When I'm fermenting vegetables and fruits, I often use a wide-mouth Mason jar. These jars have many virtues:
available in a variety of sizes
easy to clean, dishwasher-safe
fit nicely in fridge
But there are times when I want something more…
"Airlock" vessels allow gasses to escape, but they do not allow them to enter. Fermentation produces carbon dioxide; in an airlock vessel, this carbon dioxide largely displaces the other gasses originally present inside the jar, including the oxygen. "Good bacteria" are perfectly happy without oxygen, but some of the enemies of delicious fermentation need oxygen to flourish. Thus the airlock tips the balance in favor of delicious fermentation.
This advantage can be particularly useful when making cucumber pickles, for instance, or other whole, brined vegetables; too much oxygen can lead to mushiness. Even regular, dependable sauerkraut can sometimes benefit from an airlock.
Airlocks also prevent the buildup of pressure. Depending what you're fermenting, this may be more or less of an issue. Fruits and high-sugar-content vegetables, for instance, can generate lots of gas when they ferment; while they're unlikely to break a mason jar, they could potentially pop a lid and make a big mess.
A few years ago, I posted a comparison of two of the available options for airlock fermenting: Pickl-It Versus Harsch: May The Best Vat Win. Pickl-It won.
Since then, more options have emerged. They are all similar to Harsch and Pickl-It in principle—in fact some are so similar that I would call them knock-offs.
Anyway, here are some of the airlock arrangements we can choose from today.
[UPDATE: According to an anonymous tip, Primal Pickler is a copy of the Pickl-It design, and is not made by Pickl-It.]
Old School, Eastern Style
This one uses the same general design as the Harsch, but it is made entirely out of glass instead of crockery. Intriguing. It has advantages over the Harsch: it is easier to clean; it may fit in the fridge; and it is clear, so you can see how your ferment is proceeding. On the downside, the Amazon reviews raise some questions about its durability:
Picture a Mason jar whose lid that has a hole in it just the right size for a standard homebrew-style airlock (with or without stopper):
An advantage is that Mason jars are cheap and available in a variety of sizes; your lid will work on a wide range of jars. And once the fermentation has reached a stable state, the lid may be moved to another jar for the next project, and the first ferment can be sealed with a regular lid. The disadvantage of all of these products is that the lids are made out of plastic. I don't think this is the end of the world, since your ferment should not be coming into contact with the lid anyway. And two of them (Kraut Kaps and reCAP) explicitly state that the lids are BPA-free; this is a step in the right direction. (As a side note, did you know that until recently, Mason jar lids had a coating of BPA plastic on the inside?)
Another option is to make your own airlock vessel. Plain plastic lids for Mason jars are cheap and plentiful. You can cut or drill holes in them without too much effort. Standard airlock stoppers are tapered, so the measurements of your hole need not be precise. Making your own airlock lid will be the least expensive option by far. The drawback is that your lid is plastic.
You can also drill a hole in a metal or glass lid. If you already have the necessary tools and skills, this might be a good option. If not, you are probably better off going another route.
What is the best airlock system for you? You might not even need one. But if you'd like to try one, consider the advantages and disadvantages of each option, and make your choice! None of these products is right or wrong for everyone.
I hope you find this post helpful!
Nutrition and Physical Degeneration, by Weston A. Price: Rather that theorizing abstractly about human nutrition, the author sought out isolated groups of healthy people around the world (this was in the 1930s, when there were still isolated groups of people), and documented their foodways. Price's book is jaw-dropping (literally). He describes group after group of people who are healthy in isolation, and become sick, miserable, and toothless when they adopt a "modern" diet. Aren't you curious what they were eating when they were healthy? Full write-up coming soon.
Japanese Cooking: A Simple Art, by Shizuo Tsuji and Yoshiki Tsuji: A masterwork on the subject of Japanese cuisine, and by extension, Japanese culture.
Winning Bicycle Racing, by Jack Simes: A short, fascinating book on the subject of bicycling, published in 1976, when the majority of men still wore moustaches. And as with any bicycling publication, there are some great facial expressions.
The Secret History of the World: As Laid Down by the Secret Societies, by Mark Booth: A truly fascinating, meticulously documented look at the evolution of human consciousness and religion. What are some of the connections among different religions' creation myths and pantheons? Why are there astrological and other "pagan" symbols in Christian rites? Did you know that "elohim", the Hebrew word in Genesis typically translated as "God", is actually a plural noun? And so on. N.B.: the book describes an almost exclusively male experience. I think Booth could have done more in the front material to explain this, or at least to notify the reader of the orientation.
The Sushi Economy: Globalization and the Making of a Modern Delicacy, by Sasha Issenberg: The history of sushi and the sushi supply chain, detailing the journey that your fish takes from the cold ocean to your neighborhood sushi bar, often by way of Tokyo. Sasha Issenberg focuses on the lives of the people involved in the sushi trade. Fascinating and well-written.
The Story of Sushi: An Unlikely Saga of Raw Fish and Rice, by Trevor Corson: The story of some students at a sushi academy—and more generally, the story of sushi itself. A wonderful book, entertaining, thorougly and carefully researched, and instructive. It makes me want to eat sushi. Or write about it. Similar, but only a bit, to The Making of a Chef, by Michael Ruhlman.
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