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How to Radically Improve Your Fermentation Success [Game-Changing Tool]

Today I’m going to share with you a must-have tool for fermentation success.

In fact, when I started using this tool for making sauerkraut, nasty-smelling batches, with weird things growing on top, quickly became a thing of the past.

And, when I taught dozens of workshop participants and thousands of online readers how to use this tool, their fermentation success skyrocketed.

So whether you are getting ready to make your first batch of sauerkraut or have been doing so for a while, I will explain how using a scale as part of the process can be a game-changer.

Let’s get started.

The Importance of Using the Correct Salt Concentration

Hand holding white saucer and adding salt to a metal bowl of sliced cabbage for making sauerkraut.  | MakeSauerkraut.com
A 2% salt about to be added to a bowl of sliced cabbage and other flavoring ingredients. I’m using Himalayan pink salt, my favorite salt for fermentation.

Whether you’re fermenting cucumbers into pickles, peppers into hot sauce, or cabbage in sauerkraut, you need the correct amount of salt.

The only way to accurately calculate the amount of salt to use is by using a scale to weigh your ingredients and your salt.

Why?

All fruits and vegetables harbor large and diverse populations of bacteria, some good and some not so good. When we use these vegetables for fermentation, we are orchestrating a competition, a microbial race, so to speak, between the pathogenic or “bad” bacteria—along with molds and yeasts—and the beneficial or “good” bacteria on these vegetables and in the environment.

Salt is your key weapon to ensure that the good guys win the race.

The CORRECT amount of salt to be more specific.

When you mix salt into a bowl of shredded cabbage, almost immediately you’ll notice it start to glisten. Then, through the process of osmosis, salt extracts water from the cells in the vegetables to create a brine that the cabbage mixture is then packed in.

In this brine, the salt-tolerant bacteria grow, thrive, and convert sugars naturally present in vegetables into lactic acid. This lactic acid then lowers the pH of your ferment to create an environment in which the salt-phobic pathogenic bacteria cannot live.

  • The right amount of salt encourages the right bacteria to thrive and grow.
  • Too little salt favors harmful bacteria and may cause mold or yeast to grow.
  • Too much salt and the lactic-acid bacteria will not multiply and the fermentation will not properly unfold.

Using a scale to weigh your ingredients—and salt—is the best way to set up an environment in which the correct bacteria thrive and grow.

And I’m talking the difference of just a few grams of salt more or less in a one-quart (liter) fermentation batch.

Ways to Determine How Much Salt to Use

Hand mixing sliced cabbage inside a metal bowl on top of a MyWeigh KD-8000 over a striped red and white cloth. | MakeSauerkraut.com

I did not start out using a scale for fermentation. However, it became an important tool in my kitchen as I worked to perfect my process and obtain consistent, repeatable results.

Here’s the backstory for how I came to understand that fermentation is science and as a scientist, one needs to be accurate.

Where are you on this journey?

Wing It

My first batch of sauerkraut was made by slicing a head of cabbage, sprinkling in two tablespoons of salt, mixing for a bit, and then leaving it to ferment for a few weeks. Flavor, texture, and acceptance by the family were all over the map.

Some batches were too salty and didn’t taste fermented, and others soft and musty tasting. Looking back, this made sense because a head of cabbage can range in size and density: from that of a large grapefruit to that of a basketball. Therefore, the amount of salt in a batch can vary greatly.

By Taste

I then made sauerkraut adding salt and tasting, looking for the sensation of a “salty potato chip.” I also taught my workshop participants to do likewise. “Taste a pinch. It should taste salty but not offensively so.”

The problem is that there is a wide range in taste buds. What tastes salty to one person may not to the next.

Using this “by taste” method, I had some jars of sauerkraut with mold on the top, some jars go slimy, some turn brown and others end up tasting way too salty. I got tired of putting in all the work to make sauerkraut only to end up with something I didn’t want to eat. Too many jars of sauerkraut were being fed to the worms living in my compost pile.

Then, I started noticing other bloggers recommending a 2% salt concentration and tracked down one source showing how the amount of salt used does impact the fermentation process. I was convinced and went in search of a scale.

By Weight of Ingredients

The first scale I bought was a mechanical scale—on the used circuit for $20!

Little did I know how much my fermentation life was about to change.

To make a one-quart (liter) batch, I weighed my cabbage and vegetables (1 ¾ pound or 800 grams) and added 1 (one) tablespoon of salt. I could calculate exactly how much salt to use to achieve the recommended 2% salt concentration.

To my delight, I soon found out I was no longer emptying jars of sauerkraut into the compost pile. Workshop participants were all achieving the same results.

The difference a simple tool can make!

By Weight of Ingredient AND Weight of Salt

Then… a reader in Australia asked me what size of tablespoon I was using. That sent me down a rabbit hole to discover that the volume of a tablespoon varies around the world. Greatly!

In Australia, a tablespoon is 20 ml; Great Britain, 17.7 ml (at least, historically); North America and elsewhere, 14.7 ml. That’s a 25% difference in the volume of a tablespoon between the U.S. and Australia.

In addition, as I started working with various salts, it came to my attention that the same volume of one salt can weigh more or less than that of another salt. This is due to variance in grind size, density, and moisture content.

These new found nuggets of knowledge changed my game once more.

I then started weighing my salt, using my favorite scale—don’t worry, it’s easier than you think—and a whole new world opened up for me.

For example, my fermented blueberries kept getting mold and wanted to turn to alcohol. I upped the salt concentration from 2.0% to 2.5% (16 grams to 20 grams).

Results were good, but not yet at the perfect spot. In the next batch, I increased my salt concentration a bit more to 3.0% (24 grams) and hit the sweet spot.

Now, I successfully ferment batch after batch of delicious, to-die-for, fermented blueberries.

You can see why I now use a digital scale for all my fermentation projects and weigh both my ingredients and my salt.

A digital scale takes the fear and frustration out of fermentation.

I Will Never Again Make It Without Measuring

Blessings, Patty S. from Colorado

Hi, Holly ~ I just tasted your Sweet Garlic Sauerkraut after 3 weeks of fermenting. WOW! It was the best I have ever had.

I have been making sauerkraut for over two years and never bothered to weigh or measure any ingredients, but this has been an eye-opener for me. I will never again make it without measuring.

The taste, texture, and CRUNCH of this were unbelievable. I could eat the whole jar by myself. Every time I go by the fridge, I take a forkful! Thank you so much for all your work and recipes. I can’t wait to try them all!!

Purchasing a Scale

Now that I’ve convinced you—hopefully—of the necessity of a scale for fermentation, let me help you select one to fit your needs.

Analog vs. Digital

There are two types of scales, analog and digital.

Silver colored analog or mechanical scale. | MakeSauerkraut.com

Analog scales weigh using springs. They work great for weighing your vegetables and other ingredients but are not accurate enough to weigh your salt.

Small disk-shaped digital scale. | MakeSauerkraut.com

Digital scales tend to be more precise and enable you to weigh small quantities, like your salt, in grams.

If you already own an analog scale start there with plans to “level up” after you work through a handful of recipes.

If you don’t own a scale, it is best to purchase a digital scale that will allow you to weigh both your ingredients and your salt.

What to Look for When Buying a Scale

Some things to look for when selecting a scale:

  • Can you read the display when a large bowl is sitting on the scale?
  • Can the scale weigh at least 11 pounds (This is enough to make a bowl full of 5 pounds of sauerkraut, necessary when making larger batches or filling a large crock)?
  • Are you able to set the mode to grams?
  • Is there a Tare button? When you place your empty bowl on the scale and press the Tare button it removes the weight of the bowl from the readout enabling you to weigh just your ingredients.
  • Can you program it to not automatically shut off? I know of only one scale with which you can do this. Read on.

These are the digital scales I’ve used:

Ozeri Pronto Digital Scale

The Ozeri Pronto Digital scale, and others like it, is affordable, but… it makes a light humming noise and automatically shuts off after a minute or two, erasing any tare amount—explained below—that you were expecting to make use of.

The first time I used my digital scale, I put my bowl on the scale, hit the tare button to set the display to “0” grams and then as I was slicing cabbage, it turned off. When I turned it back on, it no longer knew the weight of my bowl and I was forced to dump the contents and start the weighing process over.

Note: If you’re using a digital scale with an auto-off feature (it’s there to save battery life), make sure you write down the weight of your bowl and then add the required cabbage and vegetable weight to that number.

Sale
Ozeri ZK14-S Pronto Digital Multifunction Kitchen and Food Scale, Black, 8.25
71,495 Reviews
Ozeri ZK14-S Pronto Digital Multifunction Kitchen and Food Scale, Black, 8.25
  • Accurate, elegant, easy-to-use digital kitchen scale for your largest and smallest cooking...
  • Automatic Unit Button instantly converts between 5 units of measurements (g, lbs, lbs:oz, oz,...
  • Precision Tare Button calculates the net weight of your ingredients by automatically...

My-Weigh KD-8000

My favorite scale—and why—is the My-Weigh KD-8000. It costs more than an entry-level digital scale, but, the added quality and accuracy are worth the extra money.

Best thing? You can program it so that it does not automatically shut off!!!

And, a few years into using it, I learned how to use the “%” key. The My-Weigh KD-8000 is a Baker’s Math scale and loved by bread bakers who measure flour, salt, and water by percent.

Guess what? Just like bakers, you also need to measure your vegetables, water, and salt by percent.

The “%” key on the KD-8000 scales, enables you to quickly and effortlessly add a specific percent of scale to your bowl of ingredients on the scale without crunching numbers. Sweet!

Rarely a day goes by that someone in our house is not using this scale. My knitting, my son’s science experiments, and.. making sauerkraut all happen smoothly and effortlessly with my number one fermentation tool.

Kitchen Scale - Bakers Math Kitchen Scale - KD8000 Scale by My Weight, Silver
2,953 Reviews
Kitchen Scale - Bakers Math Kitchen Scale - KD8000 Scale by My Weight, Silver
  • NEW FUNCTION: Baker's Math/Percentage weighing option
  • CAPACITY: Up to 8,000 gram weighing capacity
  • PRECISION: Precise readability from 1g to 0.05oz

See the scale section on my Fermenting Supplies page for the latest on a variety of recommended digital scale brands.

How to Use a Scale for Perfect Sauerkraut… Every Time

Finger reaching to press button in MyWeigh KD-8000 with the monitor showing "0." | MakeSauerkraut.com

First off, understand what Tare weight means?

When making SureFire Sauerkraut, you put your bowl on the scale and add cabbage to it until you have a specified weight. We don’t want to include the bowl in our calculations, so you need to know its Tare weight. Tare is the weight of the empty bowl.

This is how you would weigh your ingredients and salt to make a one-quart (liter) batch of sauerkraut.

1. Set up Your Scale and “Zero-Out” or Note the Tare

Turn on your scale, wait for it to power up, then switch the mode to weigh in grams. Next, place your bowl on the scale.

If you can “zero-out” your scale, do so now. Most digital scales have a “tare” button for this. If not, write down the weight showing. I keep a piece of tape on the bowl I use for sauerkraut with its weight noted.

2. Add Your Vegetables and Cabbage

Prep your vegetables—grated carrots, minced garlic, and so on—and add them to the bowl on the scale. Now, add sliced cabbage to the bowl until the actual weight of your flavoring vegetables and cabbage is 1 3/4 pounds (28 ounces, 800 grams).

3. Add 2% Salt

For sauerkraut, we use a 2% salt concentration. For the 800 grams we have in the bowl in this example, that is 16 grams (800 x 0.02 = 16).

Add 16 grams of salt. Mix, pack, and ferment as explained in my step-by-step sauerkraut recipe.

Now you’re ready to ferment with confidence. Say goodbye to slimy, moldy sauerkraut. Set up your scale and try one of my flavorful recipes at:

Sauerkraut Recipes to Please Any Palate

If you haven’t yet purchased a scale, now’s the time to do it. The success of your sauerkraut depends upon using the correct amount of salt for the cabbage and vegetables you have sliced.

Or, if you have never made sauerkraut follow:

How to Make Sauerkraut in a Jar: The Complete Guide

Now, I’d like to hear from you.

How are you determining how much salt to add to your sauerkraut or ferment, and… what type of results are you getting?

Winging it?

By taste?

By weighing your ingredients?

By weighing your ingredients and weighing your salt?

Whatever method you are using, let me know by leaving a comment below right now.

Last update on 2021-10-24 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

10 thoughts on “How to Radically Improve Your Fermentation Success [Game-Changing Tool]”

    • Yes, if fact it is probably super accurate. Just need to be able to switch to grams and the ability for it to weigh both your bowl and 800 grams of ingredients. The one I use can weigh up to 10 pounds.

      Reply
  1. I am glad to see an offering based on weight…due to the different grain sizes of the different types of salt, all salts by volume are not the same…1 T. fine sea salt will weigh much more than 1T. Kosher salt, and will result in a much saltier end result, no matter what the recipe…

    An easy way to calculate the required salt for pickling, assuming the 2% concentration, is to measure the net weight of the veggies, in grams, and multiply that number by .02….the result is the amount of salt, in grams required…regardless of the type of salt used…salt is salt.

    For example, last Saturday, I made sauerkraut, with carrots, red cabbage, onions, and garlic…after cleaning and shredding the veggies, I had 3750g (3.75 kg, or about 8#) X.02=75 g of salt needed….this was almost 1/3 C. fine sea salt.

    I live in the U.S., so I don’t normally use the metric system, but it sure would be more accurate if the foodies would begin using this method as a standard!

    Reply
    • Totally agree and changed my fermenting when I switched. See my newer post: Salt by Weight. May 30, 2016. Sorry, on a cell and haven’t figured out how to cut and paste links. ?

      Reply
  2. This is great for sauerkraut but I get confused when fermenting something where water is added like dill pickles. Do I weigh the water along with the cukes?

    Reply

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