Fermented vegetables

How To Ferment Vegetables: Make Your Own Health-Promoting Superfood

How to Ferment Vegetables Using Starter Cultures
Recipe and step-by-step guide how to ferment vegetables at home. Fermented vegetables using a starter culture are packed with many strains of beneficial, probiotic bacteria. Using different kinds of vegetables creates a more complex, rich taste and they add more vitamins, enzymes and many other nutrients. Feel free to change this recipe according to your own taste and what vegetables are available in your area.

Prep Time: 2 hours

Ingredients:
  • Green cabbage (comprising 50% or more of veg mix)
  • Red cabbage
  • Carrots
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Fennel
  • Cilantro (coriander leaves)
  • Celery
  • Ginger (adds wonderful taste)
  • Bell peppers
  • You can also add parsley, basil, sage, rosemary, thyme, oregano
  • Hot pepper (be careful, one might be enough)
Instructions:
Juice a quart of celery juice; dissolve the starter culture in the juice. Let is sit for 20 min or more. Peel and shred all vegetables. Add the juice with starter culture and thoroughly mix it with the vegetables. Fill jars to 75% with vegetables. On top of vegetables place a cabbage leave. Make sure vegetables are completely emerged in brine. Leave in room temperature for 7 days to ferment. Store in a cool place.

I want to show you how to ferment vegetables at home and create one of the most delicious, health-promoting superfoods you can imagine. The idea to this specific recipe I got from Dr. Mercola; I’ve just made a few changes to fit my own taste. But it’s a wonderful recipe that I’ve used many times; always together with a good culture starter.

  • Following this step-by-step guide on how to ferment vegetables, you will have delicious fermented vegetables ready to enjoy after about one week.

NOTE: Don’t worry about buying equipment right away; used whatever tools and jars you have in your kitchen and most likely you’ll do fine. Just try to get started with a few batches and in time you’ll see if you need to acquire any better tools.

In this recipe I use a culture starter which greatly promotes the fermentation process and creates a more complex and rich taste. I also have a simpler recipe if you’re a beginner.

How to ferment vegetables: Choose your ingredients

You can add any ingredients you your choice, and remove what you don’t like or can’t get. It’s wise to use vegetables that are in season. The vegetables used in this recipe are a wonderful mix of the following ingredients (amounts are just approximate; don’t be too picky):

  • Green cabbage: 6 lb (3 kg); forms the bulk of your batch; use hard, tightly packed heads
  • Red cabbage 2 lb (1 kg); adds a beautiful color in the jars, very appealing
  • Carrots: 2 lb (1 kg)
  • 3 sweet potatoes
  • 3 celery bunches; celery adds a nice, mild salty taste; the juice contains substances protecting vegetables
  • Ginger root; love the taste of it. I use about fairly big size root
  • Coriander leaves or cilantro (I use a lot because its great mild taste and has major health-promoting properties)
  • Celery leaves (these you cut off when juicing the celery stems, but don’t toss them into the trash bin, they are nutritious and beautiful)
  • 3 Fennels (smell wonderful when shredding)
  • 5 red bell peppers (remove the seeds)
  • 1 green bell pepper
  • In this recipe I use NO salt; instead I only use celery juice that adds a salty taste (if you prefer salt, then add just a little Himalayan or other unprocessed salt)
  • Body Ecology Starter Culture (is one of the best!). You can also use the excellent Dr. Mercola Complete Probiotics; use two capsules for every quart of vegetables.

Step 1: Prepare the culture starter

how to ferment vegetables with a starter cultureWhen fermenting vegetables, using a culture starter makes a BIG difference. How to ferment vegetables without a starter culture.

My own experience is that a culture starter…

  • makes the fermentations process more predictable; same high quality each time
  • vegetables ferment faster
  • vitamin K2 production is much higher (if the starter culture contains the right bacteria)
  • amazing taste—wonderfully refreshing, a little more tart, acidic and complex taste together with a ginger background and crunchy vegetables
  • packs the fermented vegetables with many more probiotic bacteria flooding your gut. A few tablespoons of these fermented vegetables can contain trillions of good bacteria; this is more than an entire probiotic supplement bottle containing 120 capsules.

Therefore, always use a high quality culture starter when fermenting vegetables!

Begin by preparing you culture starter. Here I’m using Body Ecology Culture Starter for vegetables (I use the same for cultured butter). I really like this product; it contains 6 different, carefully selected probiotic bacteria strains.

I use only one packet (5 gr.) for 10-12 pounds (5-6 kg) of vegetables; this seems to work well; but you can also use two packets if you want more bacteria or during winter when room temperature is lower.

Celery juice in jar

Mix the culture starter with celery juice

I make about a quart of fresh celery juice in a juicer, add a teaspoon of raw honey and mix well. Then add the starter culture and make sure you dissolve the powder completely in the juice.

Leave this mix in room temperature while you prepare the vegetables; leaving it for 30-40 minutes is fine. This will allow the bacteria to wake up from their sleep, become active and start consuming the sugar in the juice.

These are the beneficial microorganisms that will transform all your vegetables to probiotic-packed, nutritious superfood.

 Step 2: Rinse, cut and shred the vegetables

Red and green cabbageRed and green cabbage are the basis of many recipes for good reasons; they are cheap but packed with phyto-chemicals, vitamins, enzymes, minerals and the very important vitamin K2.

The fermentation process makes all these nutrients much easier for the body to assimilate.

TIPS: Leave one cabbage leave for every jar you have; save these for later when packing the jars.

Cutting carrots, pepper
Rinse the vegetables well

It is important to properly rinse you vegetables thoroughly in water. This you should do even if you use organic products. But you don’t have to disinfect the vegetables.

Some people use some natural fruit and vegetable wash which is also fine.

Cut the vegetables as need to be able to shred them. We have a big shredder and therefore we don’t have to cut the vegetables too much.

shredding cabbage

Shredding vegetables

Shredding is fast if you have a good machine; it only takes about 10 minutes to shred 10-12 pounds.

In the beginning I did it all by hand; this can be quite demanding! But for smaller batches it’s OK.

Put all of the vegetables into a big bowl where you can mix them easily.

 

The vegetable mix is just gorgeous!

wonderful vegetable mix

Step 3. Add the culture starter to the vegetable mix

By now the starter culture, celery juice mix has been sitting for about 30 minutes. The bacteria are now active and ready to indulge in the vegetables.

Just pour the juice into the vegetable mix; blend thoroughly with your hands until the vegetables are completely mixed with the juice.

If you want to add a little salt, this is a good time to do it. If you’re not using celery juice, a little salt wont hurt.

adding starter culture juice to vegetables

adding starter culture to vegetable mix

Step 4: Pack the vegetables in jars

The vegetables should be pressed or packed hard into the jars. You want to force air out; the less oxygen remaining the better. At the same time juice is squeezed from the vegetables. All of this promote the fermenting process.

You can use a wooden instrument that looks like a small baseball bat; its called a “kraut pounder.” But can also use your fist.

Vegetable mix packed into jars

Packing vegetables in jars

 Step 5: Add the cabbage leaves you saved

Putting cabbage leaves in the jars helps keep the vegetables in the brine and keeps oxygen out. The absence of oxygen is vital for a successful fermentation.

When the fermentation process is complete, you can just remove the cabbage leaves, you don’t have to eat them.

Putting cabbage leaves on top in jars

Jars are filled and ready for fermentation!

This is beautiful sight! And a great reward for your hard work. Now the jars should be properly stored in room temperature for 5-7 days. The fermentation process often accelerates on day 2 or 3. You’ll see bubbles and it might start to smell a bit; this is the smell of a live culture, beneficial, probiotic bacteria turning the vegetables into delicious food.

Jars filled with fresh vegetables

Step 6: Fermentationjars on kitchen sink

There could be some brine leaking out during the fermentation process. Therefore, store your jars in a suitable place. We often use the kitchen sink where we can easily monitor the process.

The temperature determines to a great degree how long you should keep the jars in room temperature. During wintertime you might need 7 or more days, but during summertime it might suffice with less. You can open one jar and taste it; if you’re happy with the taste, then put the jars in the fridge.

Ideal temperature: 68-75 degrees (20-24 C.); if cooler than you might need to leave the jars longer since fermentation slows down.

Max temperature: Around 83-85 (28-29 C.); warmer than this could inhibit growth of beneficial bacteria but most of all stimulate growth of other unwanted microorganisms like mold and yeast.

The color of the vegetables changes during the fermentation process. I’m as amazed every time this happens; you behold how microscopic microorganisms rapidly transforms the color of the vegetables!

NOTE: During fermentation  pressure will build in the jars. Therefore, if you use Mason jars, don’t put the lid on too tight; this is to allow gas to escape from the jars.

You can also open the lid for a second to let pressure out during the first few days. This is to make sure that you wont have too much pressure building up in the jars.

Fermenting vegetables in jar

After fermentation is complete—7 days later—store in a cool place

When fermentation in room temperature is complete, move the jars to a cool, dark place. If you have space in your fridge, that’s fine.

Store jars in fridge

After keeping the jars for a day in the fridge we start consuming the fermented vegetables. This is one HUGE advantage when using a starter culture; the process is much faster.

We have fermented vegetables many times using only the bacteria naturally living on the vegetables and without adding a starter culture. This kind of fermentation takes 7-15 days. However, to develop the same fresh, complex taste takes much longer, several weeks.

This is because the fermentation process is slower without a starter culture, and also because a starter culture contains more different bacteria strains that all are at work at the same time.

Remove cabbage leave

When you open your jar to consume the fermented vegetables, remove the cabbage leave you left on top. We just throw it in the trash.

NOTE: After a few days in the fridge you might notice that brine levels are low and not completely covering the vegetables. I add raw, fermented cabbage juice which works really well. But you can also add fresh celery or cabbage juice, or even a little water.

How long can you store fermented vegetables?

We have kept fermented vegetables in the fridge for more that 3 months without any deterioration of taste or texture. Fermented vegetables can stay fresh for a very long time. In fact, we think the taste gets even better after some time.

Traditionally, fermented foods is kept for many months while the whole family slowly consumes them. However, the taste tend to get more tart and acidic after a few months, so if you don’t appreciate this, then consider consuming them faster. But remember that a higher acidity is a favorable sign that the probiotic bacteria are alive and working and therefore the fermented food is “active” and highly potent.

What do fermented vegetables contain?

Lots of good stuff! Here are a few…

  • lactic acid (lowers pH, tangy taste, very health promoting)
  • large amounts of probiotic bacteria
  • small amounts of acetic acid (as in vinegar)
  • small amounts of propionic acid
  • a mixture of gases, mostly carbon dioxide
  • small amounts of alcohol
  • a mixture of aromatic esters
  • enzymes
  • vitamins
  • most fermented nutrients are in a condition as if already chewed and digest (by the bacteria) therefore easy for your body to completely assimilate

How to eat fermented vegetables

Now you know how to ferment vegetables, but how do you consume them? You can consume a few tablespoons to every meal, no matter what you’re eating. My wife and I consume a lot of fermented vegetables; we empty one 3 pound jar in 10 days or so.

Therefore, we make a new batch once every two months. When you have done this process once or twice, you will do it much quicker. In fact, my wife and I find it very relaxing and enjoyable to do this work together in the kitchen.

TIPS: If you’re new to fermented food, start off by eating smaller amounts

If you have a medical condition, it might be a good idea to start off slowly, otherwise you might experience symptoms of detox or a healing crisis. This can happen if you have much bad bacteria, yeast, or Candida in your gut. It can also happen if you’ve been on medication for a long time or if toxins have built up in your body.

Fermented vegetables strongly promote the cleaning out of unwanted bacteria, yeast, waste and toxins and this process can cause detox symptoms. Symptoms are usually mild, not dangerous and disappear after a few days. But to be safe, start off with consuming just a tablespoon or so and monitor how this makes you feel.

Now when you how to ferment vegetables you can populate your gut with beneficial bacteria and hopefully enjoy the many health benefits that comes with consuming fermented vegetables.

Enjoy!

Fermented vegetables in bowl, ready to eat

Comments

  1. willysson says

    After the first batch, can I pour off some of the liquid into a clean container and use it (the liquid) as a starter for the next batch? Would like to economize a bit. Thanks.

    • Ken Silvers says

      Hi Willysson

      That’s a good question. The success of using old juice depends on the types of organisms present in the juice and its acidity. If your starter juice from the old batch has a very high acidity it can result in poor quality vegetables. (The longer you have kept your batch in the fridge, usually the higher the acidity (lower pH). This you can feel when eating it; it’s very tangy.) Problems with juice from the old batch occur because the bacteria strains that normally initiate fermentation are suppressed by the high acidity and therefore other bacteria will go to work. This can produce fermented vegetables with a softer texture than normal, even mushy. But it also depends on the starter culture. Try a smaller batch with some old juice and see if the result is OK. Because if it is, you can really economize.

      I use a starter culture from Body Ecology; in one box there are six packages (for six batches) and costs about $24. I prepare about 10 pounds of vegetables for each batch using one packed of starter culture; this batch lasts for about a month or more. This means that I pay $48 per year for the starter culture. The idea is to prepare large batches since this way you can economize a lot. But there is a limit how much you can prepare with one package, but it’s pretty much.

      However, my experience is that prepare yogurt or kefir using some of the old batch to start a new one works very well. Use about six tablespoons of the old batch and add it to the new one and you will have excellent bacteria growth. One reason why this works so well with yogurt and kefir is because you have no vegetables turning soft or mushy.

      • Margo says

        Hi Ken,

        Enjoyed this article, and appreciate the information. I am going to begin fermenting my own veggies soon! I have a few questions. One, I have a nutria-bullet, is this okay to use to “juice” the celery, as this method leaves the fiber in the mix. Will the fiber being in the mix change the fermenting process in any way?

        Second question refers to the comment about the mason jars…. to not screw them down tightly so as to let gasses escape. Once fermented, after about the week you say is needed, would it be expected that the cap would be tightened when putting in the fridge?

        Then finally, when packing the jars, and tamping the contents down, are we to pour out the excess fluid? Is this the “left-over” that has been mentioned? The veggies ferment even when excess starter liquid is removed?

        Thanks so much, this is all new to me, but I really want to try it, to provide my family with a good healthy probiotic laden addition to our diet.

        Margaret

          • Ken Silvers says

            Hi again Margo.

            We use a food processor to shred the veggies. I used to do it by hand and if you prepare only a small batch it is OK. But we prepare around 20 pounds each time and therefore shredding by hand become very tiresome. A food processor is very helpful. It does not seem to matter if you shred you vegetables fine or coarse; the vegetables will ferment very well anyway.

            However, we have noticed that coarsely shredded vegetables produce crunchier, better tasting fermented vegetables. If you shred your veggies too fine, you might fell like you’re consuming a vegetable porridge. So if your food processor comes with different shredding or grating discs, I recommend you try the coarse disc. If you’re using vegetables like cilantro (coriander leaves) or parsley, those you can also easily cut by hand.

        • Ken Silvers says

          Hello Margo.

          Nice to hear you’re getting into fermenting vegetables; you will not regret that you did. You also have some good questions how to ferment vegetables; let me try to answer these questions.

          1. I’ve not used the NutriBullet but I have made a thicker brine using the fibers in the vegetables. My experience is that this will not disturb the fermentation process in any way; celery juice is great and the probiotic bacteria seem to love it also. However, it might create a thicker consistency than normal. The brine in fermented vegetables is normally watery light, tart and with a complex, wonderful sour taste. Using the brine from your NutriBullet will create a thicker brine, but in no way ruin your fermented vegetables. So if you are OK with a thicker consistency on the final product, then you should have no problems at all.

          2. The fermentation process normally reaches its peak after a few days in room temperature; you see lots of bubbles in the jars. After that the fermentation quickly enters the next stage and calms down. The bacteria are still very active even though there are fewer bubble in the jars. Then, after about a week when you put the jars in the fridge, the fermentation process will slow down considerably because of the lower temperature. The cool temperature means less gas is produced and therefore pressure will not build up in the jars as it did during the early fermentation stage. In addition, air is one of the main enemies that can ruin your precious fermented vegetables. Therefore, at this stage you need to screw the lids on more tight not to let air into the jars.

          3. The fluid is very valuable, you do not want to pour it out. The fluid is packed with vitamins, enzymes and many other nutrients. It also contains sugars that the probiotic bacteria will devour and create several other healthy substances including gas. The starter liquid will become completely integrated with the fermented vegetables and cannot be, and should never be removed. You should enjoy every drop of it!

          Hope this helps.
          Happy fermentation!

          • DARRYL says

            KEN I JUICE BEETS CARROTS CELERY KALE BROCCOLI RABE DANDELION APPLES AND GINGER CAN I USE THE RESIDUE FIBER TO PREPARE FERMENTED FOOD..

            THANKS.

          • Ken Silvers says

            Hello Darryl.

            Nice to hear that you’re into juicing. Fermenting the residue is perhaps possible but the result will most likely not be appealing. The reason is that the presence of vegetable juice is a major factor for success since it contains sugar, enzymes and vitamins vital for the fermentation process. The leftovers are mainly fibers as you say and not really your best option. I’ve used this dry vegetable mass left after juicing in cooking, which turned out pretty good; in stews or mixing some with ground meat is nice.

            Fresh cabbage, carrots, celery, apples and ginger are usually not that expensive to get. If you want to prepare fermented vegetables, then go for the real thing. Then you will have a product that is tasty and packed with nutrients.

  2. says

    May I ask, do you find room temperature to be important while the vegies are fermenting? We live in Florida, our home is usually about 80 degrees.
    I’d appreciate your input.

    • Ken Silvers says

      A temperature of 64 to 72 (18º to 22º C) is most desirable for initiating fermentation since this is the optimum temperature range for the growth and metabolism of some of the best probiotic bacteria strains. Temperatures above 72 degrees (22ºC) can work also, but the warmer it gets the more it favors the growth of other Lactobacillus species; they are still good bacteria but might give a different taste and the vegetable might become softer. If you don’t have a basement or somewhere were it’s cooler, then you just have to try fermenting in a higher temperature.

      However, you should be aware that a higher room temperature will promote mold in you jars. If you’re making yogurt, then the process works fine in 80 degrees too. But for vegetables the process can be more sensitive. But if you follow my recommendations in my post on how to ferment vegetables, you will do fine. A few tips on fermenting in a warmer climate:

      1. Be sure to emerge the vegetables completely in brine to protect them from mold. Use fresh celery or cabbage juice as brine as the juice helps protect the veggies.
      2. Use a starter culture; this make the process much more stable and predictable.
      3. You might not have to leave the vegetables for the entire 6 days in room temperature to complete the process. Higher room temperature usually shorten the process as the veggies ferment faster. Try what works best for you.

    • Ken Silvers says

      Yes April, kimchi is an excellent fermented food that can help you improve your gut health. It is rich in vitamins, lactobacilli bacteria and other nutrients. It has also been reported that kimchi can help break down pesticides, pollutants found in many foods drinking water. It’s simple to make at home so just indulge! I hope to post some recipes on kimchi in the future.

  3. w.r. says

    I have been considering doing this. I had a few questions, please. Is the raw honey necessary? What about other sugars? Regardless, I hope the end product is one in which the bacteria has digested ALL sugars.

    Any guess as to what percentage of the probiotics survive the digestion (stomach acid) process and make it to the gut? Does it colonize the gut or is it necessary to continue to eat fermented foods?

    Any thoughts on the advantages/disadvantages of a fermenting crock?

    I used to ferment wine. I had to be careful about cleanliness and not introducing bad bacteria. I had to use a device to let the CO2 escape without letting outside air in (although some old timers I know just used a cheese cloth cover). Is there any such concern with your operation?

    I have heard fermenting releases nutrients and makes them more bio-available. I have heard that sprouts (broccoli) are super nutrient dense. What about fermenting sprouts?

    Thank you!

    w.r.

    • Ken Silvers says

      Hi w.r.
      The honey is not a must, but you use very little and it does stimulate bacteria growth since they feed on these kinds of sugars. The bacteria will consume all sugars so that the end product will become acidic and tart; there are very low levels of carbohydrates left, if any. It has been transformed to several other nutrients and gas.

      The bacteria you consume will not replace the bacteria you have in your gut. But probiotic bacteria you consume will create a suitable environment so that the natural bacteria colonizing your gut can thrive. This is one reason why it you should consume fermented foods on a regular basis, especially if you’re over the age of 40 and you gut will start needing more support.

      Fermenting crocks are really practical when preparing a bigger batch; this is the traditional way people has prepared fermented foods for centuries. In Eastern Europe many still use large containers for their ferments and they eat from it for for months. However, the bigger fermenting crocks are also bulky so you need some good place to store it. If you have a cool cellar or basement you’re lucky because that’s an ideal place. Otherwise you might consider using Mason jars or similar as those can easily be store in the fridge.

      As to hygiene, yes you need to use clean jars, tools and to rinse the vegetables. But I’ve never been overly picky with it. I have also noticed that using a culture starter helps a lot as it makes the fermenting process a lot more stable and not as sensitive to unwanted bacteria. If you have some experience with wine making, that can help you a lot since the fermentation principles will be similar.

      Yes, you can ferment sprouts too. I’ve not tried it but my wife and I sprout a lot and consume it daily, including broccoli seeds because of the reason you mention, and because they are delicious eaten fresh. Fermented foods have a very high bioavailability; they are assimilated by your body almost as if the food was already chewed and digested. This is because the beneficial bacteria prepare the food for you. But I appreciate the reminder about fermenting sprouts; I will try it and report the result.

      Hope this help

  4. Holly says

    Hello Ken,

    What an excellent and informative article! Fermented foods have long been a part of our diet in my house but are so costly. We purchased them from Whole Foods at $10.00 for 12 ounces. So, needless to say, I am thrilled to discover this information!! I have a few questions; can the types of vegetables be played with? I would love to add beets and my husband loves the spicey jalapeño variety I buy from WF so would love to add some jalapeños to part of it for him. Also, is raw honey necessary or is organic honey okay to use? I am also interested in sprouting more foods…do you have any articles on such? It is refreshing to read information from someone so knowledgeable. Thank you so much for the information and your feedback!

    • Ken Silvers says

      Hello Holly.

      Glad to hear you like this info. Yes, you can play with many vegetables to find what you like; almost anything can be fermented. Almost each time we make a new batch we make some changes to the recipe. Beets are great but can add a distinct taste and therefore I do not add them each time. Jalapeños are really good too, just be careful with amounts since the taste can become very strong. But if you like it really hot, then just go for it. Onion and garlic are good, but again, can add very distinct tastes.

      If you want to experiment, one idea is to add a different vegetable to one jar and evaluate the result. I sometimes do this when trying something for the first time. Recently I wanted to ferment fresh sprouts for the first time so I added them only to only one out of five jars just to see how it turned out.

      I mix one teaspoon of raw honey with the celery juice just to feed the bacteria some fast sugars to kick-start the process; you can use your organic honey, no problem.

      About sprouts: I’ve not written any post about this yet, but I can recommend http://sproutpeople.org. They are really good at this and also offers some helpful tools.

      Wish you success with fermenting vegetables

    • Ken Silvers says

      Hi Holly.

      Onion is similar to garlic in that they are very nutritious fermented but can also add a specific taste; there are some onion like red ones that are milder. They are great in some recipes. Interesting is that some people who normally do not like to eat onion can enjoy them when fermented; actually most fermented vegetables taste quite different from raw ones.

      The recipe in this post is composed in such a way to produce a balanced, complex and fresh taste where ginger adds a slightly hot feel to it. Adding a few hot peppers can enhance the taste even more, perhaps even an onion. I’ve used garlic a few times but they often tend to dominate the taste too much. It might be better to ferment certain vegetables like garlic separately. Then you can eat them separately.

      Whether ther are vegetables to avoid fermenting? I’ve not yet come across any vegetable that could not be fermented, there might be; but recipes are mostly a matter of what you prefer.

  5. says

    My wife and I are old age pensioners living in a small granny flat in Brisbane Australia. I see what you say about Florida and we have a similar problem. Our temperatures in the flat, where we have our 10 gallon krok range from about 6 degrees Celsius in winter to up to 33grees C in summer- before we turn on the air conditioning. We have a small second fridge where we can store the jars of fermented veges, once the krok is decanted. In the summertime – like now – how long should we leave our krok before decanting when the 28C to 33C max. are common day after day. We have really enjoyed your article and Dr Mercola’s and thank you sincerely for your help.
    Sincerely…………………………………….Geoff

    • Ken Silvers says

      Hello Geoffrey.

      Good question. How to ferment vegetables in a hot climate is not easy to answer as it can be challenging and you will have to experiment to see what works best for you. A 10 gallon crock is really nice for fermenting big batches of vegetables. If it has a water lock, even better as it keeps oxygen out effectively.

      There are a few recommendations that might help to successfully ferment vegetables in a hot climate.

      Taste your product: The best way to know if the product is ready is to taste it; taste after two days, three and so on. When the taste seems to be right, then refrigerate. In a hot climate this might be after 3-7 days. In a hot climate vegetables also tend to get softer, even mushy. But this can also be avoided.

      Try to ferment vegetables while the temperature is in the correct range in your apartment. When the first part of fermentation is complete the vegetables are not as sensitive anymore, even if the room temperature would rise. If you have a cool place to store smaller jars, then of course is would be better to empty you crock and store smaller jars in the fridge during the hot season. When temperatures get above 25, 26 degrees Celsius, the fermentation process accelerates and the vegetables become more vulnerable to mold, which is the most common problem in a warmer climate.

      If you ferment during the hot season, some people have successfully turned on their air condition unit during the most sensitive fermentation process; that would be the first 7 days or so. After this you need to make sure the brine is completely covering all the vegetables to block oxygen out. If you have a water lock on your crock, then make sure it always is tight and will not let any air into the crock. Oxygen is another main enemy of fermented vegetables because if promotes growth of mold, yeast and other unwanted microorganisms.

      Use a starter culture. This makes the fermentation process much more stable and introduces bacteria strains that can help protect the vegetables. A starter culture also tends to lower the pH much faster, thereby helping to protect the product in a warmer climate.

      Normally when fermenting vegetables in a cooler room temperature, you can ferment for several weeks or longer without ruining the product. The only thing that happens is that the level or sourness increases. However, in a hot climate it can be risky to leave the vegetables for a long time in a crock in room temperature, again because your main threat will be mold. The only way of knowing when the vegetables are ready is to taste the product; first after two days, then daily until the taste seems right. After that the product is ready to be refrigerated.

      Use salt: Salt protects vegetables against harmful microorganisms as mold. Traditionally, a lot of salt was used when making sauerkraut. However, you don’t want too much salt since it can inhibit the growth of good bacteria. But a little salt slows down the fermentation process and acts as a preservative. Salt can also help preserve the crunchiness of vegetables.

      Use fresh celery or cabbage juice as brine. These juices help protect the vegetables.

      Some people have tried to ferment vegetables in a fridge not too cool. However, be aware that the cooler temperature will slow down fermentation so that you might not get the result you want since many bacteria strains are inhibited by a low temperature.

      Others have put the jars in low level cold water, not covering the entire jar but just the lower part. Other has put refreezable ice packs around the jars to keep them cool during the first 3-5 days.

  6. says

    What about mushrooms? What about hard fruits like apples or green (not ripe) mangos or watermelon rind? Is this the same process for making cucumbers into pickles?
    I also noted you use a glass Mason-type of jar with a glass top but my recollection is that they all have differing domes thus creating an air pocket. How do you get that air out or does that matter?

    Thanks for the great information. I will try this as I live in Ecuador and am about out of my supply of US-bought Probiotics. Besides, I like the idea of inexpensive but better. One final question regarding the survivability of the pro-biotics in the stomach. I use a brand of Probiotics that are time-released so they enter the intestines and there disolve and are not killed in the stomach acid. Since fermented foods come in contact with the stomach acid, I am wondering about the survivability?

    • Ken Silvers says

      Hello Ed.

      Mushrooms are great to ferment or pickle. There are many recipes but in Eastern Europe this is an old tradition. They often precook the mushroom first, then drain them, put mushrooms in jar, add vinegar, salt, a little sugar, garlic, dill and raspberry leaves. You must have brine enough to completely cover the mix. The jar is left in room temperature for 2-3 days to ferment and after that stored in a cooler place. Traditionally people used to eat this the whole winter.

      Apples are often used together with cabbage; it’s like sauerkraut with apples. But you can add an apple or two to almost to any recipe. Mango same thing, excellent to ferment.

      Watermelon rind I’ve not tried to ferment myself, but I’ve seen other doing this successfully. You scrape the pink flesh and peel off the green skin off the rind, cut in smaller pieces. Mix 2 tbsp salt with 1 quart filtered water. Add herbs, spices to taste. Put it all in a jar and leave to ferment for 1-3 days in room temperature. When fermentation gets going, be sure to loosen the lid for a second now and them to let gas escape from jar. Store in cool place.

      Cucumber pickles can be extremely tasty and are useful. The recipe is similar to the one for mushrooms.

      The jars I used are not real Mason; the small amount of air is pushed out as soon as fermentation starts and pressure is built up in the jar. The rubber seal will let the pressure out when too high. I have found that these jars are very good for fermenting vegetables.

      About survivability. It has been a matter of some controversy about what kind of bacteria and how many survive the harsh stomach environment. Research has confirmed that several species do survive and even show up in the stool for several week after consumption; Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium are among those. This indicates that consuming fermented foods or high quality probiotic supplements regularly will benefit your entire intestinal tract.

  7. Chuck Postma says

    Ken,
    Great article! Just one quick clarification. I’ve been reading where during fermentation the vegetables must be covered with liquid, but you did not mention that. I’ve made four quarts of assorted sauerkraut and salsa and have used a brine of one tablespoon sea salt to 2 cups filtered water with excellent results. Do you cover the vegetables with celery juice or other liquid during the fermentation?

    Thanks

    Chuck

    • Ken Silvers says

      Hello Chuck.

      Yes, you’re right, the vegetables must be completely covered with brine. This is one of the most important factors to successfully ferment vegetables. If brine levels in the jars get low in the fridge, then you should add liquid. I add raw, fermented cabbage juice that I buy in the store. But you can also add water with a little salt.

      During fermentation I cover the vegetables completely with celery juice. Earlier I used water as you do, which works well too. However, I found that with celery juice the taste becomes more complex and enjoyable and it also helps preserve the vegetables. Also, celery juice adds a mild, pleasant salty taste, therefore you don’t need to add as much salt, if any.

      The taste and texture of the final product will tell you if you’ve done everything right. And you seem happy with the result which is the main thing.

    • Ken Silvers says

      Hi Lilia.

      Actually, the celery juice is needed as brine to cover the vegetables. The starter culture is added to the celery juice because it’s a convenient way to add the starter and later mix it with the vegetables. The amount of celery juice needed depends on how much vegetables use are fermenting. I make about one quart of celery juice for five fairly big jars. But you can also make less juice but add a little water.

  8. R. Petrie says

    I am fairly new to vegetable fermenting as I have only made one batch with cabbage so far (it turned out great). I have considered adding garlic to the next batch, but I’ve wondered about it’s anti-bacterial properties and if it would slow down or hinder the growth of the good bacteria. I see from the comments above, that people do add it in, but it still makes me wonder if it’s counter productive. Any thoughts ?

    • Ken Silvers says

      Hello.

      Garlic works very well to ferment together with almost any other vegetable; garlic does not affect the growth of beneficial, probiotic bacteria. But garlic contains antimicrobial and anti-fungal agents in its active ingredients, making it suitable to combat bad bacteria, viruses and other harmful microorganisms.

      However, garlic adds a very distinct taste to the vegetables; if this is OK with you, then you should have no problem. Just be aware that fermented garlic can have a very strong taste; this is the reason I prefer to ferment garlic separately and add it on the side whenever I’m in the “garlic mood,” like in the cold and flu season. But the health properties of fermented garlic are many and profound like you say.

  9. Lydia says

    I have kefir grains which I use to make kefir from cow’s milk. Can I just add some freshly made kefir to use as a starter? Thanks.

    • Ken Silvers says

      Hello Lydia.

      Kefir grains are wonderful and if you take good care of them, will serve you long. As you know, you pour milk over the grains to prepare a batch. Then, after some 24 hours your kefir will be ready. However, don’t throw away the kefir grains as you would an old teabag. Pour the kefir through a strainer and your grains can be used for the next batch. If the grain are of high quality, they can be used to make several more batches. And with the right care, they can even serve you indefinitely.

  10. Ellen says

    This is such wonderful information – thanks! Is there another way to “juice” the celery? We don’t have a juicer.

    • Ken Silvers says

      Hi Ellen.

      I’ve heard some people using a mixer or blender; this would create a celery mash which you then pour though a fine strainer into a bowl to collect the juice.

      I earlier used boiled water that has cooled down which also works pretty well. It makes the taste a little more diluted but not too bad. Sometimes you can buy freshly pressed cabbage juice or some other pure juice without any additives in the grocery store that also could be used. And you don’t need that much juice; I use about a quart or so for five jars.

    • Ken Silvers says

      Hello Lori.

      Using whey as a culture starter to ferment vegetables is possible. However, I’m not a big fan of using whey this way. Whey is dairy based and contains bacteria strains specialized in consuming lactose or the sugars in milk. This might work well with fermenting milk or cream to make cheese, yogurt or kefir, even though I think kefr grains are better. In any case, I don’t think whey is the best starter culture for fermenting vegetables or to prepare picked cucumbers, garlic or any of that sort.

      However, some bacteria strains can be the same both for fermenting dairy and fermenting vegetables. Therefore, you might succeed with some vegetables but not with others. Usually the problem is that vegetables become mushy or just don’t taste well.

      I normally use a starter culture that is more broad-spectrum consisting of dried bacteria composed for the purpose of fermenting vegetables; like Body Ecology or even better Dr Mercola. This way you add a selection of bacteria suitable for vegetables. In addition, you will also have more different bacteria strains that are not included in whey.

      You can also do wild fermentation, using the bacteria naturally occurring on all vegetables. I’ve done this many times, but it’s a more unstable and unpredictables process and you don’t get as much beneficial bacteria as when adding a starter culture.

  11. Keith Hull says

    Hi Ken – have been a fan of Dr Mercola for a number of years. His recommendation of your website fulfills the high rating we have come to expect from him. Your comments are so instructive with clear detail and offered with warmth and sincerity, even when you have earlier covered the points. No questions, just a word of encouragement.

    We live in NZ in the sunny Bay of Plenty.
    Kind regards

  12. Guest says

    Hi,

    Can people with a acidity/ bloating/ indigestion problems consume fermented food without having any problems.

    Thanks

    • Ken Silvers says

      Hello.

      Many people suffer from bloating or ingestion because of imbalances in their gut or because of inflammation. Imbalances between good and bad bacteria or yeast overgrowth can cause all the symptoms you describe. Consuming probiotics or fermented foods can help correct such imbalances in several ways. Mainly beneficial bacteria in fermented food stimulate your body to kill off harmful bacteria, parasites and yeast. This can initially cause an aggravation of symptoms for a few days including gas, bloating, headaches, flu-like symptoms, even skin eruptions. For a majority of people this is completely harmless. However, it can feel unpleasant.

      Therefore the recommendation is to start small, with small amounts of fermented foods; perhaps staring with one or two tablespoons to half a cup of fermented vegetables daily. As you body gets used to fermented food you might be able to slowly increase the amount you consume without notable symptoms.

      Beneficial bacteria in fermented food help create the right environment for the “good guys” in your digestive tract. And more often than not, the “bad guys” will not give up without a fight, thereby causing detox symptoms. When the bad guys are defeated by the good guys, the environment in your guy will reach optimal balance for it to thrive. In an ideal situation, here’s where you gut problems end.

      This process can take from a few days, to weeks if you have more to clean out. In my case it took several months as I had severe problems in my gut for decades. Now I consume fermented foods several times a day without any symptoms, suggesting that my gut is in pretty good balance.

      So the answer to your question would be: Yes, most people with the problem you mentioned can/should consume fermented good. However, since we’re all different, monitor closely how you feel. If you have serious health problems, talk first with your health practitioner. Also, check this post on detox.

  13. rx says

    Hello…

    If I use hot peppers do I need to slice them thin or can I use bigger chunks?
    Also, what about using cactus? Thanks or your reply…

    robert

    • Ken Silvers says

      Hello rx.

      Fermenting hot peppers in slices, chunks or whole is a matter of personal taste. When I add one hot pepper into my vegetable mix to ferment, I cut it in small pieces and mix it thoroughly with the other vegetable to get an even hot taste. But you can also ferment or pickle whole pepper separately; the advantage is that you can used them on the side with any food of your liking.

      I’ve never tried to ferment cactus but I’ve seen some people ferment or distill cactus juice.

  14. PJ says

    Thank you Ken for gifting us with your experience and knowledge. It will come back to you many times over. I am wondering if once a large batch is fermented, is it possible to then process the jars through a canning technique?

    • Ken Silvers says

      Hello PJ.

      I’m happy you like my site. Fermentation is a simple but very effective preservation technique. Fermented vegetables are conserved in a sour brine with live bacteria keeping the vegetables fresh for many months. This is how people used to preserve foods before the invention of refrigerators. Mason jars, crock pots or larger vessel will all keep the product fresh if the vegetables are completely emerged in brine. Since the fermentation process is still active, although slow, a small amount of gas is produced. This helps to keep oxygen from harming the vegetables.

      Some people ferment a large batch of vegetables in a big vessel and then transfer the ready product to smaller jars to store in a cool place like a fridge. In Eastern Europe I’ve seen how many people save the fermented vegetables in large containers that stand in a cool place. Then they consume a small amount daily during the winter months until the container is empty. The cover can be of wood or plastic and is often very simple, but the vegetables are all the time emerged in brine thus preserving them fresh.

      So you can use a number of techniques to keep the vegetables fresh. But you don’t have to be overly concerned about this if you follow the basic recommendations.

  15. Anna Marie Lambeth says

    We have a question. :) We just made our first batch of fermented veggies. At day 4 we just taste tested, and think they need a few more days. Although have never eaten any like this before, so are basing that on taste of sauerkraut… There is a little brown at the top of the jar, juice there is a brownish color – maybe 1/4″ to 3/8″? The rest of the jar is pretty – pinkish. Is the brown color at the top normal and/or ok? There is still some bubbles at the top, from what I have read that is an indication they need to still ferment longer, is that correct? We loved them by the way. Thank you so much for great directions.

    • Ken Silvers says

      Hello Anna Marie.

      Nice to hear that you are trying fermented vegetables. Yes, four days are usually too little; seven or more is better. If your home temperature is a bit lower you might need a few extra days. I have fermented veggies for up to 15 days when the temperature was lower with good result. But it is good that you taste the veggies to see when you feel they are ready. The longer you let them ferment in room temperature, the higher the acidity. The high acidity protects against bad bacteria and is considered very health promoting.

      The brown color often shows that air has entered the jar or that the vegetables are not entirely submerged in brine. Oxygen promotes the growth of unwanted microorganisms that produce the a bad taste and brown color. That has happened to me a few times too. Usually you can just remove the brown veggies after fermentation is complete. The pink color is a sign the veggies are healthy. If brine levels are low, add some fresh cabbage juice or boiled water that has cooled down. It helps a lot to add a cabbage leaf or two on top of the veggies. The cabbage is a very good protection and prevents vegetables from turning brown.

      As long as you keep the jars in room temperature fermentation will continue. Therefore bubbles can continue to be formed as bacteria consume sugars that are turned into gas. This process slows down after some days. When you put the jars in a cool place like your fridge, fermentation will slow down considerably and you might not see any bubbles at all. But the healthy bacteria is still very much alive, for up to 8 months at least.

  16. Dawn Bals says

    Thank you for this information. I am in the process of making my first batch and have some concerns. Not for I have done everything right.
    I bought cultures on line and its sourgemuese. It says for veggies but I have not seen anyone mention this specially. Hoping this is a good culture. The other concern is that my jars don’t have any bubbles at the top and when I prepared them I left about 1-2 inches at the top and covered with the cabbage leaf. It has been totally submerged in the brine the whole time but the veggies have not expanded and I thought I read that they would. I do smell a very strong odor and because I have never done this before I just am not sure it’s going like it should. It does have a pink look and the cabbage leaf has changed to a grey color.

    Do you think it’s ok for me to try? It’s 5 days today.
    I started this because of stomach issues and am already a very healthy eater so was hoping the good bacteria would help my gut.
    Thanks for your help!

    • Ken Silvers says

      Hello Dawn Bals.

      I’ve never used this culture you mentioned so its hard for me o tell. No bubbles in your jars? This can happen without anything becoming spoiled. In fact, my last batch using Dr. Mercola’s starter, there were no bubble but the taste and texture was fine. No bubble might mean that fermentation is slower, perhaps due to a lower room temperature. If so, then you might want to leave the jars a few extra days in room temperature.

      It sounds as if you have done things properly. However, when you’re dealing with live cultures and microorganisms, you cannot be 100% sure what the bacteria are up to. The cabbage leaves on top can become grayish in color sometimes. But if the veggies are still pink and look fresh, then things should be fine. One way to find out is by tasting the veggies. They should have a tart, fresh taste. The strong odor can be good but also bad; it depends on many factors. Check my Troubleshooting page.

      I had stomach issues for years before I started fermenting vegetables. Now I never have any gut problems. Hope you will experience the same relief too.

      Please write again if you need more help.

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