Probiotic fermented foods like sauerkraut and kimchi are all the rage and with good reason. Fermenting foods like cabbage and other vegetables make nutrients more bioavailable and render the vegetables more digestible. It also makes them simply more delicious, with a tart tang that you can only get from lactic acid bacteria. Making your own fermented pickles is easy, especially if you have a mason jar or ten lying around the house. Here are a handful of fermentation kits designed for use with standard wide-mouth mason jars like those made by Ball, Kerr, and Bernardin. Consequently, these kits allow you to ferment in as large or small batch as you like.
Fundamentally, each kit operates in more or less the same fashion. They screw onto the top of a mason jar and have some sort of valve mechanism that allows gas to escape while not allowing oxygen back in. Some utilize moats, whereas others employ cylinder or bubble airlocks, such as those by home brewers. Many also have some mechanism to keep the food submerged below the brine line. This helps keep Kahm yeast, mold, and other potential problems from getting into your ferment. Each one handles it slightly differently, though. Which you choose to use is a matter of taste.
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A few things set this system apart from the pack. The kit is entirely made of stainless steel, perfect for those avoiding plastics. You fill the lid's moat with water and pop on the cap, which creates an airlock. The biggest differentiator is the stainless steel plunger and spring, which keeps foods submerged under the brine. The pressure from the spring may be overkill for some projects, but the pressure of the plunger on its own should be sufficient for most foods. Like many of these kits, Kraut Source was crowdfunded; it overachieved its $35,000 goal by almost $150,000. At $42 per kit, it is at the top end of price for fermentation kits.
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This kit was inspired by blogger Erika Strauss of NW Edible Life. She figured out that you could combine a ReCAP lid with a standard cylinder or bubble airlock and bung to create a DIY kit on the cheap. Homesteading provisioner FarmCurious bundled these items for your convenience. The pieces are plastic, but the lid is BPA-free, and they don't make contact with foods in any event. FarmCurious is another Kickstarter overachiever, exceeding their $15,000 goal by nearly quadruple. A two-pack of the kits will set you back just $26.
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A purveyor of specialty mason jar lids, MasonTops designed this clever one-piece silicone lid with a simple valve on top that lets gas escape from within; ambient air pressure outside keeps it shut when there's insufficient pressure from the inside. To keep foods submerged, they also sell "Pickle Pebbles," glass discs to use as weights. It's another Kickstarter superstar, having raised nearly $190,000, blowing away their humble $11,200 goal. A set of three Pickle Pipes costs $21,95, but you might as well splurge for a combo kit of the Pickle Pipes, a box of four Pickle Pebbles, and an attractive acacia kraut pounder for just $49.95.
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This is one of the more straightforward kits, featuring a custom-machined stainless steel lid with a beveled hole that fits an airlock with a small bung. The kit also comes with glass weights to keep food submerged. At $14.95 for a single kit, it's among the more affordable choices, and avid fermenters may want to invest in bigger packs; at $127, the 12-pack brings the cost down to nearly $10 per kit. Fermentools also sells Himalayan powder salt, which dissolves easily and contains trace minerals.Continue to 5 of 6 below.
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Originally designed for home brewers, this tool is still in the midst of its crowdfunding, though it has already well exceeded its meager ask of just $1,200. This is another moat system, with a slight twist: The moat is inside the lid, which in turn sits inside the jar. Therefore, the BPA-free, food-grade plastic lid itself serves as a weight to keep the food submerged.
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The principle of this kit is the same as Kraut Source. Fill the lower part of the two-part plastic lid with water, then place the top on to create an airlock. For $18 per kit, you get the two-part lid, a ceramic weight, and instruction booklet.
Each of these tools offers a simple solution for small-batch home fermentation. Each approaches the challenges of fermenting differently, with innovative ways to allow gas to escape, keep oxygen out, and keep foods submerged under the brine level. The choice comes down to price and materials.
Mason jars allow for batches as small as a pint and as large as a gallon. For larger batches, fermenting crocks are available, which typically use a moat system to keep out oxygen and contaminants.