Does the presence of any lactic acid bacteria prove that a fermentation vessel is airtight or even a good choice? This question is currently swirling in the real food world, so I’d like to take a moment to address it.
The presence or absence of ANY type of lactic acid bacteria you can find doesn’t tell you if a jar is airtight or not. It’s a sideshow, a distraction from the real issue- creating the ideal fermentation environment so that ALL of the beneficial products of fermentation are available in the right proportions to help heal your gut or keep your gut healthy. LABs are only a small piece of the puzzle.
Let’s be honest. Who here doesn’t have at least some level of gut damage and a regular environmental assault? In the discussion about historical methods and about which fermentation method is best, we should put into context that their guts were far healthier and far better to sustain any assault by a less-than-ideal method. They weren’t born by C-section, they didn’t have antibiotics, bad food, food intolerances, pesticides and xenoestrogens working against them. Getting the best ferments you can is critical when you’re trying to heal your gut. Those, like me, who could not heal on ferments that weren’t truly anaerobic deserve to have their story heard. I am among them and the pettiness over a small piece of the puzzle has the possibility of misleading and distracting those who are trying to regain their health.
LABs and Oxygen
The presence of un-named LABs do not prove that a vessel is airtight or producing the products of fermentation that you want and not producing those you don’t want. There are some LABs that do tolerate oxygen. Others, who are well-known for their gut-healing properties, easily die in the presence of oxygen. You can manipulate results depending on when and how you test.
The bigger question, though, is actually backwards. Instead of asking if something is airtight, instead you should be ruling out what isn’t airtight by obvious means (mold, oxidation, etc…). THEN, once you have done that, the jars you suspect are airtight would need to undergo lab testing that can’t be done in your kitchen. Testing to prove whether or not a jar is airtight is crazy expensive and involves a lot of work. It’s not something you can do at home.
One fuzzy snapshot of generic LABs isn’t proof a vessel is airtight and all of the desired products of fermentation are being produced and those you don’t want aren’t being produced. Why? Depending on where you withdraw the brine from, how you withdraw it and where you place your microscope focus, you can have wildly varying results. You also have to take into consideration how much oxygen was in the brine to begin with, the level it has reduced to, how old the ferment is.
I can’t emphasize this point enough: The presence of LABs alone doesn’t tell you if there’s vitamins, minerals, enzymes or any of the other dozens of beneficial products of fermentation or the products of fermentation you don’t want to consume and more in that brine. It doesn’t tell you which LABs are present, only that they are. As you can see, this is not just a straight-forward, kitchen experiment. There are a number of products of fermentation (undigestible alcohols, histamines, hydrogen peroxide and more) that can be produced in certain environments or at certain times in a good ferment that you do not want to consume and those can occur with LABs present in the brine. There are other products of fermentation that you do want that vary wildly in amounts in the same ferment over time. Why? As the environment changes, the LABs literally consume those items out of the ferment and then regenerate them into the brine.
Cool, huh? Little LABs happily munching away on the good stuff.
We’ll go over that on another Friday. For now, let’s stay focused on the oxygen-sensitive bacteria. I believe that difference, the highly oxygen sensitive LABs and not just the presence of any particular lactic acid bacteria, is one of the two keys to why I healed when switching my fermentation method.
Show Me The Bifidus
One of the two reasons why I believe I healed on a truly anaerobic ferment when other methods did not heal me is the presence of the highly oxygen sensitive Lactic Acid Bacteria. These strains are all lactobacillis bifidobacterium (bifidus); there are many types of bifidus and all of them are oxygen sensitive, some to the extreme. Each strain of bifidus has a different oxygen toleration threshold.
Why do I think bifidus is key? In a former post you see I discuss BioKult, a well-known probiotic used for gut healing. It contains bifidus, and for good reason. When I switched my fermentation method, I swapped to a Harsch because Pickl-Its weren’t available at the time. That’s when I started healing. Coincidentally, the probiotic I was taking in large amounts at the time (BioKult was not yet available) while using other fermenting methods did contain bifidus. I wasn’t able to get off of it until I went onto the Harsch ferments. I do believe it is connected. I believe the amounts and types of bifidus I was able to get with the anaerobic ferment coming out of my Harsch crock was key to my healing.
The other issue is that some bifidus, when stressed by the presence of oxygen, generate hydrogen peroxide into the brine. The presence of hydrogen peroxide will also tell about if the strictly anaerobic LABs are being stressed or killed off or not. The hydrogen peroxide inhibits LAB growth and reproduction and then kills the lactic acid bacteria once it reaches a certain level and has a negative effect upon your ferment. Some bifidus and other lactic acid bacteria are more sensitive to hydrogen peroxide and some can fight back (by producting catalysts that break down the hydrogen peroxide) somewhat and others can’t fight it at all. The oral intake of hydrogen peroxide is believed to have negative health effects, but we’ll get into that deeper in a post on another Friday. But first, we’ll cover bifidus in more detail and why you want it in your ferments. If you’re trying to heal your gut, the Harsch or Pickl-It is your best bet to produce the oxygen-sensitive strains.
I know some will ask for proof of bifidus’ sensitivity to oxygen, so please read these studies if you’re interested, noting that not all of the strains listed are in the lactoferment you’ve got sitting on your counter and not all of them are ones that would be found in the human gut. This is just a small sample of the studies available on the topic.
Kawasaki S., Mimura T., Satoh T., Takeda K., Niimura Y; 2006. Response of the microaerophilic Bifidobacterium species, B. boum and B. thermophilum, to oxygen.Appl. Environ. Microbiol. 72:6854–6858. Curr. Issues Intest. Microbiol. (2004) 5: 1-8.
W DeVries and AH Stouthamer, Factors determining the degree of anaerobiosis of Bifidobacterium strains. Arch. Microbiol., 65 (1969), pp. 275–287
Akshat Talwalkar and Kaila Kailasapathy; The Role of Oxygen in the Viability of Probiotic Bacteria with Reference to L. acidophilus and Bifidobacterium spp.
A. L. Brioukhanov and A. I. Netrusov; Aerotolerance of strictly anaerobic microorganisms and factors of defense against oxidative stress: A review. Applied Biochemistry and Microbiology Volume 43, Number 6 (2007), 567-582
Could you go into some detail about Fido jars and fermentation? From what I have read and experienced, they do produce anerobic fermentation, as they are Pickl-its without the airlock installed. Since there is evidence that they do let air escape airlock style, are these acceptable alternatives to Pickl-its?
Amanda, I’ve got a blog post about that issue coming soon. Those types of posts take a lot of research and I want to make sure it is complete and accurate before I post it, but I am working on it. I’ll have it out as soon as I can.
Thank you for all your research! I really appreciate your attention to detail and making sure the information is correct!
I’m unsure about the Fidos also.
I found the Nourishing Treasures research @ http://www.nourishingtreasures.com/index.php/2012/05/15/the-science-behind-sauerkraut-fermentation/ rather convincing.
Even if the Pickl-it is better, I’d like to quantify how much better it is.
Thing is I *have* 5 Fidos already, in half gallon size, from random yard sales and auctions before I was disabled.
Fidos are just so much cheaper than the Pickl-its that even if I didn’t have any to start with… if I have to eat three times as much sauerkraut to get the same benefits, the Fidos would still come out ahead for me.
If they’re REALLY not as good for the active fermentation, I’d like to know how they stack up for storage.
Yes, her experiment and her research is quite misleading because she only looked at one tiny slice of the pie, ended the experiment weeks before she should have and drew a lot of incorrect conclusions from what little she looked at. In order to rightly divide science, you have to look at all of the available research and look at the methods, limitations and problems with the available research and then fit your own experimentation into that bigger picture. Lactic acid bacteria is only one piece of the fermentation puzzle and to focus on that to the exclusion of all of the other dozens of products of fermentation and how the environment effects them, too, is a great disservice.
The Pickl-It allows for off-gassing through the airlock and I imagine the folks at Fido would take exception to her assertion that the jars are self-burping. The hermetic certification is very difficult to come by and requires extensive testing. Trapped gases, oxygen, CO2 or the sulfur compounds, have a strong effect on the products of fermentation and it is negative. It creates a negative feedback loop. It isn’t as critical on ferments you make and consume within a couple of days, but for long-term ferments, it’s a huge difference. It also has a negative effect on the flavor.
Also, the risk of Fidos exploding is very real. I’ve had wire bails explode before and make a huge mess and send glass shard everywhere. For those two reasons, I could never recommend someone use a Fido alone as I wouldn’t want the liability when someone winds up in the ER with shards of glass embedded in them.
Fidos can be a good option for storage once you learn what and how to look for the end of off-gassing.
Thanks KerryAnn. That made a lot of sense to me. And I appreciate the time to make such a long reply.
It’s confusing reading both here and there! I haven’t looked into the actual research myself just yet, so don’t know. You both SOUND persuasive on the surface.
I guess I really need to order the Pickl-its. I’ll call hubby and tell him to rob a bank on the way home! 😉 The chemist in me is secretly pleased as it’ll make my kitchen look a bit like a lab! Now I just need a bunsen burner…
I have another question. You say that if you leave the sauerkraut for more than 10 days, it’ll develop off-flavors. She says you get maximum LABs if you leave it several weeks. Again, I’m not sure myself…
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The goal of fermentation isn’t maximum LAB development as quickly as you can. The goal of fermentation is that all of the products of fermentation be optimized. Yes, you can leave it on the counter and get lots of LABs quicker, but you’re also going to be consuming histamines, indigestible alcohols, have a shorter overall shelf life and other issues. I’d rather allow it to take longer and have all of the products of fermentation at their optimal levels and not have the things we don’t want to consume.
Just starting my research on how to ferment and this video was very helpful as I’m looking to get my pickl-it jars ordered. Is it safe to assume that you leave the airlock on the entire 12 weeks? or anytime you’re fermenting for that matter. If I was fermenting potatoes, let’s say, do I have to use them after the 72 hours or so when the bubbles stop or can I wait a couple more days. Any of your brief insights are much appreciated!
Yes, the airlock should remain on as long as the vegetables are off-gassing. For cabbage-based ferments, I’ve had it go about 20 weeks before it died down to a level that could take the plug-r.
For everything except cabbage, onion and garlic, I transfer to the fridge after the bubbling stops and begin eating it immediately. With potatoes, I’d pop them in the fridge once the bubbling stops and keep them in there until you’re ready to use them.
What kind of starter culture are you using to introduce the bifidobacterium, since it is not a soil-based organism?
Dairy kefir grains have bifidus. Bifidus is always a dairy-based culture.
“Dairy kefir grains have bifidus. Bifidus is always a dairy-based culture….”
So bifidus does not show up in sauerkraut that is simply made from cabbage and salt? Or am I missing something?
No, it doesn’t naturally show up in any vegetable ferment.
Thank you so much for all your valuable information, I really appreciate the science backing of your articles.
I saw that you said:
“The oral intake of hydrogen peroxide is believed to have negative health effects, but we’ll get into that deeper in a post on another Friday. … ”
I was wondering if you have written an article on the negative health effects of H2O2 yet. I searched for it but could not find it. If you have, I would love to read it!!!
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Brenda, I have not yet finished that article. I’ve had my plate full with other projects, but I hope to return to writing about fermentation in the future.
“One of the two reasons why I believe I healed on a truly anaerobic ferment when other methods did not heal me is the presence of the highly oxygen sensitive Lactic Acid Bacteria. These strains are all lactobacillis bi fidobacterium (bifidus); there are many types of bifidus and all of them are oxygen sensitive, some to the extreme. Each strain of bifidus has a different oxygen toleration threshold.”
My thought was that if the Bifidus is so sensitive to oxygen, wouldn’t they immediately begin to die off when you opened the jar to eat it’s contents? Maybe the first day you’d have a high counts, but would you a week or two later?
Thanks for any any insights.
Jen, there is a protective layer of carbon dioxide over the contents within the jar. Opening it and taking out kefir to be consumed in a short period of time isn’t going to give enough oxygen exposure to wipe out all of the bifidus before you can consume it.