A Comparison of Canning vs Fermenting
If you want the healthiest option for food preservation and have cold storage available that does not require electricity, you just might want to consider fermentation as your method of choice. Read on for a great comparison of canning vs fermenting.
Posted by Abigail
When I first started fermenting, I didn’t do it for preservation reasons. I did it primarily for the benefit of including varied probiotics in my diet. However, fermentation is probably one of the oldest methods of food preservation.
Canning is a more commonly recognized method of preservation than fermentation. After all, canned and jarred foods make up a large majority of the food we purchase in the grocery store. Many of us have heard our grandmothers tell tales of putting up food for the winter. Fermentation as preservation, on the other hand, is largely lost to modern society.
How does fermentation compare to canning?
Canning vs. Fermenting
The methods to the madness
During the process of home canning, the food in the jar is boiled for hot enough and long enough to kill any micro-organisms that might be living in the food. During boiling, a vacuum seal is created and oxygen cannot reenter the jar and cause the food to spoil. A sealed can or jar of food is shelf-stable for years*, assuming that the process was done correctly.
During fermentation, you also eliminate the food’s exposure to oxygen by keeping it submerged in a salt brine. You also reduce your food’s exposure to bad bacteria that can cause spoilage with that salt. However, unlike canning, you want your fermented food to grow good bacteria. That good bacteria eat up the sugar in your food. It then “burps” out carbon dioxide and creates lactic acid to keep your food good longer. Fermented foods must be stored in a cool place (i.e., a fridge or root cellar).
Canning primarily focuses on killing any micro-organisms or exposure to spoilage, whereas fermenting focuses on suppressing bad bacteria and encouraging good bacteria.
Canning takes several labor-intense hours to produce a batch of preserved food. I’ve slaved over hot stoves summer after summer, canning jars of jam, tomato sauce, peaches, and pickles. After the food is prepped, it must be ladled into hot, sterilized jars, put into a boiling water bath, processed, allowed to cool and then finally stored.
Fermenting takes less hands-on time than canning because there is no initial processing. The food must simply be packed into jars and covered with a salt brine. Install your airlock system, and voila! All you have to do is let the jars sit at room temperature for a few days while the food and salt do the work for you. After the fermentation is complete, simply replace the airlock with regular lids and move to cold storage.
A water bath canner costs about $30 and a canning kit, that supplies all the tools needed for the job, runs another $15. If you want to can low-acid vegetables or meat products, a pressure canner can cost anywhere between $80 and $225. With both methods, you need to purchase Mason jars upfront, but you can sterilize and reuse them for years on end. Both methods of canning require the continual purchase of canning lids and rings or a more long-term purchase of Tattler-style lids.
For fermenting, you will need a container (mason jars), a weight and an airlock. Fermentools provides one of the most quality and economical kits available, starting at $15 for a single kit or $72 for a 6 pack. Fermenting requires no ongoing purchases of lids since there is no sealing process. You can use the same lids over again.
As you can see, the cost of both methods varies. It depends on what you are preserving and how much of it you’ll be doing.
Canned foods are shelf-stable for years on end and can sit at room temperature. However, one must watch out for rusty lids, temperature changes and any signs of improper processing that could lead to food-borne illness.
Fermented foods must stay in cool storage, (i.e., a fridge or root cellar) to ensure that the fermentation process doesn’t continue to the stage of spoilage. However, fermented products will last for months in cool storage.
While home-canned vegetables are generally comparable in nutrition to fresh vegetables, the content of several vitamins is lowered significantly during heating. Canned fruits and vegetables gradually lose a small percentage of their nutrients over time.
Food preserved by fermentation, on the other hand, actually has increased nutritional value. Fermentation’s beneficial bacteria produce enzymes and additional vitamins that were not present in the food’s raw state. Not only do fermented foods contain more nutrients, those nutrients more accessible to the body. The enzymes produced by fermentation help us to digest our food better, and the bacteria repopulate the gut and help it to function more optimally.
As you can see, there are many benefits to using fermentation as an effective preservation method. While canning certainly has its pros, the advantages of fermenting (particularly its nutritional value) make it a skill worth learning. Let’s put fermentation back on the map when it comes to saving the harvest.
Remember, Abigail mentioned a salt brine in the fermentation process. The best salt for fermentation is Himalayan powder salt because it has trace minerals that your body needs and because it dissolves readily in cool water. You can find Himalayan powder salt in the Fermentools store.
*According to the National Center for Home Food Preservation’s website: “Properly canned food stored in a cool, dry place will retain optimum eating quality for at least 1 year. Canned food stored in a warm place near hot pipes, a range, a furnace, or in indirect sunlight may lose some of its eating quality in a few weeks or months, depending on the temperature. Dampness may corrode cans or metal lids and cause leakage so the food will spoil.”
Abigail is an aspiring homesteader, homeschooler, and music-maker. She lives with her husband and three children on her acre-and a half homestead in scenic Pennsylvania. You can visit her blog about living the homegrown life (and seeking contentment while doing it) at They’re Not Our Goats.