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Pickling with whey???

After reading a couple websites and recipes about the wonders of lacto-fermentation, talking about making saurkraut w/ whey and soaking whole grains in whey to render their iron more absorbable, I felt inspired.
So I used a recipe I'd found for lacto-fermented saurkraut and whipped it up using some whey I had leftover after making a batch of fresh cheese. But I was puzzled after reading about obtaining whey by straining yoghurt....my whey was nowhere near as sour and funky as that. Which had me trying to find out: is whey, whey? Or are there types? None of the lacto fermentation websites I'd looked over distinguished between types. But I guess there are 2 types: sweet, like I used, and acid, which obviously makes more sense for pickling, fermenting, etc.
Is my saurkraut screwed?

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  1. Tried to do some web surfing to find some answers for you and basically failed. Did find this site where the author says she has decided not to use whey for fermenting vegetables.
    I have no idea if what she says is credible or accurate, but i thought some of the things she says might help you in your search for answers.

    1. It really depends on how you got your whey. Its critical that the product you derived your whey from contained lactobacillus bacteria in the first place. The two most common sources for whey that will ferment effectively are (1) raw cow milk and (2) yogurt. Whey from pasteurized milk does *not* work for lactofermentation because the pasteurization process kills all the bacteria. When you were making your cheese did you start with raw milk or add any cultures? If so, your saurkraut is probably fine. If you used pasteurized milk for your cheese and just coagulated with acid then you're *probably* not going to get good lactofermentation. However, all is not lost. Cabbage often has natural bacteria on its surface that can initiate good fermentation. Using bacteria-containing whey is just more fool-proof because it gives the good bacteria a population advantage over microbes that might cause spoilage. In the future, if you use yogurt-derived whey make sure the yogurt contains live active cultures and doesn't have weird stuff like thickeners and carageenan.

      3 Replies
      1. re: Jen_To

        "Whey from pasteurized milk does *not* work for lactofermentation because the pasteurization process kills all the bacteria."

        ULTRA pasteurized milk does not work, pasteurized milk works. I kefir it every day since raw milk is difficult and expensive to source around here.

        1. re: weezieduzzit

          I disagree. Making kefir you are adding microbes in the form of kefir culture and its fine to start with pasteurized milk. Using whey for lactofermentation requires that the whey contain microbes already, which are not always added in the process of making the whey from milk (unless you are using microbial cultures to make cheese then using the whey from that process)

          1. re: Jen_To

            I'm not using kefir "culture" (if you mean that powdered stuff you can buy from Cultures For Life or Mercola,) I'm using kefir grains (pic included.) I use the whey from it to culture other things all the time.

            Before I had kefir grains I would let a glass of Trader Joe's organic milk (not raw, pasteurized but not ultra pasteurized) sit, covered, on the counter for a few days until it separated and used the whey from that. It worked just fine. I'm sure raw milk is a better choice but many people can't even get raw milk and I wouldn't want them to think they *can't* lactoferment because of it.

      2. Yoghurt whey is it. It isn't very sour because of the added sugar. The whey is called for because of it's probiotic bacteria.

        The whey from your cheese may not have any of the lacto bacteria.

        But the best flavored kraut is started without whey, using the natural bacteria. Then if you want the probiotics, add whey from one brand or several after 2-3 weeks.

        1. In the context of lactofermentation, you should be using cultured or acid whey from yogurt, which contains the bacteria necessary for starting fermentation.

          You should note, though, that whey is not required for lactofermentation. Brining vegetables or adding salt can be enough to inhibit the growth of pathogenic bacteria and encourage lactic acid fermentation.

          1. The whey is for the bacteria, it has live bacteria in it, that then transfers to the vegetable and keeps the balance during fermentation. The "good bacteria" keeps the "bad bacteria" from taking over your ferment and causing rot.

            You will not need as much salt if you use acidophilus bacteria. If you used whey that was cooked, you killed all the bacteria. Straining yoghurt with live cultures is the easiest way to get fresh acidophilus bacteria.

            Sandor Katz is the father of modern lacto fermentation. You will find all the answers about it if you look him up. His books are excellent.

            1. Personally I gave up whey in ferments. They never came out consistent or good. I do salt only now.

              1. Ok, thanks everyone. I made my cheese+whey from UHT whole milk at a gently rolling boil, using vinegar. Doesn't sound too promising then for the sauerkraut ...but I also did add salt (about 1 1/2 Tbsp for 1 head cabbage.) so there may still be hope...
                Thanks for the Sandor Katz reference, just read his tips about
                making kraut and will try that method next time, I think.
                Most of what I was reading about
                lacto-fermentation online seems to have been inspired by a book called "Nurturing Traditions" which I have never read. The recipe I used called for packing down the cabbage in a mason jar until the juices come up to the top and cover it, leaving at least an inch of room, and sealing it tightly with absolutely no opening allowed during the initial few days of ripening. Not weighting it and sealing it tightly seemed a little counter-intuitive to me...? But whatever, I'm giving it the benefit of the doubt, waiting my few days w/o peeking and then we'll see whether or not the salt, um, won the battle with the bad bacterias or not....

                1 Reply
                1. re: Gracemama

                  I've had much better luck with following Sandor Katz recipes/tips than I have from Nourishing Traditions. NT is an interesting read and a good intro to Weston Price's ideas. But Katz is the best source for serious fermentation information.

                  Lots of good info here:

                2. Just checking back in to say that for the record, it worked!
                  I had to split the recipe I was making between 2 jars, and directions called for topping off pressed cabbage w/ water if liquid was not enough to cover. As an experiment(within an experiment) I topped one jar off with the water, and one off with additional whey. The one that got the additional whey was notably more matured and sour tasting after the initial 3 days ripening, causing me to believe that my whey did, in fact, have some useful bacteria in it...
                  Although I'm sure less than it would have had had it been raw, etc.