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Does Fermented Food Need to Be Refrigerated?

Fermenting food at home has become popular all over the world in recent years. Beginners in making fermented food may think about ways of storing them for a long time. You may wonder if fermented food needs to be refrigerated, learn the best practices here. 

Fermented food does not need to be refrigerated. Refrigerating and fermenting are both options for preserving foods. So, refrigerating fermented food for preservation is not necessary and kills the good bacteria which can decrease its probiotic benefits. However, refrigerating can be used to slow down fermentation to maintain a certain level of taste of your fermented food. 

In this article, I will talk about refrigerating fermented food and its pros and cons. Then I will suggest some alternatives to refrigerating fermented food.  

A few jars of fermented food on the counter.

Do You Need to Refrigerate Fermented Food?

People often forget that the aim of fermenting foods is to preserve food for a long time naturally. In the past, when people wanted to preserve extra vegetables for future use, they would ferment them. 

Fermentation kills the harmful elements or toxins which can spoil food, keeping the food safe to eat for a long time. The good bacteria produced during fermentation enhance the:

  • taste
  • texture
  • nutritious value  

When fermentation is done at room temperature, you have to transfer it to a cool place for storage. It is not necessary for a cool place to be in the refrigerator. A basement or root cellar works well, where the temperature is between 32 and 50 degrees Fahrenheit.   

A refrigerator is not needed to preserve fermented food. However, you can refrigerate it to slow down the fermenting process and keep the taste of the fermented food. It is important to know the correct way to preserve fermented food in the refrigerator for the taste to turn out satisfactory. 

Furthermore, freezing fermented food can go wrong if you do not follow the right process.

How Do You Store Fermented food?

Storing fermented food either at room temperature or in the refrigerator is a viable option. You can store it at room temperature in a dark place that stays cool, like a basement. You'll need to transfer it there once fermentation is done.

Alternatively, you can store it in the refrigerator. This will slow down the fermenting process and preserve the taste of your fermented food better.

To do this right, make sure to store it correctly in the refrigerator, away from direct light.

Additionally, if you decide to freeze your fermented food for longer storage time, make sure to follow proper freezing instructions so that it doesn’t spoil or lose its taste.

A refrigerator in a kitchen.

When to Refrigerate Fermented Food

Beginners might make the mistake of not leaving the fermented food at room temperature (65–80 degrees Fahrenheit) for a few days, and transfer the food to the refrigerator, thinking that the rest of the fermentation will continue there.  

This ruins the taste of the ferment even if you get it out of the refrigerator and leave it on the counter to speed up the fermentation. It will spoil quickly because cold foods grow harmful bacteria when they warm up.   

First, keep the jars or containers of fermented food for 3 to 7 days at room temperature. The first-stage bacteria, known as Leuconostoc mesenteroides and other microbes, thrive in this temperature. This is when the flavor of the fermented food becomes tasty

See, the counter is a great place to store fermented food and with good reason! But cold storage has its place too.

Learn if refrigerating kombucha prevents it from exploding in the article I wrote!

Before putting the fermented food in the refrigerator, taste them to see if you like it. After you store the food in the refrigerator, it will slow down the fermentation process and retain the taste for a long time.  

On the other hand, to completely stop the fermentation process, put the fermented food in the freezer. The temperature of the freezer will kill the microorganisms that cause fermentation.  

HOT TIP: Refrigerating or freezing does not affect the shelf life of fermented food. They will be edible for 3 to 18 months even if you put them in the refrigerator because the fermentation process still goes on.

Tips on Storing Fermented Food in The Refrigerator

Follow these tips if you want to store fermented food in the refrigerator, such as:

  • kimchi
  • homemade sauerkraut or storebought sauerkraut
  • yogurt

Here are some tips and tricks:

Tip #1: Ferment at Room Temp

When you leave fermented food at room temperature, the taste will change in 3 days. So, to enhance it to a tangy-sour taste, wait for 5 to 7 days, and then put them in the fridge. For example, sauerkraut is ready to go in the fridge within 3 to 5 days to get the right taste.

Tip #2: Check Refrigerator Temp

Make sure the temperature of the refrigerator is between 32 and 50 degrees Fahrenheit. If the temperature is warmer than this range, the taste of the food will change quickly. If the temperature is lower than this range, then all the good bacteria will die.   

Tip #3: Replace the Jar Lids 

If you are using special jars or containers with airtight lids, it helps to replace the airtight lids with normal lids during refrigeration. This way the coldness of the refrigerator will slow down the fermentation process

Tip #4: Check the Brine

Before putting the jars in the refrigerator, examine the brine level. The fermented food has to stay submerged in the brine. If it isn't fully submerged, press the food down into the brine. 

Also, the jars should have more brine than empty space as you don't want air in the jar. As a result, the food can grow mold quickly. To not have too much space in the jar, if needed:

  • make new brine to fill up the jar
  • reuse extra brine from another jar
  • put the food in a smaller jar

Tip #5: When to Refrigerate or Freeze

If you are buying fermented foods from the store, you should know how they were kept. If they have been refrigerated, then you have to put the jars in the refrigerator. Otherwise, you can store the jar of fermented food in the fridge when you open it

People also preserve fermented foods like sauerkraut in the freezer. You should put fermented food in the freezer if you do not have any space left in the refrigerator or another cool place. Or, you can put the food in the refrigerator to stop further fermentation of the food.   

Store fermented food in the freezer in small portions. Putting a lot of fermented food together in the freezer is not a good idea because it will take a long time to defrost. It helps to make single-serving portions and put them in plastic bags or containers suitable for freezers.

One risk of putting fermented food in the freezer is freezer burn, which seriously affects the taste. To prevent freezer burn, wrap the storage bags or containers with plastic bags.

The food will be damaged if you do not squeeze out the air from the plastic bags. So, get the air out from the bags as much as you can. 

Tip #6: Date the Jars

Finally, write the date on the jars or containers for both the refrigerator and freezer. This will help keep track of and remember how old the ferment is, and prevent spoiling.

A few shelves of various fermented food at room temperature.

Alternatives of Refrigerating Fermented Food

Now that you know refrigerating fermented food is not mandatory, you can use some other ways to preserve fermented food. There are few places where you can stock up your fermented foods besides the refrigerator. 

Here are the alternatives to refrigerating fermented food: 

#1: Root Cellar or Ground Cellar

In the past, when modern food storage systems were not available, people used to make their own root cellars to preserve food, especially fermented food. The fermented foods preserved in the root cellars will stay good for 6 to 12 months

#2: Basement  

A basement is great for storing fermented foods. The temperature of most basements is usually 45 to 55 degrees Fahrenheit. Hence, good bacteria will build up quickly compared to root cellar fermented foods. 

The taste will not be stable because of the growing probiotics. The shelf life of fermented food in the basement is shorter than in a root cellar or refrigerator.  

#3: Canning

Canning is another popular method of storing fermented food. Canning food will preserve it for years, including fermented:

  • meat
  • fish
  • vegetables
  • fruits
  • grains

Canning uses heat to kill harmful microorganisms which spoil food, but also destroys good bacteria in fermented food. The food will stop fermenting, so the taste and texture will remain the same for a long time. Canned food can be stored anywhere.

#4: Countertop

If you are making a small amount of fermented food or not planning to preserve the food for a long time, store it on the kitchen counter. Make sure the temperature of the kitchen is suitable for the food. The foods will continue to ferment and get sourer, but they will stay good for 3 to 4 months

What are some health benefits of eating fermented food? 

Fermented foods are incredibly nutritious and offer a range of health benefits. Fermenting food helps to break it down into more accessible forms, allowing our bodies to absorb more nutrients. It also increases the availability of some vitamins and minerals, such as vitamin B12 and folate.

Furthermore, consuming fermented foods regularly has been linked to improved digestion, improved gut health, boosted immunity, increased energy levels, lower cholesterol levels, better heart health, reduced inflammation and improved mental health.

Fermented food is also naturally low in carbs, fat and calories, making it a great addition to any diet.

Can you refrigerate fermented vegetables?

Fermented veggies are one of those things that do best when kept at room temperature or in a cool, dry place. Not refrigerating your fermenting raw vegetables is a great way to preserve them longer.

Having a small batch of fermented veggies on hand means you'll always have an easy side dish ready to go for dinner and your digestive tract and healthy gut will appreciate the positive effects of the beneficial bacteria that can help your overall health by enjoying yummy, fermented vegetables. 

Conclusion

You can refrigerate fermented food, but it is not mandatory. There are other ways to preserve fermented food for a long time. Some of these methods keep the probiotics working, which is good for your health!

Use the above mentioned simple steps and tips to help decide if refrigerating your shelf stable food is a good option or not. It's all personal taste and what you plan to do with your food long term. 

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