You know we’re all about fermentation here at Kultured Wellness. Possibly the name gives it away (hmmmm). I regularly get asked what sort of water I use to get the best result from my ferments. I can answer unequivocally that it is NOT tap water. The quality of water we consume is of great importance to:
- Really hydrate us
- Reduce our toxic load (many types of water offer toxic substrates)
- Prevent parasites (via drinking water)
- Provide minerals and electrolytes naturally occurring in water
- Keep our detox capacity tip top
The Problem With Tap Water:
Some of the components found in tap water include:
- Chlorine / chloramines
- Heavy metals
- Hormones / medicine residues
- Pesticide residues
The water that goes into your ferments needs to be as high quality as the water that you drink. Possibly your ferments will be successful by removing only the chlorine and chloramines, but remember that you will be consuming these ferments. Imagine you made a big jar of beetroot kvass. Fresh organic beetroots, a cup of Kultured Wellness kefir starter and 2 litres of chlorinated, fluoridated water! That doesn’t make a lot of sense, does it?
In this blog I am going to take you through my preferences in regard to the water I use for fermentation and why. Here are some of the absolutes and preferable factors in water for fermentation.
Chlorine and Chloramines
Chlorine is added to our tap water to keep any pathogenic microbes under control. As a public health measure, it is necessary. As a gut healing intervention and for our core business - gorgeous, probiotic-rich, nourishing ferments, it is not ideal. Chlorine is antibacterial and it does not discriminate against probiotic microbes or pathogens. When we place chlorinated water into our ferments, it can kill off the probiotics, affecting the quality and number of bacteria (the CFU count) in the finished ferment. If there is a lot of chlorine in the water, this can be a significant impairment to the fermentation process.
How do I get rid of the chlorine from water?
- Boil it – this will remove the chlorine for sure, but can concentrate chloramines, heavy metals and fluoride.
- Let it sit on the bench and the chlorine will dissipate – once again, chlorine is a volatile substance and will dissipate when left open to air. About half an hour on the bench will see the chlorine gone from water. It still does not remove chloramines, heavy metals, fluoride, medicine residues etc.
Chloramines are a somewhat bigger problem than even chlorine when it comes to fermenting. Many fermenters will boil their water or let it sit out. However, chloramine content in tap water is becoming more and more common. Chloramines are created by adding ammonia to chlorinated water. This process is called chloramination and it is popular with water authorities as a public safety measure. You see, the chloramines remain in the water for much longer. Chloramines are also resistant to dissipation and boiling. Yet chloramines can destroy those bacteria we want to make our ferments amazing, just as well as chlorine. Now I hear you asking… how do I get the chloramines out of my water before fermenting?
Fortunately, the method for effective removal of chlorine and chloramines is filtration, which, when done properly, also removes fluoride, heavy metals, medicine residues and other toxicants.
I have chosen the Zazen water system for fermenting and drinking as it not only removes copper, lead, mercury and arsenic, it also removes chlorine, chloramine, fluoride and aluminium. Although the effect of heavy metals on the fermentation process has not been well explored, it is without a doubt desirable to remove them from our food and drink for other reasons. The electrolyte and mineral content of Zazen filtered water mimics that which you would find in a brook or a stream. I love that!
Have a think about the sort of water our ancestors drank and used to ferment. It was usually collected from a natural source where the water would be free from pollutants - living, vibrant water running across rocks high in minerals. Perfectly balanced water not just for the human body, but also for growing fruits and vegetables. It follows that we would use this balanced, natural style of water to ferment our vegetables and fruits, and to drink ourselves.
There have been a few sites out there saying not to ferment with alkaline water without citing a reason. With alkaline water however, oil aint oils. Alkaline water should be ever so slightly alkaline, not heavily alkaline. The lower pH of 7.5 – 8.5 for alkaline water is not so alkaline that it affects the ferments, but alkaline enough to trigger the secretion of stomach acid to aid digestion. In this way we have water suitable for drinking and fermenting. When we test the pH of a ferment fluid after it has fermented, the fluid pH is often 4 or less. This indicates the fermentation process is complete and the bacteria have multiplied enough to lower the pH via microbial activity. I have been using the Slightly Alkaline ZAZEN water for 2 years now for fermenting and always have very active ferments – with the reassurance that the water is mineral and electrolyte dense, free of chemicals, medication residues, heavy metals, parasites, chlorine and chloramines.
Antibiotic and Medicine Residues
There are medicine residues found in most drinking waters, and it is concerning that we have exposure to this. There is limited research on the effects of medicine residues in drinking water, however, it isn’t desirable to ferment our foods or drinks in water with residual medicines.
There is not a lot of information about fluoride’s specific activity against probiotics and its effect on the fermentation process. A slurry of activity and research was undertaken by beer brewers in the late 1950s when fluoride was on the verge of being introduced into mains water and they conceded that levels of fluoride in tap water would not affect the activity of yeast in the beer. With the important impact of fluoride seemingly taken care of, it was generally considered safe and chlorine has gotten most of the attention for its antibacterial effects in ferments. However, we simply don’t know enough about how fluoride affects probiotic bacteria. Recent research has found that fluoride in wastewater impacts the bacterial breakdown of waste. It follows that fluoride could impair microbial activity, and given the many other effects of fluoride such as neurotoxicity, it is best left out of water for fermenting. Even if fermentation is unaffected by fluoride, we do not want it as part of our fermented foods or drinks.
Electrolyte and Mineral Content
Mineralised water is a great option for fermenting. If the water is soft (the minerals have been removed) then it will suck the minerals out of the foods you are fermenting. This is true for drinking water, too. If your water is balanced with minerals it allows the easy flow of H2O in and out of the cells of the body. In fact, areas of the world known for their longevity have access to mineral-rich water - runoff water from the mountains. Those familiar with the concept of diffusion (where a solute will move from an area of higher concentration to an area of lower concentration to balance the amount of solute and remove the concentration gradient) will understand that balanced mineral and electrolyte content can influence the way fluid shifts in and out of our cells. It happens in our tea bags, it happens within the cells and tissues in our body, and it happens in our fermenting jars. So my tip to you would be to avoid soft water, if possible, and use water that has a balanced mineral and electrolyte content. Many people, including traditional fermenters, sometimes prefer soft water; it is easier to produce suds when washing, does not leave calcification and is preferred by bakers. We must ask ourselves though, how did we ferment for millions of years without water softeners attached to our rivers and lakes?
What About Distilled Water?
I would never use distilled water for fermenting or for consumption. You may know of distilled water as demineralised water. And once again, the giveaway is in the name. We want nice, mineral-rich water to bath and nourish our ferments. If there are no electrolytes and no minerals (like potassium, magnesium and calcium) in our water when we ferment, then the minerals in the fruit or vegetable being fermented will get drawn out into the water. For example, if you are going to ferment some yummy fennel, apple, celery, lemon and mint in a jar with a dash of our Kultured Wellness Kefir starter and water – the distilled water will suck a portion of the minerals and electrolytes out of those vegetables. And unless we drink the ferment water, we miss out on a vital aspect of nutrition. The World Health Organisation looked into distilled water and its use in Third World countries. They found that regular consumption of deionised water led to a plethora of health related consequences including excessive urination, mineral depletion, changes in the intestinal wall and alterations of kidney function. Now we are not drinking distilled water every day, however, there is no benefit to fermenting in distilled water and plenty of reasons to avoid its daily consumption.
So there you have it. In a nutshell:
- Filter your water, always and without exception, for fermenting. The chlorine and chloramines will inhibit fermentation.
- Consider a more advanced water filtration system to enhance the quality of your water to support not only fermentation but your overall health
- Some traditional fermenters do not like using hard water, however, I have found my ferments are still virulent and active with hard water and I reap the health benefits of the electrolytes and minerals.
- I do not recommend using distilled water. It is not at all necessary and its overuse is associated with adverse health outcomes.
Katz, S. (2012) The Art of Fermentation. Chelsea Green Publishing, USA ISBN: 978-1-60358-286-5
Bijlsma, N. (2018) Healthy home Healthy Family. Is where you live affecting your health? 3rd Edition. Australian college of Environmental studies: Victoria, Australia. ISBN: 978-0-6481947-9-8Fallon, S. (2001) Nourishing Traditions. 2nd Edition. New Trends Publishing: Brandywine USA. ISBN: 9780979209536