Fermented vegetables are greatly underestimated as a super food. Health benefits are so many and profound that you should try to consume fermented vegetables daily if possible. In this article “fermented vegetables” means naturally lacto-fermented vegetables without adding sugar, vinegar or other ingredients common in commercial products. There are other more advanced recipes.
Benefits of fermented vegetables
Fermented vegetables are packed with good, probiotic bacteria, enzymes, vitamins, minerals and many other nutrients.
Fermented vegetables also…
- 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
This list in just the beginning of many more benefits. Harnessing the power of fermented vegetables is surprisingly easy.
- Don’t confuse commercially fermented vegetables with homemade, naturally fermented vegetables; there is a HUGE difference!
Fermented vegetables, step-by-step guide
In this example I use green cabbage which is cheap, nutritious and simple to ferment. Cabbage has a fresh taste and when fermented preserves a lovely crunchiness. You can of course add other vegetables too if you like. This particular recipe calls for whole caraway seeds. They add a distinctive taste to fermented cabbage and is also considered good for your digestion. But you can skip them if you don’t like the taste.
- Organic vegetables: Organic vegetables are best. But ordinary vegetables from your grocery store are also fine. The fermentation process breaks down many toxins like pesticides and other harmful substances making them harmless to your body. Still, organic vegetables often contain a higher amount of nutrients. Rinse the veggies thoroughly in water.
- Salt or not? Traditionally salt is used when fermenting cabbage. However, if you use the excellent celery juice as brine, you might want to use less salt because celery juice adds a mild, salty taste.
- When to add salt? You have two options: 1. Add salt to the vegetable mix before fermentation, or 2. add salt only after fermentation is complete and before consuming. Adding a bit of salt at the start of the process might help preserve the crunchiness of the vegetables and prevent growth of bad bacteria.
- How much salt? A concentration of up to 2-2.5 % is considered normal but I normally add less. In this recipe I added a few tablespoons. Use Himalayan or some other unprocessed salt like sea salt or Celtic Sea Salt.
- Using a starter culture: Body Ecology makes good ones. Or try Dr. Mercola’s probiotic supplement as a starter. Use 2 capsules for every quart of vegetables. Dr Mercola’s starter produces larger concentrations of the valuable vitamin K2. Culture starters makes fermentation faster, more predictable and the final product will contain more beneficial bacteria—as many as trillions in a few tablespoons!
STEP ONE: Shredding cabbage and other vegetables
In many recipes green cabbage is the backbone of the veggie blend. Try adding the beautiful red cabbage. For variation you can add carrots, celery, sweet potatoes, parsley, ginger and coriander leaves. I here use cabbage, a few green apples, whole caraway seeds and sea salt.
If you’re preparing a small batch of fermented vegetables, shredding by hand is OK. But for bigger batches it’s much easier using a food processor like I do here.
NOTE: If using a starter culture, start with this. Mix the starter culture with freshly pressed celery or cabbage juice and leave it for at 20 minutes or more while shredding the vegetables. For 10 pounds of vegetables I use around 1-1.5 quarts of celery juice. The celery juice adds great flavor and many nutrients. If you don’t have a juice you can add water too.
STEP TWO: Add juice, mix and squeeze vegetables
Pour the celery juice with starter culture over the vegetables and blend thoroughly with your hands. You want the starter culture thoroughly mixed with the veggies.
Use your hands or some tool to squeeze out more juice from the vegetables. Squeezing, pressing and beating the veggies a few minutes is enough.
STEP THREE: Pack vegetables hard in clean, air-tight jars
Use your fist to pack the vegetables to pack hard. Tamping presses air out and forces juice out and this promotes fermentation. I use my fist here but you can also use a kraut pounder; looks like a small baseball bat. Don’t fill the jar completely full but leave 25 % empty. Fermentation produces gas and makes the brine bubble like Champagne and if jars are too full too much juice might leak out.
STEP FOUR: Add enough liquid to completely cover vegetables
When the vegetables are tightly packed in the jars, add more juice if needed to completely cover the vegetables. Then add a cabbage leave on top that helps keep the vegetables in the brine. If some vegetables stay above the brine, they might turn brown or develop a bad taste. As you see in the picture, I added filtered water. Never use hot water as it will destroy the good bacteria.
STEP FIVE: Leave the jars in room temperature to ferment
It takes two or three days for fermentation to reach a peak. Fermentation produces gas pressure increases in the jars causing brine may leak out. This is normal. However, it is wise to put the jars where you can easily clean up. The kitchen sink is a good place, at least until the wildest part of the fermentation process has resided.
NOTE: Avoid putting the lids on too tight on the jars to allow the increasing gas pressure to escape.
How long should the jars be kept in room temperature? I’ve tried everything between 5-12 days and it all works fine. But 6, 7 days seem to be a good average. This depends on the kind of vegetables and more important, room temperature. In a hot climate fermentation is difficult but possible. In a cooler climate 6, 7 days seems fine. The longer you keep the jars in room temperature, the tangier the taste. Try what works best for you!
STEP SIX: Store the vegetables in a cool place
After the 6, 7 days in room temperature you should store the jars in a cool place like a basement or a fridge. Fermentation will still continue, but the lower temperature slows down the process. 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 right after the 6, 7 days of fermentation in room temperature.
Without a culture starter it takes a little longer for the taste to develop fully. It might take a few weeks until the acidic, fresh and complex taste develops.
NOTE: After you put the jars in a cool place, check brine levels in the jars during the next few days. If it is low and some vegetables are above the brine, then add some water or fresh vegetable juice.
STEP SEVEN: Enjoying fermented vegetables
The taste can be a bit different each time you make fermented vegetables. That’s the beauty of dealing with live culture and homemade fermentation. The taste should be tart and refreshing, great and yummy.
- A tablespoon of fermented vegetables can contain much more beneficial bacteria that one quart yogurt.
Try consuming a few tablespoons or more with every meal. Consume more if you are treating IBS, inflammations, allergy etc. Some people might get a mild reaction when the probiotic bacteria enters the gut and starts pushing out bad bacteria, toxins and waste. Fermented vegetables promote a cleansing process. Adverse effects are almost always symptoms of cleansing.
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. It’s a product of good cooperation between you and friendly bacteria.