How to Ferment Vegetables: A Beginner’s Guide
Fermented foods increase the beneficial bacteria in your gut which can help improve digestion, support your immune system, decrease inflammation in the body, in addition to so many other benefits. If you want to learn how to ferment vegetables start with this beginner’s guide to making fermented vegetables.
So I’ve become a little obsessed with fermenting vegetables over the past year. It is such a simple way to preserve food from my garden while also filling my body with probiotic-rich foods.
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Over the past few weeks, I have shared my fermented carrots recipe and my fermented jalapeno peppers recipe and when writing those posts I couldn’t help but notice how repetitive so much of the information was.
Because fermenting carrots is very similar to fermenting jalapenos. So I thought it would be a good idea to create an ultimate guide to fermenting vegetables for beginning fermenters rather than repeat the same basic information over again everytime I share a fermentation recipe.
Which I plan to share a lot more of!
And I really think that those interested in fermenting foods should really understand the basics. Because once you understand the basics of how to ferment vegetables you’ll be able to ferment so many different types of vegetables very easily.
Also, understanding the basics makes fermenting vegetables easier to understand and less scary and intimidating.
But before we get into the basics let’s talk about lacto-fermentation. Whenever I mention fermented vegetables I’m actually referring to lacto-fermented vegetables.
Also, whenever I refer to vegetables I’m actually referring to fruits and vegetables.
What is Lacto-fermentation?
Lacto-fermentation occurs when the starches and sugars in fruits and vegetables are converted into lactic acid by bacteria. This bacteria is commonly known as lactobacilli.
Lactobacilli are basically present on the surface of every living thing. Lactic acid, the main by-product of lactobacilli, keeps fruits and vegetables in a state of preservation while also promoting the growth of healthy gut flora.
So that is a very quick explanation of what lacto-fermentation is. Now let’s get into the basics of fermenting vegetables.
How to Ferment Vegetables: The Basics
A very important thing to remember when making fermented vegetables is there is no exact right or wrong way. A lot of things – jar size, seasonings, time – come down to personal preference.
So just keep that in mind.
When making any type of ferment you will need a container to store it in. I’m not a fan of plastic at all. I always use and recommend glass.
I almost always use glass mason jars. The size of jar you choose simply comes down to personal preference and the amount of fermented vegetables you plan to make.
You can use a pint jar, you can use a quart jar, you can use a gallon jar – it’s your choice. If you’re a beginner I would recommend starting out with something small just in case your ferment doesn’t turn out right. That way you don’t waste a ton of food.
But like I said it’s your choice. I almost always use a wide-mouth quart jar whenever I make my vegetable ferments.
Always make sure your jars are washed and sanitized before using.
You will need a lid to cover your jar while it’s fermenting and also while it is being stored in the refrigerator. I’m not a fan of the metal lids that come with mason jars. Mainly, because they get rusty and discolored pretty quickly.
They sell fermentation lids that allow the gasses to escape from the jar without letting outside air into the jar. I personally have never used these, even though I do actually own a few.
I instead almost always use simple plastic mason jar lids. These work just fine for me. But one of these days I will probably give the fermentation lids a try.
And who knows? I might end up loving them. But for now, the plastic lids work perfectly fine for me so that is what I will continue to use.
You can use whatever type of lid you want. Like I mentioned earlier when it comes to making ferments so much depends on personal preference.
But you will definitely need a lid to keep foreign objects and bugs out of your jar while it is fermenting and to also seal your jar while it is being stored. The type of you lid you choose is up to you.
Fermentation weights are designed to completely submerge the vegetables under the saltwater brine (more about the saltwater brine below). You never want your vegetables to get exposed to air while fermenting. This can cause mold and other nasty bacteria to grow.
In order for the fermentation to be successful the vegetables have to stay under the brine.
You can usually pack carrots super tightly into the jar so that they are unable to break free to the surface of the brine. But this doesn’t always work as planned.
After dozens of times making fermented carrots this way, I had one carrot break free from the pack and it was exposed to air and the whole entire top of the jar was covered in mold overnight. I had to throw out the entire jar!
So I always use a weight now and I recommend you do the same. You can get creative and place a heavy object in a Ziploc bag and submerge your veggies with it. I used to do that.
But recently I purchased glass fermentation weights and they are awesome! I wish I would have bought them a long time ago!
Salt is needed to create a saltwater brine. The salt is what prevents bad bacteria from growing while the lactic acid is being produced.
I highly recommend sea salt or pink Himalayan salt.
Never use table salt. The toxic chemicals and iodine in table salt can interfere with the fermentation process.
When making the saltwater brine always use reverse osmosis water or filtered water. Don’t ever use plain tap water. The toxic chemicals in tap water, just like the chemicals in table salt, can interfere with the fermentation process.
Most fermentations require saltwater brine. The saltwater brine is made by dissolving salt into the water. The saltwater brine is poured over the veggies. Like I mentioned earlier, the salt in the brine is what keeps bad bacteria at bay.
You have to make sure all of the veggies are completely submerged during the entire fermentation process. Some ferments like sauerkraut and kimchi do not require water. Instead, the salt is massaged into the cabbage to squeeze out the juices. The juice in the cabbage is used to create the brine rather than water.
But many fermentation recipes do require a saltwater brine. The amount of salt and water you use depends on the size of jars you plan to use. If you want to use a gallon jar or 4 quart jars then you need to make a gallon of saltwater brine.
A 2-3% saltwater brine works well for carrots, jalapenos, radishes, and other hard vegetables. I like to use around 2 tablespoons of salt per quart of water. Which is a little more than 3% but works just fine.
Sometimes softer foods like tomatoes require a bit more salt. So when making these types of ferments you may want to increase the saltwater brine to 3.5%.
The best way to make a saltwater brine is to add your water to a large pot. Then heat it on the stove. When the water is hot add the salt. Remember 2 tablespoons of salt for every quart of water. You can add a bit more salt if you’re fermenting a softer food with a lot of water content like tomatoes.
Stir the salt into the water until it has completely dissolved. Turn off the stove and allow the brine to cool to room temperature. Never pour the brine over your veggies while it is hot. Always wait for it to fully cool.
When adding the brine to the jar leave about an inch of space between the brine and the top of the jar.
Fruits & Veggies
I highly recommend using only organic fruits and vegetables. Pesticides on the produce can interfere with the fermentation process.
You can pretty much ferment any type of vegetable or fruit. Although some are easier than others and some are tastier than others, Below are a few of the most popular fruit and veggies to ferment.
The saltwater brine ratio and time it takes to ferment varies from veggie to veggie and fruit to fruit though. So always keep that in mind. But whatever type of food you decide to ferment just make sure it is organic and free of pesticides.
Different types of seasoning can be added to vegetable ferments. Once again, the types of seasoning you can add simply come down to personal preference.
A few seasonings that are used often for vegetable ferments are dill, garlic, rosemary, mustard seeds, peppercorns, coriander seeds, and I’m sure there are a whole bunch I’m missing.
But you can choose to put whatever type of seasoning would add some great flavor. Just make sure it is organic and pesticide/toxin-free.
A room temperature of 72 degress is best when fermenting vegetables. If the room is warmer your food will ferment faster and if your room is cooler the food will ferment slower.
The amount of time it takes to ferment vegetables depends on the type of vegetable and also personal preference. Some foods take a few days and some take a few weeks.
Carrots take anywhere between 2-9 days. The exact day it is ready depends on the temperature of the room and also taste preference.
You will know the fermentation is working when the water gets kind of cloudy and you may see tiny bubbles forming and rising to the surface.
Remove the lid every few days to let the gasses escape from the jar and then place the lid back on the jar. If you notice any mold growing throw it out and start again.
But if you have followed the directions above there shouldn’t be any mold. A white scum might form on the top of the water which is totally normal. This is just the bacteria and yeast working together. Don’t worry about that.
Once you notice the fermentation process occurring for a few days, give the veggies a taste. If it is super salty then it is not ready. If it’s not too salty and it has a slightly tangy flavor and you like the flavor then it’s ready.
Lacto fermented vegetables can be eaten immediately after fermentation. Once stored they will continue to ferment but at a much slower rate. Many believe the flavor increases over time. Which from my experience I definitely believe to be true as well.
When it comes to storage I like to store my ferments in the refrigerator. Most fermented veggies can stay good for up to 6 months in the fridge.
Back in the day people stored their ferments in cool, dark places like root cellars and some people still store their ferments this way even today.
I have never tried storing them anywhere else except the refrigerator.
So those are the basics of how to ferment vegetables.
- Gather all the right supplies
- Make sure your jars are clean and sanitized
- Use toxic toxin-free produce, salt, water, and seasonings
- Add your vegetables to the jar
- Cover with saltwater brine (make sure to use the correct salt to water ratio)
- Keep veggies completely submerged in brine
- Cover with a lid
- Leave on the counter
- Store in fridge when fermentation is complete
It’s important to do your homework when it comes to fermenting different types of food. Mainly because the fermentation time varies from vegetable to vegetable but also because the process can look a bit different for foods like cabbage.
Like I mentioned earlier, instead of creating a saltwater brine, you shred the cabbage up and massage the salt into it. By doing that you release the juices that are in the cabbage which when combined with the salt basically creates its own brine.
But with that being said, I think it’s very important to have a basic understanding of what fermenting vegetables generally entails. Because the information I’ve just given you applies to most vegetables.
I hope you found this guide on how to ferment vegetables helpful. Fermenting vegetables isn’t as hard as some people think.
But remember, never eat fermented vegetables that smell rancid or have visible mold. Please let me know if you have any questions about how to ferment vegetables.