This is a guide on how to ferment vegetables at home. I’ve tried to make it as simple and clear as possible. The idea for the recipe I use here got from Dr Mercola. It can be easily adapted to fit your own taste. Use whatever vegetables that are in season. I’ve used many variations of this recipe and I never get tired of it.
7 steps to ferment vegetables and enjoy them after one 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.
How to ferment vegetables: Ingredients
Cabbage makes up 50-80% of the veggie mix. Cabbage is 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 very distinct tastes.
This recipe is for a larger batch—about 5-6 two-quart jars. For a smaller batch, just follow the main idea and you should be fine. Here I use the following veggies (amounts are 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. It has a mild, salty taste. Juice both stems and leaves.
Salt: 1-2 tablespoons per jar (sea salt or Himalayan).
Step 1: Prepare the culture starter
Using a culture starter makes a BIG difference. Why?
- More vitamin K2
- Faster fermentation
- Stabilizes fermentation
- More probiotic bacteria
- Protects against bad microorganisms
- I think it even tastes better. (This batch developed a tart, acidic, complex taste, hot ginger notes and medium crunchy veggies!)
Preparing the starter culture
I use two packets (5-10 grams) for 10-12 pounds (5-6 kg) of vegetables. Use more starter if case of a low room temperature.
Mix starter with juice
Make 1 quart (1 litre) or more of fresh celery juice (cabbage juice also works). Dissolve the starter culture completely in the juice.
Let the juice sit while moving on to step 2. This helps activate the probiotic bacteria.
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 most nutrients easier for the body to digest and assimilate because the bacteria have already processed nutrients that are in a state that can be quickly assimilated!
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, good microorganisms living on the veggies. However, a natural fruit and vegetable wash or vinegar is fine.
Cut the vegetables before shredding. We have a big machine which is faster. But it’s fine to do a small batch by hand.
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, but was quite demanding.
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 slowly activated and ready to get to work. Pour the juice over the vegetable 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 tablespoon per jar. Some add more, others less.
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. This is the smell of probiotic bacteria transforming the vegetables.
Step 6: Fermentation
Some brine might leak from the jars during the fermentation process. Therefore, store the 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 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. If the taste is not very acidic, then wait another few days.
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 to ferment a few days longer. Taste regularly to determine when it’s ready.
Max temperature: Around 83-85 (28-29 C.). A warmer temperature stimulates the growth of unwanted microorganisms. It can also make the vegetables mushier. Therefore, don’t leave the jars for too long to ferment. Mushy veggies are still healthy to consume, but are not as appealing as crunchy ones. A higher salt concentration can prevent veggies from going mushy.
It’s amazing to watch how the color of the vegetables changes during fermentation. The microorganisms rapidly transforms color, taste and texture. The image of the jar below is taken on day 3.
During fermentation, pressure will build in the jars. Therefore, if using Mason jars, don’t put the lid on too tight as you want to allow gas to escape. You can also open the lid for a second and 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. This is a HUGE advantage of using a starter culture because the process is much faster.
We have also fermented vegetables many times without adding a starter culture. This is called a natural or wild fermentation. It requires 7-15 days to ferment. But to get the same acidic, complex taste as with a starter, you need to wait for weeks.
One reason is that fermentation is slower without a starter culture. But it’s also because a starter culture adds many more bacteria strains.
When you open a jar to consume the fermented vegetables, discard the cabbage leave you left on top.
NOTE: what if brine levels are getting 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 a little salt.
Storing fermented vegetable
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 good sign that the bacteria are alive and therefore the fermented food is still “active.”
What do fermented vegetables contain?
This is not a complete list because much depends on the kind of bacteria strains that are active in the batch. But generally:
- Small amounts of propionic acid (a preservative, antimicrobial, inhibits growth of yeast)
- Large amounts of probiotic bacteria (both active and dead bacteria are healthy)
- 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
- Vitamin K2
- Much more
Fermented nutrients are in a state that makes them easy for the body to digest and assimilate (courtesy of the probiotic bacteria).
How to consume
Fermenting vegetables is really simple. But how best to consume fermented vegetables? There are no rules. Fermented food can be added to any meal, or eaten just by itself.
Some might experience some minor symptoms like gas. Try consuming smaller amounts for a while until the gut has adjusted. Probiotic bacteria often improve the entire digestive tract.
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.