This is a simple guide on how to ferment vegetables at home. The idea for this recipe I got from Dr. Mercola and it can be easily adapted. I’ve used many variations of this recipe and I never get tired of it.
Use whatever tools and utensils you already have. After a batch or two, you will know if you need better equipment.
How to ferment vegetables: Ingredients
Cabbage makes up 50-80% of the veggie mix; it’s cheap and nutritious. With the other veggies you can freely improvise. I think organic produce is tastier, cleaner, and healthier.
Be careful with garlic and onion as they add distinct tastes.
This recipe is for making about 5-6 two-quart jars. For a smaller batch, just follow the main idea and you should be fine. I use the following veggies (amounts approximate):
- Green cabbage: 6-8 lb (3-4 kg); use hard, tightly packed heads
- Red cabbage: 2 lb (1 kg); adds a beautiful color
- Carrots: 2-4 lb (1-2 kg)
- 3-4 small sweet potatoes
- 3-5 pieces of ginger root (superb, hot taste)
- Coriander leaves (I use a lot!)
- 3-4 fresh, whole fennels
- A few red bell peppers (remove seeds)
- 2-4 green apples (remove seeds)
- 4-6 celery bunches to juice; has a mild, salty taste
Step 1: The culture starter
I used a Body Ecology starter which I like. A culture starter makes a BIG difference. Why?
- More vitamin K2
- Faster fermentation
- Stabilizes the process
- More probiotic bacteria
- Protects against mold
- I think it tastes better.
This batch developed a tart, acidic, complex taste, hot ginger notes and medium crunchy veggies.
Preparing the starter culture
I used two packets (5-10 grams) for 10-12 pounds (5-6 kg) of vegetables..
Mix starter with fresh juice
Juice 1 quart (1 liter) or more of fresh celery juice (cabbage also works). Dissolve the starter culture completely in the juice.
Let the juice sit while moving on to step 2. This gives bacteria time to wake up.
Step 2: Rinse, cut and shred vegetables
Use both red and green cabbage. Cabbage is packed with phytochemicals, vitamins, enzymes, minerals, and the essential vitamin K2.
The fermentation process makes nutrients easier for the body to digest and assimilate because the bacteria have processed nutrients.
Leave one cabbage leaf for every jar; we will need them later.
Rinse the vegetables thoroughly in water even if you use organic produce. Avoid bleach as it harms the natural microorganisms living on the veggies. However, a natural fruit and vegetable wash or vinegar is fine.
We usually don’t peel organic produce. Ginger and sweet potato peel contains many nutrients.
We use a professional food processor to speed things up. For smaller batches it’s fine to do it by hand. Years ago, we did everything by hand which worked well, it’s just quite demanding.
Having access to a professional kitchen is great, but by no means necessary.
Put all of the shredded vegetables into a big bowl where you can mix them easily.
The shredded vegetable mix smells wonderful!
Step 3. Add culture starter juice to the mix
The starter culture juice has now been sitting for 20-40 minutes. The bacteria are ready to get to work. Pour the juice over the vegetable and mix thoroughly so that the vegetables are completely mixed with the juice.
NOTE: This is a good time to add salt. How much? This is a matter of taste. But I add about 1-2 tablespoon per jar. Others might dd more.
Step 4: Pack vegetables in jars
The vegetables should be pressed or packed hard into the jars. You want to force air out and at the same squeeze out juice from the vegetables. This promotes fermentation.
A kraut-pounder can help press the veggies. It’s a wooden instrument that looks like a small baseball bat. But the fist is also fine.
Don’t fill the jars completely full, only up to 75%. During fermentation the brine will raise and leak out of the jars. This is normal. But the empty space left in the jars will release some of the pressure.
Any juice left in the bowl should be added to the jars.
Step 5: Add cabbage leaves on top
Putting cabbage leaves on top of the jar helps keep the vegetables submerged in the brine. The absence of oxygen is vital for a successful fermentation.
Later when the fermentation process is complete and you are ready to eat the veggies, just discard the cabbage leaf.
This is a beautiful sight and a great reward for your hard work! Now the jars should be stored at 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.
Step 6: Fermentation
Brine might leak from the jars during fermentation. Therefore, store the jars in a kitchen sink or bathtub.
The temperature determines to a great degree how long fermentation will take. During winter, 7-15 days is usually fine. During summer, it might suffice with 5-7 days. Open a jar and taste it from day 3 or 4.
Ideal temperature: 68-75 degrees (20-24 C.). If the room temperature is lower than this, it slows down fermentation. In such case, leave the veggies a few days longer and taste regularly.
Max temperature: Around 83-85 (28-29 C.). The risk increases of mold and can make the vegetables mushier. Mushy veggies are healthy to consume, just not as appealing. Try a shorter fermentation. More salt can prevent veggies from going mushy.
The microorganisms transforms color, taste, and texture of the veggies. The image below is taken on day 3.
Don’t put the lid on Mason jars too tight to allow gas to escape. Or open the lid for a second to let pressure out.
Step 7: 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. The veggies are ready to be consumed after a day in the fridge.
When you open a jar to consume the fermented vegetables, discard the cabbage leave you left on top.
What if brine levels are low and not completely covering the vegetables? If you consume the jar quickly, then you might not need to do anything.
Otherwise, add raw, fermented cabbage juice or fresh celery juice, or even water with salt.
Storing fermented vegetables
Fermented vegetables will keep in the fridge for at least 2-3 months without any deterioration of taste. Sometimes the veggies turn a bit softer but they stay fresh for a very long time. We find that over time the taste often improves.
However, the taste tend to get more tart and acidic after a few months, so if you don’t appreciate this, then consume them faster. A higher acidity is a sign that the bacteria are alive and therefore the fermented food is still “active.”
Fermented vegetables packed with nutrients
This is not a complete list but give an idea:
- Small amounts of propionic acid (antimicrobial, inhibits growth of yeast)
- Probiotic bacteria (both active and dead bacteria are nutritious)
- Lactic acid (creates the characteristic tangy taste)
- Small amounts of acetic acid (as in vinegar)
- A mixture of gases, mostly carbon dioxide
- A mixture of aromatic esters
- Small amounts of alcohol
- Potent enzymes
- Vitamin K2
- Much more
Fermented nutrients are easy for the body to digest and assimilate.
How to consume
There are no rules. Fermented food can be added to any meal, or eaten just by itself.
Now it’s your turn! It’s easier to start with smaller batches. Done’t worry about the details, just try it. I truly hope you will enjoy it as much as we do.