The hardest part about making fermented food or drinks is waiting out the fermentation process. The first time I ever home-brewed beer, I didn’t take that into account, so it was tough to wait.
Although it’s an obvious example, beer is far from the only consumable product humans regularly ferment before eating or drinking. It is, however, one of the oldest.
Knowing how to speed up fermentation helps make everything from bread to pickles to wine, so there are plenty of reasons you may want to learn the process.
What is Fermentation?
Fermentation happens when organisms metabolize carbohydrates in the form of sugar or starches. The carbohydrates then turn into alcohol or acid.
Many fermented foods and drinks, even those that we weren’t trying to turn into wine or beer, have at least a small, sometimes immeasurable, amount of alcohol.
Fermentation requires a specific set of circumstances and ingredients, but that doesn’t mean you can’t adjust a few things to create a quicker result.
Unfortunately, adjustments to the process can result in less flavor, fewer probiotics in the end product, fewer nutrients, or a product with a much shorter shelf life.
What You’ll Need
There are several ways you can speed up fermentation, and innovators are constantly trying to create more and better techniques.
If you’re looking to speed up the process, below is a list of things you may need to adjust along the way:
- Bacteria count
- Food consistency
Step 1: Decide What You’re Making
For our example, we’re going to take a look at the wine-making process. Taking food products like vegetables out of the equation will simplify things so we can focus on the ferment time.
When you ferment foods, like pickles, for instance, you can speed up and slow down the process slightly based on how much or how little you slice the cucumbers you put into the solution.
We want to focus on what we can do to make a larger impact, so wine is a better place to start.
Step 2: Make the Base Wine
Wine is easy to make at home, even if you don’t have all the specialist equipment you’d see at a local winery or supply store.
To start, you’ll need between 60 and 75 pounds of your favorite, high-quality grapes. Any variety you enjoy is fine.
We’ll go with red wine today since it’s less finicky than white. All you’ll need to do is toss all your grapes in a large container and stomp on them to your heart’s content to release the juices.
Admit it, you’ve always wanted to stomp on some grapes! This is part of the process where science is also a lot of fun.
You typically ferment everything when making red wine, including grape skins and even some stems. Once you’ve released the juice, try to pick out most stems, but don’t work too hard.
Now that we have crushed our grapes, we can move on to fermentation and manipulating the process to meet our time constraints.
Step 3: Add Wine Yeast and Watch Fermentation Begin
When you’re making red wine, you don’t need to seal it off from the air, which means you don’t necessarily need to run out and get a wine-making kit.
The container you used to stomp your grapes covered up by a cloth can serve as the fermentation container too. So go ahead and mix your wine yeast into that container and stir.
Although you typically want red wine to get to 80 degrees when fermenting, changing the temperature can increase the speed of the fermentation process.
Step 3A: Picking Your Yeast
When you are fermenting, yeast plays a massive role in the process. Different strains of yeast may be more or less aggressive, so choosing your yeast carefully is a must.
Champagne yeast and sparkling wine yeast both tend to be more aggressive than those that manufacturers label as plain “wine yeast.”
Choosing a more aggressive yeast will inherently cause fermentation to speed up. You should still expect the yeast to need an ideal environment in terms of temperature to keep it going.
Step 3B: Sugar Content Control
Your sugar content will affect your fermentation times because the more sugar the yeast has to consume, the longer time it will take to do so.
If you’re looking for a higher ABV (alcohol by volume), then you’ll need a higher sugar content as well, which will slow down fermentation.
If you don’t mind a lower alcohol strength, then sugar is a factor you can manipulate fairly easily to speed up fermentation. Just make sure that your yeast can tolerate the amount of sugar you choose.
Step 4: Bring on the Heat
Hotter temperatures will result in a faster ferment, whereas a cooler ferment will be a slower ferment. So if you want your wine faster, you may want to put the mash in a hotter space.
Remember, changing the speed of fermentation can give you your finished product faster, but it can also result in some sacrifices.
Professional winemakers will tell you that the faster you ferment, the less likely you are to taste the differences in your wine versus other varieties.
Fermenting at a higher temperature range, and therefore higher speeds may also add a cooked flavor to your wine that is unappealing to most consumers.
Step 5: Let Your Wine Mature
It only takes a couple of weeks for red wine to ferment, even if you’re not trying to speed up the process. Having a faster fermentation process means you’ll get your wine to maturation faster.
You will still want to let your wine mature once you’ve separated the product from all of the excess skins, seeds, and stems, so you still have some waiting to do.
Luckily, speeding up fermentation will mean your overall wine-making time will decrease, even if waiting is still a natural part of the process.
Frequently Asked Questions
Does the Type of Sugar Affect Fermentation Speeds?
Yes. Different types of sugars ferment in yeast at different rates. Glucose ferments the fastest because it doesn’t need to break down. Fructose and sucrose both need to break down further.
Are There Different Ways to Speed Up Fermentation in Food Than There Are In Wine?
Yes! Using less salt in your food fermentation can help to speed up the process. You can also add other beneficial bacteria like brine to the container with your foods to increase fermentation speeds.
What Is the Purpose of Fermentation?
In food recipes, the fermentation process can add flavor and structure, which is what happens when yeast makes your bread rise.
In drink recipes, fermentation can add both alcohol content and light carbonation (due to carbon dioxide production).
In all recipes, fermentation can add probiotics and nutrients that our bodies use in a variety of ways. That’s why increasing fermentation speeds is something we don’t want to do regularly.
Why Would I Want to Speed Up or Slow Down Fermentation?
Sometimes just the prospect of waiting on food or drink to ferment when you’re excited to consume it can be enough reason to speed up the process. There are other reasons, though.
You may want to increase or decrease the alcohol content in a beverage you’re fermenting. Speeding up or slowing down fermentation can achieve that to an extent.
There may also be cases when you’re moving and can’t wait for the full fermentation process to happen in your sourdough starter or your kombucha, so you speed it up to fit your life.
Some small brewers try to speed up the fermentation process because saving a couple of days in that process means quicker production, freeing up their limited equipment sooner for a new batch.
There are lots of reasons you may want to play with the fermentation process when making consumables. You just have to make sure you know there are consequences as well.