Guidelines for Fermenting Vegetables - The Fermented Foody

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Guidelines for Fermenting Vegetables

Once you start fermenting, you’ll come to realise that things don’t always turn out the way you expect, but that’s half the fun of culturing food! Don’t worry about ‘rules’ .. just keep some basic guidelines in mind and dig in! are a few tips that will help you start to feel comfortable about grabbing whatever’s in the fridge, mixing it with some salt and water popping it in a jar.

  • Veg doesn’t have to be super new to be fermented, but it won’t perform perfectly if it’s used once past it’s best. (However, for the food you’re about to throw in the bin – STOP! Pop them in your juicer and add to a green juice or smoothie. No need for waste if you have the right kitchen kit. Hoorah!)
  • The smaller you chop vegetables, the faster they break down. By default, the surface area is smaller so there is less vegetable to break through, therefore cutting strips is great for quick fermentation.
  • With whole fruits/veg, you’ll need to add mineral/filtered water with the salt because, even if you’re crushing them a little to release some of that juicy flavour, it’s unlikely to release enough water to submerge them .. and they need to be fully covered before closing the lid.
  • You could take some raw veg (one only or several) juice it and use that in which to ferment your vegetables.  Part fill the jar with your veg juice and top up with mineral/filtered water.  I’ve heard that celery is a good one.  It’s most likely an individual choice though.  I’ll be trying this idea soon. 🙂
  • Flavours intensify during the fermentation process, so be mindful of the strong flavours that you choose to add.  Garlic and chile should both be added in small measure first time.  Check you’re happy with the balance or add more the next time.  Nothing worse than adding too much and spoiling an entire batch!  You can add, but you can’t take away, once the flavour has infused.
  • 2% salt is considered a good balance to the volume of vegetables you’re fermenting, so weigh your veg, then calculate how much salt.  I just guess, mainly because I don’t always want to use much salt and usually only add a sprinkle, but I quite like the surprise result anyway. 🙂
  • The longer you ferment, the more good bacteria are likely to inhabit your food. It isn’t known if bacteria morph during the process into another form of bacteria or new ones introduce themselves and take the place of the original bacteria.  But variety is good!
  • Diversity of bacteria creates a healthier gut, so tasting during the process is good and eating a little of lots of different types of ferments is also a great idea.  I usually leave them at least 24 hours before I dip in.  With whole veg, you’ll most likely need a few days.  Don’t be shy to open a vessel, check the aroma and taste the food.  If it’s not ready to eat, simply close the lid and leave for another day or two, then check again.  If it’s great but could be left longer, eat some, then shut the lid and leave it to mature.  Enjoy a little relationship with your fermented foods.  (Okay – I’m not going to suggest you talk to them like people do to plants .. but .. ahem .. I do myself.)  Well, everything needs a little encouragement.  Right? 😉

  • Don’t be surprised if your water bubbles! You are creating naturally carbonated water when you ferment in an oxygen free (anaerobic) environment. Naturally fizzy water is the ONLY water!
  • You can drink the fermented liquid.  It can taste amazing, depending on the food that’s been fermenting in it! And even if it’s not quite to your liking, remember that it’s packed full of probiotics.  I never throw mine away. I dare you to drink it.  Your digestive system will love you for it!
  • You can re-use ferment liquid by throwing in some new veg once the first batch have been eaten. Bear in mind though, that doing this – and leaving the ferment liquid lying around for months – can create a substance called kahm, a yeasty film that will sit (slightly yellow usually) on the bottom of your vessel and moves around when you move the jar.  It does, eventually, coat the veg too if left long enough.  It has a slimy film to it. You can scrape it off and still eat the veg or eat with. It’s not in the least bit harmful, but too much isn’t pretty and if I’ve seen it on pickles
  • I re-used one batch of powder culture started pickle ferment juice for about 8 months before the kahm really set in! I was testing how long it would take! I scraped it off and ate the pickles as normal.  However …. once it was covering them, I did throw out that water and start afresh.  I’m sharing this with you because culture starters cost money, natural fermenting is just filtered water and salt.  But if you want to make crunch pickles I think you’ll need a starter and it’s a way of saving money by re-using the water. 🙂

  • Keep Positive!! Don’t be discouraged if you open a lid and the mixture smells awwwwwful. I’ve had that happen! The over-riding one I’ve had is what I call ‘a medical smell.’ (Ugh.)  But I just shut the lid and leave a few more days – checking every now and then – and it’s always disappeared
  •  Ferment your happy vegetables in a warm room and the process will speed up.  A cool room and it will slow down.  The warmer the room, the faster they will ferment.  I tend to use our utility, a small room that has one veluxe window that floods the space with light, bringing with it extra warmth, from the sun.  It’s also where our boiler lives.  I house my ferments on a shelf under the cupboards, out of direct sunlight.
  • Warm places that work well: above your boiler, on top of a fridge, by a radiator, in an airing cupboard (although beware, as ferments can spill over, so put them on a tray that will catch the spillage if you use this method!  Cooler places: on the floor in a darkened room, cellars, out-houses etc.  Just make sure that it’s clean enough that no critters can enter your jars or whatever vessel you’re using for your ferment.
  • Pectinase, the general term for enzymes that break down pectin, a substance that holds fruit and veg together, is halted in it’s process by salt.  So if you want your ferment to work more slowly, add more salt.  And of course, you can reach a point with some ferments (I have much experimenting to do this autumn!) where the ferment will be ready and the salt will have preserved the crunch of the veg, such as cucumber pickles, cabbage kraut etc. which makes the final product extra delicious!

I DO hope these tips are helpful to you and give you the confidence to start messing about with fermenting vegetables.


Let me know what you’ve been making in the comments below.

Catch you soon …


About the Author Sarah Jackson

I love to experiment with food, write poetry, read, walk in nature, take iphone photographs, sing, cycle, watch good movies, documentaries, dramas and comedy.

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