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This is not yet about a problem, I am trying to avoid wasting time and ingredients or creating unsafe conditions while experimenting.

Many vegetarian recipes for kimchi and kimchi-style fermented food suggest adding soy sauces and other similar flavourings instead of fish and fish sauces.

The thing is: Many such condiments have benzoates or other preservatives added, and the purpose of at least some of these is ... being antimicrobial, and not in the same manner as acids or salt are, more in a "let's make the microbes get sick and die so you don't" manner...

Now, an antimicrobial compound, even if diluted, could probably interfere with a fermentation process, maybe even in an unsafe way (shifting the balance towards something harmful gaining the upper hand).

Are there known rule of thumbs what will and will not cause such problems?

  • Look for a traditional or natural soy sauce (or ferment/mold the soy sauce yourself, but that's more work). Another thing to possibly worry about is spices altering the pH. – thrig Feb 8 '16 at 17:49
  • I usually buy the preservative free kind anyway, but that can be limiting when it comes to more specialised seasonings (have not yet seen a shiitake-soy sauce that had no benzoate/sorbate compounds...) – rackandboneman Feb 8 '16 at 20:05
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    I don't know if it's related or not ... but there are some spices that are supposed to increase yeast activity when making bread ... it's possible that they might help microbes as well. See cooking.stackexchange.com/q/12084/67 – Joe Feb 8 '16 at 21:11
  • I found that a really detrimental inhibitor to fermentation may be the vegetables themselves. With the trend to harvest early, and cold store for months, the very vegetables that you are using may be themselves the inhibitors to fermentation. Case in point, two batches of "white" kimchi I prepared. One was from garden cabbages, the other batch from store bought cabbages; the initial appearances and flavour were similar, but as the batches aged, the fermentation process seemed to stall in the store bought cabbages, and the texture went limp at the edges rather that softening evenly. – Adrian Hum Feb 11 '16 at 22:03
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Chlorinated tap water.

The effect on the ferment may be negligible, but I've never bothered to test it, lest there be unwanted putrefaction.

Boil the water that you're going to use to make your brine, then add salt and let cool. The chlorine should volatilize at the boil.

0

Sorbates, benzoate, and sulfur salts (sulfites and sulfates) are the usual sanitizers and preservatives to avoid.

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