Choosing the Best Water for Your Fermentations
Wondering what water is the best to use for your fermentations? Check out our in depth guide to selecting pure clean water which is the right hardness for your ferments.
One of the major ingredients in many fermentations is water. Selecting the right water can go a long way to ensuring the success of your ferments and culturing projects. Avoiding contaminated or treated water can also be beneficial for your own overall health.
While an increasing portion of the world now has access to running water which does not carry disease, much of this water is heavily treated to render it bacteria free. Bottled water is now considered the best water to drink, but that too can carry chemical contaminants from plastic packaging bottles.
Rain water which used to be one of the purest forms of water is in many place not suitable for consumption as chemicals in the atmosphere are caught in the rain and brought down contained within it.
Wells and spikes are a popular water source of off the grid lifestyles and remote locations. However this water is also at risk of the leaching of agrochemicals, and requires regular testing, unless located far from human activity.
You are probably thinking ‘Well thanks for the positive outlook, now I really feel uplifted for the day!’ However, knowing what our modern day water hazards are, and choosing a good source of water for your and your cultures is definitely a plus – so heads up. : )
Different Types of Water
Depending on where you live, you will have access to different types of water. Take a look at the list below to ascertain whether they are fermentation friendly.
Tap water is piped water which is treated by the municipality. It can be collected from rivers, dams, rain, osmosis etc. It can either be hard water containing lots of minerals, or soft water with low mineral counts. Some cultures like kefir do well on hard water, while others like kombucha do not like the high amount of minerals.
Hard and Soft Water
You will know if you water is hard or soft by the fact that if is is hard, there will be lime buildup in your pipes and on porcelain sinks. Hard water can be treated by running it through a water softener which adds salts to counteract the minerals.
Tap Waters Chemicals
Hardness and softness is not usually too much of a problem. Hard water can cause some fermentation problems with particular ferments, especially, but both hard and soft water are not unhealthy or hazardous per say. Chlorine and other water treatment chemicals however are. These chemicals are designed to kill bacteria and other microbes which might be present in the water and carry disease and sickness. Unfortunately these substances are not target specific – so they kill the probiotics in your cultures, as well as in your stomach. Treated water has been singled out as one of the biggest causes of loss of probiotics in the GI tract.
Tap water usually contains chlorine, fluoride, aluminium sulphate, calcium hydroxide, and sodium silicofluoride. In addition it can also contain unintentional levels of hormones, nitrates, pesticides, and salts of arsenic, radium, aluminium, copper, lead, mercury, cadmium, and barium.
Ask you local municipal board for a report to determine the exact composition of your tap water.
Bottled water is usually considered to be the epitome of healthy hydration. Some brands claim to have a superior source of spring water to harvest from. This may or may not be true. Actual water quality aside, the largest concern with bottled water is the bottles! Studies (1,2,3,) have shown that new plastic bottles can leach substances such as antimony and BPA into the water which they contain. In response to the research, nowadays some brands are marketing their water in BPA free bottles. Disturbingly, another study (4) showed that even these specifically designed plastic products leach chemicals – which mimic hormones in our bodies. Not good!
Distilled water is water which has been been purified to remove all substances present. It contains no minerals or other elements. It is free of fluoride and chlorine.Unfortunately if sold in bottles it may also be subject to plastic leaching. If you are purchasing it from a fountain at the supermarket, then this will probably not be so too bad, if you are reusing your own bottles. Apparently, once plastic bottles reach a certain age, the level of leaching is drastically reduced.
Spring water is a healthy usually clean source of water if not tainted by ground contamination. It is high in minerals, making it good for some fermentations and not ideal for others.
Farms and outlying places often have wells as water sources. If the groundwater is of good quality, then well water is also a healthy and clean type of water. Most wells are tested when they are first made, to detect microbial contamination. However, subsequent to this they are unlikely to undergo regular testing. Landowners should test annually for microbial contamination and chemical contamination from nitrates and nitrites, arsenic, radon, petroleum byproducts, or pesticides. Like spring water, well water is also high in minerals.
If you are living in an area which is free of industrial pollution, is not heavily populated, and by all standards fairly clean, then rain water can be a pure source of water. However contamination can still occur, via things such as dirty roofs and asbestos and plastic rain tanks. Rainwater is soft and does not contain significant amounts of minerals.
What Water do Ferments Like
Fermentations do not like chemicals as these can have a negative effect on their microbiological activity. However water mineral content is a different matter. As mentioned above, certain ferments like soft water, and others do well in water which contains higher amounts of minerals. Others are impartial. Take a look at the list below to ascertain what water your ferment will do well in.
Hard Versus Soft Water
Kombucha does not like hard water. The minerals within hard water can damage the SCOBY, and cause it to deteriorate and lose vitality.
Kefir, both the water and milk variety can thrive on the minerals present in hard water.
Some mineral content can be of benefit to the yeasts in sourdough, like abit of calcium and magnesium. However excessive hardness can have a negative impact.
Cultures such as yoghurt, buttermilk, cheese and fermented vegetables do not have specific mineral requirements. If water is required merely make sure that it is devoid of fluoride, chlorine, and chloramines.
Ways to Purify Water
While there is a lot of impure water out there, there are also many ways one can purify water.
Basic Charcoal Filtration
A charcoal filtration system, either for the countertop or faucet, is cheap and relatively effective at removing chlorine, other water treatment chemicals and impurities. It does not however remove fluoride.
Some types of whole house filters or more high end faucet filters can achieve an enhanced level of filtration. Depending on the quality and make, some brands can remove fluoride as well.
Reverse osmosis is the harshest of water purifying treatments. It removes all minerals and treatment chemicals, and often most fluoride. Water treated via reverse osmosis is not considered the healthiest water, as it is devoid of all minerals. It can however be suitable for fermentations which like very soft water.
Water structuring devices are designed to imbue the water they treat with a charge. This is supposed to be similar to that of water which has flowed down a mountain, stream or river. While this water may contain the health benefits for which it is promoted, the change in ph and structure renders it unsuitable for culturing with. If your device has a setting which does not alter the ph or the charge of the water and merely does filtration, then you can use this setting.
Boiling or aerating chlorinated water can extract a substantial amount of chlorine. This will make it substantially better for using in ferments. However it will not be 100% suitable, as boiling or aerating cannot remove fluoride or heavy metals. If tap water is your only current option, boil it for at least 10 minutes, and then allow it to stand overnight.
Using the right kind of water is necessary for ensuring the long term health of your cultures. It is also important for successful fermentation where a high level of microbiological activity is present. The more microbe activity there is in your ferments, the safer they are to consume because mold and other pathogenic microbes can not wedge their way in. Heightened levels of bacteria and yeast activity also mean the your finished product will be a meaner probiotic.
Selecting a source of water which is suitable for your ferments by way of being pure and free of harmful substances is also a good opportunity to provide own yourself with a healthy source of water. Drinking water which is chemical free ties in with eating probiotic fermented foods. Fermented foods work to recolonise the gut with its naturally occurring microbes. Consuming water which does not harm these microbes means that they have an even greater chance of developing a strong microbial ecosystem within.