If you’re interested in learning how to ferment vegetables safely and easily, you’ve found it. Here are the tools, recipes, and tips you need to get started right away!
Fermented Veggies: Good or Gross?
We’re all used to hearing about eating fermented foods as a way to better gut health, but can I be honest for a minute?
Until recently, I spent the majority of my life avoiding this category of food–I mean, who in their right mind intentionally leaves food out for days, weeks, or even months and calls it “delicious”?
To me, fermented foods beyond yogurt or cheese that wandered into the territory of sauerkraut or kimchi just seemed…strange. The sour taste, funky smell, and talk of “live bacteria” just turned me off. I guess fermenting veggies was a health trend I was willingly going to avoid.
Are all Fermented Foods the Same?
But that didn’t mean I still wasn’t curious about this “artisan” category of food. There’s no “in-between” with fermented foods, you’re either a fermentation friend or foe. But, what was I missing that made others not be able to get enough? More than that, how could I get over my fermentation fear so that I could cross into the probiotic, gut goodness, nutrient-dense promise land? Were there any good recipes, ideas for preparation, or accompaniments that could help me get past this?
Want to (really) Enjoy Fermented Foods? It’s All About Taste
Adding fermented foods into your diet is all about taste. You’ll CRAVE those brined veggies if the flavor is irresistible. The sad truth is that too many of us (including me) have been exposed to some baaaaad commercial brands that hijack the uniquely complex and deep flavors you only get from homemade batches.
If you have yet to have your own fermented foods from your kitchen with your taste buds at the wheel, don’t write off fermented foods. This sounds a little woo-woo I nkow, but enjoying food fermented food is a deeply personal experience.
You can’t outsource good stuff.
Fermenting Vegetables is Simple (Once You Know the Tricks)
You can easily make delicious, probiotic-rich fermented foods in minutes (or whenever you have the time). I’m going to reveal 9 straightforward tips that’ll get you to start stocking delicious convenience food recipes that are shelf-stable and ready to eat right out of the jar!
You won’t ever want to be without jars (or crocks) full of ferments to use as instant side dishes, salad toppings, or flavorful stuffings to build a meal.
Now let’s get to the nuts and bolts of fermentation!
How are Vegetables Preserved during Fermentation?
I’m a simple woman who’s gonna give you a simple ‘splanation. God is good. Ya see every fruit, vegetable, herb, spice, nut, heck, every food comes from the earth is covered with a type of good bacteria called lactobacillus. When this bacteria combines with salt, it sucks out any oxygen and creates an anaerobic (oxygen-free) environment. This is what allows foods to naturally ferment. What’s left is lactic acid, which is the sour taste ferments have. Lactic acid is what makes your veggies safe to eat and preserve for weeks to months.
And there you have it.
What Supplies do I need to Ferment?
One of the attractive qualities of vegetable fermentation is its minimalism. You just need a good recipe, a bit of salt, jars, and lids.
If you’re new to fermenting, half the victory comes from having the right knowledge and the other half is having the right equipment. While fermenting doesn’t require specialized equipment, there are some tools that will eliminate common problems newbie at-home fermenters run into, like:
- Incorrectly burping your jars and letting in mold, bacteria and oxygen in.
- The inevitable frustration large vessel crocks that have water seals that too easily become messy.
- Loosing track of key fermentation dates and drying out your ferment.
The Easy Fermenter Kit Gives You the Best Tools
“>The Fermentation Starter Kit is created to include everything you need to get a perfect ferment the first time! While you can use substitutions and other DIY hacks, there are advantages to using fermentation equipment instead. The biggest advantage is that the tools allow you to easily monitor the fermentation process, eliminate the guesswork and reduce the frequency of lid removal, which upsets the optimal anaerobic environment that ferments love and need.
Plus, the highest quality and best-reviewed kit slides in around $35 making it super affordable.
I love how the weights are designed with two handles that you can grab from the middle or sides. It makes quickly removing and replacing the weight for taste tastes super simple with zero mess.
“>The Easy Fermenter Starter Pack comes with:
- 3 high quality Easy Fermenter wide mouth mason jar lids (mason jars not included).
- 3 unique design Easy Weights
- 1 oxygen extraction vacuum pump
- 1 printed recipe book
These lids are compatible with every wide mouth jar with an outside dimension of 3 3/8″. That includes jars from Ball, Kerr, Bernardin, Kilner, Orchard Road, Jarden, Quattro Stagioni, Golden Harvest, Atlas, Legacy, and many more.
9 Steps to Ferment Vegetables the Safe and Easy Way
Step 1- Use only a tested recipe from an approved source
Using tested recipes is vital to the success of your ferment. Stick with recipes from reliable sources such as the United States Department of Agriculture or published authorities. And, once you find this recipe, don’t change the amount of vinegar, salt, produce, water, or proportions the recipe calls for.
Step 2- Choose the right sized mason jar
The most reliable jars to use for ferments are quart or half-gallon canning jars, fido jars, and fermentation crocks. Canning and Fido jars are fairly inexpensive and come in a range of sizes. When using a canning jar you’ll also want to consider if the neck of the jar is wide enough to fit your hand inside to pack the veggies in. You’ll also want to switch out the metal lid and ring for a plastic lid to avoid the risk of contamination from rust. While you’ll store your ferments out of direct light, opt for clear glass jars (instead of amber or colored jars) so you can easily observe the fermenting process. Fermentation crocks are a bit more expensive but are excellent options for large batch ferments.
Step 3- Be Selective About Salt (It’ll give you the best tasting brine)
Salt is the preservation agent that allows fresh veggies to retain their nutrients and texture for months (and sometimes years).
Which Salt Should I Use to Ferment?
This is a very good question because not all salts are the same. Luckily, salts fall into two major categories: those that are mineral-rich and those that contain unnecessary additives. You’ll want t use only pickling salt or natural fine sea salt. These are salts are free of additives (such as potassium, iodine, and anti-caking agents) which can impede fermentation.
But Ideally, the best salt to use for ferments is an unprocessed salt that still has its complete profile of minerals. What makes fermented foods so powerful is that it makes minerals bioavailable resulting in more nutritional benefit. So, the more minerals in the salt you use, the more minerals you’ll end up within your sauerkraut. The other benefit is your ferment won’t have that salty taste that pickling salts inevitably give off, and that taste ruins your hard work.
Make the switch to Redmond real salt. It’s commonly found in health food stores and even in many standard grocery stores or you can easily order online.
Step 4-Select and clean produce carefully
Only use firm, ripe, and unblemished fruits and veggies for your ferments. Bruised or overripe produce can introduce undesirable yeasts or molds. Since most of the microbial pathogens are on the surface of fruits and veggies always thoroughly wash, rinse, and cut off any soft or overripe parts to reduce the risk of contamination.
Step 5-Use a vacuum extractor
Allowing some oxygen to escape from your jars is a critical step of fermentation. Luckily, The Easy Fermenter, makes this super simple. During the early stages of your ferment, the airlock lid automatically pushes out the oxygen that comes from the large amount CO2. As your ferment ages, carbon production decreases. A vacuum extractor restores the seal and anaerobic environment the ferment needs to avoid mold with just a couple of pumps.
Step 6- Keep things submerged
Non-submerged veggies will not properly ferment. This is because the brine is what keeps harmful bacteria and mold from destroying your food, while also creating the perfect conditions for the naturally preserving agent, lactobacillus to keep your food safe. The easiest way to keep your veggies under the brine is to use fermentation weights or fill a plastic bag with leftover brine and pack on top of your ferment before sealing the lid on the jar. Nearly all ferments require the gradual release o built-up CO2
Step 7-Cover the Container
Avoid plastic wrap and airtight covers, which impede fermentation. This is because while you want to keep dust, bugs, and other floatie particles out, you’ve also got to find a way to let the build-up of CO2 in your jar escape. You can use an airlock, hand towel, or coffee filter to do this.
Step 8-Maintain the Temperature
Ferments do best in the ” Goldilock Zone”–“not too hot, not too cold, but juuuusssst right.” A range of 70F to 75F will ensure fermentation occurs within the recipe’s timing. If your temperature falls from 60F to 65F, the ferment will happen much slower. Whatever you do, avoid fermenting above 75F to reduce the risk of spoilage. Once your ferment is ready, move it to cold storage (refrigerator or root cellar) to half the process.
Step 9-Move to Cold Storage
Most fermenting recipes take anywhere from 5-30 days to get the taste you prefer. Once your batch is complete all you need to do is move it to the fridge. Relocating your ferment to cold storage dramatically slows down the fermenting process and lets you keep your batch for months to come (so you can enjoy all that lacto-fermented goodness).
Fermentation Frequently Asked Questions:
How do I know when my ferment is done?
There are several methods, but you should start by referring back to what the approved recipe you used recommends. Why? Because specific veggies that different salinity timelines. Generally, you should give your ferment 7-10 days to just marinate, untouched. You’ll start to see bubbles foaming around day 2 or 3 which is a sign that the good bacteria are at work. After a week or so, start taste testing.
Ewww…What’s that white stuff?
After a few days or weeks, you may notice a white residue on the surface of your ferment. Don’t freak-it’s likely wild yeast, which is totally safe but forms when your ferment temperature is in a warmer range. All you need to do is skim off what you can and keep fermenting according to the recipe.
BUT, if the “white stuff” is furry or colorful mold appears with an unpleasant odor-dump it out and start your ferment again. That’s not an edible science experiment you want to eat.