When I first started learning how to ferment vegetables, the whole fermentation process seemed really intimidating. The more I read online the more complicated it seemed to get. The interwebs kept telling me I needed special vacuum lids, glass weights, and of course all mold warnings.
Not only did this further intimate me, but it also began to add up in cost. Thankfully, I eventually learned how to ferment vegetables, and it’s WAY EASY! All that talk of air locks and needing all this equipment was probably just a sales pitch disguised as a how to ferment article.
Not To Worry
This is a real how to ferment vegetables post. You will not get a big sales pitch here. About the only special thing I’ll recommend is a starter culture(but we’ll get to that later).
It’s been a few years since my family started incorporating fermented foods, and they have become a regular part of our diet. I’ve learned quite a bit about fermented foods, and I’ve even created a few recipes of my own. My kids love my fermented cinnamon ginger apples!
Just Show Me How To Ferment Vegetables!
If you are only interested in learning the steps to fermenting fruits and vegetables, click below to jump straight to the instructions on how to ferment vegetables.
How To Ferment Vegetables And Fruits
Fermenting Is Fun
Fermenting vegetables (and fruit too) is not only easy, but it is also a lot of fun. You never know what the fermentation process will bring. There’s something exciting about opening up that mason jar after a week of fermenting.
There’s an element of unpredictability. Will it bubble over or will the lid jump right out of your hand once you start letting all those built up gases out? I always stand back when opening up the jar for the first time because it can be like opening a can of soda that was just shaken up.
One time, the CO2 that built up as a result of the fermentation process caused the liquid in the jar to literally splatter all over the kitchen and my face too. It sounds intense, but it was actually pretty funny. At least, my son got a good laugh out of it.
What Are Fermented Foods Anyway?
Fermented foods are basically foods that are being broken down by living microorganisms such as bacteria, yeast, and other fungi. These microbes consume carbs & sugar and begin to break down proteins in the food as well.
As a byproduct, the microorganisms produce various nutrients and make the food easier for us to digest. When we consume fermented food, we are getting these nutrients and trillions of probiotic organisms as well.
Examples Of Fermented Foods
Many of our favorite food and drinks would not be possible without the fermentation process.
Coffee and chocolate are actually a result of fermentation as is beer, wine, and alcohol. Unfortunately, after their fermentation process, there are no living probiotics left, so they don’t really count as fermented foods.
On the other hand, we’ve all heard of yogurt and sauerkraut, right? Those are probably 2 of the most popular fermented foods in the world. They do maintain their living microbes and thus offer us a huge health benefit.
I have another article that defines exactly what are fermented foods, what foods can be fermented besides vegetables, and you can learn more about the fermentation process too. You’re welcome to check that out! (click here “What are fermented foods”)
The Basic Fermentation Process
There are hundreds of different species of microorganisms that produce various nutrients and acids as they are devouring the sugar in your ferment. However, the bacteria, lactobacillus, are the main drivers of fermented vegetables. Their main byproduct is lactic acid, and that’s probably why this process is called “lacto-fermentation”.
Lactobacilli are everywhere including plants, fruits, and vegetables. To ferment a food, you simply have to create conditions where they can flourish. They need an anaerobic environment (limited or no oxygen), a steady temperature, and plenty of food.
To create an anaerobic environment, you simply submerge the food in a salt water solution called the brine and secure with an air tight lid (think mason jar). The limited oxygen prevents bad microbes, like mold, from growing. Then, place the container in a pantry or cabinet and wait for the microbes to do their thing.
How Long To Ferment Vegetables
The time of your homemade fermented vegetables and fruits will depend on what you are fermenting and whether or not you’re using a starter culture. Homemade sauerkraut without a starter, can take several weeks, but with a starter culture, the fermentation process only takes about a week.
More Sugar Equals A Faster Fermentation Process
When you ferment foods high in sugar, there is more food for the microbes. It’s like an all you can eat buffet for them, and they eat and eat and eat. Unlike we humans, the microbes don’t get fat. Instead, they replicate again and again. This is how you end up with trillions of microbes in your ferments.
The more carbohydrates and the easier it is to get too, the faster the fermentation process will be completed. In the case of berries, the process takes maybe a day or two before they should be moved to the fridge. If you let fruits go too long, they will turn alcoholic.
Don’t Let Them Go Too Long
The lactic acid produced by the bacteria will be eaten by yeast which will result in alcohol. If you like your wine, this fermentation process may sound familiar and may even seem exciting. Trust me, an alcoholic strawberry ferment is NOT GOOD! It doesn’t taste good, nor will it offer you any health benefits.
When I make my homemade fermented foods, I always use a starter culture. Therefore, the following general timeline is only for brews using a starter.
Fruits should be done in a day maybe 2 at most. You’ll be safe letting most vegetables ferment for 5-7 days depending how warm your kitchen is. Warmer temperatures result in faster ferments.
What Is A Starter Culture
A starter culture is a controlled group of beneficial bacteria. This guarantees that you are cultivating microbes that will be beneficial to your body. You can use whey from a homemade yogurt, a good probiotic capsule, or a commercially available starter.
Cultures for Health and Body Ecology are a few good brands. I personally use Dr. Mercola’s Kinetic Culture. Dr. Mercola is the leader in natural health education online, and his starter produces high amounts of vitamin K2 and trillions of probiotics.
Using a starter culture also allows for a more consistent end-product in terms of taste. The flavor of your fruits and vegetables depends on the dominant microbes in the fermentation process. Different microbes produce different acids and by-products that alter flavor. Without a starter culture, one batch of sauerkraut may taste different than the next. But, you’ll always know what to expect when using a starter.
If you decide not to use a starter culture, that is perfectly fine. This process is called “wild fermentation”. You can still get all the same benefits with wild fermentation. This method uses the bacteria already existing on the food to start the fermentation process.
In this way, you create a brine of salt water, and allow the food to ferment for several weeks. (it takes way longer) Allegedly, the salt water prevents the bad microbes from growing and encourages the probiotic ones to grow.
Not A Fan
I am not a fan of wild fermentation because you cannot control what microbes are growing on your produce. I have never personally tried wild fermentation because I just don’t trust the vegetables I buy at the grocery store to be covered with healthy microbes.
There’s too many steps between the farm and the store, which is too many opportunities for bad microbes to contaminate the vegetable or fruit. How many times have you heard about fresh produced being recalled because it was contaminated by E-Coli or Salmonella? Too many, right?
I’m much more comfortable with a starter culture. It’s like a fermentation insurance policy ensuring that the bad guys are outnumbered and cannot survive.
Having said that, if the vegetables came from my own garden, I’d be more likely to try out wild fermentation.
How To Ferment Vegetables
How To Ferment Vegetables And Fruits:
The Basic Ingredients
The basic ingredients are
- Glass mason jars w/airtight lids
- A brine
- Produce of Choice
- Steady Temperature
Plastic or metal containers can leach chemicals and metals. This will disrupt your brew and introduce toxins into your food. I like to use the quart size Ball jars personally, but any airtight glass jar will be fine.
Air Tight Lid
You want your vessel to be airtight to prevent mold. Contrary to what many food bloggers will say, you do not need a special lid made for fermentation. They can get expensive in a hurry, so just stick with the lids that come with your mason jars.
You may want to consider changing out the lids after the fermentation process is complete. When moving to the fridge, I like to swap out the metal lids with plastic ones. This keeps the metal from corroding due to the moisture content in your fridge.
*Keep in mind the plastic lids are not suitable for fermenting because they do not produce an air-tight seal. I have had mold grow when using the plastic lids.
Your brine is simply a liquid mixture containing your starter culture (if using one), salt, and water. To prepare the brine, I simply mix in my starter with about a tablespoon of high quality sea salt and good clean water. You don’t want to use tap water because the chlorine in tap water can kill the microbes. I usually use Ozarka water, but any clean water will do.
Produce of Choice
You can ferment almost anything found in the produce section. The most common fermented vegetable is cabbage, a la sauerkraut and kimchi. However, making sauerkraut at home is usually a ton of work, and it makes a big mess.
However, I did find a creative way to make sauerkraut in less than 5 minutes. Not shredding required.
It’s much easier to ferment bigger slices of vegetables and fruits. Things like cucumbers, carrots, daikon, and peppers are much easier to prepare. Experiment with your favorite veggies and create your own recipe. Here’s another one of my favorites:
Because treating my son’s autism is the #1 reason I make fermented foods, it has to be kid-friendly. Check out 3 of my favorite kid friend fermented foods right here.
How To Make Fermented Vegetable and Fruits
The Basic Process
1-Prepare your fruit or vegetable of choice.
Depending on your vegetable or fruit you’ll need to slice, dice, peel, chop, or shred before fermenting. Add your vegetables, fruits, herbs, and/or spices to the jar.
You’ll want to make sure you pack the jar tightly and push out any air pockets. If you’re working with shredded veggies, you really want to pack it tight to avoid any air. When fermenting always remember, Air = potential for mold.
I recommend a vegetable stomper like this one. It fits mason jars perfectly, and it’s not all that expensive. You can use you fist, but the stomper does a better job. Let’s be honest, I can’t get my fat man hands inside a mason jar anyway.
2-Prepare The Brine
Fill the jar with your brine ensuring that your produce is completely covered. You may need to add more chlorine free water to submerge completely. Leave an inch or more at the top. Remember, It’s important to make sure whatever you are fermenting is completely under water in an anaerobic environment. Mold cannot grow in this environment.
If need be, add a couple of cabbage or lettuce leaves to the top to ensure veggies stay completely under the brine. There are special fermenting weights designed to fit in mason jars, but I have not found them necessary. Personally, I like to use small 4 oz mason jars instead. (See the video at the end)
3- Secure With Airtight Lid and Wait
Allow your brew to ferment in a warm place (around 68-75 degrees) for 3-7 days. You will see bubbles forming in the jar, and it will have a slightly sweet, sour taste when they are ready. Tougher vegetables take longer while soft fruits can be ready in just a day or so.
Here is are 2 quick demonstration videos to help you better understand how to ferment vegetables and fruits.
How To Make Fermented Vegetable and Fruits
Now that you know how to ferment vegetables, you can start experimenting and create your own recipes. It really is fun to make your own fermented foods, and it’s something you can do with kids too. My son loves to experiment with different flavors and foods too. For another kid-friendly ferment that is even more fun, try homemade kombucha too!