Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Pickl-It Versus Harsch: May The Best Vat Win






VERSUS





Pickl-It

A couple of months ago, I posted a Fermenting And Pickling Resource List. In response to my post, someone mentioned a device called Pickl-It (http://www.pickl-it.com/). I updated my resource list to include Pickl-It. Shortly thereafter, I was contacted by the makers of Pickl-It, who offered to send me a free sample. I accepted their offer. I have been using Pickl-It ever since.

Pickl-It includes a glass jar with a hinged lid and gasket, a hole in the lid, an airlock in the hole, and a glass disc as a weight. Pickl-It also includes a plug for the hole, for when you don't need the airlock.

Harsch

Harsch is a German company that makes a stoneware pickling crock, also called Gärtopf.

Harsch is a sturdy stoneware thing, glazed, with a heavy lid and a pair of ceramic weights.

Similarities

Both of these devices serve the same purpose: to create good conditions for lactofermenting vegetables (or other things). Both are sealed vessels with airlocks, so that gases can escape as needed, but nothing can get in. Both use weights to keep fermenting foods submerged.

Pickl-It's airlock is of the type one might use in brewing beer, and its weight is a glass disc. Harsch employs an open mote filled with water around the lip of the lid, and a pair of weights that fit snugly within the crock.

May The Best Vat Win

It is a bit of a David And Goliath story: the young, small upstart, Pickl-It, versus the old, established, giant Harsch.

And the outcome is the same as in that fabled battle: Pickl-It vanquishes its larger foe Harsch!

The Harsch's advantages: It is available in huge sizes, up to at least 50 liter (great if you need to make 75 pounds of sauerkraut!); it looks impressive; its weights fit perfectly; and it's completely low-tech (100% stone). A couple of times I have made 10+ pounds of sauerkraut, and the Harsch worked well. A 2-gallon cookie jar with a strategically-sized dinner plate and some weights worked well before I had the Harsch.

Pickl-It's advantages:
  • Pickl-It's airlock works better. The problem with the Harsch airlock is that in hot weather, the mote evaporates after a few days, leaving you vulnerable to fruit flies and such. If you ever go away for a few days at a time during the summer, this is a real concern. Standing water probably isn't a great idea in warmer climates anyway. Harsch may be better suited to a cellar, when it's warm at least; this makes the "looks impressive" factor less relevant.
  • Pickl-It is easy to clean—you can take it apart and put it in the dishwasher. Harsch is hard to clean, and also somewhat porous, so it seems to absorb salt, yeast and mold, etc.
  • My Pickl-It is a more practical size (1.5-liter) than my Harsch (10-liter). I could have bought a smaller Harsch, or a larger Pickl-It—but nonetheless, Harsch isn't well-suited to the fridge, while Pickl-It is just fine (if you remove the airlock and plug the hole).
  • Pickl-It is clear, so it allows me to see what's going on, which is often useful. Harsch is deep and dark.
  • Pickl-It is way less expensive than Harsch.
I haven't done a side-by-side taste test, pickling the same stuff in both. But I can report that the cucumber pickles I made in Pickl-It were the best I've ever made. I haven't had any problems so far fermenting in Pickl-It, while I've had occasional problems with Harsch due to mold, yeast, and/or slime.

Uses For Pickl-It

I find Pickl-It great for pickling whole vegetables in brine (turnips, radishes, beets, cucumbers, zucchini, etc.), and I might try it for a corned beef or something like that. All of these things can be a little tricky in jars, whether open or sealed, so they benefit greatly from the airlock.

I've not had any problems making cabbage kraut, radish or turnip krauts, mixed krauts, chutneys and other strange fruit things, kimchi, or preserved lemons in sealed mason jars (burping them every once in a while). (But some people have had problems making these.)

Beyond that, you can use Pickl-It for fermenting dairy, grains, and so on. Kathleen, one of the inventors, has a blog full of awesome-sounding Pickl-It recipes (Lacto-fermented Garlic Scape, Mango Kefir Lassi, Fermented Turkish-Fig Coconut Oatmeal Granola, Japanese Miso Garlic, etc.).

My recommendation: If you like to ferment whole vegetables, or if you worry about having problems fermenting, or if you just want to have some fun fermenting, then it's definitely worth getting Pickl-It.

If you are going to do whole vegetables, a larger Pickl-It is the way to go.

Inside sources tell me that in addition to the existing 1.5-liter and 3-liter sizes, there are new 2-, 4-, and 5-liter sizes. 5 liters should be big enough for most non-commercial purposes (unless you're having a really big Oktoberfest party!). Other items joining the Pickl-It line in the near future include smaller airlocks and UV-blocking jar covers. Cool.

Buy Pickl-It here.

For More Information About Fermenting

Here is my Fermenting And Pickling Resource List.

Disclosure

As I said before, I received a free sample Pickl-It from the manufacturer, with no strings attached. I'm not getting any money for recommending it, or any other benefit, except the warm happy feeling I get from helping people ferment things!

14 comments:

Porcupine said...

Thanks for the post.

You mentioned slime. Any idea what causes it? I've had a few slimy batches of sauerkraut.

Alex Lewin said...

Slime comes from yeasts and molds. To prevent them:

1) Make sure the container is clean to start with, and that the cabbage is reasonably fresh. Sterilizing the container shouldn't be necessary, but it can't hurt. Boiling water is a good bet, but don't crack your vessel!

2) The probability of slime increases at higher temperatures--say above 75 degrees F or so. If you have a cooler spot you can use, do it.

3) The quicker the lactobacillus take hold, the less chance something else will. You can always use a starter of some sort, to give lactobacillus a head start--some kraut from a previous batch, some yogurt whey, or, if necessary, some starter culture from an envelope!

Boiling Pot said...

Very good side by side comparison. Fine reviewing!

Alex Lewin said...

Thanks, Boiling!

8by8 said...

The air lock on Pickl-it is a gimmic. You are better off with the same jar called a FIDO jar. I get 5 liter fido jars under $10 from Crate & Barrel Outlet stores or Amazon.com for a little more with shipping. Pickl-it charges $50 for the same jar with a hole in the top. The hole is bad for the fermentation. The FIDO jar is designed to not explode but to let off pressure. The lid rises slightly to releave pressure.

I like to release pressure by slightly lifting the bail lock. It is so easy.

Also the Ball canning jars up to half gallon size are designed under pressure for the lid to bend slightly to release pressure. These companies do not want the jars to explode. They would have liability if that were to happen. Half gallon Ball jars are $10.50 for 6 from ACE Hardware.

It is much better to have a solid lid then the air lock which creates problems. The glass disk they sell is a joke. Use a plastic lid from a yogurt container inside the jar. That will bend to get inside and unfold to a larger disk using the neck to hold down the ferment.

I have done many many ferments with sold glass jars without one failure. Never any mold or slime inside.

The ferment like sauerkraut expands to larger size with tiny bubbles. shake the jar to get the bubbles out of the ferment and release the bubbles. but with an air lock you can not shake or turn the jar upside down to release the bubbles. The Pickl-it air lock is a bad joke on the public. Do not be taken in. Buy plain fido jars or Ball canning jars.

I am a scientist. I have done fermenting for over 30 years. I have studied fermenting very extensively. Please believe me. I know what I am talking about. Your wallet will appreciate it.

Harsch crock is total expensive wrong way to go. with glass you can see what is happening inside the ferment. Forget Harsch. All kinds of problems with Harsch. I think a 5 liter Harsch is about $120. where a 5 liter FIDO jar is under $10. Besides the FIDO jar works better.

If you dont want to use the plastic yogurt lid then just fill the FIDO jar up to the neck and it will all stay inside the jar and not expand out of the jar and work fine.

Alan said...

8by8,

Because of my passion for fermenting and concerns about misinformation in your comments, I'm compelled to write a response to your comments on "Harsch vs. Pickl-It."

Both the products reviewed use their own form of airlock for fermenting, and the airlock is hardly a "gimmick." The commercial airlock in the Pickl-It has the same purpose as the "mote" in the Harsch crock. To allow CO2 to escape, while preventing foreign contaminates entering. Further, they both have the goal of creating an anaerobic environment for fermenting.

I don't know your field as a scientist, and I certainly won't claim to be a microbiologist. So I will defer to a rich body of research that indicates that an anaerobic environment is optimal for the variety of beneficial bacteria involved in fermenting. One good source of information, which as a scientist you will appreciate, is "The Handbook of Fermented Functional Food" that covers in detail the very complex microbiological progressions during the many stages of the lacto-fermentation process and the importance of an anaerobic environment to promote the healthy bacteria which benefit our bodies and also impede the growth of undesirable molds and bacteria.

During fermentation with an airlock, the generated CO2 pushes the Oxygen out, which otherwise would oxidize the food. Once the environment is CO2 rich (no more O2) you have the ideal anaerobic environment for lacto-fermentation. Is it possible to ferment without the airlock, yes. The results simply won't be as good or as consistent. Fermentation by its very definition is an anaerobic activity, a way of cells to create energy from sugar in the absence of oxygen. In the presence of oxygen it is a completely different process of energy production, cellular respiration. "aerobic fermentation" would be somewhat of a misnomer, and "anaerobic fermentation" is somewhat redundant.

Because of my concern for people's safety and fermentation success, I feel it necessary to correct some of your comments and suggestions:

1. I cannot condone your recommendation for putting plastic inside the fermenting vessel. The acidity of ferments can leech chemicals from the plastic into the ferment. Certainly not something I want in my ferments!

2. I would not recommend the use of a sealed Fido, which definitely can explode under excess pressure. An airlock or frequently releasing pressure is necessary (as you said you do). However, when releasing pressure one is letting Oxygen into environment. The ideal is the anaerobic environment for lacto-fermentation which can be maintained with an airlock safely without the need for burping.

4. An airlock does not create problems, as you sated, rather it solves many problems! That is why it is used for fermenting of beer, wine. Also if you investigate most food fermenting facilities, you will find they are using Harsch, or high-end commercial stainless-steel vats with airlocks.

5. You recommend shaking the jar to release bubbles, that is actually not necessary, and not recommended. Shaking promotes dissolving of the CO2 into the brine solution, it is better to let it naturally escape. The action of CO2 escaping through the fermenting vegetables helps to distribute the healthy bacteria to do their fermenting job. If someone does want to release CO2, a gentle tapping on the counter is more effective.

When you mentioned that Harsch is too expensive (about $120 for a 5-Liter) you didn't mention that a 5-Liter Pickl-It (about $49) is less than half the price, convenient on the counter-top, and glass as you recommended.

I honestly don't care what you choose to ferment in, but please don't endanger people by suggesting they use a tightly sealed jar without an airlock. At least encourage people to use a loose fitting lid, or to be sure to frequently release pressure from their jars.

-Alan

Alan said...

8by8,

Because of my passion for fermenting and concerns about misinformation in your comments, I'm compelled to write a response to your comments on "Harsch vs. Pickl-It."

Both the products reviewed use their own form of airlock for fermenting, and the airlock is hardly a "gimmick." The commercial airlock in the Pickl-It has the same purpose as the "mote" in the Harsch crock. To allow CO2 to escape, while preventing foreign contaminates entering. Further, they both have the goal of creating an anaerobic environment for fermenting.

I don't know your field as a scientist, and I certainly won't claim to be a microbiologist. So I will defer to a rich body of research that indicates that an anaerobic environment is optimal for the variety of beneficial bacteria involved in fermenting. One good source of information, which as a scientist you will appreciate, is "The Handbook of Fermented Functional Food" that covers in detail the very complex microbiological progressions during the many stages of the lacto-fermentation process and the importance of an anaerobic environment to promote the healthy bacteria which benefit our bodies and also impede the growth of undesirable molds and bacteria.

During fermentation with an airlock, the generated CO2 pushes the Oxygen out, which otherwise would oxidize the food. Once the environment is CO2 rich (no more O2) you have the ideal anaerobic environment for lacto-fermentation. Is it possible to ferment without the airlock, yes. The results simply won't be as good or as consistent. Fermentation by its very definition is an anaerobic activity, a way of cells to create energy from sugar in the absence of oxygen. In the presence of oxygen it is a completely different process of energy production, cellular respiration. "aerobic fermentation" would be somewhat of a misnomer, and "anaerobic fermentation" is somewhat redundant.

Because of my concern for people's safety and fermentation success, I feel it necessary to correct some of your comments and suggestions:

1. I cannot condone your recommendation for putting plastic inside the fermenting vessel. The acidity of ferments can leech chemicals from the plastic into the ferment. Certainly not something I want in my ferments!

2. I would not recommend the use of a sealed Fido, which definitely can explode under excess pressure. An airlock or frequently releasing pressure is necessary (as you said you do). However, when releasing pressure one is letting Oxygen into environment. The ideal is the anaerobic environment for lacto-fermentation which can be maintained with an airlock safely without the need for burping.

4. An airlock does not create problems, as you sated, rather it solves many problems! That is why it is used for fermenting of beer, wine. Also if you investigate most food fermenting facilities, you will find they are using Harsch, or high-end commercial stainless-steel vats with airlocks.

5. You recommend shaking the jar to release bubbles, that is actually not necessary, and not recommended. Shaking promotes dissolving of the CO2 into the brine solution, it is better to let it naturally escape. The action of CO2 escaping through the fermenting vegetables helps to distribute the healthy bacteria to do their fermenting job. If someone does want to release CO2, a gentle tapping on the counter is more effective.

When you mentioned that Harsch is too expensive (about $120 for a 5-Liter) you didn't mention that a 5-Liter Pickl-It (about $49) is less than half the price, convenient on the counter-top, and glass as you recommended.

I honestly don't care what you choose to ferment in, but please don't endanger people by suggesting they use a tightly sealed jar without an airlock. At least encourage people to use a loose fitting lid, or to be sure to frequently release pressure from their jars.

-Alan

Alan said...

8by8,

Because of my passion for fermenting and concerns about misinformation in your comments, I'm compelled to write a response to your comments on "Harsch vs. Pickl-It."

Both the products reviewed use their own form of airlock for fermenting, and the airlock is hardly a "gimmick." The barrel airlock in the Pickl-It has the same purpose as the "mote" in the Harsch crock. To allow CO2 to escape, while preventing foreign contaminates entering. Further, they both have the goal of creating an anaerobic environment for fermenting.

I don't know your field as a scientist, and I certainly won't claim to be a microbiologist. So I will defer to a rich body of research that indicates that an anaerobic environment is optimal for the variety of beneficial bacteria involved in fermenting. One good source of information, which as a scientist you will appreciate, is "The Handbook of Fermented Functional Food" that covers in detail the very complex microbiological progressions during the many stages of the lacto-fermentation process and the importance of an anaerobic environment to promote the healthy bacteria which benefit our bodies and also impede the growth of undesirable molds and bacteria.

During fermentation with an airlock, the generated CO2 pushes the Oxygen out, which otherwise would oxidize the food. Once the environment is CO2 rich (no more O2) you have the ideal anaerobic environment for lacto-fermentation. Is it possible to ferment without the airlock, yes. The results simply won't be as good or as consistent. Fermentation by its very definition is an anaerobic activity, a way of cells to create energy from sugar in the absence of oxygen. In the presence of oxygen it is a completely different process of energy production, cellular respiration. "Aerobic fermentation" is somewhat of a misnomer, and "anaerobic fermentation" is somewhat redundant.

Because of my concern for people's safety and fermentation success, I feel it necessary to correct some of your comments and suggestions:

1. I cannot condone your recommendation for putting plastic inside the fermenting vessel. The acidity of ferments can leech chemicals from the plastic into the ferment. Certainly not something I want in my ferments!

2. I would not recommend the use of a sealed Fido, which definitely can explode under excess pressure. An airlock or frequently releasing pressure is necessary (as you said you do). However, when releasing pressure one is letting Oxygen into environment. The ideal is the anaerobic environment for lacto-fermentation which can be maintained with an airlock safely without the need for burping.

4. An airlock does not create problems, as you sated, rather it solves many problems! That is why it is used for fermenting of beer, wine. If you investigate most food fermenting facilities, you will find they are using Harsch, or high-end commercial stainless-steel vats with airlocks.

5. You recommend shaking the jar to release bubbles, that is actually not necessary, and not recommended. Shaking promotes dissolving of the CO2 into the brine solution, it is better to let it naturally escape. The action of CO2 escaping through the fermenting vegetables helps to distribute the healthy bacteria to do their fermenting job. If someone does want to release CO2, a gentle tapping on the counter is more effective.

When you mentioned that Harsch is too expensive (about $120 for a 5-Liter) you didn't mention that a 5-Liter Pickl-It (about $49) is less than half the price, convenient on the counter-top, and glass as you recommended.

I honestly don't care what you choose to ferment in, but please don't endanger people by suggesting they use a tightly sealed jar without an airlock. At least encourage people to use a loose fitting lid, or to be sure to frequently release pressure from their jars.

-Alan

Boiling Pot said...

I use a 6-quart old commercial mayonnaise jar with an enamelled metal lid. After I put my grated kohlrabi in the jar, I then cover it with a cabbage leaf and tuck it under. I place the jar's lid on, loosely, to allow any gas to escape.

I dunno, it seems to work for me, kept in a cool place. I press the vegetables down once in a while. It takes some weeks to ferment but what's the rush.

Alex Lewin said...

BP, whatever works for you is great! Keeping it in a cool place means it will take longer, but it also decreases the chances that something weird will happen.

Kohlrabi is much overlooked. I am glad you are putting it to good use.

Soliloquy said...

Great info! Thank you! Those jars are going on my wish list.

Anonymous said...

make you pickl-it jar under 20$

http://www.seasonedhomemaker.com/2012/10/how-to-make-your-own-low-cost-pickl-it.html

Laura @ FermentaCap said...

Two often overlooked reasons for mold and slime (as in, the entire batch failing) are:

1. Vegetables that are in less than fresh condition. When you prepare vegetables for the table, you may trim off bad spots, and then rinse the veggies and go. This is not good for fermenting, since the microbes have already permeated some of the "good" parts. Not enough to hurt if you eat it, but enough to have a good head start on multiplying in a brine.

2. Chlorinated water. Not all city water is created the same, chlorine amounts vary (but are increasing all the time), and some contain chloramines, fluoride, and even naturally occurring chlorides that will cause a ferment to fail.

I am very allergic to plastic, but do not react to a ferment if it is fermented in a glass vessel with plastic lid, or even with a plastic insert to hold the food down. This suggests to me that plastic leaches far LESS in a ferment than it does in water (I do react to water in plastic jugs and bottles). Since my allergies are very dramatic, it is not something I'd overlook if I did react.

Alex Lewin said...

Laura, thanks for sharing your experiences!