If you prepare fermented vegetables and fruits quite often, then you need to give serious thought to fermentation weights. As it turns out, various fermentation jars don’t come equipped with fermentation weights and you need to purchase them separately.
So if you think you can make pickled cucumbers right after you’ve bought your brand new jar, then you might have already set yourself up for disaster. Why? Well, read this article to find out!
Here, we will talk about fermentation weights. Then we’ll dive into their types, the best options available in the marketplace and some DIY examples. So in a nutshell, this is an all-in-one guide about fermentation weights.
Why you need fermentation weights
Fermentation weights are simply a type of stone or any material (usually porcelain or glass) having a mass that is used during the fermenting process inside the jar. They’re also called fermentation stones or followers.
When you are lacto fermenting food items, it’s crucial to keep them submerged in brine solution all the time. Not only does it keep the food healthy and nutrient-dense, but it also protects against mould and other grossies that might otherwise spoil it.
Let’s try to understand the process at a scientific level (don’t worry, it’ll be plain simple).
Acid fermentation is an anaerobic process. That means no oxygen is used during the process and it takes place in the absence of the gas. That’s why we place the air-tight lid on top of it so that little to no air enters the vessel.
The lack of oxygen and the high acidity of the brine solution provides the perfect environment for the fermentation process to proceed. This is because such an environment deters the growth of mould-causing microorganisms.
But the air present inside the jar is not 100% depleted of oxygen. It’s just that the oxygen content in there is lower. As the veggies float on the water because of their relatively higher density, this leaves the section floating above the water vulnerable to the development of mould growth. Just small spoilage is enough to ruin the entire single batch.
That’s where fermentation weights come in. Once you’ve submerged your to-be-pickled food items in the brine solution, you need to place these weights before applying the airlock lid. This ensures that the food stays below the water level during the entire process.
Different types of fermentation weights
Fermentation weights are mostly made from stone and similar hardened material, but there are other variations available. Each has its own pros and cons. Fermentation weights can be classified based on their weight and the type of material used. Some of the widely used weights are:
This type of fermentation weights are made of glass material. Thus, they are transparent and often lightweight. Like the stoned weights, they come in either two halves or round shape. The two halves are then inserted separately into the jar to function as a whole. These are ideal if the food you want to ferment is particularly buoyant.
One of the main benefits of choosing glass weights over others is that they’re very easy to clean and maintain. Furthermore, they can be sterilised and won’t absorb any odour either.
Ceramic weights are very much similar to the glass weights but they differ in their opacity. Unlike glass, these are completely opaque.
The benefits of ceramic weights are that they’re durable and acid-resistant. Also, they’re lightweight and porous. Being porous means that you need to clean the weights thoroughly after each usage to avoid bacterial growth.
If your vegetables are shredded and have a lot of small pieces of debris in them, then consider using pickle pusher instead of the weights. This is because the mould can reproduce even in debris and replicate itself into the entire container.
The pickle pusher utilizes the friction mechanism to wedge into the jar’s opening. Thus, once these are stacked, they restrict any type of matter to float out.
Things to consider before purchasing a fermentation weight
When you have very limited and vague knowledge about fermentation weights, it’s natural to get overwhelmed by the options you have available. Besides the type and brand, here are a few criteria you need to take into account. This will make your shopping easier.
Enough room for the brine
When the fermentation takes place, water is released from the vegetables even after you’ve dehydrated them previously. Cabbage, cucumber are some of the vegetables which contain the highest water percentage.
When they ferment, they release water into the brine solution. So when preparing the jar, it’s recommended to leave at least two to three inches to accommodate this released water.
Thus, the size of the fermentation weight should be in-line with the jar. If the weight is too big that consumes the headspace, then the water might overflow or touch the outer surface.
When the fermentation process takes place, gas bubbles are released. One of the main objectives of the weights is to apply force to the brine solution and the contents.
If the weights are not heavy enough to apply force, then the bubbles formed won’t be able to escape on their own and remain trapped. This often results in poor fermented food. Furthermore, this can overflow the jar just like the previous scenario.
There are multiple options available when it comes to the types of fermentation weights. Some examples include glass, porcelain, stone, plastic, stainless steel and the like. Not everyone is comfortable using a single material for fermenting food.
For example, a homemaker might prefer a glass fermentation weight over a stone one as they might want to keep track of the fermentation process. Others might wish to have porcelain because of their smoothness. Thus, it’d be wise to choose the material that you’re most comfortable with.
Most fermentation weights are strong enough to sustain cracks and corrosive resistant. However, it’s better to inquire about their strength with the retailers and check the product label for safety claims.
After all, they’ll remain inside the jar in a heavily acidic condition for 4-5 weeks at least. So they need to sustain both pressure and acidic levels. If you’re unsure about this, then it’s best to go for stainless steel versions.
Once you get started with the fermentation process, you’ll find yourself making a variety of fermented food items. This is not just limited to pickles but can range from various types of pastes to relishes. The options are endless.
So in terms of application, is the fermentation weight versatile enough to accommodate most of these items? This will make your work much easier and seamless since you won’t have to switch between different types of items.
Depending upon these criteria, you should be able to pinpoint a fermentation weight that’s more in line with your needs. Below we recommend some of the best fermentation weights available in the market for you to purchase.
Best fermentation weights you can buy online
Glass Fermentation Weights
With an innovative design and bulge handle design, these glass weights are worth every penny. A pack of four, these fermentation glass weights are made from high-quality food-safe glass that is tested and does not absorb any odour or flavour.
The weights are designed to fit universally into any wide-mouth mason jars. Thus, if you’re preparing small batches, this set is a good fit for you. The handle on the top makes it easier for you to place and remove. Each weight weighs 15.5 ounces and is heavy enough to maintain the pressure for the entire period.
- Made of food-safe glass
- Innovative design with handle
- Might not be heavy enough
The glass weights with a diameter of 2.7” fit perfectly into a range of jars. Besides that, they are suitable for any wide-mouth mason jar. The handle design at the top makes handing and grasping easy. This product is made from premium quality glass. Being the best in quality, it is both dishwasher and hand wash friendly.
The product – a pack of six weights- comes with a one-year warranty period. If broken, you’ll get it replaced for free.
- Keeps your ferments submerged
- Made of premium quality food-grade glass
- Practical design
- Prone to breakage
If you want a glass weight that’s officially FDA-approved, then consider purchasing these glass fermentation weights from Kinwell. The product is tested to be lead-free and non-porous. So, do not worry that it will absorb any odour or tangy flavour.
Being 2.68 inches in diameter, these are applicable for smaller-sized jars and all wide-mouth mason jars. Furthermore, the glasses are highly durable due to their 1″ thickness. Provided with practical handles at the top (which is patented), it offers a superior grip to insert and remove with ease. Priced cheaply, you should seriously consider this glass weight fermentation set.
- Made of FDA-approved food-grade material
- Small and compact in size
- Solid and durable
- Could become slippery when wet
Fermentation Weights for Mason Jars
This coil set is best when you want to ferment foods in a variety of jars and want your weights to adapt to each one of them. Prepared from 316 Stainless Steel, this set is the best when it comes to safety and durability.
After you’ve immersed the vegetables in the brine solution, place these coils on top of it and close the lid. These can work in virtually any size of mason jars. Made in the USA, this product provides a 100% guarantee of quality and reliable customer service. The weight-only kit is affordably priced and comes with a fermentation recipe eBook as a free bonus.
- Versatile and easy to use
- Made of 316 stainless steel
- Made in the USA
- The silicone covers that the product comes equipped with are not durable
This fermentation lid can be stacked on the top of a fermentation jar to keep the air out while the fruits/vegetables are submerged in the solution. Thus, it acts both as a lid and weight at the same time.
Just buy a wide-mouth mason jar and this lid from Kraut Source. It’s all you’ll ever need to prepare your favourite fermentation food items. With this product, you receive a silicon gasket for better tightening. The gasket is food-safe and FDA approved. That said, you should definitely try out this 2-in-1 hybrid product.
- Makes fermenting foods like kimchi, pickles and the like easier
- Fits perfectly on standard wide-mouth mason jars
- A bit expensive
If you always wanted a fermentation weight as wide and as thick as possible, this is your dream product. The diameter is a huge 2.75″, which is bigger than most weights.
These weights fit seamlessly into any wide-mouth mason jar. The weight of each glass weight is nearly 7.1 ounces which is considerably higher than other glass fermentation weights. This means more pressure is put on the solution, which in turn implies you can prepare large batch sizes with these weights.
The design is appreciable as well. The bottom is slightly concave to allow bubbles to escape. The slight angle aid in inserting and removing the weights.
- The weights fit most wide-mouth mason jars
- Made from high-quality soda-lime glass
- Weight smell of chemicals
Handcrafted in Poland, these crock weights are made of glass and look more like a traditional fermentation weight. They provide an aesthetic appeal to the product, something every homemaker would love to have in their kitchen.
These are non-porous, so you don’t have to worry about the transfer of strong odour and flavours from one batch to another. These patented products are the best alternative to traditional porous ceramics. Choose from four different diameters and start preparing your fermented food items.
- Made of non-porous glass
- Do not absorb anything
- Handcrafted in Poland
- Too big to fit some fermenting crocks
Stone or ceramic fermentation weights
If you’re looking for traditional crock weights made out of stone, then this product from OHIO Stoneware will meet most, if not all, of your requirements. This is free from lead and hence completely safe. Two semi-circle stones fit perfectly into most jars and create pressure for proper fermentation. Made in the USA, each stone weighs around four pounds, bulky enough to keep the veggies submerged for the entire time period.
- Made of lead-free, food-safe stoneware
- Made in the US
- Size could be an issue
This crock weight set is from the same as the previous one with similar features, except for the fact that it is intended for three-gallon jar size. It is slightly heavier weighing approximately 4.85 pounds. So if you’re having a larger batch size, then consider this product over the previous one.
- Fits standard crocks
- Easy to use
- Made of food-grade stoneware
- Too delicate
DIY fermentation weights
So, can you use any other material apart from the fermentation weights available in the market? Well, yes, you can do!
Things to avoid
If you are replacing the weights with any other material, here are a few things you need to avoid:
- Ziploc plastic bags
Ziploc plastic bags are the most common types of material used to replace the weights. But this has its own disadvantages. For example, low-grade plastics are vulnerable to the acidic nature of the brine solution. The low pH level can break down the plastic, which in turn, will release unwanted, toxic chemicals into the batch.
So it’s better to avoid going with plastic bags, or at least the lower grade ones. Go for BPA-free plastic, or if possible, the natural ones.
- Unidentified rocks from outdoors
Rocks and stones should be the first option for fermentation weight. Moreover, these are aesthetically appealing to most people because of their strong connection to nature. But before you start using them as your weight, be sure about their origins. You can’t just simply pick any pebbles from the garden and have it as your weight.
Another disadvantage of rocks is that you aren’t sure about its composition either unless you’re a practising geologist. So you never know how it’ll react with the acidic medium.
- Random household stuff
Most people think that any random stuff they used in their house will do the job of a fermentation weight. But this is often a mistake. Not knowing how it’ll react with the brine solution is a recipe for disaster. That’s where dedicated fermentation weights score a point.
Here are some alternatives which we highly recommend using if you’re skipping fermentation weight.
Good DYI alternatives
- Cabbage core
The hardened core of the cabbage is often thrown away after using only the softer leaves. But you’ll be surprised to learn that the core is probably the single best natural fermentation weight you can use. It is so because of two simple reasons.
The core is made up of nearly the same constituents that make up the leaves. So it wouldn’t react adversely with the brine solution to create something undesirable. Secondly, it is hard enough to apply pressure on the brine solution. Simply, cut it into a size that fits with the jar and it’ll keep the solution pressed for 5-6 weeks.
To prepare a cabbage core fermentation weight, cut the core out and trim it to fit the jar’s size. Either of a square or round shape will work fine. Once done, notch a hole in the middle so that it’d be easier for you to take it out after the process is completed. If you have a big jar, then prepare multiple cores and use some outer leaves for additional coverage.
Check out my posts on sauerkraut:
- Apple weight
Apples are another inexpensive, easy and natural fermentation weight that you can employ for preparing your desired fermented food. To use it, simply trim the outer skin and prepare a circular or square object just like the cabbage core. Also, don’t forget to make a hole in the middle which will help you to take it out once the process is completed.
- Daikon radish weight
Daikon Radish is another superfood which can be used as a natural fermentation weight. They’re hard enough and don’t alter the fermentation process either. To use a Daikon, slice out the portion of the radish that is almost the same as the jar. As they get tapered towards the end, choose the middle section of the radish.
Cut a 1” thick portion from the sliced Daikon. This should resemble a disc. Once done, adjust to the size of the jar by trimming. Don’t forget the hole in the middle.
- Nested jar weight
Besides the natural, organic items you can employ for fermentation weight, there’s another option which is both safe and inexpensive. It is a smaller-sized Mason jar which you can put into the mouth of the jar in which you’re fermenting your fruits/vegetables. Apart from serving as a weight, it also serves as an airlock lid.
One advantage that this type of nested jars provide is that you can intermittently press on the top to check brine level and compress the solution. If you feel like it is evaporating, simply pour some brine from the top into the jar. But the trick is to find a jar that is exactly or nearly the same size as the jar you’re fermenting your food in.
How to use fermentation weights
Fermentation weights are easy to use. They’re very straightforward with no learning curve whatsoever. But you definitely need to take some precautions beforehand.
Cleaning the weights is the fundamental thing you need to know about. This is important because you don’t want any impurities or microorganisms to enter into the jar which would otherwise spoil the entire batch.
To clean the weights thoroughly and ensure that there are no unwanted bacteria, it’s best to boil them. Simply take a container or a stock pot and pour some water. Bring the water to a boil.
Now, wash the weights under running water and place them inside a container of boiling water. The ideal timeframe to keep them submerged in for 20 to 30 minutes.
If the batch is particularly smelly, it’s advised to add vinegar in a 60:40 mix, wherein 40% is vinegar and rest is water. This is required if you’re using ceramic weights which are highly porous.
After you’ve boiled the weights thoroughly, make sure they’re completely dry before you start using them. This is crucial as bacterial growth could trigger itself in wet conditions.
It is recommended to leave the weights for at least 24 hours to dry out on their own completely. Place them under the sunlight and cover them with a transparent lid to protect them from dust particles.
Alternatively, if you’re short on time, make use of an oven or something of that nature that produces heat. Preheat the oven to 300-400 degrees Fahrenheit and place the weights directly on the rack. Let them heat for 20-30 minutes and then turn them off. Allow the weights cool down by themselves.
After you’ve boiled and dried your weights, you’re now ready to use them inside a fermentation crock. Even though they’re pretty straightforward, we’ll nonetheless explain the process step-by-step for convenience. Here’s how to proceed with the fermentation weights:
- Complete the setup process which involves preparing the brine solution and soaking in the vegetables.
- Once completed, make sure all the vegetables are submerged, especially the debris or shredded ones.
- Now, carefully place the weights on top of it. If the weight is single-piece, then simply pick the weight using your fingers and place it on top of the solution. If you’re using a fermentation weight with two halves, then first place one half on one side followed by the second half on the other, opposite side.
- After you’ve placed them correctly, place an airlock lid without fail.
What can I use as fermentation weights?
There are dedicated fermentation weights available, some of which we’ve discussed above. You can also choose natural items like cabbage core, apples, etc.
Are fermentation weights necessary?
Yes, to keep the vegetables submerged all the time.
How do you clean fermented weights?
Boiling and drying are the best way to clean fermentation weights after each use.
How do you keep pickles submerged?
Fermentation weights will keep your pickles submerged for the entire process.
If you’re using fermentation weights for the first time, you’ll immediately see the difference when compared against the result of your previous attempts. Besides preparing great, tangy fermented food, these take out the hassle of applying pressure by any other way. Simply place these on top of the brine solution and you’re done.