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Help me science! Finding bulk sources of lactobacillus
August 21, 2014 3:51 PM   Subscribe

I'm looking for bulk sources of lactobacilli to use in fermenting vegetables, specifically L. plantarum, L. mesenteroides, and P. acidilactici -- help me science?

Caldwell's veg starter is sold out all over the place, not to mention spendy when you're looking to do gallons and gallons... According to this site:
Caldwell’s use their own unique, scientifically-developed starter culture that makes the fermentation process more reliable, and produces consistent and beneficial results. It contains three bacteria specifically suited for fermenting vegetables: L. plantarum, L. mesenteroides, and P. acidilactici*.
So why not find and mix my own? (Well, assuming some kind of Food Safe Bacteria-R-Us exists?)

Help? Thanks!
posted by bitter-girl.com to Food & Drink (9 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
Why would you need this? My ferments have always bubbled merrily along on whatever lactobacillus was on the vegetables.
posted by ottereroticist at 4:08 PM on August 21 [2 favorites]


this is a question for greg nog
posted by elizardbits at 4:24 PM on August 21


Yeah that is a bundle of marketing hooey and I wouldn't even try using it without some independent empirical evidence that using a seed culture produces a "better" nutritional or bacterial profile at the end, or a more reliable ferment. For two reasons: first, pickles have been made for a long time without them, and even without the benefit of modern microbiology they pickle just fine; second, the microbiological ecosystem in the crock goes through a succession of dominant species before settling on the ones in the "starter" you're looking for--think of them as the climax species of the pickle forest. The initial conditions (moderate pH) might not even favour their growth, so I'm not convinced that adding them at the beginning is going to have much effect on the ending composition.

Finally, you positively do not need to pay for bacteria--they're everywhere, and the ones you need to make pickles are already all over the vegetables. The trick is making a friendly environment to get things rolling by adding salt. If you are really concerned you could probably add a splash of brine from store-bought lactic acid (i.e. not vinegar) pickles, sauerkraut or kimchi.

(Credentials: biochemistry education, worked as a microbiologist for a while, make pickles a lot)
posted by pullayup at 5:39 PM on August 21 [2 favorites]


Agreed that you don't need it. If you want to jumpstart, though, two options: You can use whey from yogurt (less processed the better), or you can get lactobacillus cultures from cheesemaking supply places. Here's one example.

And you may already know about the fermenter's bible, but if not....
posted by mudpuppie at 5:45 PM on August 21 [2 favorites]


Lactic acid bacteria are very diverse and I am not certain the varieties that are used as starters to produce yogurt (L. thermophilus, which prefers warm environments, or L. bulgaricus) or cheese (L. helveticus, L. casei) would survive and thrive in a pickle culture. In fact, if you look at lists of the major bacteria present in a vegetable ferment most of the cheese starter species aren't even there. Additionally you're still looking at the "climax ecosystem" problem--adding the finished product to a new batch of pickles is like seeding an empty field with acorns--some may grow, but the weeds, better suited to waste ground, will probably overtake them.
posted by pullayup at 6:45 PM on August 21


Also seconding Wild Fermentation. Sandor's new book, The Art of Fermentation, is also worth getting.
posted by pullayup at 6:51 PM on August 21 [1 favorite]


The reason I wanted to try them is that I wasn't happy with the last batch of veg I did and thought it might be good to try the starter culture and see if the results were any different. (All the more so since I'd like to get some big batches going while our CSA has lots and lots of fresh cabbage and other ferment-friendly stuff available).
posted by bitter-girl.com at 6:56 PM on August 21


Keep in mind that any of your ferments will naturally pick up any of the microbes in your environment and any introduced (purchased) cultures will be interacting with or overtaken by local strains. Just let nature take it's course and enjoy your very local product.
posted by littlewater at 9:27 PM on August 21 [1 favorite]


The reason I wanted to try them is that I wasn't happy with the last batch of veg I did and thought it might be good to try the starter culture and see if the results were any different. (All the more so since I'd like to get some big batches going while our CSA has lots and lots of fresh cabbage and other ferment-friendly stuff available).

total daily temperature and salinity are probably the big variables in how things are turning out. depending on how the temperature is swinging, what worked earlier in the season might not be working now...

(says someone who lost his last kimchee batch because it got too hot...)
posted by ennui.bz at 11:50 AM on August 22 [1 favorite]


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