Fermenting for Beginners: A No-Fail Guide to Get You Started Like a Pro » Homesteading Where You Are (2023)

Preserving the harvest is an essential part of being a homesteader, but you don’t want to rely entirely on canning. Fermenting is a simple, quick preservation method, and homesteaders are re-discovering this method. Trust me, fermenting for beginners isn’t as hard as you might think.

I put off learning how to ferment for quite some time. It just seemed too intimidating.

Yes, I can process any type of food through a canner, whether it’s soup, meat, or a batch of jam. Creating jars of fermented food seemed like an entirely different world.

I was wrong.

Fermenting is simple, easy to learn, quick to do, and leads to healthier foods. It’s no wonder that fermented foods are enjoying a comeback.

Do you want to learn simple tricks for fermenting for beginners? Let’s dive in together; don’t be afraid!

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Quick Recap of The Guide to Fermenting for Beginners

  • The Benefits of Fermenting Foods
  • Fermenting for Beginners: The Supplies You Need
    • Fermenting Vessels
    • Fermentation Weights
    • Airlock
    • Sauerkraut Pounder
    • Other Fermenting Supplies
  • What Can You Ferment Safely
  • The 5 Vital Rules of Fermenting for Beginners
    • 1. Use Raw, Fresh Vegetables
    • 2. Ferment Uniform Sizes
    • 3. Double the Salt or Use a Starter Brine
    • 4. Everything Stays Below the Brine
    • 5. Cool Storage After Initial Fermentation
  • Frequently Asked Questions about Fermenting
    • How Do I Know My Ferment is Done?
    • How Long Do Fermented Foods Last?
    • What If My Ferment Molds?
    • How Much Fermented Foods Can I Eat?
  • Fermenting for Beginners Isn’t So Hard

The Benefits of Fermenting Foods

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At first, I wasn’t convinced that I needed to learn how to ferment food. I canned everything, so are there any benefits to learning fermentation?

Yes, there are! Here are some of the most impressive benefits, at least in my eyes.

  • Fermenting is one of the quickest and easiest methods of preservation that doesn’t require too many specialty tools or expensive upfront investment.
  • Fermentation is the only method of food preservation that actually makes your food healthier for you than their original state.
  • When you eat fermented food, you’re getting probiotics, digestive enzymes, and healthy acids that all contribute to your overall wellness.
  • It’s a low-energy preservation method. You don’t need to use a stove for canners or a dehydrator.

Fermenting for Beginners: The Supplies You Need

I love that you don’t need to buy tons of supplies to start fermenting for beginners. No one really wants to invest a lot of money without knowing if they like fermenting!

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Here is what you need.

Fermenting Vessels

First, you need some sort of vessel to ferment food. You don’t have to try anything fancy. Don’t use anything that is made out of plastic, metal (including stainless steel), or anything not food grade.

The best fermenting vessels are wood, ceramic, or glass.

Sure, you can purchase crocks, but they can be a bit pricey. Mason jars work just fine as a fermenting vessel, and they work with modern-day airlock lids.

Fermentation Weights

Fermentation weights keep the fermenting food under the brine. Some use a saucer with water on top, a jar of water, or a cabbage leaf tucked over your veggies.

I preferred to purchase glass fermentation weights. I didn’t feel as if I had anything that classified as food-grade that I could comfortably use in the jars. You also can purchase ceramic or wood, so long as they’re food-grade.


Technically, you only need an airlock if you’re fermenting airlock, but I use a vented fermentation lid on my ferments. They might not be a necessity, but using an airlock adds an extra layer of protection from things such as mold.

If you do want to use airlocks, make sure you use a vessel that allows them. Ceramic crocks typically aren’t designed for airlocks. Your best bet is using glass mason jars

Sauerkraut Pounder

When you ferment anything that is either finely chopped or shredded, you’ll need something that easily fits into your vessel to pack it all together. You can buy a sauerkraut pounder, but a wooden spoon or any other wooden tool will work if it fits into the jar.

Other Fermenting Supplies

Chances are you have these other items lying around your kitchen. They’re using as canning supplies or cooking supplies.

  • A sharp knife
  • a cutting board
  • measuring cups and spoons
  • water
  • salt

What Can You Ferment Safely

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One thing that I really do love about fermenting is there are few things that you can NOT ferment. Fermenting is less about lab testing and more about using your common sense and five senses.

You can ferment or culture, which means to ferment with specific strains of bacteria, yeasts, or milk, many foods. Here are some foods to add to your list of things you want to ferment at home.

  • Milk
  • Eggs
  • Meat
  • Grains
  • Fruit
  • Veggies
  • Herbs
  • Honey

Fermenting doesn’t discriminate. You can ferment raw and cooked foods. Most people ferment raw foods, but you can learn how to ferment cooked foods if that’s your preference!

Fermenting raw vegetables is the easiest, even though they all are easy. Its called Lacto-fermenting. “Lacto” refers to the lactobacillus bacteria that grows in the food.

No, it has nothing to do with dairy, even though it’s close to the word lactose.

The 5 Vital Rules of Fermenting for Beginners

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1. Use Raw, Fresh Vegetables

It’s important that you use raw, ORGANIC vegetables. Non-organic veggies might be sprayed with pesticides, and since poison kills living things and ferments are alive, they don’t mix well.

Your finished ferment will only be as good as your starting produce. If you use sub-par veggies, the results won’t be as good as they can be with high-quality veggies.

TIP: You don’t have to ferment all of the same veggies in the same jar. You can make an “everything” jar for the odds and ends in your garden.

There aren’t really any vegetables that you cannot lacto-ferment, but some do require special techniques that I won’t cover in this fermenting for beginners guide. I’ll recommend some books at the bottom of this guide for you to dive further into fermenting if you want.

The veggies that need special techniques include:

  • Veggies that you typically only eat cooked, such as potatoes or sweet potatoes. Raw potatoes = gross
  • Ripe tomatoes need to be fermented more like fruit because of the high level of sugars
  • Avocados will turn into mush when soaked

2. Ferment Uniform Sizes

All of the veggie pieces should be close to the same size. It makes sense because you want the foods to ferment at the same rate. Otherwise, the smaller pieces will finish fermenting before the larger ones.

It’s okay if your seasoning is smaller than your actual ferment, but keep the pieces of veggies the same size.

Some people say to keep the sizes of your veggies to that of a woman’s fist, but I have big hands, so that seems like a big size to me! I aim for smaller unless making barrel pickles with large cucumbers. Those take months to ferment.

3. Double the Salt or Use a Starter Brine

Making the brine is what I found most intimidating when I started fermenting. It turns out that it’s not as hard as I suspected.

The first choice is to use a starter brine on our ferments. A starter is a liquid that comes from any other lacto-fermented or cultured product. You might take liquid off another veggie ferment, the whey from a live culture yogurt, plain kombucha, or hooch from a sourdough starter.

I recommend that you use 1/4 cup of starter for each quart of ferment.

If you don’t have a starter, don’t panic. You can make a brine with salt, but make sure you are using a nice quality, chemical-free salt. Avoid iodized salt or table salt because they’ll kill the bacteria in your ferment.

Try these instead:

  • Pure Sea Salt
  • Kosher Salt
  • Pickling Salt
  • Real Salt
  • Celtic Sea Salt
  • Himalayan Salt

We use salt because most microbes cannot handle too much salt, but our trusty lactobacillus loves low to medium levels of salt. So, by adding salt to our ferments, we kill off anything that we don’t want in our ferments while encouraging our lactobacillus to visit.

So, no starter means no problems!

All you have to do is double the salt amounts for your recipe. It might taste saltier, but then you’ll have liquid to use for your next ferment.

The General Salt Recommendations for Fermenting

A big part of fermenting for beginners is learning how much salt to use. Here are the recommendations.

For Dry Salting

  • Use 1 scant tablespoon salt per 2.5 lbs shredded or finely diced veggies

For a Basic Brine

  • 1-quart non-chlorinated water
  • 3 tablespoons salt (4.5 TBSP if you use coarse salt)

4. Everything Stays Below the Brine

The next rule, and it’s quite important, is that all produce needs to stay under the brine. Anything that comes to the top and is exposed to air can and will eventually mold. Mold isn’t the end of the world, but you probably don’t want to deal with it when you’re finally learning how to ferment.

This is why you want to use fermentation weights or whatever you picked.

5. Cool Storage After Initial Fermentation

During the actual process of fermentation, you need to learn your ferments at room temperature. Mine stays on my countertop or a bookshelf. The bacteria need time to establish a colony, and warmer temperatures encourage faster development.

Once you reach a taste that you like, you move the ferments to cool storage. If you continue to leave them at room temperature, the produce breaks down, turns to mush, and the flavor becomes way too strong.

Start tasting your ferments on day 3. When you find the flavor you like, look for a place that is 55 degrees F or below but above freezing. The colder the location, the longer your ferment stays at the same flavor.

You can store your ferments in many places, such as:

  • Refrigerator
  • Cellar
  • Cool Basement
  • Wine Cooler

Frequently Asked Questions about Fermenting

How Do I Know My Ferment is Done?

There is no real perfect answer to this question. Your fermentation is finished when you like the flavor of the product.

It’s better to start tasting your fermentation after 3-4 days and continue to taste it until you like what you find. You should find it to be a pleasant taste. If it needs to be sourer, leave it out longer at room temperature.

The longer that you leave it out, the more probiotics develop. The lactic acid and enzymes develop, but it also changes the flavor.

Once you like the taste, put your ferment into cold storage.

How Long Do Fermented Foods Last?

So long as your ferments stay under the brine, they will last for a long time. In some situations, ferments can last for years.

Even if you store your ferments in the perfect cold storage location, the food will continue to ferment just at a very slow speed.

At some point, your ferments will develop a flavor that is too strong or sour for your likenings. The consistency will change, breaking down and turning into a mushy texture.

Old-school fermenters will tell you that sauerkraut doesn’t taste right until it has fermented for AT LEAST 6 months.

What If My Ferment Molds?

As you spend more time fermenting, mold happens. A vegetable or two might float to the surface and develop mold. Sometimes, you’ll find a layer of white fuzzy mold on the top of your jar.

Your ferment is still good even if there is mold present in the vessel.

If you find the white layer on the surface of your ferment, skim it off and toss it into the compost or feed it to your chickens. It’s a normal part of fermenting and does no harm.

Any white or green mold is completely fixable on your ferment. Mold requires oxygen to form, so something came over the weight and met oxygen.

However, if you find strange colored molds in your ferment, such as red, pink, or black mold, you need to toss it all into your compost. It’s never a good idea to eat those ferments.

How Much Fermented Foods Can I Eat?

If you have fermented foods, you need to eat them. You should start off small as you introduce fermented foods to your diet. It’s best not to eat too many fermented foods at one time because it can cause issues with your digestive system.

Start with 1-2 tablespoons per day for a week. Then, you can slowly increase how much you can eat.

Fermenting for Beginners Isn’t So Hard

You might feel intimidated to start fermenting, but I hope my simple guide to the basics of fermenting gave you some mental relief. Fermenting for beginners is easy, far easier than most preservation methods.

You don’t have to stand near a testy pressure canner or ladle jars of hot food. You don’t need to run a dehydrator for hours to come out with jerky. All you have to do is learn how to ferment, and you’ll be on you to healthier, preserved good,

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What is the best beginner fermentation? ›

Milk kefir and cultured buttermilk are the EASIEST fermented dairy. And yogurt is always popular. Also, fermented dairy can be used to make so many other fermented foods, including: prefermented baking, simple soft cheeses, and probiotic treats.

What are the easiest home fermented foods? ›

Easiest Fermented Foods to Start With
  • Kombucha. Tea, sugar and a good old' SCOBY, these are the ingredients for having your own Kombucha on tap. ...
  • Sourdough Bread. You should see the look on people's faces when we tell them that sourdough bread is alive. ...
  • Vegetables. You can ferment just about any vegetable. ...
  • Yogurt.
Dec 7, 2016

What are the dangers of fermented foods? ›

Biological hazards — bacteria, viruses and parasites that can cause foodborne illnesses — are the biggest concerns. Botulism, E. coli and salmonella are the main hazards for fermented foods. Botulism can form in oxygen-free conditions if a fermentation is not successful and acid levels are too low.

Do fermented foods need to be refrigerated? ›

Do fermented foods need to be refrigerated? Fermented foods occupy a fascinating middle ground between shelf stable goods and items that must stay refrigerated. So it makes sense to ask if fermented foods should be stored in refrigeration. The answer is yes, your ferments are happiest in the fridge.

What are the two main ingredients needed for a fermentation to start? ›

Both types of fermentation require two primary components, a sugar supply and a bacterial culture; alcohol fermentations use forms of yeast, while lactic acid fermentation normally relies on lactic acid bacteria.

What is simplest type of fermentation? ›

Homolactic fermentation (producing only lactic acid) is the simplest type of fermentation. Pyruvate from glycolysis undergoes a simple redox reaction, forming lactic acid. Overall, one molecule of glucose (or any six-carbon sugar) is converted to two molecules of lactic acid: C6H12O6 → 2 CH3CHOHCOOH.

What is the easiest vegetable to ferment? ›

Fermenting Vegetables in Small Batches

In alphabetical order, the best vegetables for fermenting include cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, cucumbers, garlic, kohlrabi, peppers, radishes, snap beans and turnips.

What is the downside of fermentation? ›

Bloating. The most common reaction to fermented foods is a temporary increase in gas and bloating. This is the result of excess gas being produced after probiotics kill harmful gut bacteria and fungi.

What vegetables should not be fermented? ›

He listed cabbage, daikon radishes, turnips, parsnips, cucumbers, okra, string beans and green tomatoes as good candidates for fermentation. “There's no vegetable you can't ferment,” he said, but added that leafy greens such as kale — because of their chlorophyll content — aren't to most people's liking.

When should you not eat fermented foods? ›

If you struggle with digestion issues, histamine intolerances, food sensitivities, or food allergies you may want to avoid eating too many fermented foods and should consult with your primary care physician or a registered dietitian before making any big changes to your diet.

What is the shelf life of fermentation? ›

Fermented foods that are properly prepared and stored in a cool, dark place (like the refrigerator) can last at least 4-18 months. Always look for any signs of mold, an even color throughout, and make sure it still looks edible. Use your nose to see if it still smells as it should, and doesn't have a bad smell.

Can you overdo fermented foods? ›

Experts warn too many fermented foods in your diet could cause gas, bloating, and other gastrointestinal issues.

Can fermentation go bad? ›

A spoiled ferment will smell rancid, like rotting broccoli. A good ferment will have a pleasant sour smell. Note: If there's Kahm Yeast present it may have a strong smell, but once scraped away it should have a pleasant sour smell if it's not spoiled. A spoiled ferment may be slimy in texture.

Is distilled water OK for fermenting? ›

Distilled Water - A good choice. Though this water will contain no minerals or elements, it will also contain no chemicals that could inhibit fermentation. Tap Water - An acceptable choice if it has been boiled and allowed to cool to room temperature to remove chlorine and any bacteria that may be present.

What are the two end products of fermentation? ›

Fermentation is the process of breaking down sugar substances by chemical means involving microorganisms and releasing heat. The end products of fermentation are alcohol and carbon dioxide.

What are the basic steps of fermentation? ›

It is a three-step process. First, glucose is oxidized by glycolysis, producing two pyruvate molecules. Second, each pyruvate releases carbon dioxide to produce acetaldehyde. Third, acetaldehyde takes the hydrogen ions from NADH, consequently producing ethanol and converting NADH back to NAD+.

What is the most popular type of fermentation? ›

1. Lactic Acid Fermentation (Or Lacto- Fermentation) Lacto-Fermentation is arguably one of the most common types found in food. Lactic acid fermentation is responsible for the production of foods like yogurt, sauerkraut, and pickles.

What is the first fermentation called? ›

Firstly, and after the grapes and/or must have been placed in vats, a first fermentation takes place that is common to all wines. In this fermentation, the sugars of the grape start to turn into ethanol in an oxygen and temperature-controlled environment. This fermentation is known as “alcoholic fermentation”.

Which type of fermentation is best? ›

Butyric acid Fermentation

It is an important source of energy for colorectal epithelium. Sugar is first oxidized to pyruvate by the process of glycolysis and then pyruvate is further oxidized to form acetyl-CoA by the oxidoreductase enzyme system with the production of H2 and CO2.

What fermented foods are anti-inflammatory? ›

In summary, fermented vegetables such as kimchi, sauerkraut, fermented soy products, and beverages such as fermented teas are garnering attention as a source of natural anti-inflammatory bioactive compounds.

What foods heal your gut? ›

Gut Health Foods - 15 Foods For Good Gut Health
  • Yoghurt. Live yoghurt is an excellent source of so-called friendly bacteria, also known as probiotics. ...
  • Kefir. ...
  • Miso. ...
  • Sauerkraut. ...
  • Kimchi. ...
  • Sourdough. ...
  • Almonds. ...
  • Olive oil.

Can I eat fermented foods everyday? ›

We advocate eating fermented foods three times per day, as snacks or with meals. It's the consistent introduction of these live culture fermented foods to your microbiome that creates the most gut health benefits. And what's more, is that eating a variety of different fermented foods is key.

What is the easiest fruit to ferment? ›

Also known as umeboshi plums, they are used to season rice and various dishes. Most stone fruit (peaches, cherries, apricots, etc.) are very suitable for fermentation. Citrus fruit also work well: lemons, limes, and oranges are among our favourites.

What food takes the longest to ferment? ›

Red miso has the longest fermentation time, one to two years, because it uses little to no koji to help speed up the fermentation process. Red miso has a saltier taste and is used for stews and the marinade of meat, poultry, and vegetables.

Can I use frozen vegetables for fermenting? ›

It's probably possible to use a fermentation starter, like kraut juice, to ferment frozen veggies, but, again, it might get a little weird texture- and taste-wise.

What fermented foods should I eat daily? ›

Regularly eating fermented probiotic foods — such as yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, and miso — may positively affect your health.

What fermented foods boost your immune system? ›

Common fermented foods include kimchi, sauerkraut, kefir, tempeh, kombucha, and yogurt. These foods may reduce heart disease risk and aid digestion, immunity, and weight loss. Not to mention, fermented foods add tang and zest to your meals and are an excellent addition to a healthy diet.

Is Bragg's apple cider vinegar fermented? ›

Our Apple Cider Vinegar is made from fresh, crushed, organically grown apples from Bragg's very own orchard. Afterwards, the crushed apples are allowed to “mature” in tanks where they go through 2 natural fermentation processes to become vinegar.

Why can't you live on fermentation? ›

Cells in the human body create energy in the form of ATP. Cells do this constantly as the cells are in constant need of energy. Without ATP the cell will die. The human body cannot solely live off of fermentation as it only produces 2 ATPs.

Why do I have diarrhea after eating sauerkraut? ›

Allergic Reaction - Sauerkraut has an above-normal concentration of histamine - the compound that triggers an immune response to allergens. When the sauerkraut is consumed, the body absorbs the histamines, which can then trigger an inflammatory response in the intestines leading to diarrhea.

What are the 3 types of fermentation? ›

Today we are bringing you some great information about the three types of fermentation and fermented foods, lactic acid fermentation, ethanol or alcohol fermentation and acetic acid fermentation.

What are the white worms in fermentation? ›

Have you ever noticed small, white worms in your kombucha? These creatures are called vinegar eels, and while they may look unappetizing, they are harmless. Download our Kombucha Guide book today to learn more about kombucha's fermentation process!

What is the white stuff floating in fermented pickles? ›

One of the most common visible contaminations is a white, cloudy substance called Kahm Yeast. While Kahm yeast isn't harmful it can indicate that there is a problem with your ferment. Kahm yeast is actually safe to eat as long as there are no molds present and the ferment tests at a pH of 4 or lower.

What is the white stuff at the bottom of fermented pickles? ›

A cloudy appearance or a white sediment may indicate the use of table salt rather than canning or pickling salt. Yeast develops and settles to the bottom of the jar. It may be a normal reaction during fermentation caused by bacteria. If the pickles are soft, they are spoiled from the yeast fermentation.

How many times a week should you eat fermented foods? ›

We advocate eating fermented foods three times per day, as snacks or with meals. It's the consistent introduction of these live culture fermented foods to your microbiome that creates the most gut health benefits. And what's more, is that eating a variety of different fermented foods is key.

What happens to your gut when you eat fermented foods? ›

Fermented foods can bolster the gut microbiome, creating a healthier mix of microbes and strengthening the walls of the intestines to keep them from leaking.

Who shouldn't eat sauerkraut? ›

If you're pregnant or immunocompromised, you should avoid eating unpasteurized sauerkraut. If you take MAOIs, have blood pressure concerns, or have food intolerances or allergies, speak to your doctor before eating sauerkraut. Otherwise, sauerkraut is likely to be a nutritious and healthy addition to your diet.

What happens if you ferment too long? ›

For brewing with Mr. Beer, we always recommend that you bottle your beer no later than 24 days in the fermenter. You can go longer but the longer your beer sits the more chance you have to get an infection and get off-flavors in your beer.

How long is too long for bulk fermentation? ›

If you leave your dough to bulk ferment at room temperature for 24 hours you will end up with a soupy mess (unless it's very, very cold in your home). Bulk fermentation can be done overnight, but you would need to adjust the amount of starter used in the dough and ensure the ambient temperature didn't go above 21C.

Why is my wine foaming during fermentation? ›

In wine, it's the tannins and ethanol (alcohol) that reduce the surface tension of the wine. Tannic, high-alcohol red wines are likely to produce a fair amount of foam.

Is fermented good for arthritis? ›

Arthritis is usually caused by inflammation of joints leading to stiffness, swelling, and pain. Fermented foods have been shown to improve this condition. Fermented milk has also been seen to reduce inflammation in the gut and bowel, so helps with abdominal pain, bloating and constipation.

Who shouldn't have fermented foods? ›

Here are 3 types of people who should avoid or reduce their fermented food intake:
  • People who are already bloated. Fermented foods are probiotics (ie. ...
  • People who are intolerant to histamines. Histamine is a compound that is produced by the body and found in fermented foods. ...
  • People who have a compromised immune system.
Sep 9, 2021

Does fermented food increase inflammation? ›

A 2021 study from Stanford University, published in the journal Cell, reveals that eating a variety of fermented foods reduces inflammation in the body, while eating a high-fiber diet of fruits, vegetables, beans, whole grains, and nuts does not.

What is the white mold on top of fermentation? ›

Mould and Yeast in Fermentation

If there is a whitish layer on the surface of your fermented vegetables jar, it is probably a biofilm that is called “Kham yeast”. Don't worry, it's safe! Microorganisms can form a delicate and almost odourless white biofilm.

Is fermentation mold safe? ›

The yeasts found in ferments are not usually very harmful but can make a fermented food taste a little off. Mold ruins ferments, and must be thrown out.

How long should first fermentation be? ›

F1 typically takes around 7-12 days, though some people like to go longer. During that time, the sweet tea ferments and is transformed into kombucha by the starter tea and a kombucha culture (a SCOBY). At the end of F1 fermentation, you'll have unflavored, largely un-carbonated kombucha.

What is the disadvantages of fermentation? ›


The most common reaction to fermented foods is a temporary increase in gas and bloating. This is the result of excess gas being produced after probiotics kill harmful gut bacteria and fungi.

What is the least expensive method of fermentation? ›

Tank fermentation, also known as the Charmat method (named after Frenchman Eugene Charmat) is the quickest and least expensive way to make sparkling wine.

What are the 2 types of ferment? ›

There are two types of fermentation, alcoholic fermentation and lactic acid fermentation.

How do you know when to stop fermentation? ›

A successful fermentation will naturally come to an end when your wine is completely dry and there is no more residual sugar for the yeast to feast on. That's great, if you want a dry wine. There may be times, however, that you want to cut fermentation short so you can make an off-dry wine, dessert wine, or aperitif.

When should I throw away SCOBY? ›

With proper care, SCOBYs can last many generations. But when you see excessive, dark yeast growth on a SCOBY layer, or if it starts producing Kombucha that tastes bad or overly acidic, it's time to get a new one.

How long do fermented foods last? ›

Fermented foods that are properly prepared and stored in a cool, dark place (like the refrigerator) can last at least 4-18 months. Always look for any signs of mold, an even color throughout, and make sure it still looks edible. Use your nose to see if it still smells as it should, and doesn't have a bad smell.


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