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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

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