Friday, August 29, 2008

the baby bokashi bucket

What is the minimum volume for a successful bokashi fermentation?

Pickles aren’t pickled any more. All right, so some still are—the good ones!—but more and more often these days, cucumbers are preserved in vinegar and sterilized at high heat, rather than truly pickled.

Why is that on bokashislope? Maybe because it’s dinnertime -VBG- Seriously, it’s because I just realized why I’ve been getting some blank looks when I talk about pickling kitchen waste. I thought it was an easier way to explain bokashi than “anaerobic bucket fermentation via Effective Microbes,” but my explanation hasn’t been successful in getting the point across, because people don’t know what it means.

[Heavy sigh.]

Pickling, in the old sense, is fermentation in brine. The active microbes in pickling are lactobacilli. (They’re in bokashi, too!) There’s more info on making old-fashioned pickles here.
Of course, the end result is a little different from those bokashi buckets...

EM for bokashi has three main components—phototrophic bacteria, yeasts, and lactobacilli—working together, often with other microbes, to break down matter. As opposed to pickling, which uses salt to preserve matter altered by the lactobacilli (as well as to regulate the rate of fermentation). So my “pickling kitchen waste” isn’t a perfect explanation anyway.

But it is an easy way for me to approach this new idea. I understand pickling; I’ve had a fair amount of experience with it and other sorts of kitchen-based fermenting over the years. Talk to me about mother cultures and starters, and I can follow along fairly well. As opposed to considering osmotolerance in indigenous micro-organisms.

Whatever that might mean.

Leaving the academic terms to the academics, let’s turn back to those hypothetical pickles and their unsalted cucumber friends who’ll be finding their way into bokashi buckets:

How many of them—or whatever sort of organic matter—must be added to the bucket for successful bokashi fermentation?

Short answer: dunno. Yet.

If I were actually making pickles, it wouldn’t be a question of weight so much as volume relative to container size and brine concentration. But other fermentations do have minimum-size requirements: a sourdough starter, for example, won’t delevop its proper tang without enough raw matter. Making vinegar at home works best in batches of a gallon or larger—at least for me, using the process I learned from my grandmother. Yogurt and crème fraiche can be made successfully, reliably, a pint at a time, and in cooler climes than zone 8b, I used to make crème fraiche in one-cup batches with nary a failure. But the one time I tried to make a single-serving batch of lacto-fermented soda ...well, let’s just say that experiment shall not be repeated.


So what about bokashi? Is there a minimum volume, relative or absolute? I haven’t been able to find any ready answers, though nothing I’ve read yet suggests that there would be. It does seem, however, as if smaller batches might behave differently, especially with certain ingredients. And in bucket bokashi, even a transient off odor could be considered failure, though it would not be in other contexts...

Not just craving pickles, now I’m curious. So I’m going to try to ferment a very small batch of bokashi. And if it works, a smaller one after that, maybe with a few other variables tweaked here and there. Along, of course, with the larger buckets, in which relatively large colonies of microbes can happily propagate.



N.B. Yes, that’s a metal sieve. Though I know that metal and fermentation do not get along, I don’t expect it to fall apart in a single use. If it does, I’ll have learned something! And the baby bucket’s heading for a dark cabinet, so the translucence won’t matter much, though I admit I’ll end up trying to see through the sides. -G-

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