Teaching Children about Fermentation

Have a picky eater? I’ve had a few. In fact, I was one myself as a child. If you have trouble getting your wee ones on board with fermented foods, try a little education. Teaching children about fermentation is fun and provides some important parent/child time that you may not get otherwise.

Home fermentation is a multi-faceted blessing in the household.  It turns fresh veggies into a deliciously living preserved form, reduces waste (from not buying plastic-wrapped store bought food), and offers many probiotic health benefits.  Fermentation also provides an amazing learning opportunity for children as well, with elements that touch self-sufficiency, science, cooking, food responsibility, and, of course, fun!  Additionally, getting kids involved with understanding their food is also is a long-term gift to them, equivalent to proverbially “teaching a man to fish.”

So, with all these obvious benefits, what’s the best way to get started?

Get Started Teaching Children about Fermentation

It should be no surprise that the best way to teach children about fermentation is to have them get their little hands busy making something fermented.  No need to worry if you are new to fermentation yourself—you can share the learning experience together!  If your kids are sauerkraut lovers, it’s a simply perfect recipe to start with, with plenty of messy, cabbage-smooshing fun to be had by all.  And even if they don’t currently like fermented veggies, getting involved in the process might just turn their taste buds around.  You also might want to try whipping up a sourdough starter—bread is hard to refuse for even the pickiest of eaters.

In addition to the practical aspects of teaching kids how to prepare ferments, there are boundless opportunities to teach them about the processes behind lacto-fermentation.

Here are some ideas to get the ball rolling:

  • Have kids keep an “observation notebook” next to their fermentation vessel, and write down all the changes they see.  How does it smell today?  Are there bubbles?  Did the colors change?  Of course once it’s time, compare the taste of the fermented veggies to the raw veggies they started from.  If you want to make it particularly scientific, have them follow the scientific method throughout the entire process.
  • For the very young, teach them how fermentation is done by living bacteria by having them compare the fermentation vessel to themselves.  Ask your child what he needs to be alive… Does he need air to breathe?  Food to eat?  Shelter to keep him safe?  These are things he has  in common with fermentation vessels, because they’re both alive!
  • This is also a good opportunity to reacquaint kids with yeast, bacteria and mold…and bacteria in particular!  Commercials on TV may make it seem like all bacteria is an evil monster that needs to be defeated with cleaners and hand sanitizers, so you may have to do some backpedaling to explain to them that not ALL bacteria is bad—indeed, some is very good.  They might be surprised to find out that they wouldn’t be able to live without their internal bioflora!
  • For history buffs, it might be worthwhile to explore the long and varied history of fermentation, particularly since it is how much of food was preserved before canning and packaging.  On the way, check out the many forms of fermented food from around the world, some familiar, like chocolate and Tabasco sauce, and some more unusual, like Mongolian airag, Inuit kiviak, Korean kimchi, Japanese miso, Turkish kefir, Ethiopian injera. Every culture has something interesting to explore.
  • For older kids, don’t be afraid to get into the nitty-gritty of the science.  Even if you’re an experienced fermenter, it is worthwhile to brush up on the basics of how fermentation works so that you can share accurately. If you’re working with very young children, some of the scientific terminology might be over their head at first, but there’s no need to avoid it.  If they can have the plot to a Disney movie memorized, they are able to learn about micro-organisms.

As a side note, it’s important to keep safety considerations in mind while guiding young kitchen-helpers.  This might be a perfect opportunity to teach some knife skills (like making sure they don’t cut the cabbage wobbly-side down), to clean up after themselves, or how to carefully use an oven while baking bread.

Finally, once you get your kids hooked on fermenting, give them the opportunity to pick out a recipe and try it themselves (with your supervision).  There are hundreds of thousands of different things to try, from fizzy, soda-like kombucha to yogurt to pickled beans (especially exciting if they can grow some of the vegetables themselves!).  For ideas, peruse the many recipes right here on Fermentools–you’re sure to find something delicious.


Ever give your child a gift and then they pester you to play or do it with them? Why not try a Fermentools Starter Kit for the next special occasion? Having a kit to call her own will definitely spark that interest in learning all things fermentation.


Andrew and Michelle are the new owners of a 12-acre homestead in rural America. They are just embarking on this journey that is far removed from their city-life upbringing, so they realize that they have a lot to learn in order to succeed in this new place.Come along with them and read more about what they learn as they make this transition at their blog Simple Life Homestead.

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