Honey Ferments

 

Honey ferments are almost too good to be true. Minimal risks of the ferment going bad. Easy and straightforward without any fancy equipment. And the flavors are just to die for whether eaten alone, added to fruit salad, used in dressings or marinades, in teas, topping ice cream and desserts. The list goes on and on.

Some background: You may have heard about or tried mead before, the “honey wine of the gods,” which is made when water and yeast is added to honey. The yeast consumes the sugars in the honey and converts it to alcohol. Even bread yeast will do this, but much better flavors are achieved with yeasts specifically selected to complement and enhance the flavor of fermented honey.

What you may not have known is that, given the wild yeasts on fruit and vegetables, as well as that already naturally occurring in honey, mixing these moist items with honey will release their water into honey, thus resulting in a mead-style fermentation even without the addition of commercial yeasts.

If the total water content of honey is around 20%, fermentation is going to take place. (The natural amount of water in honey tends to be around 17%, which is not quite enough to activate fermentation.) As stated, the extra water needed to produce fermentation usually comes from within the fruits or veggies themselves, but pure water could be added in the case of older produce or dried fruits such as dates and figs.

Luckily, sugars are a curing agent which means that they pull water from cell walls. Just merely putting your produce in a jar with a similar amount of honey should take care of the water needed to start fermentation.

Due to the much higher relative sugar content in a honey/fruit ferment versus a mead ferment, not to mention the smaller or less active yeast community, what you will end up with after months or possibly longer of fermenting is something (typically) much sweeter and thicker, and significantly less alcoholic, than mead. Keeping the ferment in the refrigerator after several weeks to a month will also drastically slow this fermentation into alcohol, although it will never get nearly as alcoholic as mead even when left at room temperature.

In short, with this ferment you get fruity syrupy dark honey magic in a jar. Or, if you’re using savory ingredients like garlic, you still end up with something sweet and delicious, but with much more of an umami flavor. Honey garlic, ginger, turmeric, and other savory honey ferments are also good for your immune system and an excellent condiment to have around in the kitchen.

Directions: Rather than give dozens of recipes, I encourage you to use this simple process for any fruit or vegetable you choose. A list of produce ideas to add to your honey is provided below.

1.) Choose a quart or larger jar. Make sure it has been cleaned with warm soapy water and rinsed thoroughly.

2.) Fill the jar up to the halfway point with your chosen fruit(s) or veggie(s).

3.) Pour unpasteurized honey (raw, organic, unfiltered is great) over the produce slowly. Allow it time to sink down and thoroughly coat everything before you decide whether you need more. (Note that it is totally normal at this stage for there to be floating fruits/veggies at the top. You don’t need to keep adding honey.)

NOTE: You want the jar to be around 2/3 – 3/4 full when you cap it. As moisture is pulled from your produce, the water level will keep rising. A final honey-water level around 3/4 up the jar is ideal. You don’t want to reach the shoulder of the jar or higher, as you might do in lacto-fermentation.

4.) For the first week, it is recommended to either stir the ferment with a wooden spoon or turn the jar upside down every day, if not twice. (If turning the jar upside down, seal it tightly and plan to keep it in a large bowl as honey can escape out the side. It is still a good idea to periodically open the jar for the first week, as exposure to air is needed in this ferment.) You don’t use an airlock or weights in honey fermentation.

5.) For the next week or two, stirring or turning can be done less frequently, such as every second or third day.

6.) After the first few weeks, you will notice the produce now sinks below the honey (and is noticeably darker) and the need to stir or turn the jar is essentially over.

7. You can leave it on your counter or in a cabinet as long as you like. Fermentation will be ongoing. It is safe to open the jar and taste it as you desire. If you achieve a flavor you love and want to halt fermentation for all intents and purposes, place it in your fridge.

Notes:

Ferment length: Honey-garlic fermenters often say it should be minimum one year old to get the real umami flavor it’s capable of. Some boast of their dark brown garlic cloves which are three, five, or ten+ years old. These loyalists produce batches throughout the year to have a continuous supply.

Not everything is best after a year. Fruits can be delicious within days or weeks and it’s good to periodically sample and note how flavors change and in what timespan.

Unlike lacto-fermentation, you don’t need to burp your jar every day and in fact there is rarely need to “off-gas” your ferment, though it is recommended from time to time.

For generally non-porous produce which may not easily release its water, it is always advised to cut it into smaller pieces. Similarly, dice large fruit like apples and pears. Cut cherries in half and remove the pit. For garlic, many people just strike the garlic with the side of a knife which will both help remove the peel and create pathways for the water to escape the garlic.

A new ferment of Georgia peaches, local Georgia honey, and homegrown ginger. The peaches above the brine stayed submerged within a week. While waiting for this to happen, be sure to stir the jar each day with a clean non-reactive spoon.

Here are some delicious honey ferment ideas:

  • apple
  • dried apricot (add water, at a rate of 3% of the weight of the honey to ensure fermentation)
  • berries (blackberry, blueberry, cherry, cranberry, raspberry, etc.)
  • dates and figs (add water, at a rate of 3% of the weight of the honey to ensure fermentation )
  • garlic
  • ginger (and/or other rhizomes like turmeric)
  • jalapenos / hot peppers, or fruit with hot peppers
  • jicama
  • lychee
  • unripe/firm mango
  • mixed fruit or mixed berry
  • onion or shallots
  • firm papaya
  • firm peach
  • pear
  • firm plum
  • And one of my all time favorites… pomegranate (with added ginger and ground clove), ready for refrigeration after about a month.

46 Comments

  1. Pretty! This was an incredibly wonderful post. Many thanks for supplying this information.

     
  2. Thanks for the post, I see you added jalapeños,I’m presuming that you can do any sort of chili,garlic fruit mix ? Thanks again, also sounds like a much easier way of fermentation

     
    • Daniel Berke

      Indeed! I have a four-month garlic and thai red chili right now and it is awesome. I’ve done chilies with fruit too, it’s great. Thanks for your interest!

       
      • I’ve heard you should add a small amount of apple cider vinegar to keep the ph under a certain number, as to prevent any risk of botulism. I’m considering making a product and selling it with these types of honey ferments, so I’m trying to figure out the amount of apple cider vinegar to use. I’m currently in product testing and development, and hope to have a few products by next year. Great info in this article. Thanks

         
        • You would want the pH at or below 4.6, so the ACV could depend on the pH of each batch or you could just figure out a uniform amount to add each time but then the pH might vary, albeit consistently hitting below 4.6. But I personally never use ACV and if you see with a PH meter you’re hitting below 4.6, there’s no need to add it.

           
  3. My cranberry honey ferment has been on the go for over a month now but the cranberries have not sunk to the bottom of the jar and I’m not stirring it anymore. Is this OK?

     
    • Daniel Berke

      It can depend on whether fermentation is actually happening. Question: were they left whole or cut? If left whole, did you add water (about 3% of weight of the honey) to initiate fermentation? If fermentation is happening, I’m less concerned about the cranberries at the surface, although you should still stir or flip upside down every so often.

       
  4. Thank you so much for this information! I started an elderberry honey ferment last night for medicinal purposes, but wasn’t sure how long to keep them on the jar. My directions said to strain out the berries at the end, but if the honey is going to be even thicker that might be hard! The seeds in the berries can cause upset stomach, so unless fermentation stops that Im leery about leaving them in. Any suggestions? Thanks again!

     
    • Daniel Berke

      The honey won’t be thick on account of the moisture it will pull from the berries. But for the full process to be allowed to come to maturity, I would suggest waiting at least six months to a year before starting to use. A year is best. If you will be wanting a continuous supply in the future, you should start a new one every several months but this also depends on how quickly you consume it. And yes, I you need to remove the berries. The berries also need to be the safe variety to ferment… black or blue variety. The red variety must be boiled or is very dangerous.

       
  5. Will (edible) flowers ferment in honey? Assuming there’s a source of moisture, either in the flowers themselves being fresh or in the addition of a little fruit or water?

     
    • Daniel Berke

      Yes you certainly can do that. Exactly what you said – add fruit and/or water due to the likely insufficient level of water int he flowers. Or, without adding water, just adding flowers will give you an infusion.

       
    • Would like to use my home grown organic blueberries for a honey ferment with a cinnamon stick, fresh ginger and freshly ground nutmeg. Can I use my frozen berries once thawed in my raw blueberry blossom honey?

       
      • Yes, absolutely. The main source of the yeast (and bacteria and enzymes) that makes honey fermentation possible comes from the honey itself. But even frozen blueberries will typically have retained a fair amount of living yeast once thawed.

         
  6. Leyton Angell

    In the past when I have tried making my own mead any honey was OK (as in commercial unpasteurised) as most recipes called for adding yeast. Would the same honey work for ferments? If using fruits and veg would there be enough bacteria to start the ferment?
    Or would adding some small quantaty of yeast work

    Thanks

     
    • Daniel Berke

      You’re correct. If it is quality unpasteurized honey, you don’t need to add yeast. Yeast added to mead is a way of controlling the flavor but these honey ferments are referring to wild fermentation.

       
  7. Hi there, I started two separate honey ferments: pear and blackberry. After two days, the pear chunks that are floating on top have turned very brown on the skin, does this mean the batch is ruined? I assumed to keep the skin on but maybe I shouldn’t have? Thanks for sharing all these recipes!

     
    • Daniel Berke

      I’m sorry, I was out of town and couldn’t respond in a timely manner, but browning doesn’t necessarily indicate a problem at all. It can be totally normal oxidation. Hopefully you haven’t tossed. My guess would be it is fine. If it smells fine, and you’re willing to venture a taste test and it tastes fine, you should be in the clear.

       
  8. Hi! i loved this post. I have some lactofermented chilis in my fridge. Is it a good idea to ferment those in some honey? or is the saltyness a problem?

     
    • Daniel Berke

      Once you have lactofermented chilies, there’s no reason to then put them in honey. The idea of a honey ferment is that you put fresh, unfermented produce in the honey and the moisture from that produce creates the moisture level necessary for honey to begin fermenting. This is a yeast, alcohol-style ferment, which is different than a lactoferment which produces lactic acid. My advice is to cut up fresh chilies and put those in the honey.

       
  9. I’ve been experimenting with some honey ferments as well as mead-making. Would it be possible or advisable to make a honey ferment with some sort of fruit and then use that as the honey for a small batch of mead? Or would pre-fermented honey and fruit not contain enough sugar to support a mead ferment? Has this been tried before? Thanks!

     
    • Daniel Berke

      I would just add your fruit to the main mead ferment F1 rather than do a honey ferment first and then later add it to your mead. Although I did do that with my leftover honey from my Honey Fermented Charoset recipe which is on this site. When you rack to the F2, you will remove the fruit. However, towards the end of the process you can back sweeten the mead with whatever fruit flavors you want at that time. I usually do that with fruit simple syrups or honey syrups I make so there’s no actual fruit pieces or pulp added. Let me know how it goes!

       
  10. I love what you guys are up too. This sort of clever
    work and coverage! Keep up the amazing works guys I’ve added you guys to our blogroll.

     
  11. How do I ferment honey and pearl onions?

     
    • You can remove the peel or keep it on, but I’d probably recommend removing it since you’ll want to eat those delightful onions. I’d also quarter them, just to allow their moisture to flow out, as is needed.

       
      • Daniel,
        I had the question about fermented pearl onions. Once they are peeled and cut in half do I then just cover with honey? Do I need to add any water?
        Thanks

         
        • Yes, exactly. I would suggest reading the part in the recipe about the process. There is specific guidance on quantities but it’s hard to mess this one up.

           
      • How long do you need to place in fridge to stop fermenting of hot peppers in honey? I have strained honey already

         
        • The ferment won’t really stop it’ll go dormant and that will happen quickly, by the time the ferment reaches the same temp as the fridge.

           
  12. Hey Daniel! I just want to say I see the work you put in to replying to people on here and making it easy for other people interested in fermenting to get into the hobby! Thanks a lot – I know I wouldn’t be getting started without your help

     
  13. I’m really excited about the ginger I have going now… How do I know when it’s done? And then what should I do with it? Amy favorite recipes? Do I used the honey and the ginger both?

     
    • Oh you’re going to love it! There’s two schools of thought about when it’s ready. One is more informal, simply when it tastes good to you and has shown visible signs of fermentation, you can start eating it when you want. Still, a good benchmark is when everything starts to stay submerged in the honey by itself, which usually take weeks or possibly over a month. Another school of thought says you should be testing the pH and making sure it read below 4.6 first, to ensure there is zero risk for botulism (or other pathogenic microbes). I do have a pH meter but I personally don’t worry about this step for honey ferments. I let them ferment usually for months to over a year before eating and over the years I have never been remotely ill from any of my ferments.

       
  14. I started a melange of what I felt would be a tonifying fermented honey. Ginger root, garlic, aleppo pepper, jalapeno, turmeric root, black peppercorns, quartered lime, a Kaffir lime leaf, stalk of lemongrass…. maybe even more. I used Vitacost’s organic raw honey. I assume raw means unpasteurized? It’s been 2 weeks and though the honey has thinned I’ve seen no bubbling whatsoever and the roots & veggies are still floating. They get upended, shaken or stirred multiple times daily. The stuff tastes great but I’m curious about the floating and no signs of a ferment as in bubbling. Thanks for your ideas!

     
    • That sounds great and so far if it’s not fermenting you have more of an infusion going on, which is not bad. To get the ferment going, I’d say go ahead and try adding a couple TBSP water. It may not have pulled enough from the produce.

       
  15. How long do you need to place in fridge to stop fermenting of hot peppers in honey? I have strained honey already

     
    • The fridge won’t stop fermentation, just slow it down. But over time it won’t do much else. It’ll ferment enzymatically, creating some enjoyable flavor compounds, but not much else.

       
  16. I started fermenting red onions in honey a few days ago, they already smell divine! I intend to eat them with cheese as well as with savory pate. Next, I´ll start kumquats and (separately) cranberries. Fermenting in honey makes a nice difference to lactose-fermentation, so super easy. I totally enjoyed reading your post!

     
  17. Dear Daniel, the honey fermented onions turned out great – now I have a question. As there is more fermented honey (tonic?) left than onions may I refill more onions or should I start a completely new batch? How could I use more of the tonic – it tastes great but is very intense. Thank you! P.S. We ate the onions with everything, cheese, bread, meat, even with smoked trout 😀

     
  18. Hi Daniel!

    I want to try a honey ferment using cranberries, ginger, orange and cinnamon sticks. I am curious, I have a jar of raw, unpasteurized creamed honey, would this work? I am assuming I would have to add a little water or the juice from the orange as the creamed honey is fairly thick, but would it still ferment do you think?

     
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