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1 Mar

A Beginner’s Guide: How to Culture Vegetables

CulturedVeg1Culturing raw vegetables can be a little intimidating. The process really is quite simple, but it seems like a lot to keep track of. What type of vegetables do you use? What do you culture with – salt, whey or freeze-dried culture? How do you make sure the culture doesn’t go bad during the fermentation process? How long, exactly, do those jars need to sit on my kitchen counter? And why bother culturing vegetables, anyway?

Consuming probiotics and fermented foods has numerous possible benefits. Chief among them, a healthier gut means more nutrients, vitamins, and minerals are absorbed. Plus, fermented vegetables are really delicious. Store-bought pickled veggies (like sauerkraut and pickles) are usually preserved in vinegar instead of a lactobacterial-salt slurry. This short-cut pickling method means no probiotics are present and the vegetables are usually limp and soggy. Lacto-fermented vegetables are crunchy, tangy and alive with healthy bacteria.

The more batches of vegetables you culture, the more experimental you’ll get. But if you’re an absolute beginner then there’s no easier, more foolproof way to start than by using freeze-dried cultures along with salt. Salt inhibits the growth of undesirable microorganisms; starter culture speeds up the fermentation process and offers the most consistent results.

After purchasing the freeze-dried culture of your choice (here’s one we recommend) and some non-iodized salt, buy several canning jars, or better yet a glass jar with an airlock setup (which eliminates the threat of unwanted mold).

GlassLock jar

Next, choose your vegetables; pretty much anything goes. Culture one type of vegetable at a time, or blend several together. Cabbage, carrots, beets, turnips, cauliflower, onions, hot peppers, bell peppers, tomatoes, cucumbers, kale and green beans are the most commonly used. Add spices if you wish (whole coriander, juniper, caraway, red pepper flakes, ginger) or fresh/dried herbs.

ingredients 28

Slice or grate the veggies, either by hand or in a food processor, and mix them in a large bowl with the salt and starter culture.

Shredded Veggies

Freeze dried starter culture will come with instructions detailing the ratio of starter culture, salt, water and vegetables to combine. Mix the vegetables really well, squeezing them with your hands to release juices. Then pack it all in a jar with a loose cover or airlock lid. That’s it. (Glass weights can be set atop the veggies to keep them submerged, but aren’t necessary.)

Now it’s time to let the healthy bacteria do its thing. Most freeze dried cultures recommend letting the vegetable sit out for 7 to 10 days at room temperature (70 ºF, 20 ºC). After that, they go into the fridge and can be eaten immediately or left alone to cure several weeks for better flavor.

If you keep a jar of fermented vegetables in your fridge at all times, you’ll find yourself regularly reaching in for a bite. And that is a good thing.

CulturedVeg2

You want comments? We got comments:

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  1. I make my own yoghurt and kefir, so this must be the next natural step along the healthy gut path.

    Nocona wrote on March 1st, 2014
    • Me too… and I used to make sourdough bread until I gave up grains…. Am very tempted to try this. :)

      Sally wrote on March 2nd, 2014
      • Make sourdough Gluten Free breads! Lots of recipes out there…

        Linda wrote on March 3rd, 2014
  2. Eh, already brewing 3 gallons of kombucha a week. I buy Bubbies kraut and it lasts a long time. I might try this sometime, but not now.

    Knifey wrote on March 1st, 2014
    • I agree, with both the above posts. I make kefir and yogurt already and am about at my limit with ‘pet food’ as my husband calls it. My best friend is into sourdough starter and breads and we laugh often about our ‘pets.’ It doesn’t take a lot of time, but is along the lines of having a damn goldfish. The daily tending to is fun… up to a point, but another jar of bubbling stuff on the counter might just be one pet too many right now!

      Marti wrote on March 1st, 2014
    • Mmmmm…Bubbie’s dill pickles!

      Wenchypoo wrote on March 1st, 2014
  3. How is this different than just using salt and seasoning veggies and leaving that out to ferment? I’ve never used a culture or an air lock.

    Ashley wrote on March 1st, 2014
    • In case you missed it:
      “if you’re an absolute beginner then there’s no easier, more foolproof way to start than by using freeze-dried cultures along with salt. Salt inhibits the growth of undesirable microorganisms; starter culture speeds up the fermentation process and offers the most consistent results.”

      Mantonat wrote on March 3rd, 2014
  4. anyone knows how to improve the content of vit. k2 in fermented vegetables. that would be a great step forward

    paleozeta wrote on March 1st, 2014
  5. Homemade greek yogurt is so easy to make. It just needs a nice warm overnight bath.

    I agree with Knifey about Bubbies. Their pickles are delicious, too.

    Although pickles are easy to make with just garlic, salt and mature dill, it would be hard to live in a house where one pickles and ferments food on regular basis.

    paleocrush wrote on March 1st, 2014
    • Whey from yogurt or kefir can be used as a culture starter too.

      Deborah Durkee wrote on March 3rd, 2014
      • Thank you for the tip! Some people drink the liquid but to use it as a starter sounds great.

        paleocrush wrote on March 3rd, 2014
  6. Culture is not necessary. Buy ORGANIC veggies and they come with their own culture. Wash them in cold water. Slice, add salt. If you don’t have an air lock, don’t stress (neither did our ancestors!). Just seal up the jar but be sure to burp it once or twice a day.

    It’s hard to ferment in a cold kitchen. Put the jar in a warm spot (on top of the fridge is a good spot). During the cold weather it may take longer to ferment, it can happen quickly in the summer heat.

    If the jar is clean and you use enough salt it will be fine. A weight to keep the veggies submerged in brine helps (you can buy glass jar weights on ebay or glass candle stands at craft stores.

    If the top gets moldy, scrape it off and dig down. Veggies under the brine are fine. The white, powdery substance in the brine is natural yeast–that’s what helps ferment your veggies.

    Janknitz wrote on March 1st, 2014
    • I was just going to explain this to everyone, but you beat me to the punch. I lacto-ferment all the time, have a giant gallon sized jar on my counter now. :)

      I try to eat a fermented food twice a day. My mood has improved… maybe placebo, either way I’m good with the changes I see.

      I do 3 heaping tablespoons of sea salt to 5lbs of produce, give or take a pound.

      Throw in a ton of red pepper flakes, onion, garlic, and ginger for taste…. my goodness it’s good stuff.

      You can also use an onion to hold everything under the brine, duel purpose since you get the submerged produce along with a fermented onion for great taste.

      canSttent wrote on March 1st, 2014
    • I make these no-hassle Japanese pickles with our garden cucumbers. Just wash and slice the cukes, either peeled or unpeeled, and layer in a large bowl sprinkling each layer with salt and a little dill weed. Put a plate on top that will fit snugly inside the bowl on top of the cukes, and top with a heavy weight. I refrigerate my pickles after a few days but you probably don’t need to. Refrigeration might slow the fermentation process a little but I think it makes the pickles crisper. This recipe is from “Aveline Kushi’s Complete Guide to Macrobiotic Cooking.”

      Shary wrote on March 2nd, 2014
    • This is close to how I do it. I don’t seal the jar, might try that with plastic.

      Nan wrote on March 4th, 2014
      • Egads. The system did not place my reply under the comment I had intended. Drats! Wish there was a delete feature.

        Also, I like the idea to use an onion.

        Nan wrote on March 4th, 2014
  7. The links for fermentation items in this article lead to a company that stole their cultures from other vendors (just ask northwestsourdough.com if you need proof). A better place to get your fermentation items is: http://primalkitchencompany.com/index.php?route=product/category&path=62 They are a small family start up.

    Tessy wrote on March 1st, 2014
  8. Can you use sea salt? And if so how mich per jar if you are not using a culture as well?

    Carly wrote on March 1st, 2014
    • see Janknitz above.

      canSttent wrote on March 1st, 2014
    • I never remember how much salt so I always look it up on Sandor Katz’s site ;o)

      Wildfermentation.com or one of his books. I have Wild Fermentation.

      Janknitz wrote on March 1st, 2014
  9. Cultures for Health have a bad reputation. The links in the article lead to their products. Go to any other fermentation supply rather than them. I know personally that they stole their cultures from other vendors who had taken time to collect them from around the world. Support honest vendors.

    Tessy wrote on March 1st, 2014
  10. Love having one of these fermented slaws handy… We throw a spoonful on salads, soups, or under a fried egg in the morning for a fab flavor addition. We skip the starter though and just do a wild ferment with fresh veg and salt. Works like a charm, naturally.

    Kali wrote on March 1st, 2014
  11. My sister helped me make my first batch of sauerkraut this fall – no air lock, no special cultures, just cabbage, salt and a big plastic container. It sat out in my carport in Northern CA for a month or so and then got put in mason jars in the freezer (to save fridge space). Just finished that batch and will make another this week, and none too soon. I bought a small jar of raw live sauerkraut at our natural grocery store today, and it was $8.99!

    Allison wrote on March 1st, 2014
  12. Thanks for that post. I’ve been buying cultured vegetables from my local organic store (I love eating salmon with cultured vegetables – just salmon and the cultured vegetables). After reading this post, I’m now inspired to try making my own.

    Thanks again!

    Peter Whiting wrote on March 1st, 2014
  13. Can I do this if the kitchen is cool? Mine is 65 degrees or colder for most of the day and all night.

    sinic wrote on March 1st, 2014
    • It takes a long time in a cold kitchen. I got a seedling mat I’m using for my kombucha, and I’m meaning to try it with some kraut fermentation, too. During the summer, my ferments go like gangbusters.

      If you see a lot of bubbles forming in the liquid, that’s a sign of fermentation happening.

      And here’s my test for sauerkraut readiness–when you burp the jar and it stops smelling like farts (sorry!) it’s probably ready. The cabbage goes from a bright green to a buff color.

      Janknitz wrote on March 1st, 2014
      • Thanks for that seedling mat idea!

        sinic wrote on March 3rd, 2014
  14. I have been fermenting vegetables for about a year nowthe best site to get started would be http://www.nourishingtreasures.com/index.php/fermentation-information-and-supplies-needed/

    she reccomends using fido jars, they hold more co2 than the airlock pictured above and she has done the actual experiments, making pickles in different ways and testing them to see how much probiotic bacteria they have.

    I use a mixture of WECK and La parfait jars that work much the same way as the fidos and eliminate the need for weights. They work great with cucumbers, cabbage, cauliflowers and beet kvass. I add grape vine leaves or make the brine out of tea to provide the tanins to keep the cauliflower and cucumber crisp. The only ferment I have had trouble with is squash. Cabbage (for example) keeps fermenting for a long time, so as long as there is at least half a jar of cabbage it seems to produce enough co2 to push any air out. Squash ferments quickly (and tastes great, I did it with sage and oregano, and really recommend it) but it soon runs out of puff, so I have had to cover it with olive oil to stop it from oxidising or growing moulds.

    Wild fermentation http://www.wildfermentation.com/ is also a good site and sandor katz’s books are good.

    re vitamin K2, dr mercola has an interview with sandor katz in which he says that the bacteria that he uses in mercola probiotics includes strains that are known to produce K2. I have never used a starter culture for vegetables, and Katz notes that the comercial producers have found that wild ferments taste better than those with starter cultures, but Mercola cultures his vegetables with his own brand of probiotic.

    Richard wrote on March 1st, 2014
  15. You can also get a vegetable culture starter from Body Ecology, & fermentation jars from Pickl-It.

    Christine wrote on March 2nd, 2014
  16. A really interesting article and some great comments!! Only just getting into gut health with kombucha our first project! Getting scoby on Thursday! WOOHOO

  17. My grandma used to make pickles the natural way. I remember the big crock sitting out in her kitchen for days and I was scared to death to eat them. Yes I was a product of modern America “health knowledge”. Turns out Grandma was right and looking back, my grandparents ate quite primal without even knowing it. For many years I couldn’t figure out how they lived so long eating all that meat, fat and cholesterol. Now I’m understanding I was the one who was incorrect.

    JJ wrote on March 2nd, 2014
  18. Thanks for posting this & thanks to all experienced fermenters for the comments. Great timing for me & going to try this today with some cabbage. Maybe a carrot/ginger mix too? I live in the Southwest so can just leave the lab experiments out in the garage while the A/C is on ;-)

    Devi wrote on March 2nd, 2014
  19. Note that if you mix beets with anything else the entire batch will turn red. (Hindsight is 20/20!)

    Annabelle wrote on March 2nd, 2014
  20. My gal turned me on to ‘ryazhenka’ which is baked fermented milk. After buying some at the Russian market we decided to make our own. It’s pretty easy-bake a gallon of milk overnite in a low (210 deg F.) oven til nicely caramelized. Let it cool to 70 deg F., add kefir powder and let it sit on the counter til it turns ‘custardy’. Spoon into a glass container like a milk bottle and refrigerate. It’s great as a smoothy base!

    Greg wrote on March 2nd, 2014
  21. I have been doing fermented veggies for a while now-Our family loves carrots and onions, and i also like brussel sprouts and pickles. Sauerkraut is delicious too, but doesnt always turn out the way i would like. I just started doing kefir about a week ago and we all love that too!
    I think these cultured foods are the main reason our family has been so healthy this year. The only person that has gotten anything is our 8 month old..and probably because he cant eat the ferments yet! The rest of us havent even gotten a cold.

    Shawn wrote on March 2nd, 2014
  22. Homemade sauerkraut is the best! My toddler will literally eat it by the bowl-full (as will her momma :) ). I want to try beets sometime, too.

    Beccolina wrote on March 2nd, 2014
  23. I started out making lacto-fermented pickles when I figured out that was the way grandma had done them. Thought that taste was gone with her for a bit! Then started making continuous brew kombucha. After getting those down, I started making small batches of sauerkraut and some other veggies. One addition until my routine was down. At Christmas, I added milk kefir to the routine and it has been a HUGE hit in our home (no issues with this even through I cannot drink regular store bought milk). The next addition is water kefir to change up from kombucha and add in additional/different probiotics. My husband fondly refers to all of these as my ‘science experiments’ (i’m a medical laboratory scientist).

    After each addition, I wait about 3-6 months and pay attention to how our bodies are reacting and so far, so good.

    Sandra Bijani wrote on March 3rd, 2014
  24. I’ve been using the “Small Batch Sauerkraut” recipe from:

    http://www.thekitchn.com/how-to-make-easy-homemade-sauerkraut-in-a-mason-jar-cooking-lessons-from-the-kitchn-193124

    Just cabbage, salt and caraway seeds. No special equipment, and no special starter. The only change I made was to use a larger container to ferment in (and I now need an even larger container).

    I’ve also experimented with different colors of cabbage, added carrots, beets, garlic, other spices, etc. It’s all good.

    Ralph

    Ralph wrote on March 3rd, 2014
  25. I’ve been making yogurt for years. Just started making kombucha – first batch turned out great, second went a week too long, so it’s really tart. Batches 3 & 4 are in process now.

    I’m contemplating making coconut water keifer, if I can find some water keifer grains. Been noodling the veggie ferment, all of you have given me some ideas on what to play with.

    Good thing it’s just me and my two cats – they’ve turned their noses up at the ‘buch, veggies may be a different story.

    Beth wrote on March 3rd, 2014
  26. Back in the day my uncle Jed would make fermented possum. that’s how he kept his family feed.

    Xanboo wrote on March 3rd, 2014
  27. I make a lot of fermented foods – I have a jar of kimchee and 2 of sauerkraut in the fridge right now. I also make water kefir, kombucha and beet kvass.

    salixisme wrote on March 4th, 2014
  28. I make my own sauerkraut in 1 qt jar. I bought a wooden kraut pounder. I like to throw in a little caraway seed. I think it helps me digest the kraut better. I use liquid from the old quart to inoculate the new one. For me, a little goes a long way. I’m the only one who eats it so one quart at a time is just fine. I bought an airlock and that helped. I’ve had some problems in the past. I got mold in a larger plastic container and once the gas broke a jar. It sits on the counter with the airlock for about a week (in winter) and then it goes into the fridge with a normal canning lid.

    Another fermented veggie that i adore is beet kvass. This is from the Nourishing Traditions cookbook. To my taste buds, beet kvass is reminiscent of tomato juice. It has a salty, sour, refreshing quality. After I have made two batched with the same beets, they are turned into dill pickles with brine and dried dill. I’ve looked for other beet salad ideas and I can’t really find a use for them. I have also thrown them into a pot of borscht, but that kills the good enzymes etc..

    ValerieH wrote on March 5th, 2014
  29. How warm is too warm? I was thinking of putting it near the woodstove since the rest of the house is cooler.

    Sharon Pierce wrote on March 6th, 2014
  30. I make sauerkraut with cabbage, salt, and cumin seeds. No culture. Just slice finely, mix in salt and spice, and pound down in a big glass jar with your fist. There are plenty of YouTube videos showing the process. It’s delicious, although my last lot went off in a heatwave (I didn’t have a refrigerator at the time.)

    Martin wrote on March 9th, 2014
  31. I want to brew my own alcohol this year. I was thinking of starting very simple since I’ve never done it before, probably just a big jug of orange juice emptied part way with yeast and a bunch of sugar added. I’d burp it and probably let it sit out since I expect to be camping most of the warm part of this year. Based on what I’ve seen and read it seems like it should work without the usual fancy tubing and stuff so many of the internet brewing guides have. If it turns out satisfactory I’ll probably try different recipes – I think it would be great done with blueberry juice. If anyone would like to offer advice on simple, no hassle, minimal (or very cheap) equipment brewing it would be appreciated.
    Also here seems a good spot to mention an idea for a drink I thought of and want to try: a mix of a juice of every colour of the rainbow (and maybe some teas, herbal extracts, whatever). It might confuse the taste buds and look like mud or swamp water but I think it would be a good idea.. like a drinkable colourful [big-ass] salad with a diversity of phenolic compounds, nutrients etc. I was thinking of using it to dilute wine, which would work as the red juice.

    Animanarchy wrote on March 9th, 2014
  32. I have heard people express comments about how certain by-products of the fermentation process of veggies has caused some health issues. Before I make 1000000gal of Sauerkraut, is anyone aware of this? I am a firm believer that one persons food is anothers poison and vice versa…and to listen to your body….but I am still curious why some people are so afraid of fermenting foods?

    Matthew Zastrow wrote on May 19th, 2014

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