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.
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.
Here are some delicious honey ferment ideas:
- 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 )
- ginger (and/or other rhizomes like turmeric)
- jalapenos / hot peppers, or fruit with hot peppers
- unripe/firm mango
- mixed fruit or mixed berry
- onion or shallots
- firm papaya
- firm peach
- firm plum
- And one of my all time favorites… pomegranate (with added ginger and ground clove), ready for refrigeration after about a month.