Air travel is a modern marvel, enabling us to safely traverse vast distances in short amounts of time.
The act of traveling, though, taxes our body in unnatural ways. The stress associated with meeting strict time tables, the extremely dry desiccating air in an airplane cabin, and altitude, elevation and time zone changes, all take their toll on us, physically, mentally, and emotionally. The best way to counteract these effects and stay healthy (besides proper hydration) is to maintain your gut health. You can do this by keeping up your daily regimen of fermented foods! What’s more, you may be visiting far-flung or hostile places (like your in-laws’ 😆) or exotic destinations where there is questionable drinking water quality, and/or where they don’t eat fermented foods, or where these important foods may not be available!
What’s a Fermenter to do? Well, pack your probiotics, of course! I thought I’d share my experiences traveling with briny ferments like pickles, kimchi and sauerkraut. When done carefully and mindfully, these techniques ensure a safe commute of your ferments from point A to point B, and a more enjoyable journey for you and your gut!
- If properly stored, it is safe for fermented vegetables like kimchi, sauerkraut, and pickles to sit at room temperature, for even a few days at a time. This should get you through even the longest journeys, be it via airplane, train, ship, automobile, rickshaw, camel, or canoe!
- How much should you bring? Plan on consuming 4 ounces (1/2 cup, 113g) per person per day. That’s 1 lb., or a pint (half liter) for one person for 4 days. If you’ve got the space, of course, pack plenty more to share with others!
- Minimize the amount of air in the bags holding the foods. This will reduce the unlikely chance of mold forming, as well as protect your precious cargo against air pressure changes that occur during air travel.
- Reduce the amount of brine (especially for pickles). Just a little brine will keep the veggies safe, and reduce the chances of leakage and a big mess from happening. You can remix brine when you reach your destination. Most pickled veggies use a 5% salt to water ratio (by weight).
Best Practices for Traveling with Ferments
PROFESSIONAL: Heat seal ferments in plastic bags ($50, including 100 bags)
If you have the spare coin ($25-30), you can invest in an impulse sealer [affiliate links] and keep BPA-free food-grade sealable bags on hand when needing to pack and travel. Once sealed, these are very strong. I’ve often sent them through the mail to friends and they do fine. They will also be fine in your checked baggage.
Most higher-end vacuum-sealers also have a heat-seal feature. CAUTION: if you are using a vacuum sealer for ferments, DO NOT set it on “vacuum” setting! It will suck the liquid out and make a mess, if not ruin your vacuum sealer. Follow user’s manual for “moist” food sealing.
Normally, I don’t endorse items that serve only one function (“uni-taskers”). The sealer can be used for just about anything, and even the most basic models have a dial to adjust the time needed to melt the plastic (which creates the seal). Handy for different materials and grades of plastic.
Personally, I buy the pre-formed (sealed at one end) variety of bag. You can also buy them by the roll, and seal both ends yourself, saving some money.
Once sealed, I still place the bags inside a gallon zip-top, just in case they leak a little.
BEST: Pack your ferments temporarily in plastic bags and containers during travel
Plastic is lightweight and unbreakable compared to glass. I like using wide-mouth, quart sized screw top plastic containers combined with gallon-sized zip-top bags. I don’t recommend fermenting foods in these plastic containers, of course, but while transporting them for a day or so of travel, they will be fine.
- Fill one of the zip top bags with your fermented food (up to 1 quart/liter or 2 lbs./1 kg.)
- Press out the air, and seal the bag. Pack the bag into the container.
- Screw the container lid tight.
- Put the whole container into a second gallon-sized bag and seal it tight, removing air.
- Transfer ferments into glass containers (and preferably refrigerate) as soon as feasible once you reach your destination.
You might be thinking that it is quite a bit of plastic to be using. That’s true, however, plastic screw top containers and zip top bags are quite sturdy and can be washed and reused many times. I reuse zip top bags (washing and air drying them between uses) until they tear or get punctured or until the zipper stops sealing, or until they get stinky or stained, or if I’ve stored something potentially hazardous in them like raw meat.
If you must bring your own glass jars, consider packing them empty into your luggage (or stuff them with socks or other soft items to save space), buffering them well with clothing and soft items. Note that empty quart-size glass mason jars with lids weigh about 1 lb. (500g) each. Filled up, they will weigh about 3 lbs (1.5kg) each.
BETTER: Travel with cultures
Consider packing the cultures of liquid ferments (rather than liquids, which are impractical, if not impossible to travel with). Then plan to start a new batch with cultures when you arrive at your destination. A small (quart- or snack-size) zip-top baggie, sealed and tucked into another one works great for transporting kombucha SCOBYs or kefir grains. You can include a small amount (2 to 4 ounces/60 to 120ml) of starter kombucha with the SCOBY, or or a few tablespoons of kefir with the grains. Be sure to expel the excess air both bags before sealing them.
GOOD: Travel with your ferments in glass jars
This method is riskier than the previous methods, because jars are breakable, and can create a smelly mess, not to mention, make any food inedible. However, with careful packing, you can minimize the chance of this occurring.
- Pack the glass jar or container to the top. Don’t leave any head space (air in the jar).
- Make sure the container is water tight– no liquid should leak from the lid when you invert it.
- Wrap glass jars well in a good shock-absorbing material. Bubble wrap is inexpensive and easy to find. 12-inch wide bubble wrap on a roll works well. Wrap it around the jar, taping it together, leaving a few extra inches of wrap on the top and bottom. Cut a 12×14-inch length to wrap a pint-sized mason jar, or a 12×16-inch length for a quart-sized jar.
- Double-bag the wrapped jars in gallon-sized zip top bags. Pack the bubble wrapped jar into one bag, seal it, then place that bag inside another gallon bag and seal it. I alternate the seams, putting the zip side of the first bag at the bottom of the second bag (see picture). A quart-sized and one pint-size jar fit together into a gallon sized bag. If all you have is quart-sized jars, use one per gallon bag.
Alternate glass solution. Purchase inflatable wine bottle protectors, which are reusable and designed to safely transport wine bottles while traveling. I have not used them myself. I would just make sure that the ones you buy can properly fit your mason jars (wine bottles are about the diameter of a pint size mason jar.) Inflate the bags, stuff your well-packed glass jar of ferments in it, then pack it inside a gallon zip-top bag.
- Pack the package into the middle and center of a hard-sided or framed suitcase, ideally surrounded by softer items like clothing.
- Check them into your luggage.
- When you retrieve your luggage at baggage claim, check it right away to ensure everything made it and there was no breakage. Even in the unlikely event of breakage, there should be no leakage. You’ll probably know if there were, as the odors may permeate the suitcases!
NOT RECOMMENDED (“Don’t’s”)
- Don’t travel with liquid ferments (like kombucha, kefir, kvass, etc.) See above for an alternate solution.
- Don’t pack ferments into a soft-sided luggage bag like a duffel bag (this is more important if you are traveling with glass jars).
- Don’t attempt to carry ferments on board the aircraft with you. I have never tried, however I’d rather not suffer the heartbreak of having ferments confiscated, nor get into an argument with security over whether there’s more than 3 ounces of brine in the jar!
- If you do manage to get your ferments into the aircraft cabin with you, for Pete’s sake, do not open up fermented foods while on board. This is a courtesy to your fellow travelers, who may be unfamiliar with and offended by the piquant aromas of fermented foods. The aromas will linger and spread quickly, especially in a closed environment like an airplane cabin! You will be fine for the length of the travel going without. Just enjoy some when you have safely arrived.
What tips and techniques can you share about traveling with your ferments? Please leave a comment!
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