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I recently mixed 8 quarts of kimchi. I stuffed my cabbage into 8, 1-quart Mason Jars. I left the typical buffer space (about 1-inch) below the lid. I told someone else that I had jarred the kimchi in glass and they seemed concerned that the jars would explode. I read that you can relieve pressure intermittently for the first few days and then the fermentation will lessen in intensity -- no worry for explosion.

My question is this -- because my kimchi is in mason jars, it gets no air and I was wondering if I should use cheesecloth covering next time. Do the lids stifle fermentation because of their seal? Is it just a bad idea to stuff kimchi and krauts into mason jars?

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You don't want too much air. It encourages the growth of acetic acid producing bacteria/yeast. That can give you very sour kimchi, without the goodness of kimchi-ee flavor. To prevent explosion, just screw the lids on loosely. – Wayfaring Stranger Sep 18 '13 at 0:29
up vote 8 down vote accepted

If your jars aren't in the refrigerator already, I highly recommend unscrewing the lids as soon as possible...unless you want to be able to share stories about how you found glass shards and the smell of kimchi everywhere in your kitchen one day.

Depending on when you mean to eat them, I'd recommend a mix of room temperature ripening and fridge storage. Keep the lid completely unscrewed while at room temp until ripened to a stage you prefer, and keep it loosely on in the fridge and eat it up in the next few weeks (where it will continue to ferment some more but slow down drastically). It's not a terrible idea to put something like a sheet pan under the jars just in case one overflows.

Cheesecloth is overkill, but you could choose to use that or anything that'll cover the top of a jar without making it airtight while at room temp. Glass jars are used often in commercial kimchi production and sale, so other than making sure the lid isn't fully screwed on they're fine to use. The explosion concern is mostly when you leave it too long (more than several hours?) at room temp or in the fridge for more than a couple weeks - while the jar is completely sealed.

This all depends on the kind of kimchi you are storing, of course. I'm assuming it's the freshly made napa cabbage type you're talking about. Some kimchis don't ferment as much or at all.

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When making kimchi (or other fermented products like it) it's best to ferment the whole batch together for the first phase (this depends on what you're making, how much of it you're making, and how sour you want it to be - but a week is a good rule of thumb). This helps to make the whole batch more consistent, as one batch will ferment at the same pace - as opposed to many small batches fermenting in different ways - and in general will cut down on variables which is always a good idea when fermenting.

When I make kimchi, I usually make 5-10 liters at a time and put it all into an appropriately sized jar. If there is extra headspace, you have a few options, the easiest of which is to take a clean plastic trash bag, put it into the jar and fill it with water, then tie/close the bag so the water can't come out. This will make it so no oxygen comes into contact with the top layer of kimchi which should ideally be submerged in its own juice at all times.

I leave the jar in a slightly cooler than room temperature room, in the dark (or at least wearing an old sweatshirt so no light gets in) for 1 week to 10 days, then fill smaller bottles and store them in the refrigerator. At this point they can be given away to other kimchi lovers, or kept in the fridge for ~6 months (probably longer, in fact, if they're not opened, but I've never gone longer than that - and in fact it's rarely lasted that long).

In your present situation, I think you'll be fine opening the lids just a bit, but if you're storing them in the fridge there should be no worries at all - it won't continue fermenting in so cold an environment.

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I have been making kimchi and putting it in mason jars for years. I have never had one explosion no matter how fermented it has become.

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My hypothesis is that you don't really need something to push the kimchi down to prevent it from oxygen if you just carefully bleed a little bit of pressure from the jars in the beginning of fermentation. The active bacteria and yeasts will secrete CO2 which is heavier than air and you will bleed out the air on top, leaving a covering blanket of CO2 on top of the kimchi, protecting it from oxygen. At least this is common practice when fermenting and kegging beer.

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