Chelsea Green Publishing

Chelsea Green Blog

ASK THE EXPERTS: Sandor Katz Gives You the Fermentation 411

From time to time, the team here at will receive a question from a reader that we just can’t answer. (I’ll be honest: if the question doesn’t involve comic books, motorcycles, or the 1980s Transformers cartoon, then we are just at sea.)

Lucky for us, we have a veritable army of expert authors willing to pick up the gauntlet and take on any challenge with wit, wisdom, and graciousness.


I just received the book Preserving Food Without Freezing or Canning [Traditional Techniques Using Salt, Oil, Sugar, Alcohol, Vinegar, Drying, Cold Storage, and Lactic Fermentation] and have a simple question. In preserving food the book doesn’t say which “variation” of preservative to use. For example, SALT: Iodine or Sea Salt?; VINEGAR: White or Apple Cider?; recommended acidic levels?; OIL: Olive, Sesame, Safflower, etc.? Also, olive oil has different types just like honey does.

I realize it may not really matter which variation I use. But being new to this I really have no idea how this works.

Can you help me with this?


Paul K.

For the answer, we turn to fermentation and natural food expert Sandor Katz, author of The Revolution Will Not Be Microwaved: Inside America’s Underground Food Movements and Wild Fermentation: The Flavor, Nutrition, and Craft of Live-Culture Foods. Pickle me this, Katz-Man!

Dear Paul,

More than anything, I would recommend working with what you’ve got. Preserving the garden harvest does not require highly specialized exotic ingredients. In general, I would recommend using less refined versions of any ingredient. Unrefined sea salts typically contain a broad spectrum of minerals, including iodine. In table salt, the trace minerals are removed from the sodium chloride and then iodine is added back in (along with anti-caking chemicals). If you can, use ingredients that are less processed and which you can easily trace to their origins.

For vinegar, in pickling it’s important to know the concentration of acidity you’re dealing with. Most commercial vinegars are around 6% acetic acid. Cider vinegars, wine vinegars, and malt vinegars are pretty straightforward, fermented from hard cider, wine, and beer. But “distilled white vinegar” is a more mysterious industrial process. I’d say go with the vinegars you could make at home.

As for oil, I don’t think it much matters which type you use. The French authors of the book you cite probably use olive oil, and that’s what i would probably use, too, though there’s no reason why you couldn’t use other vegetable oils instead. Among olive oils, “extra virgin,” in which the oil drips from the olives without pressing, is generally regarded as having the best flavor with the least bitterness. Enjoy your preservation adventures!

Sandor Ellix Katz aka sandorkraut

Do you have a question for one of our authors? Submit it to and we’ll do our best to answer. Who knows? You may even end up on the next edition of ASK THE EXPERTS.

Fruit Explorers, Guerrilla Grafters, and Other Useful People

The editors here at Chelsea Green are constantly seeking out what’s new and important in the world of sustainable living. As part of an occasional blog series, our editors are sharing what they’ve been reading, researching, or just plain pondering. Below Senior Editor Ben Watson talks about “guerrilla grafters” and why the world could use a lot more of […] Read More..

A Thanksgiving Hit: Apple Pie with Cider Jelly

The Thanksgiving season means a barrage of holiday recipes that overflow your inbox and social media feeds. Some of these are new and innovative, meant to impress guests and sure to fade away from the culinary canon. However, there’s a reason that certain other recipes stand the test of time: they just work. We’ve had […] Read More..

Release Your Inner Viking With New Book on Mead

Unlock the mead brewing secrets of the ancient Norse with homesteader and fermentation enthusiast Jereme Zimmerman’s new book Make Mead Like a Viking. Whether you’re new to homebrewing or looking to expand your current brewing and fermentation practices, Zimmerman’s welcoming style and spirit will usher you into an exciting new territory of wildcrafted experimentations, including more than 20 recipes to try.The fermentation […] Read More..

For a Very Viking Thanksgiving, Try Homemade Mead

The people who lived the Viking lifestyle a thousand years ago enjoyed myriad foods and beverages and throwing feasts that lasted several days to show off what they had stockpiled throughout the harvest season. Bring the Viking spirit of celebration to your Thanksgiving table this year with a traditional batch of spiced orange mead. Brew up the following recipe […] Read More..

Brew Outside the Box: Making Mushroom-Infused Beer

When thinking about drinking a nice cold beer, the flavor of mushrooms doesn’t exactly spring to mind. But for the adventurous brewer – and drinker – infusing mushrooms into brews is a great way to combine the medicinal benefits of fungi with one of the world’s most consumed beverages.The best part? You can grow mushrooms […] Read More..
Follow us
Get every new post delivered to your inbox
Join millions of other followers
Powered By