Last update November 29, 2013.
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” and “cultured vegetables” mean the same thing; 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
Cultured vegetables are packed with probiotics, enzymes and nutrients that promote a healthy, balanced gut, healthy skin, weight loss, combat yeast infections, and much more. And they taste great! Just look at some of the many benefits of eating fermented foods; this is based on many studies done. Fermented foods…
- contain healthy, potent probiotics; lacto-bacteria affecting your health on a cellular level
- promote the growth of the natural, friendly bacteria in your intestine
- break down harmful chemicals, toxins and other unhealthy substances
- support the digestion of foods
- increases the assimilation of nutrients, vitamins, enzymes and omega-3 fats in your body
- has a direct impact on the quality of your skin
- treat allergy, eczema and asthma successfully
We could go on for quite a while with this list, but I think you get the idea. You should learn to harness this natural power of cultured vegetables; you will not regret that you did.
NOTE: Do not mix commercially fermented foods like sauerkraut, pickles or yogurt with naturally fermented foods; there is a HUGE difference!
Step-by-step guide to prepare fermented vegetables
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, they way you prepare it is the same. In this example I add whole cumin seeds; they add a distinctive taste to the 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 the fermentation process is that it breaks down many harmful chemicals, pesticides and other substances and makes them harmless to your body. Still, organic is cleaner and often contain a higher amount of nutrients. Be sure to thoroughly rinse your veggies in water.
- Salt or not? I’ve tried both ways and the taste is more palatable with salt than without. However, if you use the excellent celery juice as brine, you might want to skip the salt as celery juice add 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 can inhibit growth of the good bacteria and will therefore only add it when actually eating it. Try to see what you prefer. I don’t add salt if I use a starter culture.
- How much salt? For every two pounds of vegetables you can use 2 teaspoons – 1 tablespoons of salt. Use only sea salt, Himalayan Salt or Celtic Sea Salt.
- Using a starter culture: Body Ecology makes really good ones. If you use a starter culture, skip the salt; add salt just before eating the ready product. You can also use Dr. Mercola’s probiotic supplement as a starter. Use 2 capsules for every quart of vegetable mix; this will add many potent bacteria strains. Culture starters makes fermentation faster, more predictable and the final product will contain many more beneficial bacteria—as many as trillions in two tablespoons!
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 cumin 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 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.
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. The more natural juice from vegetables you have the better! Try juicing some fresh celery to use as brine. NOTE: If you use a starter culture, mix it with the celery juice and leave it for 30 minutes before adding it to the vegetable mix. Mix the starter culture juice with the vegetables.
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.
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 that kills off the good bacteria!
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 3-10 days and it all works fine. It’s a matter of taste and what kind of vegetables you’re fermenting, and your room temperature. I live further north and usually keep them 5-7 days in room temperature. After that I store them in a cool place. Others suggest to keep the jars in room temperature for up to two weeks. Try what works best for you!
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.
Step Seven: Enjoy fermented vegetables with every meal
The taste becomes a little different each time I make cultured 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.
Read my post on adverse effects to understand the detox 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 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 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.
Prep Time: 2 hours
- Green cabbage
- Culture starter
Create fresh juice from cabbage or celery. Add the culture starter and let it stand at least 20 minutes while you prepare the vegetables. Shred the vegetables, add the culture starter to the mix and put it in glass jars to ferment. Make sure the brine completely covers the vegetables. Ferment in room temperature for 5-7 days, Store in a cool place. Enjoy!