tamping vegetables in jar

Fermented Vegetables • Learn the Essentials

Fermented Vegetables, Sauerkraut
Step-by-step guide to make fermented vegetables or sauerkraut at home. This recipe is very simple; you can even skip the apples and caraway seeds and only use cabbage. The culture starter is optional too but I do recommend it as it makes fermentation safer and more predictable. It also packs the product with beneficial bacteria

Prep Time: 1 hour

  • Green cabbage
  • A few green apples
  • Sea salt or Himalayan salt
  • Culture starter (optional)
Create some fresh juice from cabbage or celery. Add the culture starter to the juice and let it stand in room temperature for 20 minutes or more while you prepare the vegetables. Shred the cabbage and apples, add the juice with culture starter to the cabbage and put it in glass jars to ferment. Make sure the brine completely covers the vegetables. Ferment in room temperature for 5-7 days. After that store in a cool place. Enjoy!

Fermented vegetables are one of the best “super foods” on the planet. Health benefits are so many and profound that you should absolutely include fermented foods in your diet, daily if possible. In this article “fermented vegetables” means naturally lacto-fermented vegetables without adding sugar, vinegar or other ingredients common in commercial products. Check this post for a more advanced recipe.

Benefits of fermented vegetables

Fermented vegetables are packed with probiotics, enzymes and nutrients promoting a healthy, balanced gut, healthy skin, weight loss, combat yeast infections, and much more. Just look at some of the many benefits of eating fermented vegetables. Fermented vegetables…

  • contain healthy, potent lacto-bacteria affecting your health on a cellular level
  • promote growth of the natural bacteria already colonizing your intestine
  • break down harmful chemicals,and other unhealthy substances
  • support digestion of foods
  • increases assimilation of nutrients, vitamins, enzymes and omega-3 fats in your body
  • has a direct impact on your skin quality
  • treat allergy, eczema and asthma successfully

We could go on yet for quite a while, but I think you get the idea. Learn to harness the natural power in fermented vegetables; you will not regret that you did.

  • NOTE: Do not mix commercially fermented foods like sauerkraut, pickles or yogurt with naturally fermented vegetables; there is a HUGE difference!

Fermented vegetables, step-by-step guide

In this simple example I use cabbage which is cheap, nutritious and easy to use. It also has a fresh, nice taste. But you can add many other vegetables of your choice. However, no matter what vegetables you add, you should prepare they in the same way. In this example I add whole caraway seeds. They add a distinctive taste to cabbage that I like. It is also considered good for your digestion.

  • Organic vegetables: Even if using organic vegetables is perfect, don’t worry. You can also use ordinary vegetables from your grocery store. The beauty with fermentation is that it breaks down many chemicals, pesticides and other harmful substances making them harmless to your body. Still, organic is cleaner and often contain a higher amount of nutrients. Rinse you veggies thoroughly in water.
  • Salt or not?  I’ve tried both ways and the taste is more palatable with salt. However, if you use the excellent celery juice as brine, you might want to skip the salt as celery juice adds a salty taste.
  • When to add salt? You have two options: 1. Add salt in your vegetable mix before fermentation, or 2. after fermentation is complete. Some feel that adding salt at the start of the process preserves the crunchiness of the vegetables and prevents growth of bad bacteria. Others think salt might inhibit growth of the good bacteria and will therefore only add it when actually eating it. Try to see what you prefer.
  • How much salt? A concentration of 2-2.5 % is normal. Add Himalayan or other unprocessed salt like sea salt or Celtic Sea Salt.
  • Using a starter culture: Body Ecology makes really good ones. If you use a starter culture you might want to skip the salt. Add salt just before eating the product. You can also try Dr. Mercola’s probiotic supplement as a starter. Use 2 capsules for every quart of vegetable mix; this will add many potent bacteria strains. Dr. Mercola also has a starter culture called Kinetic Culture; it’s and improve version of his supplement. Culture starters makes fermentation faster, more predictable and the final product will contain many more beneficial bacteria—as many as trillions in two tablespoons!

Cabbage and cumin

STEP ONE: Shred cabbage and whatever vegetables you are using

In most recipes cabbage is the backbone of your blend; use green or mix with red cabbage (red cabbage is beautiful). I sometimes add carrots, beets, celery, sweet potatoes, parsley, ginger and coriander leaves; beautiful and delicious! But to easier learn the different steps I here only use cabbage, a few apples, whole caraway seeds and sea salt. In general, cabbage will ferment fine without salt but some other vegetables may not. And if you use a starter cultures you could avoid salt altogether.

If you’re preparing a small amount of fermented vegetables, shredding by hand is OK. But if you prepare a bigger mix you might want to use a food processor like I do here.

NOTE: If you use a starter culture, then begin with this. Mix your starter culture with freshly pressed celery (best!) or cabbage juice and let it sit for at least 30 minutes while you prepare the vegetables. If I prepare 10-12 pounds of vegetables, I press about one quart of celery juice.

shredded cabbage

Step two: Mix all ingredients

You can use your hands or some tool to squeeze and mix the ingredients. Try to squeeze out more juice from the vegetables if you can; I sometimes use an instrument for this, especially if I want to prepare a lot. Try running some vegetables in a juicer to create more brine. This very practical as the brine will promote fermentation and greatly improve the taste.

TIPS: Try juicing fresh celery to use as brine; I juice about 3 celery bunches to create a quart of juice to be used as brine. Celery juice is wonderful and adds a salty taste that perfectly matches the other vegetables.

NOTE: If you use a starter culture, mix the starter with the celery juice and leave it for 30 minutes in room temperature. After 30 minutes just pour it into the vegetable mix and blend thoroughly.

squeezing cabbage fermenting cabbage

Step three: Pack the vegetable mix into clean air-tight jars

You can use your fist to pack the vegetables; pack it down hard. Tamping presses air out and forcing juice out; all of this promotes fermentation. I just use my fist but you can also use some instrument. Don’t fill your jar completely full; leave some space at the top of the jar. The fermentation process makes the brine bubble like Champagne and you might end up with too much juice leaking out from the jars.

cabbage in jar

Step four: Add freshly pressed juice from cabbage or the excellent fresh celery

If you have a juicer, try juicing some vegetables (I like celery) to create more brine. Fresh juice is better than water. In any case, you want the brine to cover the vegetables. Add a few cabbage leafs on top to keep the vegetables pressed in the brine. If some vegetables stay above the brine, they might go brown or develop a bad taste. As you see here, I ran out of vegetable juice and had to use some filtered water. Use boiled water that has cooled. Never use hot water as it might kill off the good bacteria!

fermenting vegetables in jar
fermented vegetables

Step five: Leave the jars in room temperature to ferment

It takes about two days for the fermentation process to get going—check it daily to monitor the process. Wild fermentation can be quite, well, wild; the pressure increases in the jars and some brine may leak out. That’s normal! But it can be wise to put the jars where you can easily clean up in case this happens. I keep the jars in my kitchen sink until the first and wild part of the fermentation process has resided.

NOTE: Best if you avoid putting the lids on too tight; pressure will build up inside the jars and needs to escape.

How long should you keep the jars in room temperature? I’ve tried everything between 5-12 days; but 7 days seem to work best. It’s can also differ depending on what kind of vegetables you’re fermenting, and your room temperature. In a hot climate fermentation tends to get a little more complicated. I live in a cooler climate so usually keep the jars for 7 days in room temperature. After that I store them in a cool place as a fridge. Others suggest to keep the jars in room temperature for up to two weeks. I’m not sure what that would accomplish, but you can try what works best for you! fermenting saurkraut

Step six: Store the vegetables in a cool place

After the 5-7 days in room temperature you should store the jars in a cool place; your basement or fridge is OK. Fermentation will still continue, but the lower temperature slows down the process. The taste will continue to improve for months to come; you now have a living, breeding culture in your jars, turning the vegetables into great tasting and healthy super-food. If you used a culture starter (which I strongly recommend), then your fermented vegetables will be ready to eat after a day or so in the fridge; this is one of the many great advantages with using culture starters.

Without a culture starter it can take a little longer for the taste to develop fully; within a few weeks time fermented vegetables develop a more acidic, fresh and complex taste.

NOTE: After you put the jars in a cool place, check brine levels in the jars during the next few days. If it looks low, and some vegetables are above the brine, then you should add more juice; you can use freshly pressed cabbage or celery juice (or even water) the same way as in step four above.

fermented vegetables in fridge

Step Seven: Enjoy fermented vegetables with every meal

The taste becomes a little different each time I make fermented vegetables, but that’s the beauty of homemade fermentation. The taste is refreshing and tart; it just feels great and super healthy!

  • One tablespoon of fermented vegetables can contain as much probiotic bacteria as one quart yogurt. That’s amazing! No wonder your body loves this!

One jar containing about 3-4 pounds (1,5-2 kg) lasts a week or two for me and my wife. It’s usually enough with a tablespoon or two to every meal; but you can eat more if you like or if you have a condition you want to treat (like IBS, inflammations, allergy etc). Just be aware that your might get a reaction when the powerful, healthy bacteria starts pushing bad bacteria, toxins and other harmful substances out of your system. This is a cleaning, detoxifying process.

Common problems with fermentation

The main reason for problems when fermenting vegetables is due to the presence of certain micro-organisms; they break down protein and produce undesirable flavor and texture changes. But this can easily be solved by following the advice in this post and create a normal lacto-fermentation process.

Why are the fermented vegetables too soft?

  • Too much air
  • Too little salt (does not apply if you use a culture starter since salt is not recommended)
  • Wrong temperature

Whenever the desired sequence of bacterial growth is changed or disturbed, it often results in soft vegetables.

Dark colored fermented vegetables

The reason for this is unwanted organisms during the fermentation process. For example, an uneven distribution of salt tends to disturb the good, healthy organisms but also allow the undesirable salt tolerant organisms to flourish. In addition, a common problem that I’ve had many times is a too low level of juice. This allow some bacteria and yeasts to grow on the surface of the vegetables not completely covered by juice. This cause discoloring and a bad flavor. Also, if the fermentation temperature is too high, it can stimulate the growth of undesirable microflora, which results in a darkened color. After fermentation is complete be sure to check the lever of the brine; it has a tendency to get low quickly in the beginning.

The fermented vegetables have a pink color

This is often caused by a group of yeasts that produce an intense red pigment in the juice and on the surface of the cabbage. The reason is an uneven distribution of or an excessive concentration of salt, both of which allow yeast to multiply. If conditions are optimal for normal fermentation, these spoilage yeasts are suppressed. If you use a culture starter, this never happens.

Fermented vegetables are live, active food. But if you learn to work with the bacteria fermenting vegetables will be something you never abandon.


  1. fleta delb says

    I have crohns and been trying to figure out what I can do to make it better, will fermentaed Vegs help me?

    • Ken says

      Crohn’s disease causes inflammation of your gastrointestinal tract. Crohn’s most often affects a part of the small intestine known as the ileum. Swelling from the inflammation can be painful and often results in diarrhea.
      It is believed that Crohn’s is caused by how your immune system handles intestinal bacteria. Such autoimmune disorders mean your immune system is attacking and destroying healthy body tissue.

      Fermented foods have proved very beneficial for improving your gut health, enhance digestibility and nutrient assimilation. Fermented vegetables also have the potential to control inflammations. You can try a high quality probiotic supplement. However, homemade fermented vegetables are much more effective. If you use a culture starter the probiotic bacteria count is often much higher than any supplement you can buy.

      However, don’t forget that vitamin D3 is important to control Crohn’s. Vitamin D is created when your skin is exposed to the sun for about an hour a day. You can also take a vitamin D3 supplement if you can’t get enough sun.

  2. manya meyer says

    For crohn’s take up to 5 organic Brazil nuts a day (this will increase selenium in your system. 2-4 Tsp.coconut oil to diet, or just eat coconut macaroons. But start slowly and increase slowly to avoid constipation or diarrhea. also eat fermented veg’s.

  3. Tyler says

    Hi im interested in making this recipe but was wondering what are the measurements for everything? Like how much cabbage, apple, carrot, and cumin did you use? And same with the culture starter, like say if i were to half the amount you used would i only use half of a packet of the culture starter? Thanks and hope to hear from you soon

    • Ken Silvers says

      Hello Tyler.

      This is basically a sauerkraut recipe meaning that most of it is cabbage, just adding apples and cumin (or caraway seeds). Such recipes are common in Eastern Europe. In this recipe I used two apples and a few tablespoons of caraway seeds. Caraway seeds add a distinctive taste that many like. You will have to try how strong flavor you want. Many recipes of fermented vegetables that include apples recommend one or two apples. But it is good to experiment a little to see what you like. Apples won’t add a strong, distinctive taste.

      I did not use carrots in this specific recipe, but you can add carrots freely without worrying too much about exact weights. I often use 50-90% cabbage.

      About the culture starter: Normally you use the whole packet in one batch. If you fermented a bigger batch you might need two packets.