Fermented vegetables begin with lacto-fermentation. What is a lacto-fermented vegetable?
All fruits and vegetables have beneficial bacteria such as Lactobacillus on the surface. In an anaerobic (oxygen-free) environment, these bacteria convert sugars into lactic acid, which inhibits harmful bacteria and acts as a preservative. It’s also what gives fermented foods their characteristic sour flavor. The bacteria also produce vitamins and enzymes that are beneficial for digestion.
Almost any vegetable can be fermented, and fermenting farm-fresh produce is a great way to provide good nutrition all year-round!
You can ferment one vegetable alone or create a mix of many different kinds – add herbs and spices – and voila, you have a variety of cultured foods.
You don’t need a lot of specialised expensive equipment to get started with fermenting vegetables, but using the appropriate equipment can help you create a perfect batch every time without wasting good veggies.
Check out my DIY fermenting kits – which contain a wide selection of fermenting vessels – for the expert and complete noobie.
There are several ways to prepare the vegetables for fermenting: grating, shredding, chopping, slicing, or leaving whole.
The decision is up to you and depends mostly on what you plan to do with the finished veggies (will you be using them as a condiment, a side dish, or as an appetizer?).
Wash your vegetables thoroughly under cold running water. You want to remove bacteria, enzymes, and other goggos from the veggies, as leftovers could affect the outcome of your fermentation.
However, one “rule” is to keep the size of the veggies even within each batch, as the size and shape will affect the speed of fermentation. Grated veggies have the texture of relish when finished (and may not need an added brine). Chopped veggies will take longer to ferment and usually require brine. Cucumbers, radishes, green beans, and Brussels sprouts can be left whole.
If you decide to chop, slice or grate your vegetables, you should add salt as you place the cut vegetables in your chosen fermentation vessel and pound everything heavily with your fists or with a potato masher to break up the vegetables, release their juices and to eliminate any pocket of air that may have formed. When using whole vegetables, like with sour pickles, you’ll simply place them in your vessel and submerge them with a brine.
Using salt also helps the vegetables stay crunchy and helps draw water out of the vegetables. This extracted water can then act as the liquid for the brine.
A fermented food recipe may call specifically for salt, salt and whey, or a starter culture like kefir. The method chosen can vary, depending on personal taste, special dietary requirements, and even the vegetables used.
Using a starter culture will ensure that only the desired bacteria ferments your food, but they are not necessary when using salt. As yet another alternative to salt, seaweeds are also a great choice as they are high in sodium. Seaweeds are also packed full of micro-nutrients and are a great source of much needed iodine.
If salt fermentation is the preferred method, choose from the different kinds of salt appropriate for culturing.
Most fermented vegetables will need to be covered with brine. While you can do wild fermentation (allowing whatever is naturally on the vegetable to take hold), this method is more time consuming, and the end product is less certain. Instead, try one of the following brine fermentation methods:
Salt suppresses the growth of undesirable bacteria while allow salt-tolerant Lactobacilli strains to flourish. Salt also leads to a crisper texture, since salt hardens the pectins in the vegetables. There are good reasons for adding a small amount of natural, unprocessed salt — such as Himalayan salt — to your vegetables. For example, salt:
If you prefer to make your vegetables without salt, try celery juice instead. I recommend using a starter culture dissolved in celery juice.
Starter cultures may be used on their own or in addition to salt, and they can provide additional benefits.
The water used for your brine is also important. Use water that is filtered to be free of contaminants, chlorine, and fluoride.
Once the vegetables have been prepared and placed in the chosen fermentation vessel, weigh the vegetables down under the brine, keeping them in an anaerobic environment during the fermentation period.
Once the vegetables are finished culturing, it’s time to move them to cold storage. When new to fermenting, it may be difficult to know exactly when to consider the vegetables finished. Follow these tips for deciding when vegetables are ready for cold storage, to enjoy the finished vegetables for as long as possible.