Do I Have To Use A Starter When I Ferment Things?

Lately wild fermentation has been getting quite a bit of flack. Wild fermentation, not to be confused with the book, is the practice of letting the natural bacteria and yeasts on vegetables or fruits start the ferment. Obviously there are many proponents of fermenting in this way, and people in the past more than likely did this as well. But now that we have the technology to isolate specific strains of bacteria, it means that we can make better ferments…. right? Maybe, maybe not.

I personally have not found much of a difference between using a starter and going without. I do have some on hand that I bought on sale, though, so I do use it sometimes. But, I’m horrible at remembering little things like that so most of the time I don’t. I’ve used a powdered starter for sauerkraut twice, as supposedly that brings down the amount of time needed for a successful ferment from 12 weeks to 9 or 10 (I’ve heard different things). But I always forget!

I do routinely remember to use it when making fruit ferments, such as this one or this one. I like to use a starter culture for fruit ferments because I’ve read they’re more likely to go bad. Sometimes I use a powdered starter, other times I use either a little water kefir or ginger bug. I never use whey–it does not belong in vegetable and fruit ferments, changes the flavor, and friends of mine have also said it made their ferments more susceptible to mold. And I don’t skim mold, I’d just toss…so I definitely don’t want that!

Long story short–no, you do NOT need to use a starter when you are making your fruit and vegetable ferments. I would recommend using one for fruit, and definitely if you’ve had lots of issues with ferments going bad. Your ferments should be pleasant in taste and texture, and if this is not the case… you should do some troubleshooting! Truly enjoying your ferments will help you to eat more, and help your family to love them as well. That has certainly been the case here, and it’s just one more reason I am grateful for my Boss Pickler jars!

Another reason I’ve heard of for using a starter is if you are not sure where your vegetables came from, especially if they are not organic. Our soil isn’t as rich in probiotics as it was in days of old, and this is definitely a bigger problem when organic practices are not observed.

So, you see that starters can affect flavor (positively or negatively!) and aren’t completely necessary. However, they can be beneficial in some circumstances. Do YOU use a starter or different types of starters? If so, I’d love to know what kind(s) and your experience fermenting with them!

What’s All The Craze With Sourdough?

Sourdough is getting quite a bit of attention these days, isn’t it? If you’ve never heard of it before, you’re probably wondering why. Well, there are multiple reasons, and I’m going to clue you in on a few of them. But, first of all…what IS sourdough?

Sourdough is literally sour dough–eons ago, our ancestors who had limitless knowledge in making all things healthier, found that they could mix up some flour and water and let it sit. They would feed it regularly with more flour and water and eventually it became a neighborhood for beneficial bacteria and yeasts. These bacteria and yeasts caused the dough to get sour and also made it to rise to double or more its original size.

They undoubtedly found that using this, they could make leavened bread. And then by adding some milk and eggs they could make hot cakes, also known as pancakes. As people do when they’ve just discovered the greatest thing since fire, they find multiple ways to use it. They developed tasty cakes, muffins, biscuits, dumplings, and specialty types of breads like challah and baguettes. Mmm, baguettes are so yummy!

Since I began my real food journey, I’ve learned that many things our ancestors did had a purpose. So the discovery of Saccharomyces cerevisiae, otherwise known as Baker’s yeast, was definitely not to our benefit. Sure, it can save us in precious time… but is it worth it when compared to the things we’ve lost through natural fermentation? I think not!

Sourdough, or the natural fermentation of flour, is gaining in popularity because we’ve discovered it is actually beneficial to our health. The process of soaking flour with these beneficial bacteria and yeasts breaks down difficult to digest proteins like gluten. It reduces the sugar (starch) content so that we aren’t plagued with blood sugar issues and bloating. Oh yeah, bloating, my friend from the past… you want things to ferment OUTSIDE of you, otherwise they will ferment INSIDE of you! It also reduces toxins that may be in the flour such as mold and heavy metals. It significantly decreases phytic acid, which blocks mineral absorption and leads to ill-health. One of the greatest things about sourdough is it actually INCREASES nutrients in the dough, as yeast is amazing at creating B vitamins especially. The tanginess of the resulting bread helps to stimulate digestive acids too, which is important for digesting food. Last but not least, it makes bread taste good. I mean, really good!

Don’t have a sourdough starter yet? Don’t worry, you can get a free sourdough starter and get ready to make some tasty food!

Sourdough Saturdays Series:
Where To Get A FREE Sourdough Starter
What’s All The Craze With Sourdough?
Feeding Your Sourdough Starter

Popular Habits That Ruin Health: Eating Unsoaked Potatoes

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It is often said that potatoes do not carry much nutrition and are full of sugar and starch. However, they are also a good source of potassium, manganese, and resistant starch. They have a good variety of phytonutrients that are beneficial in our fight against free radicals, which can lead to cancer. Of course the colorful potatoes are higher in these beneficial substances, but that doesn’t mean the lowly white potato is useless!

Studies show that the antioxidants in potatoes can help to lower blood pressure, similar to goji berries. The fiber and resistant starch in potatoes help keep things moving which can have a protective effect on the gut and aid in mineral absorption. Resistant starch forms butyric acid, a form of short-chain fatty acid that feeds beneficial flora and fights inflammation. They help to protect against respiratory issues, cancer and cardiovascular disease. The B6 in potatoes help our bodies produce hormones that help with depression, sleep, and stress reduction. And we wonder why they are a comfort food to so many! They also help reduce homocysteine levels which in turn reduce our risk for heart attacks, strokes and even Alzheimer’s.

The best thing about potatoes is that people love to pair them with fats, and this is no doubt the best way to eat them! It is important to avoid “fat-free” products when you are loading your potatoes up, instead opt for pure butter, cheese, cream or sour cream, and bacon. Don’t be shy–pile them on!

The problem with potatoes is that we do not prepare them properly. This is important if we want to avoid negative effects of potatoes and maximize the nutrients we get from them. Proper preparation increases our ability to digest them, which makes them more nourishing.

When we cook potatoes in certain ways, they are high in acrylamides which can lead to cancer. These methods include the most popular ones like frying, grilling and baking in any way other than whole. Potatoes also contain anti-nutrients like phytic acid, which can actually block mineral absorption. Potatoes often have mold that we cannot see, and while many say it is OK to just cut off mold and carry on, I do NOT agree. Yeast, fungi, mold, whatever you want to call it, creates toxins. These toxins are not necessarily destroyed by cooking. However, lactic acid bacteria CAN reduce toxins! The process of soaking and fermenting encourages lactic acid bacteria growth to begin working on making the potato a healthy addition to our diets. These bacteria can reduce toxins like Aflatoxin and even heavy metals!

The good news is that you can you can lower or eliminate these deterrents to health by soaking your potatoes! For example, you can reduce acrylamide by 48% with only 2 hours of soaking!1 Soaking and fermenting potatoes also reduces the starch content and makes them less of a shock to a diabetic’s system. Serve with plenty of healthy fats to help balance blood sugar.

In a pinch, I’ll soak my potatoes for at least 3 hours, but usually I’ll plan in advance to ferment them for 24 hours or more. After soaking, you will want to rinse the potatoes. You may then choose to dry them thoroughly depending on how you plan to prepare them.

Have you begun soaking your potatoes yet? If you do, let me know how you like the difference!


1Society of Chemical Industry (2008, March 9). Soaking Potatoes In Water Before Frying Reduces Acrylamide. ScienceDaily. Retrieved October 3, 2013, from https://www.sciencedaily.comĀ­ /releases/2008/03/080306075222.htm