Did I buy the wrong grape leaves for fermentation?
September 1, 2020 12:35 PM   Subscribe

Going to be making some fermented giardiniera. I don't have weights to keep the veggies submerged. I'd heard somewhere that putting grape leaves on top can work to keep things in the brine, and may even help keep things crisp (due to tannins in the leaves). But now I'm wondering if I bought the wrong kind? (see inside)

I got a jar of grape leaves at a local Middle Eastern market. But they're in slightly more than just a brine. The ingredients list is:

"Grape leaves, water, salt, citric acid, sodium benzoate, potassium sorbate, sodium metabisulfite added as preservatives."

Obviously I'll be washing the leaves off before adding them to the fermentation jar, but now I'm worried that won't be enough? Will these mess up the fermentation process, due to the other additives the leaves are currently in?

(also, if it matters, I'm using the method described by Brad Leone from Bon Appetit.)
posted by dnash to Food & Drink (10 answers total)
Sorry, but I am confused. I watched the entire video and no mention of grape leaves. He uses bay leaves for the tannins and a glass weight to keep the fermentables below the surface. You can use practically anything to do that. I have used kitchen plates to keep items below a brine level. As long as it fits through the mouth of the container.

That said, I ferment beer, mead, pickles, etc, and I don't see a problem with using the grape leaves -- I just don't understand why you chose them for this if you are following the recipe.
posted by Hey, Zeus! at 1:15 PM on September 1, 2020

My guess as a fermentation novice is that people generally put fresh grape leaves on top, but I bet using brined ones wouldn't make a big difference. As far as I know the purpose of putting leaves on top is to have something exposed to the surface that either won't grow mold or that you can just throw away if it does. I've done it with cabbage leaves on top of sauerkraut and a corn husk once in a pinch.

I'm not sure how any of those preservatives would affect fermentation, you can look them up. I bet small amounts wouldn't throw anything off.
posted by little onion at 1:18 PM on September 1, 2020

Also re: tannins, Kenji Lopez-Alt said in a recent pickle video that he has done tests and doesn't believe that tannins affect crispness; he recommends calcium chloride.
posted by little onion at 1:28 PM on September 1, 2020

Response by poster: to have something exposed to the surface that either won't grow mold or that you can just throw away if it does. I've done it with cabbage leaves on top of sauerkraut

That's basically what I'm talking about. Just spreading a couple grape leaves on top so everything else is for sure below the surface.

I made this last year for the first time but concocted a way to keep things weighted down that, well, let's just say I feel lucky it worked at all and didn't mold. This year I've got new jars and airlock lids, I just need the surface part taken care of. (I made refrigerator quick pickles earlier this summer with bay leaves on top for the same purpose and it worked good - but for this I need larger leaves or something. Hence the grape leaf idea.)
posted by dnash at 2:11 PM on September 1, 2020

Best answer: I would say try it but first wash the leaves under running water for a while then rinse them in a brine equal to what you're fermenting the veggies in. If that feels less that ideal you can always cut a ring of onion to about the size of the jar and use that to wedge things down, it's what I used to do when making pickles when I didn't have fermentation weights.
posted by Ferreous at 2:33 PM on September 1, 2020 [1 favorite]

I’m worried that the preservatives in those grape leaves are going to mess up your fermentation. Preservatives keep things from growing. In fermentation you want (good) things to grow. I would just skip them and use a plate to weigh it down.
posted by HotToddy at 2:42 PM on September 1, 2020 [1 favorite]

You can Google around, but oak leaves are also tannic and fresh ones might be more easily found near you (on trees).
posted by papayaninja at 6:01 PM on September 1, 2020 [1 favorite]

Best answer: So both sorbic acid (potassium sorbate) and sulfur (sodium metabisulfite) are fermentation inhibitors. In a winemaking setting I’ve seen potassium sorbate used to keep a “sweet reserve” of grape juice unfermented for months in order to add back into a dry wine to adjust final sweetness. Sulfur (typically as potassium metabisulfite) is used in a few places to control unwanted fermentation (and more importantly as an antioxidant) and could halt a ferment with sufficient doses, especially in combination with sorbic acid or cold temperature.

Is there enough in these grape leaves after washing to inhibit your fermentation? Probably not. If anything the sulfur and sodium benzoate could help keep mold from forming on the top of your crocks.
posted by Jawn at 6:19 PM on September 1, 2020

My understanding is that things like grape leaves, etc. don’t really have any effect on crispness. For that just pick up some “pickle crisp.” To keep the vegetables submerged the standard advice is to weigh them down with a clean ziplock filled with brine.
posted by slkinsey at 5:13 AM on September 2, 2020 [2 favorites]

In Hungary and Romania we make a lot of home made pickles and the generally accepted knowledge is that without any added tannic acid you don't keep the pickles very long because they go soft. In most places you stick a spear of sliced horseradish root in the jar - this also affects the flavor depending on how much you use. I once helped a group of Hungarian women from Voivodina (northern Serbia) at a folk festival in the USA to prepare pickles for public cooking demos. They freaked out because they could not find raw, unprocessed horseradish root in the supermarket. They decided to try dried grape leaves from a Lebanese grocery store but finally used fresh cherry leaves picked from a local tree instead.
posted by zaelic at 9:46 AM on September 3, 2020

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