Fermented (or cultured) foods have been a world-wide tradition for thousands of years. Fermenting was done primarily as a method of food preservation before we had modern conveniences like refrigeration.
Sadly, this tradition has been largely lost over the centuries.
Fermented vegetables are an excellent way to supercharge your health and immune system, and fortunately making your own is easy! They take a little bit of time, but it’s truly worth every minute. And if you make them in large enough batches, you’ll have enough to last you for several months.
I’ve been making them for quite a few years now and they’re a regular part of meals at my house. I started giving them to my son when he was about four. I explained to him that they are like the “good guys” you see in the movies – they go into your body and fight off the “bad guys” (bacteria, fungi, infections, inflammation, yeast). In fact, to this day (and my son is almost 13 now) we still refer to our fermented veggies as good guys!
Send In The Cavalry
Fermented veggies have lots of health benefits. They’re loaded with good bacteria (probiotics) which aid digestion and detoxification, improve your immune system, decrease inflammation, enhance the health of your gut and produce amino acids and vitamins (most notably Vitamin K2).
Vitamin K2 works in conjunction with vitamin D and increases your body’s ability to absorb it significantly.
Here are some good things to know before you start:
Use a good vegetable starter culture.
Although it’s not an absolute must, I highly recommend using a good vegetable culture starter. Starters contain specific strains of the good bacteria you want your veggies to have, and they increase the production of Vitamin K2 exponentially. Look for one that is made specifically for vegetables. There are also some that are made for fermenting dairy products, but they contain different ingredients. I like this one, but there are other good ones on the market as well.
You’ll only need about 1/2 a teaspoon of your starter culture for each quart of veggies you’re making. Bacteria multiply VERY quickly, so it doesn’t take much!
Whether you choose to use a culture starter or not, DO use some good quality sea salt or Himalayan salt to aid in the fermentation process. Salt is a natural preservative; it suppresses the growth of mold and bad bacteria, keeps the veggies crunchier, and tastes great!
Always use glass containers, never plastic or metal.
Quart-sized mason jars are ideal for this because they create an air-tight seal. The wide mouth variety will make it easier to fill your jars, but the regular ones (that’s what I have) work just fine too.
Don’t screw the lids of your jars down too tightly.
The fermentation process creates a lot of carbon dioxide. If your lids are too tight to allow it to escape, pressure will build up in the jar quickly and cause it to break or even explode. At the very least you’ll have a heck of a time getting the jar open! I twist mine on just to the point where I start to feel resistance.
At least once a day for the first three days or so, you’ll need to completely loosen the lid to release any pressure, then tighten it back down again (still not too tight, just as far as you had it before).
Put a pan of some kind under your jars for at least the first few days.
I highly recommend doing this because even with the lids left somewhat loose, there will still be some pressure build up. You can expect some of the liquid in the jar to fizzle up and overflow, especially when you open them. Think of what happens when you shake a carbonated drink and then open it; this is pretty much exactly what will happen when you open your jars, so go slowly!
When you get to the point where your veggies are no longer releasing any gas when you open them, you won’t need to do this step anymore. Just make sure they’re completely covered with liquid. You’ll probably need to add a little water to the jars to ensure this. It’s a good idea not to put the lids on too tightly.
Organic cabbage should make up the bulk of your fermented vegetables.
Cabbage – either green or red – contains naturally occurring bacteria that helps in the fermentation process and with the production of Vitamin K2. Note that red cabbage (even a little bit) will turn your finished product pink! So will red beets. I think it looks kinda cool myself, but it’s totally your call.
Always use organic veggies! After all, the whole point of doing this is to create healthy food for ourselves, and pesticides and genetically modified Frankenfoods are most certainly NOT a part of that!
In addition to your cabbage, some other great veggies you can add if you like are kale, chard, spinach, broccoli (or other) sprouts, celery, bell pepper or cucumber. You can also include some root vegetables such as carrots, beets, Daikon radish and turnips. The fermentation process will eliminate the sugar some of these contain. If you’re feeling adventurous or just like spicy foods, you could add a small jalapeno pepper.
Spice Up Your Life
Using different seasonings is a great way to vary the flavor of your fermented veggies. Some of my favorites are ginger, oregano, basil, garlic, dill, thyme, and rosemary. The flavors get really magnified when you ferment them, so a little will go a long way.
Let’s Do This!
Are you ready? Don’t worry – you’ve got this, I promise! You’ll be a pro in no time!
Start by washing all your veggies thoroughly. Peel any that need it (the peel can sometimes give your finished product a bitter taste). Remove the outer leaves on the cabbage, but set a few of them aside, because you’ll need them later.
Chop your veggies. Slice ’em, dice ’em, mince ’em .. whatever you prefer. How large or small you want them to be is up to you, but be consistent. This allows for more uniform fermentation. If you have a food processor for this step, count your blessings! I still have to chop mine the old-fashioned way.
Add Your Herbs and Spices
Mix your prepared vegetables together in a large bowl, or several depending on the size of the batch you’re making. I like to divide mine up into separate bowls and then add the spices I want to each. For example, to one bowl I’ll add ginger; in another I’ll put oregano, basil and garlic; in yet another I’ll use dill. You get the idea. Use whatever herbs or spices you enjoy. Onion tends to overpower other flavors, so that might be one you’ll want to avoid or use sparingly. Lastly, remember to add a few dashes of sea salt to each jar.
Fill ‘Em Up
When you’re finished mixing your veggies and seasonings, start filling your jars! Pack them down as tightly as you can. You can use your fingers or the back of a large spoon to press them down. Fill each jar until it’s about an inch from the top.
Now you’re going to fill them with liquid. First prepare your brine. If you have a juicer, vegetable juice makes a great one. You can also just use pure, filtered water (I use water).
Add your starter culture to whatever brine you’re using and mix well. I like to start with just a small amount of the brine or water for this step. I mix in the starter then pour an equal amount of the mixture into each jar so they all get about the same amount. Then I go back and top off with more liquid until each jar is full.
Cover The Tops
Now take those cabbage leaves you set aside earlier and tear them into pieces big enough to fill the mouth of each jar. Place one in each to cover the veggies; this helps keep them submerged in their liquid. At this point there should be no more room left in your jar for anything else.
Put your lids on, date and label each jar (I like to note which spices I used in each), and put them in a darkish spot in your kitchen. Never put them in direct sunlight or in a spot that gets too hot, such as above your stove. Keep them at room temperature.
Are They Ready Yet?
Though they may be ready in as little as three days, I prefer to let my veggies ferment for at least a week. The flavors get stronger and it allows the beneficial bacteria more time to proliferate. They also may need more time during the winter months because of the cooler temperatures.
If at any point you notice mold developing on any of your veggies, dump the whole jar. Don’t try to just scoop the furry stuff off the top and use the rest – I guarantee that mold has spread throughout the whole container. Just get rid of them. This only happened to me once in all the years I’ve been making them. I’m pretty sure it was because I left the lid TOO loose, which allowed air to get in, and I neglected to top off the liquid to keep the veggies submerged.
Do a taste test after a few days. When you are satisfied with the flavor, move the jars to your refrigerator. These veggies will literally keep for months. Although refrigeration slows the fermentation process tremendously, it doesn’t stop it altogether, so over time their taste will become more sour. I’ve found that adding a little salt when I serve them helps offset this.
Now you can enjoy your fermented veggies whenever you like! Have a little (a couple of ounces or so), or more if you just love them! Eating them at the beginning of your meal will help aid digestion, but you will reap their benefits anytime. Serve them cold straight from the fridge, or take them out ahead of time and allow them to warm up to room temperature. Never heat them though, or you will destroy all that good bacteria you just spent a week or more cultivating.
Just one word of caution: if you are new to cultured veggies, you may need to start slow. Your digestive system will not be used to all the good bacteria that you’re about to introduce, and the sudden elimination of toxins can be a little overwhelming for your body. Start slowly, with just a tablespoon or so, and work your way up from there.
You did it – be proud of yourself! You’ve just taken a huge leap forward in your quest for amazing health! If you can share this wonderful superfood with your family as well, all the better!
Keto on, my friends, and enjoy the journey!