How to Keep Your Fermented Vegetables Submerged
When making fermented or cultured vegetables, it is best to make sure that you keep all of the vegetables completely submerged, especially if you are not fermenting in an airlock.
In this post we are going to check out why this is important and ways which one can keep them veggies down! It can be trickier than you think!
Why Submerging Your Vegetables is Important
During the process of vegetable fermentation, if given conducive conditions to thrive, the lactic acid bacteria will colonize the vegetables, keeping out microorganism which facilitate decay.
The salt in the brine of vegetable ferments is key to creating the environment in which the lactic acid bacteria can grow, without competition from other less salt hardy organisms. If any of your vegetables manage to stick out of the top of the brine, they will not be protected by the salt, and they will be in contact with oxygen. These two factors can lead to those pieces of vegetable rotting, or/and developing mold.
So, whether you do your vegetables ferments in an airless container with an airlock, or open ferments with merely a cloth covering, it is important to keep all the bits of vegetable below the brine!
Finding Something to Keep Those Vegetables Down
Unfortunately, vegetables are apt to float, in fact they are guaranteed to float! So, in order to keep them submerged, one has to find a suitable object to weigh them down under the surface of the brine and stop them from bobbing on the surface. For an exact list of recommended products, see our best equipment for making vegetable fermentations.
There are a few options:
1. Pickle Pebbles
Pickle pebbles are glass weights specifically designed to keep vegetables submerged in vegetable ferments. They come in a variety of sizes to fit snuggly into glass jars. Being inexpensive, effective, and very convenient, if you are looking at doing regular vegetable fermentations then it might be a good idea to look at shelling out for a couple of these.
I recommend these pickle pebbles here. which come as a set.
2. Fermentation Weights
These are special rock weights made for veggie fermentations. They often come as part of a fermentation crock, but you can buy them seperate. They are very similar to the pickle pebbles above, though they are specifically shaped to fit around the lid area of a fermentation crock.
3. Something from the kitchen:
If you do not feel like making a purchase for this, then there might be an object in your kitchen or home which will do the trick. On first thought finding something the right size and of the right material should be easy – but it isn’t always. Firstly you need to make sure that the object is not made out of the following
- Plastic (though food grade is ok)
The reason for this is that both plastic and metal can leach out harmful substances into your ferments, due to the corrosive action of the lactic acid produced by the lactic bacteria as the ferment goes along. Good materials to use are glass and stone.
Here are some ideas of objects which you can use to get you going:
- Glass coaster – these are not common but can really work great.
- Small saucer – if you can get a small saucer into the mouth of your fermentation vessel these can be perfect to keep veggies down.
- Ramekin – ceramic ramekins can also work well.
- Plastic bag with salt water (this works in a pinch as long as you use food grade ziplock)
4. Actual pebbles
If the vegetables are whole or in large pieces, you might also get lucky with using a pebble out of the garden or off of the beach! That was my first fermented vegetable weight and it worked well. If you opt to use a large flat pebble, make sure to sterilize it well before inserting it onto your ferment. I boiled mine.
5. Vegetable weights
Besides using pickle pebbles or some other type of weight which you might find in your home, you can also use some extra veg pieces to help keep everything under the brine. Here are some methods people use:
- Vegetable ‘rafts’
- Cabbage leaves in conjunction with an heavy object
Vegetables rafts are merely pieces of veg chopped to a length which will span the top of your fermentation vessel. This is not an ideal method, as you will probably have to sacrifice those pieces at the end, they might develop a smell, and other veg can still push its way up in between.
Cabbage leaves can work quite well, particularly if you are fermented finely chopped vegetables. All you need to do is cut out a piece of cabbage leaf which is the right size and shape to fit snuggly across the surface of your ferment. Then find something heavy which can rest on top and keep the cabbage leaf under the brine as well.
If you ferment in an airlock, you don’t need to submerge your veggies — they won’t mold. This is the easiest way to do it, but…not everyone has an airlock available. I recommend this airlock, which comes as a set of 3.
Vegetable Sizes and Weights
When deciding what to use for keeping your vegetables submerged, consider the size of the pieces of vegetables. Large vegetable chunks or whole vegetables are easier to keep submerged, than small pieces which tend to float on top and form a layer.
Big or Small Pieces of Vegetable
If your vegetable pieces are small in size, then you will need a weight which is almost the exact circumference as your fermentation container, otherwise there will still be little bits on the sides.
If your vegetables are chunky or whole, you might be able to get away something that is just big enough to touch the main guys on top.
Cut Even Sizes
Sometimes keeping your vegetables pieces roughly similar in size can help when trying to keep them all under the surface. The other day I made the mistake of doing a pickled baby onion ferment, along with finely chopped chives. The onions were easy to keep under the surface – but boy did those chopped chives elude me!
When making your first vegetable ferments, it might be tempting to ignore the extra step to submerge the vegetables into the brine, particularly if you do not have anything handy to use in plain sight. However this is one of the most important parts of setting up the ferment.
If mold develops on the surface of your ferment, the wisest thing to do is chuck out the whole thing. Mold roots can run deep into the substance on which it is growing, so do not take the risk of trying to scrape the mold off the top and carrying on with the ferment.
Even if you do not encounter mold, there is a good chance that any vegetable pieces which are sticking up out of the brine will start to go squishy and develop a funny smell. This means that they are going off.
So be wise, and submerge!