Traveling with Fermented Foods

Planning a summer vacation but cannot picture yourself without your favorite kombucha or sauerkraut for those roasted hot dogs? In this post Abigail gives you the low-down on traveling with fermented foods.

Posted by Abigail

A few years ago, we were heading to a July family reunion in the mountains of New York. It was a hot, humid, summer day, and we just happened to be traveling there in our little old Honda Civic without any working air conditioning. For whatever reason, I found it necessary to bring my sourdough starter along to bake with while on our vacation.

Over the course of the four hour drive, I watched my starter become progressively more active. It formed little bubbles that became more and more vigorous. It began eagerly reaching towards the top of the jar, rising higher and higher. In the last 30 minutes of the drive, I was balancing the starter precariously, watching nervously as the frothing ferment seeped over the very top lip of the jar.

When we finally arrived, I greeted my long-unseen family with a quick hug and a frantic, “I need a bowl for my starter, fast!” My understanding sister-in-law found a large bowl in the rental home’s kitchen, and I was able to carry on with a quick dough-mixing and proper salutations.

Since then, I’ve also traveled with sauerkraut, radish pickles, and kombucha. While I haven’t had another incident as dramatic as my sourdough starter’s journey, I have learned some ways to care for my traveling ferments and to prevent bubbly disasters while on the road. 

4 Tips for Traveling with Fermented Foods

Watch for extreme temperature changes.

Very cool temperatures can cause a ferment to become very sluggish and lose some of its verve. If the food is already done fermenting and is meant to be in cool storage, then there’s no need to worry about this. However, if it is still in process, be aware that it might need a little extra time at a mildly warm room temperature to complete fermentation.

On the other hand, an increase in temperature can make your ferment much more active than it was at a cooler temperature. This can lead to a rise in sourdough starter, or towards a boost in activity in a vegetable ferment. While there is nothing inherently wrong with a more lively ferment, it can pose the threat of increased pressure and/or faster spoilage if left at very warm temperatures for a long period of time.

For homemade beers and/or bottled kombucha, warm temperatures can kick-start the fermentation again and introduce the danger of explosion. In this case, it is especially important to keep the temperature stable while traveling.

Use an airlock if the food is still fermenting.

If the ferment is still in process, I highly recommend bringing an airlock to  release the CO2 and corresponding pressures inside the fermenting vessel. Without an airlock, gasses build up and can become risky, especially when traveling through areas with high temperatures. Certainly, a jar can be “burped,” but it’s easy to forget about it if you’re on the road. An airlock does the work for you.

Ensure proper storage availability at your destination.

For ferments that are still in process, make sure that the destination has a location in which the room temperature is relatively stable. A week at high temperatures can make even a well-prepared ferment grow mold. For finished ferments that need to be in cold storage, double check that there is indeed a refrigerator or cool area available.

In most cases, these two requirements shouldn’t be a problem. However, some small motels may not have in-room refrigerators, and more remote destinations may not offer indoor temperature control. Consider storage options before bringing fermented foods on an expedition.

Educate fermentation newbies on safety & cleanliness.

If you are staying with friends and family who are unfamiliar with the process of fermentation, be sure to kindly share vital information as needed. Let them know where the ferment should be kept. Make sure no one is licking his finger and sticking it back in the jar. Inform guests new to kombucha that they should only have a little at first, until their guts adjust to drinking the new bacteria population. This is a wonderful opportunity to share both the joy and knowledge of fermentation!

Conclusion

A little foresight can prevent a multitude of problems with mobile fermented foods. Consider traveling conditions, storage options at the destination, and who will be sharing the fermented foods and vegetables with you. If conditions are not optimal, you may want to consider leaving your ferments at home. However, if you can work with changing environments and your ferment is ready to go on tour, bring it along for the adventure! A traveling ferment can bring much nutrition and joy to any destination.

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If you need the right tools to keep on hand for safely fermenting foods, check out the Fermentools Store. There you will find everything you need to turn your own Mason jar into a Made in the USA fermenting vessel.

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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.

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