrients already present in the vegetables more bioavailable. Meaning when we eat fermented veggies our bodies absorb more nutrition from that food versus eating the same food unfermented. 

Another important thing to know is that lacto-fermentation should happen in an anaerobic environment (=without oxygen). When oxygen is introduced into the ferment it encourages the growth of mold and oxygen loving bacteria and we don't want that. 

One way we can fix this is by installing airlocks that allow the release of carbon dioxide from fermentation, while preventing oxygen from coming in. There are places to buy pre made airlock lids but they are generally $20 a piece. I didn't want to spend that much money so I went by the instructions on THIS blog for making my own DIY airlocks at home for a fraction of the price. 

I wanted to mention something really quick. It may seem like I have lots of motivation to get stuff done right away. But I actually found out the information about making my own airlocks and the benefits of fermentation for several years and it has taken me this long to get it to the top of the priority list. So if you ever feel overwhelmed by all the things you want to do in life, then take comfort in knowing that you aren't the only one. I get overwhelmed too and just have to take things one project at a time. Thankfully I finally completed this project and will have many fermented things coming out of my kitchen in the near future!

With that said, I finally took the plunge a few weeks ago and bought the supplies for my own DIY airlocks.

First I bought four 1/2inch grommets at a brew supply store. Then I had Chris try to drill a hole in the mason jar lid. As you can see, that didn't work very well. So I got on Amazon and purchased a 1/2inch arch punch.  

After this came in the mail things got a lot easier!

I punched holes in four lids and inserted the rubber grommets. Then I cut a piece of tubing with a 1/2inch outer diameter, inserted it into the grommet and secured it into a loop with zip ties (then I ran out of zip ties and used masking tape for the next two). There is also the option of purchasing a regular airlock, but at the brew supply store they were $4 a piece and I could buy tubing to make 6-8 airlock systems for the same price. So I went with the tubing and it has worked great so far. 

Once my jars were set up I prepped my veggies for making sauerkraut and beet kvass (a fermented drink made from beets). I am sure you know what sauerkraut is, but here is an explanation of the beet kvass. 

Beet kvass is a traditional fermented beverage of Ukrainian origin.  According to Sally Fallon in Nourishing Traditions, beet kvass is:
“valuable for its medicinal qualities and as a digestive aid. Beets are loaded with nutrients. One glass morning and night is an excellent blood tonic, promotes regularity, aids digestion, alkalizes the blood, cleanses the liver and is a good treatment for kidney stones and other ailments."
With all those benefits, it has definitely been on my list of things to try for awhile. I mean, I am game to try anything this is purported to 'promote regularity' :).

To make the sauerkraut I chopped up some red and green cabbage, carrots, onions, and threw in an extra beet. I added salt and let it sit for 30 minutes to let the salt draw water from the veggies. Then I pounded it down with a potato masher for a few minutes and packed it tightly into a 1/2 gallon mason jar. 

The ratio I used was  2 tsp of salt for every 1 pound of vegetable. 

For the kvass I followed THIS recipe. 

I waited 2 1/2 weeks and took my first test. OH MY GOODNESS! They turned out so much better using the airlock. The cabbage is crunchy and tangy turned out a beautiful pink. I have eaten it raw on sandwiches, with scrambled eggs, on pizza, on grilled cheese, and lots more. It is a great condiment to go on anything. The kvass is delicious as well (at least as good as a salty drink made from beets, cabbage and onions would taste, ha!) and is a gorgeous deep purple that is impossible to catch on camera. 

I took so many pictures to try and portray the intensity of the color. It is really quite beautiful and amazing to drink something so full of flavor and nutrition. 

Since my first two ferments turned out well, I decided to branch out and try making pickles!

I grabbed some grape leaves and cucumbers from a friend, and some dill from my garden and stuffed them into mason jars. 

Because I was leaving the cucumber in large pieces I had to make a brine which consisted of 4 cups of water and 3 tablespoons of salt. I just added the salt so it is cloudy but it dissolved a minute or two later. 

I made 2 quarts of pickles. One with dill and garlic and the other with just dill. I also added 2 grape leaves to each jar because I read that the tannins in grape leaves keep the pickles crunchy. I will let you know if it works.

Here is a close-up of the airlock. I got a little creative with this one and used a rubber band and twist tie. But it still does the job. Then I put water in the tube and covered it with a torn off piece of coffee filter to keep dust and bugs out. It is so cool to see the bubbles come up through the tube and move through while the water keeps the oxygen from getting in. 

I also strained out the beet kvass and added in more salt water to make a second batch with the same beets. Then I started a second jar of sauerkraut with just red cabbage, salt and red pepper flakes. I wanted something a little spicier for my next batch. Also in the picture is 4 jars of medicinal tinctures  and a mason jar of fresh herbal tea that I wrote about yesterday. 

I hope you enjoyed learning about fermentation! Have you ever tried to ferment anything? What was your experience like?


  1. Awesome post Noelle!! I am so trying this. :)

    1. YAY! I am always happy to spread the fermenting love :). Thanks!


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