Have you been wanting to increase your family’s consumption of probiotic foods, without being sure of the best way to go about it? Trying to do online research into probiotics can be absolutely daunting: Should I take a probiotic capsule or focus on fermented foods? Can I buy fermented foods at the grocery store? How much equipment should I buy for this? If any of this rings a bell, I’d love to suggest lacto-fermented vegetables. Lacto-fermented vegetables are an easy, economical way to incorporate a powerful dose of gut-healthy probiotics into your family’s diet! There’s also a ton of room for creativity here: whichever veggies you love to eat, chances are you can ferment them!
What Are The Health Benefits of Lacto-Fermented Foods?
Foods that have been fermented by lacto-fermentation contain a wide variety of beneficial bacteria, including lactobacillus strains. Eating these foods helps promote a diverse, flourishing intestinal microbiome! Lacto-fermentation also improves the digestibility of different foods, and makes the vitamins in those foods more bioavailable, meaning your body can absorb more of those vitamins.
The byproduct of lacto-fermentation, lactic acid, also acts as a preservative. Different civilizations and cultures worldwide have practiced lacto-fermentation for millennia. If you enjoy reading about the history of this practice, I enjoyed this study, which also goes into a lot of detail about the many strains of bacteria that may be found in your lacto-fermented vegetables, once you get started!
How Does Lacto-Fermentation Work?
Lacto-fermentation works by placing foods which already contain beneficial bacteria (such as fruits and vegetables) in an environment in which the good bacteria will thrive and flourish, and bad bacteria will not.
Good, lactic-acid producing bacteria thrive in acidic, salty environments, whereas bad bacteria will not: they can’t handle the salt! Therefore, to make lacto-fermented vegetables, we’ll place the veggies in an environment that’s salty enough to kill bad bacteria, but not TOO salty, or it will kill the good strains also.
There are two methods of lacto-fermentation that work well for vegetables, dry salting and brining. This post will focus primarily on the brining method. Dry salting works well for vegetables which contain a lot of water already (or are prepared in a way to easily release their water: for example, shredded carrots can be dry salted, carrot sticks probably cannot). If you want to try dry salting, check out my sauerkraut recipe here!
The brining method involves mixing a salt-and-water brine (5% salt will create the right environment for good bacteria to flourish) and pouring it over prepared vegetables. Unlike store-bought brined foods, this brine will not contain any vinegar, which does not allow beneficial bacteria to thrive.
Tools & Equipment Needed for Lacto-Fermented Vegetables
- Jars (any size you prefer is fine).
- Cutting board & knives for preparing vegetables
- Large liquid measuring cup, for mixing brine
- Kitchen scale
- Optional: fermenting weights
- Optional: valved lids for jars: or use regular lids
Ingredients Needed For Lacto-Fermented Vegetables
- Vegetables of your choice
- Filtered water
- Fine sea salt or kosher salt
- Optional: additional seasonings or spices
Prepare your vegetables by washing them and cutting them, if needed, to fit into your jars as desired.
Sterilize your jars. I do this by placing my jars in a clean sink, heating an electronic kettle to boiling, and pouring the boiling water over the jars. You could also fill the sink with boiling water and lower the jars in with tongs. When the jars are cool enough, remove them to the counter. They won’t remain perfectly sterile, but don’t worry: this step minimizes the bad bacteria on the jar.
Put vegetables and any desired seasonings in your jars.
Make your brine.
To make a 5% salt brine, I like to place a large liquid measuring cup on my kitchen scale and zero it, then add water to get the weight of JUST the water, in grams. Calculate 5% of the weight of the water, in grams: for example, 500g water x .05 = 25g of salt. Add your calculated amount of salt to the water and mix until dissolved.
Pour the brine over the vegetables until they are fully covered. Ideally the vegetables will be about an inch below the surface of the brine. For vegetables that like to float, such as sliced cucumbers, fermentation weights can be very helpful.
Cover your jars. You can use valved lids made for this purpose, if you have them: I don’t, so I just use the regular lids. If using regular jar lids, plan to unscrew the tops once a day to let out excess gases.
Leave your jars at room temperature to ferment. The length of time depends on a couple factors: the temperature of your kitchen, and how acidic & tangy your want your vegetables to taste. This process will go faster in a warmer kitchen. In a fairly average room temp kitchen, you should be seeing signs of fermentation (bubbles rising around the edges of the jar) by about the 3 day mark. When you’re seeing bubbles, you can begin tasting and leave your veggies until you like the taste. They’ll get tangier the longer you leave them.
When fermentation is to your liking, transfer the jars to the fridge.
Enjoy! If you’re brand new to fermented foods, start small with a couple tablespoon size servings per day. Lacto-fermented vegetables can have a powerfully positive effect on your intestinal health, even in small doses!
What Veggies & Seasonings Should I Use?
The sky is the limit here! Some ideas:
- Carrot sticks, radishes, cucumbers, cauliflower or broccoli florets, garlic cloves, green beans, bell peppers
- Red pepper flakes, black peppercorn, turmeric, coriander seeds, cumin seeds, fresh or dried herbs
Help! I have mold! What do I do?
If mold grows on only the jar itself, and never touches the fully submerged vegetables, you can probably wipe it off and still consume your veggies: it depends on your comfort level. If the veggies themselves are molding, throw them out. For some reason, bad bacteria have flourished, and you don’t want to eat that. It’s possible that the vegetables weren’t fully submerged.
Is it okay that my brine is kind of cloudy?
Yes, this is normal. It has to do with the juices that the veggies release into the brine.
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- Fresh ginger root
- Filtered water
- Kosher salt
- I've neglected to include amounts in the ingredients because this recipe is totally adaptable-base your amounts on the number of jars you have, or the amount you feel like making! One note, though: ginger can become overpowering kind of quickly. One possible ratio is 1Tbsp ginger to every 4 cups of carrots. I often simply include a couple thin slices of ginger root to every pint size jar.
- Sterilize your jars: I do this by placing my jars in a clean sink and pouring boiling water over them. You could also fill the sink with boiling water, and use a tongs to submerge each jar. When they are cool enough, remove jars to the counter. They will not stay medical-grade sterile on your kitchen counter, but this step will still serve to rid them of a lot of potential bad bacteria.
- Wash, peel and slice your carrots to your desired size. Wash, peel and slice or grate your ginger root as well.
- Place your carrot sticks and ginger in your jars. They should be cut to a length that will allow the brine to fully cover them without spilling out of the jars.
- Make your brine: I do this by zeroing my kitchen scale with a large liquid measuring cup on it, then adding water to the measuring cup. Take the weight of your water in grams, then calculate 5% of that weight, in grams (for example: 500g water x .05= 25g)
- Your calculated 5% figure is the amount of salt you should add, in grams. Add your calcuated amount of kosher salt, then mix until the salt dissolves.
- Pour the brine over the top of the carrots, until they are fully submerged. I find that carrots do an okay job staying under the brine, but you can also use fermenting weights to accomplish this.
- Leave the carrots at room temperature to ferment. You can cover them with a valved lid designed specifically for fermentation, or you can just partially twist on the regular jar lid--if you do this, un-twist it every day to make sure any built up gases can escape.
- The length of fermentation time needed depends on a couple of factors, especially the temperature of your kitchen. In the summer, I let my carrots ferment for 3 days. In the winter, it could be more like 5 or more. After a couple days, you should start seeing bubbles rising in the jar: the evidence of fermentation. After 3 days, you can start tasting your carrots, and stop fermentation when they've reached your desired sourness. ("Sour" doesn't seem like the right word--I think you'll see what I mean)
- When your carrots have finished fermenting, close jar firmly with a lid and transfer to the fridge.
- Enjoy! These make a great side to all sorts of dishes, or a snack on their own.
1. You can certainly experiment with adding other seasonings, as well- I like a little pinch of turmeric.
2. If mold forms on or in your jar, don't eat these. They will have a faint "sour" scent, but they should not smell rotten.
3. One of the beautiful things about home-fermented veggies: a small serving packs a big punch in terms of gut health! If you've never eaten fermented foods before, start slowly.
Have you given this a try? What vegetables do you like to ferment? I’d love to hear about it in the comments!
When you’re ready for another fermented vegetable recipe, try Fermented Ginger & Carrot Salad.