{How To} Ferment Vegetables

As I told you in October, I love making fermented foods, like Fermented Sauerkraut. To ferment food is so easy!  Gut health is so important and nothing is better than better than eating your probiotics!  Fermented foods are rich in healthy bacteria that improve overall gut health.  It’s also amazing for improving stomach health, strengthened immune system; keeps you regular; assists with weight loss; lowers cholesterol; increases nutrient absorption; could possibly alleviate stomach-related diseases, including IBS and Crohn’s diseases; relieves depression; and so on.  Since having about 70-80% of the immune system in the gut, having a good proper balance of gut flora is important.

There are many types of fermented foods, including sourdough bread, beer, chocolate, pickles, and kefir, all made with different methods of fermentation.  However, what I will be talking about today is called lacto-fermentation.  What exactly is lacto-fermentation?  Nope, it doesn’t involve dairy, though the word lacto would make you think.  Simply put, it takes the glucose glycolysis and turns it into lactic acid.  When vegetables are left to steep without oxygen, the sugars are broken down to promote the growth of bacteria, which turns it into a fermented food.  (Don’t worry though!  This is a goof bacteria; it won’t get you sick.)

Properly fermented vegetables are actually safer than raw vegetables, which might have been exposed to pathogens like E. coli on the farm… The reason is the lactic acid bacteria that carry out the fermentation are the world’s best killer of other bacteria.”

-Fred Breidt, microbiologist with the USDA

This sounds like a really cool science experiment, doesn’t it?  That’s because it is!  However, you don’t need a degree in chemistry to make this—fermenting foods is not as hard as it seems.  There are different ways of doing it, including which equipment you use, which salt you use, how you store it, which vegetables you use, and what spices you use.  Whichever method you choose, to use, it can be done if you can follow these steps: 

First, prepare the vegetables.  Wash your vegetables and peel them if needed.  You can use any method you want as it’s all a personal preference.  Note that cutting the vegetables into smaller pieces speeds up the fermentation process.  But, if you want to leave your carrots and cucumbers in their whole state, you can, just as long as they fit in the jar!  At this time, also pick whatever spices you want to use, if you want to use any at all.

Second, make your brine.  There are only two things that you will need for this method:  salt and water.  However, the quality you use of each component will make a huge difference in your fermentation outcome!  Use salt that is free of iodine and anti-caking agents.  This can inhibit fermentation. (Another thing that will inhibit the fermentation is chorine in the water.  Use distilled or filtered water.) Use salt that has all the nutrients still in it, like sea salt.  My personal preference is Himalayan sea salt.  Whatever you do, do not use pickling salt—it is awful for this method!  A basic recipe for fermentation brine is 1 tablespoon per cup of water.  The amount of brine you will use will depend on the container size.  Just add the salt to the water and stir until the salt is combined.

Thirdly, you need some basic equipment.  You need mason jars (wide mouth is best) or another similar glass container. You cannot leave the fermentation vegetable exposed to the air, so you also need something to seal it—I personally use a Pickle Pipe by Masontops.  (No, I do not get commission for saying that—i truly like them and use them!) I like how I can just put it on top and forget about it!  You can also use a cloth or a coffee filter, secured tightly with a rubber band over the mouth.  I actually have done the coffee filter when I ran out of pickle pipe!  It worked well!  Whatever you do, do not use a mason jar lid to close it up.  The releasing gasses could make the whole thing explode! The gasses need to be released.

Fourth, you need a weight.  This is necessary to keep the vegetables under the brine.  You can use a river rock, a small bowl, or even a small sandwich bag with water in it could work!  (I like to use Pickle Pebble, but I use the water in a sandwich bag when I run out of Pickle Pebbles.) Make sure, whatever you are using, is washed thoroughly to prevent mold.  It’s very important to keep the vegetables under the brine to prevent spoilage and mold.  I didn’t use a weight in a couple of my jars recently and spoiled them with the growth of mold.  I had to throw out all those pickles!

Finally, store it in a cool, dark, dry area.  Once your packed your vegetables and whatever spices you want to use in the jar, poured the brine over it, packed with a weight and sealed it, you need to store it where it will be left alone for a while.  You need to find somewhere it is dark and dry.  The best temperature for fermenting is between 60-68℉.  (I realize this isn’t always achievable.)  Depending on the vegetables and the temperature, the fermentation time could take any time between two weeks to a couple of months.  You’ll know the vegetables are ready when you see bubbling, smells slightly sour, and it tastes good.  If you smell something spoiled and/or see mold, throw out the whole batch.

Note that some vegetables, like pickles, need tannins that help keep them crisp during the fermentation process.  Tannins allow this  by neutralizing the pectic enzymes.  Grape leaves is a common thing to use, or you can use a second bay leaf or a pinch of green or black tea.

That’s it!    As you can see, it’s not hard to do if you follow these instructions carefully.  You can ferment basically any vegetable—experiment!   Try cauliflower!  Broccoli!  Carrots!  Cucumbers!  Jalapeños!  Tomatoes!  Make a fermented salsa!  Add any spice you want!  You can add garlic, ginger, chili, peppercorns, mustard seed, herbs. 

Once these vegetables are done fermenting, eat them right away, or seal them and put them in the fridge for up to a year.  (I’ve actually had some pickles in the fridge for over a year and they are fine.  Just check on them to make sure they’re not molding or gone bad.)  I also advice you replace the top with a plastic top (Ball company sells a plastic lid made to fit mason jars) as the moisture  and salt from the brine will corrode the medal from the original lids of mason jars.

Eat these vegetables any time you want!  They go great as a snack and as a side dish for your dinners.  You can even drink the brine!  Just pour a bit in a shot glass and drink it.  It’s full of probiotics—more than the vegetables itself—and will do your gut well.  My daughter loves the brine—she calls it “poop juice” (because it helps keep her regular) and requests it daily.  Don’t drink too much, though, as the effects will be not what you want.

In recap, making fermented foods is super easy if you just follow the simple steps for making fermented vegetables!

  1. Cut large vegetables into halves, quarters, or slices.  (Depends on your preference!)  
  2. Add spices and flavorings to the bottom of the jar.  If you are unsure what to use, either use simply garlic, or nothing at all!  The vegetables will still taste amazing “plain”.
  3. Pack the vegetables into the glass jar of your choice.
  4. When your jar is full, add the brine until all the vegetables are submerged. 
  5. Use something heavy to keep the vegetables submerged.  (Rock, bag of water, etc)
  6. Tightly seal and store in a cool, dry area for about 2-3 weeks.

Still need some inspiration or help?  Use these simple recipes to help you start your journey into fermentation!

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