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Hot(tish) pepper fermentation question - is it working?

 
pollinator
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I had a bunch of not-very-hot hot red peppers last season and decided to ferment some once I learned that that was a thing.

I watched this Green Moxie video on YouTube:



So I stuffed a bunch of medium-large peppers with the tops cut off into a 1-quart mason jar and another smaller jar, and I whipped up the brine of 2 teaspoons of salt per liter/quart of spring water without any chlorine or other toxic gick in it. Put a kind of smooth not-too-porous-looking rock on top of each to keep the peppers submerged. Placed a loosely fitting lid on top and sat in a corner of our never-very-cold kitchen. That was a little over two weeks ago.

A few things have happened, and since my fermentation adventures in the past have been limited to water kefir and pickles, I'm not sure what is normal:
  • The peppers turned soft after about a week
  • They bubbled a little bit for a few days. Part of that was releasing air bubbles.
  • After maybe 5 days they started forming some scum at the top every day, which I've been removing with a wooden pallet once every day or two
  • The brine started turning kind of cloudy and red-brown-yellow-ish
  • Some white powdery-looking stuff started settling on the bottom.
  • The brine started tasting like hot pepper brine.
  • After about a week, what looks like some bright white powdery mold started appearing at the top every day, not much.
  • When opening the jars, just at first you get a little whiff of a kind of off, compost-scrap-bucket smell. But the brine still tastes good.


  • And now here's my problem: In the last 3 or 4 days, there is more stuff rising to the top. The light scum and the bright white mold have now been supplemented by a kind of clear slime maybe 2mm thick in places over the top. It's not so easy to remove, but I try. But I'm not really sure there should be slime. Or maybe it's some kind of mother or scoby or whatever that's forming? It's not as thick or solid feeling as a kombucha scoby at all.

    So my questions are:
  • Is this slime thing normal? Good? Bad?
  • How will I know when my peppers are done fermenting?
  • How will I know if my fermentation has gone wrong?
  • How do I cut the fermentation and store the peppers when they're done?


  •  
    Dave de Basque
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    Added note: I have water kefir crystals available and some sort of "vegetable fermentation starter" in the fridge that I was not going to use. I'm of half a mind to make up a little bit of new salt brine and add a bit of sugar too, so the fermenters have something to ferment, and mix it into the batches, perhaps with the addition of one or the other of these fermentation aids.

    ???
     
    Dave de Basque
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    Hey, never get tired of replying to yourself! Thoughts from anyone who knows anything about fermentation would be appreciated.

    In any case, after waiting for a week or 10 days to see how things went, lately I've done the following, basically grasping at straws, to see if I can make this fermentation less scary.

    -- remove the rocks holding the peppers down and replace each of them with a cabbage leaf (since as far as I know cabbage leaves have lots of helpful fermentation microbes)
    -- drain off a bit of the fermentation water (one jar smelled a bit more suspicios than the other, so I drained more), and refill with
    ----saltier water
    ----a pinch of sugar (something I know ferments)
    ----a little bit of the vegetable fermentation starter I had in the fridge but didn't want to use (you know, the whole "using the local microogranisms" thing...)

    For what it's worth, they smell better now.

    I still don't know how I would tell if they're safe/unsafe to eat, or when they're done/not done fermenting...
     
    pollinator
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    I can't tell exactly what is happening with your peppers, but if they are slimy and in anyway unappetizing, probably best to chuck them. Fermented vegetables don't usually slime.

    In my own house, I have noticed that vegetable fermentation did not go well at "room temperature" in the warmer months in my un-airconditioned house; things get soft and unappetizing.  I actually get better results fermenting in the refrigerator.
     
    Dave de Basque
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    Mk Neal wrote:I can't tell exactly what is happening with your peppers, but if they are slimy and in anyway unappetizing, probably best to chuck them. Fermented vegetables don't usually slime.

    In my own house, I have noticed that vegetable fermentation did not go well at "room temperature" in the warmer months in my un-airconditioned house; things get soft and unappetizing.  I actually get better results fermenting in the refrigerator.



    Hmmm... I wish it was so definite. The sliming really only lasted a couple of days, now it seems to be in a holding pattern and is pretty clean. Just a few little blobs of whitish mold that accumulates every 2-3 days and I clean off. OK, the mold is part of a bit of a jelly-like blob. The peppers themselves are not slimy. They don't smell really great, but then again, I open up a jar of locally produced (but commercially bottled) sauerkraut or kimchee, and they don't smell so hot either. Actually one of the jars doesn't smell much at all now, and the other is still a bit rank to be honest. I will probably end up chucking it. But for now I'm letting it sit around to just see how the experiment goes.

    Interesting about fermenting in the refrigerator. I would think that takes forever. Doesn't it? Is this mainly good for producing things like crispy pickles?
     
    Mk Neal
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    It does take a bit longer in the fridge, I think, though I have not timed it. More like forget about them for weeks and then remember and they are pickles.  

    See National Center for Home Food Preservation note on optimal temperatures:
    https://nchfp.uga.edu/how/can_06/dill_pickles.html
     
    pollinator
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    Hi Dave,

    The white mould, if it’s not three dimensional/hairy, sounds like Kahm yeast. Still edible, but it just produces some off flavours when left in the brine too long. As long as the smell is fine and you do a little taste test, it should be ok just scooping it off. You can always do a Ph test if you want to be sure (ph strips are cheap but not super accurate, ph-meters can be very accurate, but they do leave a nice hole in your wallet).
    Cloudy brine and white residue on the bottom are indicators that your ferment is active, so combined with the bubbles it sounds like your ferment is going well 👍
    I think adding the cabbage leaf is a good choice, but do make sure that one tends to stay down as well so it doesn’t start moulding if it is being pushed above the water.

    There isn’t a really definitive point when ferments are ready. In theory a healthy ferment can keep going until it is transformed into a digested , or until there’s nothing left to eat for the bacteria. So the real question is: when is it good to eat, and I think the answer here differs from each persons taste preferences. A good ferment that has bubbled actively can be consumed after a few days/ weeks, while the veggies will still have a slight crunch and slightly fermented aroma. Leaving them longer allows the flavours to develop  like aging wine or cheese, but waiting too long can turn the funky into foul. Your best bet is to take taste-tests every few days to determine when the aroma and texture is at the point of your liking. Then pop it in the fridge and consume it in the next few days/weeks when it’s at its best.
    As for the lack of crunchy ness to your peppers: I read adding tannin-rich material like grape-leaves to your ferments helps veggies to retain their crunch if you want to let your ferment develop longer.

    Hope that helps!
     
    pollinator
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    I would throw it away and start over with kefir vs water.

    You aren't fermenting peppers you are wild fermenting peppers. If you are always wild fermenting and the air in your house and your utensils are coated with a nice layers of the right microbes, it's wonderful otherwise you end up with, its almost good but.
     
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    Reading through your first post, I can spot some things I would have done differently.

    Salt
    For brine ferments, a brine of 20g-50g of salt to 1 litre of water is more reliable, this works out to be between 2 and 4 tablespoons. I usually use around 2 or 3 tablespoons.

    Starter culture
    Brine ferments are trickier to do as a wild ferment than kraut - there's more chance of other stuff getting in and turning it bad before the good bacteria has had a chance to grow. I use around 2 tablespoons whey for each litre of water. Juice leftover from a successful ferment is also good as a starter. Lots of people do good ferments without this though, it is just my personal preference, and the ferments I've made with it ferment more reliably and last longer than the ones I've made without it.

    Other things that weren't specified:
    Did the salt have any additives? These can interfere.
    Did the water have any additives? If it's standard town tap water it might contain stuff that will stop the good bacteria from growing. If it's raw riverwater/rainwater etc it might contain some spoilige bacteria that will compete with the good bacteria, I often use boiled creek water that's cooled down.
    Had the rock been sterilised by boiling or baking? Competing bacteria could have been introduced from the rock.

    I also heat-sterilise the jars. I use fermentation as a way of storing food without refrigeration, so any easy and non toxic things I can do to help it keep better makes sense for me, lots of people don't do this and are fine though.

    Keeping the lid on the ferment as much as possible also helps to avoid yeasts and any weird stuff being introduced.
     
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    What I remember from Sandor Katz, the fermentation deity, is that it's usually safe to have a taste, and if it smells or taste yucky, pitch it. Otherwise, give it a go.

    What you are describing sounds like it might be fine, or might be going bad (maybe because of low salt as mentioned above).

    If I were you I'd try a little taste.
     
    Dave de Basque
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    Kate Downham wrote:
    Salt
    For brine ferments, a brine of 20g-50g of salt to 1 litre of water is more reliable, this works out to be between 2 and 4 tablespoons. I usually use around 2 or 3 tablespoons.



    I thought the original recipe seemed too low, and I think my fermentation process bore that out. I will try your proportions next time, thanks!

    Kate Downham wrote:
    Starter culture
    Brine ferments are trickier to do as a wild ferment than kraut - there's more chance of other stuff getting in and turning it bad before the good bacteria has had a chance to grow. I use around 2 tablespoons whey for each litre of water. Juice leftover from a successful ferment is also good as a starter.



    Ahhh... the advantages of being a goat farmer! You're a lucky woman, Kate! I have a source of sheep whey from a friend's farm for about 4-5 months in late winter and spring, but unfortunately I have few veggies to ferment at that time of year. Maybe I need to make friends with a cow farmer. Or break down and use the "starter culture" I have.


    Kate Downham wrote:Other things that weren't specified:
    Did the salt have any additives? These can interfere.



    I'm pretty careful about my salt. Atlantic sea salt, no additives, artisinally sun-dried on clay pads... you get the picture. Pretty much unprocessed, like it should be.

    Kate Downham wrote:
    Did the water have any additives? If it's standard town tap water it might contain stuff that will stop the good bacteria from growing. If it's raw riverwater/rainwater etc it might contain some spoilige bacteria that will compete with the good bacteria, I often use boiled creek water that's cooled down.



    I'm even more careful about my water. I go up to a local mountain spring every once in a while with a bunch of saved screw-top 1L glass bottles, and that's where I get my drinking (and fermenting) water from. But maybe I should have boiled and cooled it before using. Since fermentation depends on bacteria, I'm never really sure how "sterile" to try to make things. I guess the idea is to give the good bacteria a head start and to knock back the bad bacteria. Next time I'll try boiling the water, and boiling-water-sterilizing the jars and rocks too as you suggest.

    Thanks for all your recommendations!
     
    Dave de Basque
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    S. Bard wrote:Hi Dave,

    The white mould, if it’s not three dimensional/hairy, sounds like Kahm yeast. Still edible, but it just produces some off flavours when left in the brine too long. As long as the smell is fine and you do a little taste test, it should be ok just scooping it off. You can always do a Ph test if you want to be sure (ph strips are cheap but not super accurate, ph-meters can be very accurate, but they do leave a nice hole in your wallet).
    Cloudy brine and white residue on the bottom are indicators that your ferment is active, so combined with the bubbles it sounds like your ferment is going well 👍

    [...lots more great observations and advice...]

    Hope that helps!



    Thanks so much, S., for helping me identify a lot of what I was seeing and setting my mind at ease! This is gold.

    Any advice for when you want a ferment to last longer -- 6 months or a year?
     
    Dave de Basque
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    Rebecca Norman wrote:What I remember from Sandor Katz, the fermentation deity, is that it's usually safe to have a taste, and if it smells or taste yucky, pitch it. Otherwise, give it a go.

    What you are describing sounds like it might be fine, or might be going bad (maybe because of low salt as mentioned above).

    If I were you I'd try a little taste.



    Thanks, Rebecca, I had no idea about Sandor Katz but I do now. We all need a fermentation deity in our lives!

    So in the end, I threw out the jar that seemed kind of suspicious-smelling, even after adding more salt, a touch of sugar, starter, and a cabbage leaf late in the process.

    The other jar, I whizzed up in the blender with a lot of its liquid, and it is now one of our official house (mildish) hot sauces. It's just sitting in the fridge in a pretty full jar with a lid. It seems to be fine. It still doesn't smell what I would call great, maybe I just need to get used to fermentation smells, but it tastes good in food and is highly digestive, so I think it's safe to say disaster was avoided.
     
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