Fermented vegetables are often greatly underestimated. They are simple to prepare and health benefits profound. In this article, “fermented vegetables” refers to vegetables that are fermented using probiotic bacteria. No sugar or vinegar is added.
This recipe is very simple and great for both beginners and experienced ones. Check also more advanced recipes.
Benefits of fermented vegetables
Fermented vegetables are packed with probiotic bacteria, enzymes, vitamins, minerals and many other nutrients.
- contain large amounts of healthy, potent, beneficial bacteria
- promote growth of natural bacteria already colonizing the intestine
- help break down harmful chemicals, toxins, and waste
- support proper digestion of foods
- increase assimilation of nutrients, vitamins, enzymes and omega-3 fats
- support supple, beautiful skin
- help with allergy, eczema and asthma
These are just a few known benefits, but there’s much more. And all this just from consuming fermented food regularly.
- NOTE: there’s a HUGE difference between most commercially fermented vegetables and homemade fermented vegetables.
Fermented vegetables: step-by-step
Here I use green cabbage. It’s cheap, nutritious and simple to ferment. Try adding a little red cabbage, which adds a beautiful color. Cabbage has a lovely fresh, often crunchy taste when fermented. You can of course add other vegetables like too if you like. But I like to keep it simple here.
This particular recipe calls for whole caraway seeds, which I learned to like in Eastern Europe. Skip them if you don’t like the taste.
- Organic produce: they contain less toxins and more nutrients. But if you can’t get it, just use ordinary vegetables from your grocery store. The fermentation process helps break down many harmful substances and makes them harmless to the body. Rinse the veggies thoroughly in water.
- Salt: Traditionally, much salt is used when fermenting cabbage (sauerkraut). Salt helps protect the veggies, makes them crunchier, and it tastes better.
- When to add salt? Add salt to the vegetable mix before fermentation. This supports fermentation, lessen the risk of mold, and help preserve the crunchiness of the vegetables.
- How much salt? Traditionally, a concentration of 2-2.5 % is considered normal, but I normally use less. It’s also a matter of taste. In this recipe, I added only a few tablespoons. Use unprocessed salt like Himalayan or sea salt.
- Starter culture: Body Ecology makes good ones. Or try Dr. Mercola’s starter that produces more vitamin K2. Culture starters makes fermentation stable, more predictable, and the final product will contain more beneficial bacteria.
STEP ONE: Shredding cabbage and other veggies
The first step is to mix the starter culture with freshly pressed celery (or cabbage) juice. Let the juice sit while shredding the vegetables. For 10 pounds of vegetables I use around 1-2 quarts of celery juice. The celery juice adds a great flavor and many nutrients. If you don’t have a juicer, use water with salt.
In many recipes, green cabbage is the backbone of the veggie blend. I usually add some red cabbage. For variation, try adding 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 okay. But for bigger batches it’s much easier if you have a food processor.
STEP TWO: Mix juice and veggies
Pour the celery juice starter culture over the vegetables and mix well. 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 in air-tight jars
The fist can be used to pack the vegetables. Pack hard to remove air and force juice from the veggies. This promotes fermentation. There are kraut pounders designed for this work. They look like a small baseball bat. Don’t fill the jar completely full but leave some 30% empty. Fermentation produces gas and makes the brine bubble like Champagne and if the jars are too full too much juice might leak out.
STEP FOUR: Add liquid to cover vegetables
When the vegetables are tightly packed in the jars, add more liquid until the vegetables are completely submerged. Last, add a cabbage leaf on top to 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 this picture, I added filtered water as I ran out of juice. Never use hot water as it will destroy the good bacteria.
STEP FIVE: Ferment at room temperature
It takes two or three days for fermentation to reach a peak. Fermentation produces gas, and this increases the pressure in the jars causing brine to leak out. This is normal. But it’s 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 7-12 days is fine. The longer you keep the jars in room temperature, the tangier the taste. Taste to determine when it’s ready.
STEP SIX: Store in a cool place
After fermentation in room temperature is complete, 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. The living culture in the jars will stay fresh for a long time, several months.
Without a starter culture, it can take much longer for the taste to develop fully.
NOTE: After you put the jars in a cool place, check brine levels during the next few days. If some vegetables are above the brine, add some salt water.
STEP SEVEN: Enjoying fermented vegetables
The taste is a bit different each time you prepare fermented vegetables. And that’s the beauty of using live bacteria. The taste should be tart and refreshing, and if you used ginger or pepper, it gets hotter.
- A few tablespoons of well fermented vegetables contain more bacteria that several quarts yogurt
Many people consume a few tablespoons with every meal. It has a soothing effect on IBS, gut inflammations, and many other conditions. Some might get a mild reaction when probiotic bacteria push out bad bacteria, toxins and waste. It’s a cleansing process.
Some fermentation problems
One reason for problems is due to the presence of bad microorganisms. They break down protein and produce undesirable flavor and texture. Be sure to follow the advice in this post.
Why are the fermented vegetables too soft?
- Too much air
- Too little salt
- Too warm
For these reasons, the sequence of bacterial growth can be disturbed which often results in soft or mushy vegetables.
Dark colored fermented vegetables
This is often because of the formation of bad microorganisms like mold during fermentation. This can be cause by too little juice in the jars or the presence of oxygen in the jars. This allows bad bacteria and yeast to grow on the vegetables not covered by brine. Also, if the fermentation temperature is too high, it can stimulate the growth of undesirable bacteria resulting in a dark color. After fermentation, check brine levels as it has a tendency to get low when refrigerating.
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. However, using a culture starter minimizes this risk.
Fermented vegetables are live, active food. It’s a product of good cooperation between you and billions of friendly bacteria.