If you love consuming yogurt, sauerkraut, or kefir regularly, then it is safe to assume that you’re a fermented food lover. Undoubtedly, fermented food not only tastes heavenly, but it also can provide varied digestive and gut health benefits.
The good news is that now you can prepare fermented foods at home with the help of fermentation crocks. So how do you that and which are the best fermentation crocks to get started?
I will answer all these questions and more in this post.
What are fermentation crocks?
A fermentation crock or a sauerkraut crock is a stoneware pot which is used to prepare fermented food. It holds cabbages and vegetables in a brine solution and comes with a sealed top.
As fermented foods are becoming more and more popular than ever, you can easily find a range of crocks in the market, each with varying capacity, design and price.
But do not confuse fermentation crocks with pickling jars.
Fermentation crocks are specifically designed to trigger the growth of bacteria responsible for fermenting the food. They keep harmful bacteria at bay.
What’s more, these crocks are often standardized and food-safe. While, on the other hand, picking jars are simply designed to store foods in vinegar or saltwater.
Why you should use fermentation crocks?
Why buy probiotic-rich foods from the supermarket when you can prepare them at home using the best ingredients?
Fermented foods carry a large amount of gut-friendly bacteria and microorganisms in them.
This is how these foods get their superpowers. But this is where the foods sold in supermarkets lag. They are loaded with preservatives and also undergo a process of pasteurization which increases their shelf-life.
With supermarket bought foods, most of the useful bacteria get destroyed or their properties are altered which decreases their overall effectiveness.
That’s why it makes sense for you to prepare fermented food at home using fermentation crocks.
But the reason for buying these crocks solely for the purpose of making fermented food might not be enough for some people. These crocks haven’t been around since the dawn of mankind, after all. So food can be fermented without it, right? Yes, you can.
But here is the inside story.
Previously, jars and earthen pots were used to produce fermented foods before these crocks came to the market. But their usefulness was limited as they were ineffective when a large number of vegetables and grains needed to be fermented.
For example, if you’re fermenting one or two cabbages, then even the smallest jars can accommodate all the materials. But when the batches get bigger, say 10 to 15 heads, then there’s no way you can achieve that task in one go.
The convenience fermentation crocks bring to the table is unmatched, especially on large scale processes. Therefore, if you plan to ferment something and then store it for long term use, then it is always best to invest in a fermentation crock.
How fermentation crocks work
Fermentation crocks are based on the simple principle: they cut off the oxygen supply and allow the microorganisms present in the food to break down in a saline medium.
First, the vegetables are either shredded or taken as a whole. Then, saltwater or vinegar is poured into the crock as per capacity. Next, vegetables are submerged into the mixture completely and weights are placed on the top of the crock.
During the process, the lactic acid bacteria present in the food breaks down hard-to-digest substances like lactose and gluten.
Fermentation crocks are equipped with lids to prevent any air from entering inside which would encourage the formation of yeasts and molds, the primary agents responsible for spoiling the fermented products.
After a few weeks of storage, the fermentation process inside the crock gets completed and you’ll get your desired ferment.
Different types of fermentation crocks
For fermenting any freshly grown vegetables or grains, choosing the right equipment can make a lot of difference. You’ll basically find two types of fermentation crocks in the marketplace. These are water-sealed crock and open crock. Let’s discuss both of them briefly.
The water-sealed crock is considered to be the best fermentation vessel for making fermented foods. Also known as Harsch crocks, these crocks consist of a vessel with a lid and weights that create the ideal barrier between the container and the outside environment.
They have a water trough at the top. Once water is poured, it ensures that no outside air enters inside. Besides securing the brine solution, the water trough allows the carbon dioxide formed inside the vessel to bubble out and prevents outside air from entering. This prevents spoilage to a greater extent.
Water-sealed crocks are ideal for:
- Preventing mold from growing inside the pot and spoiling the food. If your fermented food often gets spoiled due to yeast formation and the like, then water-sealed crocks are the ideal pick for you.
- Large-batch preparation. When you have 20 or 25 cabbages or its other vegetable equivalent to ferment, then you should go for these crocks. The fermentation process produces a large amount of CO2 and this crock helps you deal with it better.
These are the older version of crocks and were used by our grannies. But these are still popular today. Open crock, quite predictably, is not covered with a strong fitting lid. Instead, they rely on weights placed on them for creating the barrier.
Some versions of open crock also use a cloth to seal the top. These crocks are often cylindrical in shape for storing vegetables in whole and are left undisturbed. Because of this, they are more likely to develop a layer of Kahm yeast, which is formed when the vessel is exposed to the air.
These are ideal for:
- Fermenting vegetables in whole. Because of the large size, you can immerse whole vegetables in brine.
- As a pro tip, open crocks are ideal during the cooler period of the year or in places where the temperature is low year-round. In such conditions, molds or Kahm yeast do not generally form on the surface. On top of that, it is advised to check and skim off the surface of the crock every two days for safety.
The best fermentation crocks
German fermentation crocks are always known for their innovative approach towards fermenting vegetables. It is said that water-sealed crocks originated from Germany.
This ceramic crock from Kerazo is handcrafted and imported straight from Germany. Its deep gully feature allows the gas formed during the fermentation process to expel easily. This keeps the inner environment safe and vegetables crunchy. It also prevents dust and air from entering inside. This pot is safe and is certified to be free from impurities like cadmium and lead.
Weighing around 10 pounds, this fermenting crock pot can store around seven liters of brine solution and vegetable content. The smooth finish and brown-copper coloring make this visually appealing. There are handles on both sides for easy handling and storage.
This crockpot comes with the entire set including the lid, and weighing stones. Thus, you don’t have to purchase anything separately. What’s more, it also comes with a recipe book and instruction manual.
- Made of high-quality ceramic
- Prevents dust and air from entering
- Allows gases to expel
- Beautifully designed
- Stones could have been a bit bigger
- Uneven glaze
This is a two-liter fermentation jar with the transparent upper half. So you can literally see your favorite vegetables going through the fermentation process. This crock demands minimal maintenance. Along with the pot, you get silicone sleeve, a red elastic band (for tightening purposes), a solid lid, ceramic weights and a wax pencil.
This fermentation crock comes with a recipe book which covers around 45 easy-to-cook fermented recipes including kimchi, sauerkraut, pickles and many more. You can keep yourself fairly busy trying out these recipes after buying this crock from Mortier Pilon. Rest assured, the crocks are an ideal pick for both absolute beginners and experienced fermenters.
As cautionary advice, it is advised to avoid hot or boiling water in this crock. You should not use it in the dishwasher. This can affect the crock and its functionalities.
The silicone sleeve acts as a protective layer which is easy to remove and wash. This will take some load off your shoulders when it comes to cleaning.
- Easy to ferment
- Easy to clean
This product from Humble House looks more like a regular office tiffin box than a fermentation crock.
Marketed under the Sauerkrock brand and inspired by traditional European culture, this crock is made up of high-quality ceramic. The thick wall provides better insulation between the inner and outer environment. Thus, this fermentation crock is less susceptible to changing temperature or light.
The Sauerkrock has water channel features which seal it from contaminants. The glaze is completely free from cadmium and lead, making a completely safe product for fermenting food. Despite being made of hard ceramic walls, it weighs around four pounds, making it easy to store and transport.
With a capacity of two liters, you can produce a significant amount of fermented food for your family of three members. Reasonably priced, this is the best fermentation crock for busy couples. The product also comes in 5L and 10L variant.
- Made of thick ceramic
- Ideal for fermenting kimchi, pickles and more
- Easy to use
- Could be a hard to clean
Made by a local company in Ohio, this is a neatly-designed fermentation crock kit with a capacity of one gallon.
The top has a diameter of 10”, which means you can ferment whole vegetables. You have the option of choosing either the crock on its own, or the entire kit consisting of crock, cover and weights. It is recommended to purchase the kit for added convenience.
This crock, just like other typical American crocks, doesn’t have a water reservoir around the lid. In other words, it is an open fermentation crock. But being medium in size, it still is on par with its water-sealed counterparts. It just needs regular checking and skimming.
Lastly, this stoneware is safe to be used in the oven, microwave and dishwasher, which makes it pretty versatile.
- Microwave and dishwasher safe
- Made in USA
- High-quality and durable
- Cleaning requires some effort, as with any other fermentation crock
Another excellent fermentation crock from Ohio Stoneware, this product comes with a water trough airlock system to provide the airtight feature.
It is a water-sealed fermentation crock with a mammoth capacity of three gallons. This is a complete kit which comes with a crock, top, weighs and elastic band.
The lead-free white glaze finish is really attractive to look at. It is further enhanced with side handles for easy handling.
Initially, when this product was launched, there were some complaints of defects in its lid and overall design. But this has been corrected and it is safe to purchase. With a 12” opening, it is suitable for making whole vegetable ferments. The water-sealed feature helps in this regard.
As this is a three-gallon product, you can regularly churn out delicious and healthy fermented food in large batches for your entire family.
- Easy to use
- Made in USA
- Design could have been better
With a classic German design, this is a water-sealed fermentation crock with a capacity of five liters.
All its features are the same as the first product on this list, except the capacity, which in this case is 5 liters. So if you’re looking for something smaller than the previous one but not too small, then this might be a good fit.
It has a base of .6″ and walls of 4″ which make it highly durable. Being hand-crafted and fired at 1260, this fermenting crock is free from lead and cadmium. So expect healthy and nutrition-packed sauerkraut every time. This is acid-resistant and dishwasher-friendly.
- Suitable for fermenting vegetables
- Lead and cadmium free
- Ergonomic design
- Stringent temperature requirements
Need to taste your fermented veggies straight out of the crock? Then consider purchasing this fermentation crock which is provided with a spigot tap. Just turn the peg and have it brewed.
With this crock, you can churn out 10 standard size mason jars on a single batch. Thus, it is ideal for a family of four people. The ceramic jar has a lead and cadmium-free glaze finish, making it suitable for home use.
The tap is a 304 stainless steel and BPA-free silicone, which makes it extremely safe for use with no chance of iron leakage. It is advised to tighten the spigot before use to avoid any passage of air back and forth.
If you don’t like the complete black look, there’s a white one available too. If you want a larger one, you have the option of a 10-litre crock which will double up the production.
- Made of food grade material
- Lead and cadmium-free glaze
- Easy to use
- Quality could have been better
This product lets you experience the Korean fermentation technique blended with the latest technology.
It combines the ancient Onggi (earthenware in English) fermentation principle which dates back to 57 BC. According to this principle, there should be a continuous flow of air between the inside and outside the environment through the pot. This principle is really hard to adopt in the modern home environment.
But this product makes it possible, thanks to its inner vacuum lid. It has clay mixed with polypropylene plastic, which makes it stronger and traditional at the same time.
This fermentation crock is specifically designed for food with strong color and odor. The double lid provided at the top traps the smell better than most containers. All these features make it one of the best fermentation crocks for making Korean kimchi or pickles.
- Based on ancient Korean Onggi principle
- Adjustable inner vacuum lid
- Made of polypropylene plastic
Not technically a fermentation crock but more than a useful jar, this is cost-effective equipment for making pickles and other fermented products at home.
There are no weights provided and you’d have to buy them separately. It has a water-seal feature which helps vegetables retain flavor better. Another lid is used to cover the inner brine solution. The product is made from fine porcelain and has a capacity of 7.5 liters.
The craftsmanship is appreciable and so is the design of the jar. That said, this product should be in your buying list if you’re looking for something cheap and cost-effective.
- Made of fine porcelain
- No weights provided
- Quality could have been better
- Better used as a storage jar
Inspired by the millennial-long skilled craftsmanship of Poland, this fermenting crock uses traditional ceramic techniques and is made from vitrified clay. This is hand-crafted and decorated with hand-stamping, a highly skilled art.
When it comes to fermenting food, it has a water-sealable cover which completely cuts off the air supply and aids in flavoring.
This product comes with stone weights so that you don’t have to purchase them separately. Its 10 liters capacity means you can make pickled items regularly in large batches for your family.
- Ideal for making kimchi and pickling vegetables
- Comes with pressing weights
- Its green color might vary from product to product
While the fermentation crocks mentioned above are more than capable of handling their job alone, there are some accessories which will make your life a lot easier. Here are two such useful accessories for your consideration:
Pounding the cabbage to draw out excess liquid is often easier said than done. But this wooden tool from Masontops is designed to help you accomplish the task both easily and fast.
It has a double-sided design, which means you can pound the cabbage with it on both sides. With a length of 10 inches, you can hold it pretty easily too. The product is crafted from signature acacia woods. This product should find a place in your kitchen cabinetry if you’re a regular fermenter.
Working with cabbage can be hard, but this cabbage shredder makes it easy. If the cabbage is not ripe enough, it might get stubbornly difficult to cut it into pieces. But with the advanced stainless and sharp blades, you can now easily slice the cabbage into fine pieces and then submerge in a brine solution to ferment.
It comes with three replaceable steel blades which you can use as per your preference. With a sturdy hardwood frame, this cabbage shredder made in Poland can sustain tough loads and is durable.
You can also use this product to shred other vegetables in your everyday cooking routine, not just cabbage.
How to use fermentation crocks?
Now that you know about different types of fermentation crocks and have selected one from the above-listed items, it’s time to get your hands dirty and prepare some fermented food from scratch.
Here we’ll guide you step-by-step through the process and explain each step in detail for better understanding.
If this is your first time, you’ll find this step-by-step guide really useful. If you’re a seasoned fermenter, this will serve as a valuable refresher.
Step 1 – Soak the weighing stones
Weighing stones keep your vegetables immersed in the saltwater. They are designed to hold the items below the water surface. However, it is important to mention here that stones are porous and suck up the liquid from your crock, which is an unfavorable scenario. Thus, it is highly recommended to pre-soak the stones in saltwater, preferably for 24 hours.
Step 2 – Wash the crock thoroughly and dry it
This should be a no brainer, but still, most fermenters avoid it or forget it. Before setting up the entire fermentation process, always wash the crock inside-out under running water with some soap or base. This will take down all unwanted dust particles and stains and such. Next, dry the crock under sunlight.
Step 3 – Pick your veggies
Next, you need to decide which vegetables (or fruit) you’re going to ferment. Most common vegetables used for fermentation are cucumbers, green tomatoes, summer squash, peas, cabbages, etc. For best results, pick freshly harvested vegetables which are still crisp and free from bruises. Wash them properly and remove any dirt.
Step 4 – Shred or whole fermentation?
When picking the vegetables, you need to decide whether you’re going to cut them into shreds or ferment them whole. Both have their own advantages and disadvantages, but if you’re performing the fermentation at home, it’s more of a personal choice. Farmers and large scale producers often choose to ferment the vegetables whole.
However, this choice depends on the type of fermentation crock you own. As mentioned previously, if you have open crocks, you can ferment the vegetables whole. Alternatively, if you have a water-sealed crock, you can shred and pickle them. It’s much easier and safer as compared to open crock fermentation.
Step 5 – Salt the vegetables
Salting the vegetables is the core process of fermentation. It works best for shredded vegetables. This drains the water from their cells which causes them to shrink in size considerably. This is because 80% of any vegetable is composed of water. When salting, keep the ratio in mind – ideally, one tablespoon of salt for every head or piece of cabbage. Once you’ve salted the veggies, let it rest for a couple of hours.
Step 6 – Squeeze/scrunch the vegetables and add additives
The salt will destroy the cell walls of vegetables within two to three hours. This will ooze the water out of the vegetables. You can notice a considerable amount of water, almost covering the entire container. You can bash, punch and knead the vegetables further to drain as much water as possible.
Then, take a cloth and filter out the water by squeezing it. You’ll be left with a dough-like vegetable with little water in it. Don’t throw the squeezed out water just yet, we’ll be using them back in the process.
To the above, add some additives of your choice for flavoring. Herbs, crushed spices, onions, garlic, garlic scapes, are often the preferred choice. These will add both aroma and complex flavor to the to-be-fermented vegetables. Avoid adding coloring additives and anti-caking agents. They can do more harm than good.
Step 7 – Prepare brine water
Now that the vegetables and the crocks are set, it’s time to prepare the medium which will hold the vegetables for the entire period — like a mother holds a baby in her womb till it develops. You can use tap water, but it’s better to boil it to kill any unnecessary microbe. Once prepared, add salt and vinegar to it.
For wet brining, it is 5% salt against normal water. In other words, one-half of an ounce for a quart of water.
For dry brining, use salt equivalent to 5% of the weight of the vegetable. For example, if a vegetable weighs 5 pounds, use 4 ounces of salt.
P.S. You can use my Brine Calculator to determine salt to water ratio.
Step 8 – Place everything in your preferred fermentation crock accordingly
Once all the ingredients are in place, it’s time to stack them together. First goes the brine solution. Pour the solution into the crock and let it rest for few minutes. Next goes the vegetables. Against, let it rest for a few minutes.
Step 9 – Weighing stones
Now you need to bring the weighing stones from the first step into action. Keep the vegetables submerged. Even a little exposure to the outside environment can make them vulnerable to spoilage and mushiness. Place these half-donut shaped objects on top of the submerged vegetables. Then, cover the top with a solid lid or cloth, depending upon which fermentation crock you’re using.
Step 10 – Find a good location
Everything is set and now you need to find a good location where you can store the crock safely and undisturbed. Ideally, the place should be warm. This will speed up the fermentation process. Keeping the ferment at a cooler place will slow things down.
The ideal temperature is 55 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit. Also, the place should be dark enough with little to no contact with the sunlight. This can produce off-flavors.
Step 11- Check-Inspect-Skim-Repeat
Now that the crock is in place, you shouldn’t leave it as it is till the end. You need to inspect intermittently for any mold or yeast growth. Even after you’ve taken care of almost everything discussed above, there still might be some room left for growth of mold. The best way to ensure that things don’t go out of hand is to remove them as soon as they’re formed.
If you’re using open crock, then checking every day or every other day is compulsory. Mold often gets collected near the walls of the crock. Skim it off using a spoon or paper towel. Repeat this process until the very end.
How do you clean fermented crock?
Fermented crocks can be easily cleaned under running water with a bit of soap or washing powder. As the inside can get stinky because of the fermentation process, apply soap for at least 15 to 20 minutes before washing it finally. Dry it out in the sunlight for best cleaning result.
Can you ferment in plastic?
Yes, you can ferment vegetables in plastic. But make sure to choose BPA-free plastic which is safe for food. However, plastic jars have their own limitations when it comes to handling and storing food. Moreover, large batches of vegetables can be nearly impossible to process in plastic containers.
In the world of rising health problems, fermented foods could prove to be an ideal solution. Besides being gut-friendly, the ingredients present in them are known to fight against many common ailments. With so many benefits on offer, there is probably no reason big enough as to why one should skip fermented foods in their everyday diet.
Fermented crocks (both open vessel and water-sealed) help you make these super foods at home with little effort. So sleeve up and prepare some delicious pickled and fermented food this weekend with the help of the best fermentation crocks.
Comment below with your fermenting experiences.