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PHOTO: Rachael Dupree
Fruit harvesting is an exciting time on the farm, as visions of pies, cobblers, jams and jellies fill our minds—and our kitchens. When it comes to making the harvest last, sugar tends to be the go-to method of preservation, though for the health-conscious, the litany of sweets that the fruit harvest promises can be a little unsettling. However, you can enjoy fruit preserves without the threat of a sugar coma. The secret is lacto-fermentation.
If you’re familiar with lacto-fermentation, your mind might immediately go to things like sauerkraut, kimchi or cucumber pickles. Vegetables are often the beginning fermenter’s natural starting point because they’re easy to make, leaving a lot of room for error. Fruit, on the other hand, is less forgiving, the sugars quickly turning to alcohol, so one must keep a careful eye on a fruit ferment. If you’re willing to give it the effort, though, lacto-fermented fruit pays you back tenfold with its health benefits, including:
- increased probiotics
- better immune function
- reduced inflammation and bloating
- Vitamins A, C, B and K2
- better nutrient absorption
- regulated appetite
- reduced sugar cravings
Lacto-fermented fruits are a great alternative to conventional desserts, as they offer a bit of sweetness among the sourness typical to any ferment. Add fermented fruit to vanilla yogurt, pop some in a glass of coconut water or sparkling water, or blend them into a smoothie.
Starting Your Fruit Ferment
When experimenting with fruit lacto-fermentation, think small. Unlike lacto-fermented sauerkraut, which lasts in your refrigerator all winter, the more-quickly fermenting fruits have a shorter shelf life of a few weeks to a couple of months. Large batches, especially if you’re trying it for the first time, could result in a lot of wasted fruit. Instead of fermenting in large crocks, work in pint- or quart-size canning jars. This gives you the freedom to experiment with different fruits and spices, while also dampening the pain of a loss if your ferment turns to alcohol.
When fermenting fruit, you should also access to a starter culture, such as whey, kombucha or sauerkraut juice. The increased bacteria in the culture helps slow down the takeover of yeast and prevent your ferment from turning to alcohol too quickly.
Finally, make sure you have a weight to keep the fruit submerged under the brine. If you do a lot of lacto-fermentation, you might want to purchase fermenting weights or a fermentation kit that includes an airlock. However, a plastic bag full of marbles or small rocks, or a smaller jar placed in the larger jar, also works.
A Basic Brine Recipe
I’ve seen several different recipes for fruit fermentations. Some include a sweetener, some don’t. Some include salt, and some include only a packet of store-bought starter. Here’s a simple DIY brine that you can start with for a quart-sized jar and tweak to your liking:
- 2 T. liquid sweetener (honey, maple syrup, agave, and so on)
- 2 T. starter culture (whey, kombucha, water kefir, sauerkraut juice, and so on)
- ¼ tsp. salt
- 3 T. filtered water
Mix ingredients together and set aside until your fruit is prepped.
Fermenting Your Fruit
To prepare your fruit, clean it well and remove any blemishes. If you’re working with fruits that have a peel, such as apples or peaches, you can leave the peels on or remove them depending on your preference. For berries, remove any stems or leaves. Chop or slice the fruit as desired and pack it into a quart-sized jar.
Add any desired whole spices or liquid flavorings, such as cinnamon sticks, star anise, allspice, cardamom, vanilla extract or citrus rinds. Avoid using powdered spices if you can. This can take away from the appearance of the fruit and add a gritty texture to the final product.
Cover the fruit with your starter brine. If the brine doesn’t completely cover the fruit, top it off with filtered water, leaving an inch of headspace from the top of the jar.
Ensure the fruit stays submerged under the brine with one of the weights mentioned above. Set the jar out of direct sunlight in a place where you can check it frequently. Depending on the fruit and the conditions of your environment, the ferment might be ready in as little as a couple of hours and can sit as long as a couple of days. You know it’s ready when it has a sour flavor but doesn’t taste off or rotten. Discard any ferments that have a questionable flavor, have turned mushy or appear to have grown mold.
Store your lacto-fermented fruit in the refrigerator and use within a few weeks.