FERMENTATION CROCKS VS. MASON JARS
In the world of food fermenting, there are countless products on the market designed specifically to help fermented food lovers make perfect batches of sauerkraut, kimchi, pickles, kombucha and other fermented foods every single time.
On the cheaper end are mason jars and other food-safe glass vessels, often assisted by add-on products like fermentation weights and air-lock lid systems. For the one-time or once-a-year fermenter, these can be a great option since most of the required equipment can be found around the house or bought at a hardware store for a few bucks.
Occasional to frequent fermenters, however, swear by fermentation crocks which are highly regarded by their advocates as the only way to consistently churn out successful and delicious batches of their beloved fermented foods. Fermentation crocks can generally be found in both the water seal lid and traditional lid varieties and are considered a worthwhile investment for anyone who sees themselves fermenting their own sauerkraut, kimchi, pickles, kombucha and other fermented foods more than a handful of times.
WHICH ONE IS RIGHT FOR YOU?
You are probably asking yourself “What makes one option better than the other?” and “Which option is right for me?” for fermenting your own food. While fermentation crocks can be pricy (although, there are many affordable options available as a result of increased popularity in recent years) we believe their benefits make the investment completely worthwhile for a multitude of reasons.
Read on to learn the 5 reasons why we choose water seal fermentation crocks over mason jars every time!
5.) BEAUTIFUL CRAFTSMANSHIP
Mason jars and other glass jar fermentation systems are industrial-looking and unsightly, not to mention that watching your food ferment is generally an unappetizing experience. Additionally, mason jars and other glass jar fermentation systems require being tucked away in a cupboard or covered with a dish rag to ensure the foods inside are not exposed to natural or artificial light, a key requirement when it comes to fermenting food, most beverages, and condiments alike.
Fermentation crocks are naturally beautiful with their deep color, plus their opaque ceramic walls block out UV rays, allowing you to proudly display your fermentation crock on your kitchen counter or harvest dining table. This can be done while simultaneously concealing the fact that there are foods fermenting away inside!
An added benefit of being able to “store” your water seal fermentation crock in an accessible location is that it enables you to easily notice when the water channel needs to be refilled as a result of evaporation. Keeping water in the channel or airlock is critical to keeping contaminants like insects and dust out of your fermenting foods and something that could easily be missed if the fermentation vessel was kept hidden.
4.) LARGE BATCHES
The most common fermentation crock size has a capacity of 5 Liters or 1.3 Gallons. That means it can hold 5 times more fermented foods than the largest mason jar (1 Quart) or 10 times more fermented foods than a standard-size mason jar (1 Pint), making it significantly easier to produce large quantities of your favorite fermented foods like kimchi, sauerkraut, pickles, kombucha and more. Larger fermentation crocks can make up to 20 to 30 times more fermented foods than a standard-size mason jar, while even the smallest fermentation crock is capable of making 4 times more.
In addition to producing more of your favorite fermented foods per batch, the larger size of a water seal fermentation crock combined with the simplicity of its construction makes for a ridiculously easy process from setup to storage to cleanup. With a water seal fermentation crock, fermenting is easy! Just transfer your food for fermentation into the crock with the weights, place the lid on the crock, and fill the water channel with water. When you are done fermenting, simply rinse the fermentation crock and weights and return them to their happy home on your kitchen counter or harvest dining table.
With jars or other smaller fermentation vessels, the process is similar. However, you will need to repeat it multiple times, typically as few as 2 or as many as 30, to produce the same quantity of fermented foods as a fermentation crock. You will need to purchase more equipment (weights, BPA-free lids, airlocks, etc.) and find more kitchen storage space to house your jars where they will stay cool, dark, and undisturbed. The clean-up process is similarly painful, requiring significant repetition and the need to find storage for your bevy of jars and other required add-ons.
3.) HEAVY STONE WEIGHTS
Substantial fermentation weights are key to keeping your fermenting foods submerged completely in the brine throughout the fermentation process. This is critical to achieving successful ferments, since when fermenting food is not appropriately weighted down it is susceptible to mold growth and spoilage. Even a small amount of exposure to the air is capable of ruining your entire batch so having solid weights is of the utmost importance.
Most fermentation crocks include a pair of semi-circle ceramic fermentation weights (like the ones pictured above) that are thick and heavy. The fermentation weights that come with the most common-sized fermentation crock weigh nearly three pounds! Additionally, their unique shape ensures that the entire surface of your fermenting food is covered and allows for easy insertion and removal by hand thanks to the easy-to-grip center gap.
Small glass mason jar fermentation weights can be purchased, however they tend to be lighter and are less likely to be able to keep your fermenting food fully submerged in the brine. Typically, their shape is that of a flat circle so they can also be more difficult to insert and remove which may require you to tilt the Mason Jar to remove the weight at the end of a ferment and ultimately lose some amount of brine in the process. It is possible to purchase the more substantial ceramic fermentation weights to be used with the glass-jar fermentation systems but unfortunately not for Mason Jars.
2.) WATER SEAL ANAEROBIC ENVIRONMENT
While oxygen is required (and desired!) in the acetic fermentation process by which vinegar is made, lactic-acid fermentation, the process by which we ferment most other foods, abhors it. Lactic-acid fermentation produces the best results in an anaerobic, or “oxygen-free”, environment. The presence of oxygen reacts with the contents of the vessel, resulting in a greater presence of “bloom” or “scum” on the surface of the brine that must be regularly removed to ensure that it is not affecting the fermenting food below. Opening and closing the vessel repeatedly is undesirable as it increases the likelihood of contamination which can damage or destroy the fermenting foods.
In addition to having to repeatedly remove the lid to scrape off scum, mason jars using standard lids for fermentation must be constantly “burped” to allow gases created during the fermentation process to be expelled. Failure to release these gases can result in excess pressure inside the jar, leading to a possible, and probable, explosion. Using mason jars with standard lids is dangerous and is not recommended for food fermentation.
A water seal fermentation crock creates an anaerobic environment with ease by both preventing outside air from entering the fermentation crock and allowing gases expelled during the fermentation process to safely escape. No “burping” or “scraping” necessary! With a water seal fermentation crock, all that is required is periodically adding more water to the channel to account for any evaporation and ensure the seal is maintained. The water seal also creates a true barrier to keep dust and insects out, one that a non-water seal fermentation crock or airlock simply cannot claim to do.
1.) DARK FERMENTATION
The ceramic walls of a traditional water seal fermentation crock ensure an absolutely dark environment for the fermenting foods is maintained throughout the fermentation process, regardless of where you choose to store or display your fermentation crock. It is critical to keep fermenting foods in total darkness throughout the fermentation process because UV rays from light kill lactic acid-producing bacteria, the bacteria that “do” the fermenting, which results in damage to the fermenting food or even total spoilage. Additionally, light from both natural and artificial sources causes further degradation in color, flavor, and nutrients to actively fermenting and previously fermented foods.
Clear fermentation vessels like mason jars offer no protection from light whatsoever. As a result, they must be tucked away during the fermentation process in a closet or a cupboard or covered with a dark towel or some other covering. Because of awkward airlocks and other specialty add-ons, mason jars used for fermenting food often cannot be stacked, making it especially challenging to find enough suitable storage space where they are not getting in the way of normal kitchen tasks.
THE WINNER: FERMENTATION CROCKS
As the makers of the Humble House SAUERKROCK™ Fermentation Crock, we’ve heard time and again from our customers that their batches of sauerkraut, kimchi, pickles, kombucha and other fermented foods made in their SAUERKROCK™ came out far better than anything they ever made in a mason jar. Despite the many claimed “anaerobic” mason jar lids and mason jar stones on the market, nothing compares to an authentic traditional water seal fermentation crock with its water seal, opaque ceramic walls, and heavy stone fermentation weights.
A fermentation crock is an investment that is well worth the money, and they are now more affordable than ever thanks to the rise in popularity of home fermenting and subsequent increase in demand for food fermentation equipment. Our SAUERKROCK™ water seal fermentation crock is highly reviewed on Amazon and comes in two convenient sizes. We recommend the 2L SAUERKROCK™ “City” for individuals and couples who make limited amounts of fermented foods or have limited kitchen storage space, while the 5L SAUERKROCK™ “Original” is the preferred choice for consistent fermenting couples and small families.