Fermenting Fruit for Long-Term Storage

Fermenting fruit is a fun way to enjoy fruit beyond its expiration date and one of the only ways to make fruit last without unnatural or artificial preservatives. The lactobacilli, which are "friendly" bacteria, are the primary agent that ferments the fruit.

How fruit fermentation and vegetable fermenting differ

Fruit fermenting is quite different from vegetable fermenting. Fruit is made up predominantly of sugar, and the sugar affects the process. Fruit has a tendency to spoil quicker and turn alcoholic, as a result of the yeasts consuming the sugars.

To avoid spoilage, you should ferment fruit for shorter periods of time and be sure to use a starter. You can use whey, but extra salt is an alternative starter, although you need to add it carefully so that you don't overdo it and end up with an overly salty product. Savory recipes can tolerate more salt than sweet recipes.

When you keep fermented fruits in long-term storage, two likely scenarios take place:

  • Nonalcoholic fruit ferments can become alcoholic during storage. Over time, the low acid levels and ready food sugar give the yeasts a chance to start working. As the yeasts consume the sugar, alcohol is created as a byproduct.

  • Fruits are likely to spoil during long-term storage because the high sugar and low acids levels of the ferments attract spoiling organisms.

To steer clear of either of these situations, consume your fruit preserves relatively quickly, after a few weeks of fermenting them. However, some recipes, such as those with high acid levels, will last longer with lemons. Lemons have the ability to prolong the freshness of fruit because they reduce the decaying time. Any fruit that has a high acidity level will naturally extend the life of the ferment.

You should eat fruit recipes within a few weeks after they're finished. Plan to make small batches for you and your family and friends.

How to select ideal fruits for fermenting

Fermenting fruits is a great way to explore fruits you may not normally eat.

Here are several tips to keep in mind for your best fermentations:

  • Choose fresh fruits if possible. Although you can create fruit fermentations using canned fruit, fresh fruits make controlling the levels of sugar in your recipes easier. Canned fruit is often a cheaper option, but your health and the recipe's flavor benefit from fresh fruit. You can also use frozen fruit, which is ideal for fruits that may not store well. Allow these fruits to thaw fully and then follow the fermented recipe as usual.

  • Select organic fruits when possible. Organic foods are produced with no pesticides, fertilizers, or heavy chemicals, which are often linked to harmful consequences in both your body and the environment. If your fruits aren't organic, you should remove the skin whenever possible because most of the chemical residue is on the skin.

  • Explore your local options. Depending on where you live and your seasons, local fresh fruit may be in generous supply. Why not grab a buddy and head to your local fresh fruit farmers' market or, heck, go out on a limb — climb a fruit tree in a friend's backyard or visit a pick-your-own fruit farm!

  • Look for fair trade. Fair trade fruit certification ensures that farmers who grow your fruit are paid fairly. This means they're paid at least the minimum wage of the region in which they grow the fruit. Looking out for these labels on fruit supports a healthy economy.

  • Ensure that the quality and texture of your fruit matches your recipe. One of the many secrets to great fermentations is selecting the correct quality of fruit to match your recipe. Is the fruit over-ripe or under-ripe? How will the ripeness affect your recipe?

    Some recipes may require you to have more natural pectin, a carbohydrate that's more abundantly found in less-ripened fruit. Jams and jellies, for example, call for more pectin, while other recipes may encourage you to select over-ripe fruits for better flavor.

  • Choosing imperfect fruits is okay. It's okay to select fruit that may have a bruise or strange bump. You can always cut out the imperfection and no one will ever notice the difference. Depending on what recipe you're creating, you may very well need to mash or chop the fruit regardless.

  • Experiment with various fruit types. Give yourself permission to play and have fun. So many different kinds of fruit are out there, from salmonberries to elderberries to breadfruit to dragon fruit. Test your local grocers for their varieties and see which flavors and textures suit you best.

  • Enjoy your fermented fruit recipes quickly. As a general rule, lacto-fermented fruit recipes have a short shelf life. This isn't true for all fermented recipes, but most that include fruit.

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