I blew up a jar fermenting chutney, which got all over my ceiling

January 26, 2022 by Joshua
in Visualization

I was scared of fermentation when I first learned of it, and that people fermented things in their kitchens. I thought it was rare, required specialized knowledge or skills, and could go wrong. I thought breeding organisms could easily lead to breeding the wrong ones so could be dangerous.

I was ignorant. The first time I made sauerkraut, which means fermenting cabbage, I learned it was easy. Each time since I learned it’s safe. As far as I can tell, it’s not just that there’s a wide margin for error, it’s safe and makes food more safe. So while I’m sharing about a small explosion I didn’t expect, the experience doesn’t change that I’m going to keep fermenting and ferment more.

I started with lids designed to release pressure produced by the process as microbes digest sugar in food and produce carbon dioxide. I’m not sure if you can tell from the picture to the right but three jars have bright yellow lids with bumps in the middle. The bumps have a small slit that acts as a one-way valve. CO2 under pressure can get out, but air from outside can’t get in. Oxygen would allow mold to form. There are several ways to do it, but this way works.

You can also keep the jar closed and periodically “burp” it, that is, let the gas out. I didn’t realize how much pressure microbes can create. It turns out a lot. I had been fermenting fruit into chutney in a jar and burping it once or twice a day. I thought after a week or so the fermentation must have mostly finished. I didn’t burp it for longer, figuring how much pressure can it form?

Turns out a lot. I saw the lid bulging out, the metal permanently bent. I gently opened it, expecting it to release a bit of gas as normal. Instead, the top blew off into my hand with a “bang!” and chutney blew all over my kitchen, including the ceiling. My hand didn’t get bruised but stung mildly for a few hours. I was more shocked at the stored energy and explosive release than pain. I learned to respect microbes more.

The chutney still tasted great. My lesson is not to seal fermenting jars, not to avoid fermenting. The results taste too good. It makes more food edible. For example, since my food co-op gives away bruised produce, I take what others don’t and get delicious food out of it (if you ask your market’s managers, you may be able to get free bruised produce too). The media fall over themselves describing the value of “probiotics” and “good gut flora.” I’ve seen the prices of supplements. I get their value for free, minimal work, and delicious flavor. Plus I connect with cultures all over the world that don’t sterilize everything, making it less healthy. I’m less needy and dependent on polluting energy grids and fossil fuels, relying less on refrigeration.

Still, I learned to watch out for sealing jars and creating high pressure. Here are pictures of the permanently disfigured lid.

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