Ever read the “How Things Work” kind of books? I love them. This post is one of those types of posts. If you are intrigued by science, and how things come about when you don’t have what is prescribed on hand, keep reading. You’ll be glad you did.
It is comfortable to stick with a known, and successful, salt when fermenting. Whether that is a fine-grind Celtic sea salt or the pink Himalayan salt, a known salt can often guarantee a successful ferment. At the same time, sometimes it is fun to experiment, particularly when you don’t have easy access to the salt you would normally prefer, or you’re just curious.
While in Israel, I decided to use my easy access to the gourmet Dead Sea salts to see how they worked in natural fermentation. I chose two salts, a plain white Dead Sea salt, and the low-sodium salt version. The low-sodium salt has a higher magnesium chloride content compared to the regular salt version.
Knowing how my regular salt behaves, I decided not to have a control jar, and just had my two Dead Sea salt jars going at this time.
Method of Testing:
I sliced up one green cabbage and filled two-pint jars with a mix of the sliced cabbage. To keep the jars even, I alternated adding cabbage to each jar so that each jar would have an even mix of inner/outer cabbage leaves and a mix of slices.
With each jar half full, I added one teaspoon of each respective salt to the jar. I kept the salt types beside their respective jars to avoid mixing up which jar was which. Then, I added more cabbage and another one to one-and-a-quarter teaspoon of salt. For a total of two-and-a-quarter teaspoons of salt per pint jar. Then, the jars were inoculated with two teaspoons of juice from a successful ferment.
Both jars were set up with standard glass weights and airlocks and set on plates side-by-side on the counter.
The standard Dead Sea salt jar started fermenting within 24 hours. The Low Sodium jar took 36 hours before the first signs of ferment were obvious.
Within 56 hours, the Dead Sea salt jar was nearing a complete ferment. The Low Sodium did not reach that stage until 72 hours had passed.
The regular Dead Sea salt jar finished fermenting by 72 hours, the low sodium salt did not finish its ferment until roughly 96 hours had passed.
It seems that a higher sodium content is necessary for an efficient ferment. While the Low Sodium can be used for fermenting, it takes longer and is less efficient. This also means that a low-sodium ferment can have more chance of bad bacterial contamination compared to a regular salt ferment.
After the jars were both fully fermented and chilled, I also did a taste and texture test. The regular Dead Sea salt ferment tasted like the standard cabbage lacto ferment. The texture was crisp, with just the right balance of tangy and salty tones.
The low-sodium ferment was softer by comparison and less crisp, though it was still tangy. It also tasted quite bland and not quite like a standard ferment. There was, however, no off taste or off texture, it was just not quite as nice as a standard ferment.
You can use the Dead Sea cooking salt for fermenting without an issue. The specific salt I used was in a grinder and had to be manually ground before I used it in the ferment. There was no issue with the salt dissolving, however, and it worked well.
I would not recommend using a low-sodium salt unless you wanted to watch your ferment very carefully or use more salt than I did. Using more salt would keep the ferment crisper, but would also defeat the purpose of using low-sodium salt. Blandness could be combated by adding spices like ginger, dill or garlic. However, I would recommend sticking with a standard sodium level salt. If keeping your sodium intake low is important for your health, just make a standard ferment and consume it in small quantities. That will ensure you get the benefits of naturally lacto-fermented foods while keeping sodium consumption in check.
In addition to salt, Fermentools sells a complete kit of tools that turns your ordinary Mason jar into a fermenting vessel. Visit our online store for a complete catalog of products.
Sarah Dalziel is passionate about DIY skills, knowledge, and self-sufficiency. She was homeschooled K-BSc and enjoys questioning, researching, and writing about hands-on skills and preparedness. Ethnobotany, natural dyes, and self-sufficiency fascinate her. If she isn’t writing about them, you’ll find her dipping yarn into a steaming dye pot, or stirring up a batch of woad pigmented soap. Sarah blogs at wearingwoad.com, a natural dye and fiber skills blog, and also at sarahdalzielmedia.com, an interdisciplinary skills and writing blog.