It’s amazing how simple it is to learn how to ferment vegetables at home. Fermented vegetables are very addictive! The idea for this recipe I got from Dr. Mercola; you can adapt it to fit your own taste and use whatever vegetables that are in season in your area. I’ve used this recipe many times and I never get tired of it.
- This guide show you how to enjoy fermented vegetables after a week
NOTE: If you’re a beginner, use whatever tools and utensils you already have. After a batch or two you will know if you need to acquire better equipment.
I use a starter culture to stabilizes and speed up fermentation. It also creates a richer taste. In this recipe I use Body Ecology Starter Culture.
How to ferment vegetables: Ingredients
Green cabbage makes up 50-80% of my veggie mix. Cabbage is cheap, nutritious and crunchy. With the other veggies, improvise. Use as much organic vegetables as possible.
NOTE: Be careful with garlic and onions as they add distinct tastes. Hot pepper is great; just be careful, it quickly turn very hot.
This batch fills 5-6 jars containing two quarts each, enough for two people to enjoy for months. In this recipe I use the following veggies (amounts are approximate; no need to be too picky):
- Green cabbage: 6-8 lb (3-4 kg); use hard, tightly packed heads, the sweeter cabbage you can get the better
- Red cabbage 2 lb (1 kg); adds a beautiful color in the jars
- Carrots: 2-4 lb (1-2 kg or more)
- 3-4 sweet potatoes
- 4-6 celery bunches for juice; has a mild salty taste and protects the vegetables from unwanted microorganisms. Juice both stems and leaves
- A few ginger roots
- Coriander leaves (use a lot when in season)
- 3-4 fresh fennels (wonderful taste)
- A few red bell peppers (remove seeds)
- A few green apples (remove seeds)
NOTE: In this recipe I add a few tablespoons Himalayan salt, but sea salt is also fine.
Step 1: Prepare the culture starter
When 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 fermentation process more predictable; same good quality each time
- vegetables ferment faster
- vitamin K2 production much higher (if the starter culture contains right bacteria)
- better taste; a tart, acidic and complex taste together with a ginger background and crunchy vegetables
- packs fermented vegetables with more probiotic bacteria flooding your gut. A few tablespoons contain trillions of good bacteria, more than an entire probiotic supplement bottle with 120 capsules.
- protecting veggies against harmful bacteria, mold and yeast
Only use a high quality starter culture when fermenting vegetables!
I use one or two packets (5-10 grams) for 10-12 pounds (5-6 kg) of vegetables. Use two packets if you want more bacteria and during winter if your room temperature is low.
Mix the starter culture with celery juice
Prepare 1-1.5 quarts (1 liter or more) of fresh celery juice in a juicer (cabbage juice is also fine). Dissolve the starter culture completely in the juice.
Leave the juice in room temperature while preparing the rest of the vegetables. This will allow the bacteria to wake up and start consuming the sugars in the celery juice. These active microorganisms will transform your vegetables to probiotic-packed, nutritious superfood.
Step 2: Rinse, cut and shred the vegetables
Red and green cabbage makes 50-80% of the vegetables in many recipes for good reasons; cabbage is cheap and packed with phyto-chemicals, vitamins, enzymes, minerals and the important vitamin K2.
The fermentation process makes all these nutrients much easier for the body to digest and assimilate.
TIPS: Leave one whole cabbage leave for every jar; use them later when the jars are packed with vegetables.
Rinse the vegetables well
It is important to rinse you vegetables thoroughly in water. This you should do even if you use organic products. But you should not disinfect the vegetables. This could harm the natural, beneficial bacteria.
To clean the veggies some use a natural fruit and vegetable wash or white wine vinegar.
Cut the vegetables so you can shred them. We have a big shredder and therefore we don’t have to cut the vegetables too small which is faster.
Shredding is fast if you have a good machine; it only takes about 10 minutes to shred 10-12 pounds of veggies.
In the beginning we did it all by hand which was quite demanding! But for smaller batches it’s OK to do it by hand.
Put all of the shredded vegetables into a big bowl where you can mix them easily.
The shredded vegetable mix is just gorgeous!
Step 3. Add the culture starter juice to the vegetable mix
The starter culture/celery juice mix has been sitting for about 20-40 minutes. The bacteria are active and ready to indulge in the vegetables.
Pour the juice on the vegetable mix; blend thoroughly with your hands until the vegetables are completely mixed with the juice.
NOTE: If you want to add salt, this is a good time to do it. A few tablespoons should be OK for this batch.
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 will promote the fermentation process.
To pack the veggies you can use a wooden instrument that looks like a small baseball bat; its called a “kraut pounder.” But you can also use your fist.
Don’t fill the jars completely full but leave a few inches empty. During fermentation the brine will raise and some may leak out which is normal. The empty space left in the jar prevents too much brine to leak and also releases some of the pressure that builds up in the jar.
Step 5: Add the cabbage leaves you saved
Putting cabbage leaves on top of the veggies in the jars helps keep the vegetables in the brine and keeps oxygen out. The absence of oxygen is vital for a successful fermentation.
Later when the fermentation process is complete and you want to eat the veggies, just discard the cabbage leaf.
Jars are filled and ready for fermentation!
This is a beautiful sight and a great reward for your hard work. Now the jars should be properly stored in room temperature for around 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.
Step 6: Fermentation
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. Open a jar and taste it; if you’re happy with the taste, then put the jars in the fridge. Of the taste is weak and not very acidic, you might want to wait another few days.
Ideal temperature: 68-75 degrees (20-24 C.); a room temperature lower than this slows down fermentation and you might want to let the veggies to ferment a few days longer. Taste the product regularly to see when it’s ready.
Max temperature: Around 83-85 (28-29 C.); a higher temperature can inhibit the growth of beneficial bacteria and stimulate the growth of unwanted microorganisms like mold and yeast. A higher temperature also tend to make the vegetables mushier but not ruined. Therefore, don’t leave the jars too long to ferment. Mushy veggies are still very healthy to consume but not as appealing as crunchy veggies. A higher salt concentration can help prevent veggies from getting mushy.
It’s amazing to see how the color of the vegetables changes during the first few days of fermentation. Microscopic microorganisms rapidly transforms the color, taste and texture of the vegetables!
NOTE: During fermentation pressure will build in the jars. Therefore, if using Mason jars, don’t put the lid on too tight to allow gas to escape. You can also open the lid for a second to let pressure out. This is just to make sure that not too much pressure is building up.
After fermentation is complete some 7 days later, store in a cool place
When you are happy with the taste, move the jars to a cool, dark place. If you have space in your fridge, that’s fine.
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; completing 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 natural or wild fermentation takes 7-15 days. However, to develop the same fresh, complex taste can take 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.
When you open a jar to consume the fermented vegetables, discard the cabbage leave you left on top.
NOTE: After a few days in the fridge you might notice that brine levels are low and may not completely cover the vegetables. You can add raw, fermented cabbage juice or fresh celery or cabbage juice. However, sometimes it’s easiest to just add a little water.
How long can you store fermented vegetables?
We keep fermented vegetables in the fridge for 2-3 months without any deterioration of taste or texture. Fermented vegetables stay fresh for a very long time. In fact, we find that the taste improves over time.
Traditionally, fermented foods is kept for many months while the 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?
This is not a complete list as much depends on the strains of probiotic bacteria used in the starter and on the vegetables.
- lactic acid (lowers pH, creates the characteristic tangy taste; very health promoting)
- large amounts of probiotic bacteria (both active and dead bacteria are healthy)
- small amounts of acetic acid (as in vinegar)
- small amounts of propionic acid (a preservative, antimicrobial, inhibits growth of yeast)
- a mixture of gases, mostly carbon dioxide
- small amounts of alcohol
- a mixture of aromatic esters
- vitamins (K2 and many others)
Most fermented nutrients in fermented foods are in a state as if they were already chewed and digested (courtesy of the probiotic bacteria). Nutrients in fermented food is therefore much easier for the body to completely assimilate.
How to eat fermented vegetables
Now you know how to ferment vegetables. It’s both a science and an art. But how do you consume fermented vegetables? It is recommended to consume a few tablespoons to every meal, no matter what you’re eating. My wife and I 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.
NOTE: If you’re new to fermented food, it might be wise to start off by eating only small amounts
If you have a medical condition, you might want to start off slowly, otherwise you could 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.
Consuming fermented vegetables promotes the cleaning out of unwanted bacteria, yeast, waste and toxins and this process can cause common detoxification symptoms. Symptoms are usually mild, not dangerous and disappear after a few days for most people. However, to be safe it’s good to consume just a tablespoon or so in the beginning and monitor how this makes you feel. Then you can slowly increase the amount you eat.
Now you know how to ferment vegetables to populate your gut with beneficial, probiotic bacteria. I hope you will enjoy the many health benefits that comes with consuming fermented vegetables.