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Fermented Foods: Is it necessary to refrigerate them?

by (699)
Updated about 5 hours ago
Created May 05, 2010 at 4:06 AM

In Sally Fallon's book, Nourishing Traditions, her fermented food recipes call for refrigerating the mixtures after letting them sit out for a few days. Is it really necessary to refrigerate them or can you just keep them in a cool, dark place? Or perhaps storing them in another way?

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8100 · December 03, 2013 at 5:18 PM

Even in the fridge, after a while things go bad. I has sauerkraut I made last winter that was way past it's prime by the end of summer despite refrigeration.

Real food rots, eventually. Fermentation slows it down, but does not stop it.

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986 · August 26, 2013 at 7:53 PM

I generally tend to think that traditional people only consumed fermented food after the fall harvest. After all, they had fresh things to eat during the hot season. How many edibles grow during cold weather? It would have been beneficial to preserve veggies for winter.

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1614 · August 26, 2013 at 2:59 PM

If you can/jar any of those foods, you kill the good microbes. It doesn't eliminate all benefit from fermenting foods, but you won't get any of that healthy bacteria in your gut.

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1614 · August 26, 2013 at 2:58 PM

Kombucha and kvass don't require refrigeration, though I do prefer to drink them both cold. I also like fermented tomato sauce/paste that's left out. To prevent mold growth, I top it with good a layer of olive oil and leave it in cool spot.

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1614 · August 26, 2013 at 2:56 PM

yep, I have friends who regularly keep their sauerkraut outside in a cool place throughout the fall and winter.

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10 · January 13, 2012 at 6:37 PM

That's because it wasn't "after fermentation". If it was unrefrigerated, it kept fermenting. Nothing wrong with that. Sauerkraut can be fermented from a few days to several months, depending on how you like it. Refrigeration stops, or slows down fermentation. So, when it gets to where you like it, stick it in the cool box, where it will maintain that state for months.

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2633 · May 05, 2010 at 9:38 PM

To the kimchi, sauerkraut, and pickles listed below, we can add natto, miso, herring, cod-liver oil to the list of foods that don't need additional refrigeration. Those are the ones I know of, no doubt there are others. It seems the finishing pH and residual sugar level is the determinate of whether refrigeration is required.

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9 Answers

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2633 · May 05, 2010 at 5:24 AM

It depends on the food being fermented, but most foods will need refrigeration after the desired fermentation is complete.

The reason is, there is always another microbe ready and willing to keep the ferment (ie. rot) going. During the primary/desired ferment the environment was not suitable for toxic microbes to grow and compete. As the sugars and starches are metabolized, and by-products accumulate and pH changes, the ability of the desirable microbes (ie. non-toxic to us) to survive drops while the ability of other, undesirable microbes (ie. toxic to us) increases. Refrigeration severely retards the growth of all microbes. It puts your food (culture) into a state of suspended animation where all the microbes, toxic and non-toxic alike, stop nearly all their growth (food still goes bad in the fridge -- eventually).

The exception is foods that have been sterilized and then a single, very specific strain of microbe added don't need further refrigeration. Once that strain can no longer grow, there are no other microbes ready and willing to keep the ferment going. I think beer is the classic example of this type of controlled fermentation with a single end point.

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2633 · May 05, 2010 at 9:38 PM

To the kimchi, sauerkraut, and pickles listed below, we can add natto, miso, herring, cod-liver oil to the list of foods that don't need additional refrigeration. Those are the ones I know of, no doubt there are others. It seems the finishing pH and residual sugar level is the determinate of whether refrigeration is required.

2fd93e91bb14e641a2bac9c6033e84e2
1614 · August 26, 2013 at 2:58 PM

Kombucha and kvass don't require refrigeration, though I do prefer to drink them both cold. I also like fermented tomato sauce/paste that's left out. To prevent mold growth, I top it with good a layer of olive oil and leave it in cool spot.

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836 · July 24, 2010 at 12:58 AM

My girlfriend is Korean and they have a kimchi refrigerator. The temperature isn't as cool as a regular refrigerator, but it keeps the kimchi from getting too hot in summer weather. Throughout the fall and winter I keep my kimchi on the deck.

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1614 · August 26, 2013 at 2:56 PM

yep, I have friends who regularly keep their sauerkraut outside in a cool place throughout the fall and winter.

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8100 · August 26, 2013 at 7:46 PM

I think it depends on how fast you're going to eat it. Fermented foods keep on fermenting, even in the refrigerator, but the cold temperatures slow down the fermentation considerably.

If you have a cool place to store things AND you're going to consume the fermented food before it turns to overly fermented food, then go for it. Be sure to use VERY clean utensils to pull food out of the container and watch that there's not so much carbon dioxide build up in a closed container that it explodes on a very warm day.

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40 · August 26, 2013 at 1:55 PM

In ancient Korea, kimchi and other fermented foods were kept cool either in cold caves or partially submered in streams/rivers during the summer.

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0 · August 24, 2013 at 4:27 PM

I am wondering the same thing as our ancestors didn't have refrigeration for their crocks of pickles and things. So did they go bad sitting out on the counter for weeks at a time?

I think our ancestors made fermented foods easily during the winter when natural refrigeration lends a hand, but did they ferment during the summer? that is the question

I'd like to think fermented foods are fine sitting around forever, but everyone is so enamoured with their refrigerator it's hard to find any other answer.

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986 · August 26, 2013 at 7:53 PM

I generally tend to think that traditional people only consumed fermented food after the fall harvest. After all, they had fresh things to eat during the hot season. How many edibles grow during cold weather? It would have been beneficial to preserve veggies for winter.

3491e51730101b18724dc57c86601173
8100 · December 03, 2013 at 5:18 PM

Even in the fridge, after a while things go bad. I has sauerkraut I made last winter that was way past it's prime by the end of summer despite refrigeration.

Real food rots, eventually. Fermentation slows it down, but does not stop it.

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15583 · July 24, 2010 at 1:22 PM

It depends on how feremented the food is and on other storage factors. I kept some sauerkraut fermenting for a couple of months, keeping the cabbage submerged beneath the liquid and it was fine. Within a couple of weeks in the fridge, exposed to air, the cabbage had started to turn soft and mushy.

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2065 · May 05, 2010 at 1:26 PM

I think it is actually mentioned somewhere in "Nourishing Traditions" that you can store fermented veggies and fruit in a very cool place, and don't need to store in the fridge. I believe this may even be the preferable storage method. If you look back at that chapter and read carefully, you may find it says this somewhere but I can't remember off hand. I know for 'kraut the flavor is allowed to develop better if you are able to store it out of the fridge.

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2517 · May 05, 2010 at 12:37 PM

According to "On Food and Cooking" by Harold McGee, fermentation of foods like kimchi, sauerkraut and some pickles are done anywhere between 64 degrees F and 58 degrees F, respectively.

I know that past the point of initial fermentation, you can keep jars of these items cool (i.e. in a root cellar) versus actually refrigerating them. I would not, for obvious reasons, leave them in a hot area or in direct sunlight. :)

A big factor, however, would be how you "put up" these foods. If you're following proper canning/jarring techniques, creating a good seal should protect you from any harm.

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1614 · August 26, 2013 at 2:59 PM

If you can/jar any of those foods, you kill the good microbes. It doesn't eliminate all benefit from fermenting foods, but you won't get any of that healthy bacteria in your gut.

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3268 · May 05, 2010 at 12:32 PM

For what it's worth, I made a big jar of sauerkraut, and didn't refridgerate it. It kept for at least two weeks (after fermenting) and did not go bad at all. In fact, it was delicious!

Db4dfe336bd8e47b627818c4e6655117
10 · January 13, 2012 at 6:37 PM

That's because it wasn't "after fermentation". If it was unrefrigerated, it kept fermenting. Nothing wrong with that. Sauerkraut can be fermented from a few days to several months, depending on how you like it. Refrigeration stops, or slows down fermentation. So, when it gets to where you like it, stick it in the cool box, where it will maintain that state for months.

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