Saturday, 3 November 2012

Lacto-Fermented Ketchup

Round 1--did I go too far too fast?  Yes, I did.

Have you discovered fermented foods yet?

Oh, boy I have.  I have suddenly been swept away with lacto-fermentation fever.  I'm loving it.  I feel like a mad scientist creating crazy concoctions in my kitchen.  Some of them work out fabulous, some of them do not (which requires that I try it again, with modifications).

My first batch of fermented beets was awful.  They came out ridiculously salty (beets should be sweet, not salty--that was offensive to taste--but my second attempt was AWESOME!!).  And my first batch of cucumbers went overtly soft and salty and sour--I know now that I left them both out on the counter for waaaay too long.  My first batch of roasted hot pepper sauce grew several inches of mold  and even when I removed it and tried again, it happened again.  I think the bad bacteria went too deep into the sauce, so I had to pitch it.  My first mistake there was making the sauce with still-warm peppers straight from the oven, which is bad, and then I set that jar right beside the crockpot and used the crockpot, which caused the jar to heat up again, killing the good bacteria and letting the bad bateria take over.  Funny thing; the hot sauce still tasted good even though it had grown mold (yea, I bravely tasted it), and it was hotter than all heck.  But I didn't think it was a good idea to keep that science experiment.

This is NOT supposed to fail.

The worst complaint that I have with fermenting is that it takes time.  So if you make a mistake, if it doesn't go right, it can take a long time to get the issue sorted out.

Fortunately for me, the ketchup recipe worked out THE FIRST TIME!

Always a good thing.  Failures can be discouraging.  I have an incredibly short attention span, so I'm with you on that one.  But don't give up.  While improper canning techniques can have disastrous consequences, lacto-fermentation experiments that go wrong simply end in...yuck factor.  Not sickness.  So get brave and try something!  For the initiate, I recommend this easy home-made yogurt recipe, or this easy home-made sauerkraut recipe.  But for the adventurous, I give you.......

Homemade Ketchup!

I really missed ketchup after going all paleo-like.  It was a sugar-trap, I knew that.  But since fermentation allows the bacteria to feed on the sugar, which drastically reduces or eliminates the sugar content altogether, why not ferment some ketchup?  Before Heinz ketchup took over the world, ketchup was thick and smoky tasting, not so sugar-and-vinegar like it is today.  It had complex flavor and depth and need I say more?

This recipe comes from Nourished Kitchen here .  This makes a pretty big amount, which is good, because once you have, you're going to start putting it back into all the things you used to put ketchup in and had to omit once you went paleo.  I think this weekend, I'm going to try making a sweet, sticky fermented bbq sauce and it's going to start with this ketchup base.


2 cups tomato paste
1/4 cup honey 
1/4 cup plus 2 tbsp whey
2 tbsp apple cider vinegar
1 tsp sea salt
1 tsp allspice
1/2 tsp ground cloves

Basically, combine all ingredients in a clean jar (except the 2 Tbs whey).  Pour the 2 Tbs whey over the mixture and leave it on top of everything.  Cover it up loosely with a tea towel and an elastic to keep the bugs out.  Forget about it for a couple of days.  After day 2, start to taste it to see when it has reached your desired level of sour.  It will get less and less sweet (and more complex tasting) with each day that it ferments.  When its done enough (probably 4-5 days), you can stir in a bit more vinegar to give it the right texture, or not (the longer it sits, the more liquid that will evaporate).  Up to you.  The vinegar will only add to the amount of time it can be kept in your fridge.

That's the whey on top--nothing bad happening here...
It wouldn't be fair of me to just copy her whole recipe.  So I won't.  Check out the link.  But a couple of things should be noted; I used canned tomato paste.  I used honey and not any special sugar.  You don't have whey?  I bought plain full-fat Balkan Yogurt from the grocery store and made yogurt cheese/greek yogurt to extract the whey (the watery by-product of straining yogurt).  What to do with the leftover greek yogurt?  I'm working on a fermented apple chutney to try in the greek yogurt, also from Nourished Kitchen...  

Now, I've heard you don't need whey to lacto-ferment.  You could just use salt and water.  Well, that works great with vegetable ferments, but not so great with sauces, as far as I've discovered.  If it involves any kind of pureed foods, you better use some whey (or other starter culture) to speed up the process so you can get it fermented and into the fridge (which then slows or halts the fermenting process) before the BAD bacteria (ie. mold) takes over your little experiment.  But maybe you have a different technique?

I learned some stuff along the way......  Keep your fermenting foods away from sources of heat and sunlight.  Allowing your foods to get all warm and toasty will allow mold to grow and you probably won't like that.  It won't kill you, but it will negatively flavor the ketchup or anything else, so don't place it near to the crockpot or in the windowsill, ok?  Not in the fridge, but just....away from everything.  Maybe a separate counter or in the cupboard.  It might be too hot ontop of your fridge.

I let my ketchup sit for 2 days before sticking it in the fridge.  It could have gone 3.  Days later, I pulled it back out and added a bit more whey ontop and let it go a couple more days.  I had to add some apple cider vinegar to thin it down in the end, too, because the fermentation process drew all the excess moisture out of the tomato paste.  But it is now perfect.  It goes great on burgers, and is awesome in Shepherd's Pie with some Worcestershire sauce.  Oh, by the way, you can make your own fermented Worcestershire sauce, too.  Maybe I'll try that soon.  I'll start by searching the Nourishing Traditions and Nourished Kitchen websites.  They're both freakin' awesome.  So don't forget to check it out, will ya?

Doesn't it look great here?  Only the ketchup came out right, though.....


  1. The way you're doing this is risky. You're not actually preserving anything, you're just letting it rot a little. Here are some instructions for lacto-fermentation:

    Even if you don't go read all that, you need to know that lacto-fermentation depends on the elimination of the aerobic organisms that grow in the first stage, and the food is preserved by the anaerobic, lactic acid producing bacteria that grow later (in oxygen free conditions!)

  2. Thanks for the FAQ, Mudflower! I did take a little read through, and there is definitely a lot of info about various concepts of fermenting. I personally, don't begin to believe I'm a pro, but I am a big advocate of Sandor Katz who prefers open-air fermenting, only covering his ferments enough to keep out the fruit flies. I find fermentation to be one giant science experiment, which sometimes works, sometimes doesn't. Your taste buds will know if you're made a mistake, but you can't really hurt yourself even eating the experiments that didn't turn out (because no one could eat something that went HORRIBLY wrong). I will continue to read through those FAQ and learn what I can. In terms of pickl-it lids, I did try a few air-lock ferments, and it does work better with certain things, and with others, it just slows them down too much, particularly in a canadian winter.