Best Fermenting Pots Reviewed & Tested
If you are a gardener, you will know the problem. The summer harvest comes in abundance, and you have more fruits or vegetables than you know what to do with. The family can’t eat all that cabbage, as there would be a riot, and you don’t want it to go to waste, so what to do? For centuries gardeners and cooks have had to face the same problem. How to preserve the produce that comes in the summer, so it can be eaten all the year round. Some of the oldest methods include fermenting or pickling. It’s a way of preserving food that is coming back into fashion with today’s fermenting crocks.
Our Top 3 Picks
- TSM Products 31060
- Good Value
- Ohio Stoneware
- Great Size
- Humble House
- Tough Ceramic
Nowadays we are used to popping down to the supermarket and getting whatever we want, whether it is in season or not. The supermarkets are able to bring us the fruits and vegetables we want from wherever it is in season. This availability has meant many people have lost the taste, or have never known the taste of preserved fruits and vegetables. That’s why many of us these days are turning to doing our own preserving using fermentation and pickling. Some of the most popular items are sauerkraut, kimchi, and sour pickles. All of these can be done using a fermenting pot or crock. We are going to look at some of the best a little later, but first, let’s get to know some of the basics of preserving using a fermenting crock.
Fermenting and pickling – What is the difference?
They are similar and different at the same time, which often leads to confusion among people who are just getting into preserving vegetables. With pickling, the object is to give a sour flavor to a vegetable for example. To do that it must be soaked in an acidic liquid, often vinegar. In fermentation, the bitter flavor is achieved by a chemical reaction between the natural sugars in the food, and natural bacteria that is present, there is no acidic liquid to help the process.
Pickling changes both the taste and texture of the food being preserved. The food must be immersed in an acidic liquid, which is generally vinegar. It also involves heating the liquid before it is applied to the food, which destroys or inhibits any microorganisms present. Usually, one would add salt, sugar, and a choice of herbs and spices to vinegar, and bring it to the boil, before adding it to the food to be pickled. The fruit or vegetables are then left to soak for a period of time immersed in the pickling liquid. Despite vinegar being a product of fermentation, picked food does not have the same probiotic quality or enzymes you would find in fermented foodstuffs.
While picking can be done quickly, fermenting food takes time and needs some patience to let nature do its thing. In fermenting, there is no reason to add an acidic liquid, as all the necessary ingredients for preservation are within the foodstuff itself. All fruits and vegetables contain their natural bacteria. When this bacteria is not allowed to come in contact with air, they inhibit the growth of other bacteria which turns the food rotten. The natural bacteria converts the carbohydrates and sugars in the foodstuff into an acid, which is ideal for preserving the food. It works with fruits and vegetables, and even milk. The Lacto-fermentation as it is called gives fermented foods and drinks their signature tangy and sour taste. In the process, it helps create probiotics which can aid digestion. Because the natural process of fermentation creates an acid when you do this process at home it‘s often described as fermenting and picking.
10 Best Fermenting Pots
1. TSM 1060 Pot
2. Ohio Stoneware
Thin walls, which may cause problems
3. Humble House
Perfect size for a couple
Only small batches
4. Nik Schmitt
Traditional German quality
Not too heavy when empty
Relatively shallow water trough
Perfect for pickling cucumbers, fermenting vegetables, and making sauerkraut and kimchi
Gives you control over pickling and fermentation process
Comes with tongs
Strawberries, blackberries, black currants, and blueberries are not suitable for this pot
Recipe that comes with the pickling and fermenting pot is in German
7. Stone Creek Trading Artisan
Unique designs for every crock
Water seal airlock
8. Raw Rutes
Made using vitrified clay
Stone weights included
Great for those who are beginners to fermenting foods
Prevents mold growth
A bit pricey
9. Kerazo F2
Prevents air, dust, and insects from contaminating vegetables
The crock pot has handles making it easy to move
Comes with weighing stones
Instruction and recipe booklet included
10. Stone Creek Trading 10 Liter
Luna glass weights
Easy to clean
What are the health benefits?
As we have discussed already, fermented food uses natural bacteria to create acid, which in turn keeps the foodstuff from going bad. The fermentation process creates probiotic bacteria and enzymes which are healthy, and are often missing from a modern convenience food diet. Eating fermented food or drinks such as kefir or kombucha introduce healthy probiotic bacteria into the digestive system. Probiotics have been shown to have a beneficial effect on some diseases, and improve the health of the bowels, aids the digestion process, and also improve immunity. Getting the right balance of natural enzymes and bacteria in the stomach is known to improve digestion. Eating fermented foods helps keep that healthy balance, and that means the body will be able to absorb more of the nutrients in the food you eat. Eating the fermented foods should mean you would not have to supplement your diet with extra vitamins, as you should be getting enough from the food you are already eating.
How to ferment vegetables
First, pick your vegetable. It’s best if they are in season, as they will have the best texture and flavor. Some people choose to ferment one vegetable at a time, where others like to mix like a salad of vegetables in one container.
Cucumber: This is probably most people’s first choice as picked cucumber is a perennial favorite, and is a great opening vegetable to the fermenting novice. Make sure you choose cucumbers that have not been waxed. You can test by dragging your fingernail across the skin of the cucumber. It‘s also nice to add small silverskin onions, or peppers to the fermenting jar to give a little extra color and variety to the finished product.
Cabbage: To keep that crisp freshness of cabbage, then fermenting and turning it into sauerkraut is a perfect solution. If you want something a little spicier, then the Korean version of kimchi will be right up your street.
Green Beans and Asparagus: These will add something a little different to a winter meal, and bring some of the Summer back into those long darker days.
Peppers: Another crisp vegetable that works well with fermentation.
The next step is to decide on the amount of salt required for the fermentation. Why salt you may ask? Well, it is the salt that helps promote the growth of the good bacteria in the vegetables and inhibits the bad bacteria which rots the food. Salting has been known for centuries to be a successful way of preserving foods of all kinds. Most basic fermenting recipes call for three tablespoons of salt for each five pounds of vegetables. If you add less salt, then the fermentation process will happen quicker, and more salt will have the opposite effect and slow things down. The larger the batch of vegetables you are fermenting the more important it is to get the salt level correct. With small batches, a little more or less salt does not matter, but in large quantities it is critical. If you are one of those people who prefers to have a reduced salt diet, you can use a starter culture, or whey, or kefir grains. Using a starter culture and no salt will result in vegetables that will not be very crisp.
Now it‘s time to choose the container to hold your fermenting vegetables. As the vegetables are likely to be fermenting for weeks, or even months, one should never use a plastic or metal container. Over time chemicals in the metal or plastic and leach into the acidic brine and contaminate the food. We would always recommend using a ceramic fermentation pot, as they will come with covers and weights, and you would not have to be ingenious and devise your own.
Here comes the fun part; preparing the vegetables for fermentation. Whatever vegetable you have chosen to ferment, rinse the skins, and then chop into bite size pieces or strips. The greater the surface area of the vegetable exposed to the fermentation liquid the better the process. It’s then crucial to press the vegetables to release the juices. This can be done in a bowl with a meat tenderizer or a special sauerkraut press. Even if you want to have whole vegetables rather than cut pieces it is important to squeeze them to break down the cell walls within the foodstuff. A gentle massage to induce the juices may be all that is required. It’s then time to add the salt, as we discussed a little earlier. Having done that the mixture can now be decanted into your best fermenting crocks. Push the vegetables down to the bottom of the jar, and as far below any juice, you may have. If the vegetable juice does not cover the pieces add water, so everything is submerged. It is best to leave about a 3-inch (7.5 cm) gap between the top of the liquid and the rim of your pot. Now place the weights into the jar, so all the pieces of vegetables are kept well under the surface of the fermentation liquid and away from the air. Experienced fermenters will usually wrap some tightly woven cloth over the top of the jar to stop any insects getting into the mix, but still allows air flow.
If you are looking for something special in your fermented vegetables or pickles, you can always add tannins. The added ingredient of a tannin can make the difference between a floppy pickle and something crisp and crunchy. There are a number of different sources of tannins you can use, and each brings its individuality to your fermented pickles.
Grape leaves: Can be found in many supermarkets and grocery stores, and while improving the crispiness do not add an additional flavor or bitterness to the pickles.
Black tea: Is ideal for improving the crispiness of pickles, but does have its own distinct flavor, which may not match every vegetable you are fermenting.
Berry leaves: Are good for giving that added tannin to a fermenting liquid, but are not easy to find. If you grow your own raspberries, strawberries, or blackberries, then you should have a stock of leaves that would work well.
Red wine: Yes, I know it contains alcohol, which can inhibit the lactic acid bacteria in the fermentation process. However, a small amount should not impact too heavily on the fermentation and impart its own distinctive flavor. The maximum recommended to use is one tablespoon (15ml) per pint (500ml) of pickles.
Hops: Have been used for centuries to impart flavor and bitterness to beer, and they can do so to fermenting vegetables, and prevent them softening in the process.
Rose Hips: Are known for their high vitamin C content, but are also high in tannins. However, they are very bitter indeed, and should only be used if that added bitterness is going to be positive.
Now the waiting game begins, and the fermenting pots should be kept at room temperature. With a clean spoon, taste the ferment every day, until it reaches the required tartness. You can start eating it at this point. However, a lot of people like to allow the fermentation process to continue and develop a deeper flavor. To do that is is best to move your fermenting pots to somewhere cooler, even a refrigerator. When it a cool place you can taste weekly until you think it has reached the flavor you desire.
So the fermentation process is over, and you have a crock full of fermented vegetables to eat. Even with the biggest families, you’re not expected to eat it all at once. The fermented vegetables will need to be stored. So what do you do?
Use the cellar: If you live in an older house this is probably a viable option, at least you might have a basement. Full crocks can be very heavy so moving them around always needs strength, and often a great deal of planning. If you are using water-sealed crocks moving to a basement is an option, however, if you are using open crocks better to think again. Open pots can pick up musty aromas from a basement, so it is not ideal. If the basement is always cool, that is below 60F (16C) then you can use the area as your fermentation home for very long slow fermentations, and no need to start moving the crocks around the house.
Pop in a jar: If you are looking for more manageable quantities to deal with, that can be conveniently kept in the fridge consider decanting into jars. Using a fork or slotted spoon the vegetables can easily be transferred into a clean glass jar with a lid. Add enough of the fermentation brine, so the vegetables are covered and pop the jar in the refrigerator.
Crock to plate: You can eat from the crock, which can be easy and convenient, but it does have a serious drawback. Every time you remove the weights from the crock, you are exposing the fermented vegetables to the air, and increasing the chance of surface yeast or mold appearing. If they are being kept at room temperature, the fermentation process will also be continuing, meaning the vegetables are likely to become gradually more acid in the days and weeks.
What fermentation pot to buy?
There are two types of fermentation pots on general sale, the open, and the water-sealed crock. Both have their advantages and disadvantages, and it is best to understand the differences before considering a purchase. All are made of stoneware, or similar, with a glazed finish for easy cleaning, so the contents do not become contaminated.
These are the cheaper variety of fermentation pot as weights and lids are often sold separately. With a wide neck, the open crock can accommodate whole vegetables or large pieces. However, if an open pot is not covered with a lid, and is left alone for a period of time, it can develop a layer of Kahm yeast on the surface. The yeast is harmless and appears when air is exposed to the fermenting foodstuffs. However, they can be easier to clean than water-sealed crocks as the openings are as wide as the base. Open crocks work well with recipes involving whole vegetables, as they are easier to get in and out of the wide-brimmed opening. As there is a tendency for yeast growth, it‘s better to use this type of crock pot in the cooler months of the year. Even so, it‘s best to check on the fermentation every few days, and to skim any yeast growth off the surface. The Kahm yeast is not hazardous to health, but if it is allowed to build up, it can impart unpleasant flavors into the food, and cause problems with the acidity level in the fermenting juices. If you discover mold during the fermentation process, it is not a complete disaster. If you skim any of that away, and then try and extract some of the fermentation liquid from as deep in the crock as possible. A meat baster is ideal. Then test the ph level using a test strip. If the ph reading is 4.0 or below, then the vegetables are safe to eat, provided the mold has not tainted their flavor in any way.
Using a water-sealed crock is a little easier, and are often seen as the lazy way to ferment food. These are more complex in their make up and are generally more expensive to buy. Because of the design of a restricted neck, and a trough for it to sit in and create the water seal, these types of fermentation crocks usually come with their own lids and weights. The trough is filled with water to create a seal, hence the name water-sealed. The water barrier does not allow air to enter the fermentation crock but allows the CO2 created during the fermentation process to escape. Vegetables fermented in water-sealed pots rarely get a layer of Kahm yeast during the fermentation process. However users do complain that because their shape is more awkward, they are harder to clean. The water-sealed pot does not need as much tending as the open crock, so it is ideal for those who want to set their vegetables fermenting and forget them until it is time to eat. Not everyone enjoys the prospect of dealing with mold and yeast, so the water-sealed crock is the perfect solution. However, it is important to check the moat regularly to see there is still water, as once it evaporates air will be able to get into the pot. Once the water seal is broken, air gets into the pot, which is why it‘s best to let the fermentation process and only open up the pot when you are ready to eat the finished product.
Our selection criteria
When looking at the best fermenting crocks, and which to recommend we have decided to to go for those that are the most user–friendly, and require the least work by the busy home cook. That being the case, we have concentrated on fermentation pots that are water-sealed, as these are the easiest to look after during the fermentation process. All of the pots we have considered and assessed are ceramic. We have also looked at different sizes, and prices to give potential buyers the widest options.
What time of year is best for fermenting?
The cooler months of the year is the best time to ferment vegetables. Ideally at the end of summer, and the beginning of the fall, when the harvest of vegetables such as cabbage is coming in. Fermenting in the cooler months will take four to six weeks, in the hotter summer months, just two to three weeks. Remember the longer the ferment, the tastier your sauerkraut of pickles will become.
How best to look after my fermentation pot?
Inspect your crock when you take it out of the packaging, particularly the parts that are unglazed. Potters will tell you that these parts of a pot can be very rough indeed, and can scrape countertops, there can be even little burrs left from the manufacturing process that could scratch your hand if you are not careful. To get rid of the roughness, use wet-dry sandpaper on the unglazed parts. Make sure you do not scratch the glaze. By using the various grades from 180 gradually through to 400 for a few seconds at a time, you will be able to smooth off the roughness.
Do not stand your fermentation pot directly on a wooden floor, as the bottom is unglazed; it may scratch, and also condensation may form on the bottom, which will ruin the surface of your wooden flooring. The best thing to do is to keep your crock raised on a couple of pieces of wood which will allow air to circulate underneath the pot, and stop condensation.
If you are using porous unglazed ceramic weights, there is a likelihood they will become contaminated with mold at some time during your fermentation efforts. Getting rid of the mold is not impossible, and just needs a little effort. Do not use bleach on the weights as that does not kill the mold, but usually just dyes the mold a color you can not perceive. The best solution is to clean them with vinegar, and then wash in soapy water. Put the weights in a cold oven, and set the temperature at 250F (120C). Let them sit at that temperature for about 30 minutes, turn off the oven and allow them to cool enough so you can lift them from the oven with your bare hands. That should do the trick.
When you need to store your weights, don’t pop them into the fermentation pot, and leave them there. When you come next time to ferment a batch of vegetables, you will likely be met by weights furry with mold. Weights should be allowed to dry out in the open air for at least a week to make sure all the moisture has been extracted from the porous ceramic. They then should be stored on their own in a kitchen cabinet for example.
Why not use a sealed jar rather than a fermentation crock?
A lot of people experiment with fermenting vegetables and making sauerkraut with jars and are disappointed with the final product. There are a number or disadvantages of using a Mason jar or similar to ferment. For one thing, the brine can overflow, which will leave you with a sauerkraut that is drier. You have to keep the lid a little loose to allow the pressure build of CO2 to escape. That means the jar is not airtight, and when the air is allowed to enter the jar it can ruin the ferment and introduce mold to the vegetables. Getting a weight to fit nicely to keep the vegetables submerged in the brine can be difficult too. Of course, doing it in a jar means it is very small quantities and is not very efficient. However, if you use a water-sealed fermentation crock things are a lot easier. The thick stoneware allows for a more constant and stable fermentation temperature inside the vessel. This relates to a better flavor for the food being fermented. The weights that come with the pot will make sure the vegetables are covered in brine. The design of the lid makes sure there is an airtight seal, and there is no pressure buildup inside with CO2 allowed to escape. The odor of the fermentation process is kept inside the crock, so it will not pervade your kitchen or home. The stable environment created inside a fermentation pot means that more good bacteria and a wider range is produced, resulting in a healthier product at the end of the day.
What size fermentation pot do I need?
When looking at fermentation pots, they are all usually marked with a particular size, which is measured in either gallons or liters. This denotes the volume of fermentation vegetables and liquid each pot can hold.
For a typical family, one gallon or 5–liter fermentation pot will be a good investment. That size of pot will take, for example, about ten pounds (4.5kg) of cabbage and produce five or six quarts of sauerkraut. Obviously when full the pot is quite heavy, but with this amount, it is still manageable. Should you have a large family, and want to prepare sauerkraut for friends, then a 10–liter pot does double the amount, and it twice as heavy. If you go for the larger option best to find a place for the pot to sit during the complete fermentation process, and stock it there.
When considering your purchase be realistic on the amount of fermented vegetables you are likely to eat. We know they are good for you we can all get bored with eating the same things day after day.
It‘s not just the quantity, but the type of vegetable you want to ferment. Most people think of shredded cabbage or sauerkraut, but you can use whole vegetables such as cucumbers or onions, or even corn on the cob. So the size of your fermentation pot should take into account the size of the vegetables you want to ferment.
Portability is also question you need to ask. The bigger the pot, the harder it will be to move around the kitchen. If you do not have a permanent home for your fermentation pot, then consider something smaller and more manageable.
When the fermentation is over, and it needs to be cleaned do you have the space? If the pot is very large will you be able to clean it in the sink? Do you have an outside space where it can be cleaned? These questions need to be thought about carefully too.
How do I know if my sauerkraut is OK to eat?
If there is a white yeast film on the top of the fermenting liquid, it is safe to eat your sauerkraut. If there are small amounts of white sludge at the bottom of the jar, and no slime then it is still safe to eat your vegetables. However, if there is mold, or slime, a yeasty odor, or a creamy film on the top, or the cabbage is pink or browned then, it is not safe, and you should throw away the contents of the pot. Clean the pot and the weights thoroughly, and start again.