Learn how to sanitize jars for fermentation projects so that you can ferment easily and safely at home– it just takes the right equipment and some easy protocols.
Fermentation is both an art and a science, one that allows food to spoil or rot under controlled circumstances. This means there is a delicate balance of good and bad bacterias at play, and as much as possible you want to give the good guys a chance to thrive. Ensuring that your fermentation equipment is properly sanitized prior to use is the best way to ensure that the good bugs are off to a great start in your project.
Choose the Best Jars for Fermentation Projects
Always choose jars that are meant for canning or preserving. Mason jars like Ball jars (seen above and right), Kerr jars and other brands are made to be boiled in water for canning and thus can withstand the heat safely. DO NOT use recycled pasta sauce jars or similar: these are fine for storing dried foods and herbs, but might not withstand the heat of boiling and could shatter when boiled.
Invest in some quality jars: you can find them at your local health food store, hardware store, big box stores and online. They are cheap, interchangeable, and very handy to have around the house beyond fermentation projects.
The lids are usually two part lids, which are annoying to organize, but are helpful if you are actually canning fruit, tomatoes, or jam. Choose the wide mouth jars to make everything from cleaning to packing the jars easier with your hands or tools. When I make ferments, I use the very large Ball half-gallon jars, but you can start with the quart size (seen at right) and move up once you become a kraut addict!
How to Sanitize Jars for Fermentation Projects
- Add your jars to a large stockpot and cover with water (cover by at least one inch).
- Bring to a boil and let simmer for five minutes at a low, rolling boil.
- Turn off heat, then add two-part lids (lids and bands) into the hot water. Let them sit in the hot water until ready to fill with veggies. Do not let lids boil– it will activate the red-rimmed sticky sealant that is used for proper canning of fruits and veggies.
- Remove carefully using tongs and place onto towels (cold countertops can shock the jars and break them). Let cool slightly then proceed with recipe.
- For bigger Jars: If your jars do not fit into a stockpot, warm the jar under hot tap water. Place jars in sink or dishrack, and carefully fill until overflowing with boiling hot water, ensuring that boiling water covers the inside and outside rim of the jar. Let stand for five minutes, then drain water (very, very carefully). I’ve used this method for years with success.
More notes about how to Sanitizing Jars for Fermentation Projects
- Always sanitize a few extra jars just in case your kraut doesn’t fit into the expected sizes. It’s much better to have a few extra jars ready to go then to have to go back and start the sanitizing process over when you’re already elbow-deep in cabbage.
- Sanitize just before you begin: don’t sanitize in the morning for a fermentation evening. Dust, germs, kitty hair, and other airborne miscellanea can get into the jars and make the jars dirty again
- Don’t worry TOO much about germs: the goal here is not to completely sanitize our lives, but to ensure that our ferments get off to a good start.
- Therefore, you do not need to sanitize bowls, utensils or cutting boards. The jars need to be sterilized because the ferments sit inside for a week or more, and that environment needs to be as clean as possible.
- Yes, I have had ferments go bad, only about four times in about six years. Firstly, you’ll know when it’s bad – the ferment will either smell terrible, or have visible mold or scum. Almost always when my ferments have gone bad it’s because I’ve skipped some part of the santize process or been careless. If you’re going to go through the process of chopping all that cabbage, it’s worth it to get it off to a good start and spend the time doing it right.
Homemade Fermentation Inspiration
I love making homemade fermented foods. For years, I’ve made my own sauerkraut and kim chi, shared with friends, and taught classes in my community. Below are some of my very favorite ferment recipes – of which require these easy sanitizing directions found below.
A spicy, warming, flavorful condiment of Korean origin. My kim chi uses napa cabbage, ginger, garlic, and dried red chilis. Use with rice and veggies, atop noodles, or served alone for a spicy condiment.
My very favorite homemade ferment! I use red cabbage and make big batches every few months. I like to include beets, carrots, and a special blend of herbs to make it tangy and deeply flavorful. I use for salads, sandwiches, wraps, and so much more.
An easy homemade vegan cheese made with cashews and just a few other ingredients. Not a traditional lacto-fermentation, but technically fermented and definitely delicious. Great as a dip, blended into mac & cheese, and so much more.
I use my Vita-Clay slow cooker to create perfect homemade vegan yogurt made with coconut milk.
An easy ferment that is like kombucha but without the tea (and thus, it’s caffeine free).
Homemade kombucha is a wildly fun ferment project.
Jars image from Shutterstock; jar image from Ace hardware