I spent a year learning how to ferment vegetables as part of a 12-month fermentation challenge. From mushy vegetables and foul-smelling ferments to exploding glass bottles, I made many mistakes, Today, I’m going to share my top 10 fermentation tips and tricks so you can begin your fermentation journey on the right probiotic path.
How to ferment vegetables like a pro
1. Be like NIKE and just “ferment” it.
What is the number one lesson I learned after spending a year preparing countless ferments? You learn by doing. Sure, you’re going to have some failures. My fermented eggs were so disgusting no one in our family would even take a sample bite. My fermented radishes stunk so bad my husband said he felt like he was eating crunchy farts. I had a jar of water kefir explode all over my floor. But from each mistake, I learned what vegetables I truly enjoyed fermenting and eating, how to tell when my ferments were done and how to prevent spills, mold, and mushy vegetables. And you will too. But only if you get started.
Here are the tools, ingredients, and easiest, beginner recipes to try.
THE TOOLS TO GET STARTED
2. Don’t waste your money on fancy tools
Do I need to buy a fermentation weight? No.
Do I need to buy an airlock system? No.
Do I need to buy a starter? No.
Do I need to buy anything at all? Probably not.
Most people have some glass jars (I used mason jars for all my ferments), salt, and water. This is all you really need to get started. Now, that doesn’t mean you won’t want to buy a set of fermentation weights or an airlock system once you ferment a few vegetables but, as a beginner, I would suggest trying fermenting and seeing if it is something you enjoy, before investing in any fancy tools. I fermented nearly all the recipes on this blog without investing in any equipment. At the end of the challenge I bought these glass fermentation weights and I love them. This would obviously be the first purchase I would invest in.
3. Not all salt is created equal
Salt is the key to any great ferment. The salty water (brine) that you ferment your vegetables in encourages good bacteria to flourish and inhibits the growth of bacteria and yeast that could make you sick. Salt also helps keep your vegetables crispy by hardening the pectin in the cells of the vegetables.
Although you can use any non-iodized salt (iodine is antimicrobial and inhibits the beneficial bacteria in cultured vegetables) to ferment, you can enrich your ferments with extra nutrition and flavor by using natural, mineral-rich salts such as Himalayan Pink Salt (amazon link), Redmond Real Salt, a fine rock salt (amazon link), or the Celtic sea salts (amazon link). These salts are all rich in trace minerals such as potassium, magnesium, and calcium, according to Medical News Today.
Another benefit to using natural salts is they haven’t been as heavily processed as table salt and don’t have any added ingredients such as anti-caking agents, which prevent clumping.
4. Tap Water Could Kill Your Ferment
I’d like to say you can use any water to ferment your vegetables, but chlorine can actually inhibit fermentation. Chlorine is added to municipal water to kill harmful bacteria. Unfortunately, it will also kill the good bacteria you’re trying to encourage in your ferment. I have told readers of this blog they could remove chlorine from their water by letting it sit out overnight, which would cause the chlorine to dissipate. Unfortunately, unbeknownst to me, some municipal water systems are now using a mixture of chlorine and ammonia, called chloramine, which does not evaporate, according to the book, Fiery Ferments.
THE EASIEST RECIPES
5. Choose an easy recipe
You may be tempted to begin your fermentation journey with some of the most common ferments like sauerkraut. But sauerkraut is surprisingly tricky to ferment. I would suggest trying to ferment something incredibly simple like these carrot sticks or green beans. Honey ferments are also among some of the easiest ferments although these are usually reserved for fruit. I made a honey fermented cranberry sauce that was both easy and delicious if you want to give it a try.
6. Oxygen is your mortal enemy
Nothing will turn you off faster from fermenting vegetables than a moldy, stinks-like-elephant-farts ferment. You can prevent this from happening by ensuring the salty water (brine) is covering your vegetables at ALL times. The brine creates an environment that’s inhospitable to bad bacteria so as long as your vegetables remain under the anaerobic safety of the brine, they’ll be fine. Any exposed portion may not be safe to eat.
7. Baby your ferment…and burp it too
If you can remember, I would highly suggest checking on your ferment on an almost daily basis while it is fermenting. I will admit I haven’t been very good at this. Once I make or plant something, I prefer it to take care of itself. This is why I struggle with watering indoor plants and keeping yogurt or kefir starters alive. Not checking on my ferment has resulted in vegetables sneaking out of the brine (see previous tip #6) and ferments bubbling over making a watery mess all over my counter.
I would suggest checking on your ferment every couple of days to ensure your vegetables have remained submerged under the brine and that your mason jar lid is not taut or bulging. A taut or bulging lid is a sure sign you need to burp your ferment baby. Simply unscrew the lid slightly and allow the fermentation gases to escape.
8. Fermenting is not an exact recipe
Sadly, there is no exact cut and dry date for when any kind of ferment is done. For example, when your house is a bit warmer, your ferment will be done faster. And, if like me, you live in the cold land of Canada, your ferments may go a little slower doing the cooler months. When your ferment is done also depends on many other things like how large your batch is and the number of good bacteria that were present on your vegetables.
This is why it’s important to just start fermenting (see tip #1). As you gain more experience, you’ll be better able to judge when your ferment is at its finest. First, you’ll look for bubbles of carbon dioxide gas in the salty water (brine), which means you’ve been successful and the brine has started to acidify. Over time, the mixture will become cloudy and the vegetables will lose their vibrant color. Finally, you’ll smell and taste your ferment. It should have a pleasantly sour smell and taste. Never eat fermented vegetables that smell bad. You may also want to avoid ferments that smell like alcohol (unless you want to get a bit tipsy).
9. Date, label and take notes
My short-term memory is shorter than the length of a typical ferment so I always mark the date I begin fermenting on my calendar as well as the date I think it should be done. Once it’s finished fermenting, I label the ferment with its expected expiry date.
10. Start Your Own Fermentation Challenge
This year challenge yourself to experiment with fermenting something new every month. This is how I learned to ferment vegetables. Copy my challenge or begin your own. Here is my 12-month Fermentation Challenge series:
Month #12 – FERMENTED GINGERBREAD COOKIES DIPPED IN DARK CHOCOLATE
Month #11 – HONEY FERMENTED CRANBERRIES – 3 WAYS!
Month #10 – FERMENTED TOMATOES – THE FASTEST WAY TO CAN TOMATOES
Month #9 – HONEY & PUMPKIN PIE SPICED FERMENTED APPLESAUCE
Month #8 – EASY FERMENTED BELL PEPPERS & TOMATO LEAF “SALSA”
Month #7 – SPICY FERMENTED GREEN BEANS WITH CURRY & GINGER
Month #6 – SPICED LACTO-FERMENTED RHUBARB WITH ORANGES & CINNAMON
Month #5 – EASIEST FERMENTED SAUERKRAUT RECIPE
Month #4 – LACTO-FERMENTED RADISHES WITH DILL
Month #3 – FERMENTED GINGER CARROTS
Month #2 – FERMENTED ZUCCHINI WITH DILL AND GARLIC
Month #1 – LEMON GINGER WATER KEFIR
11. BONUS TIP – Geek out on fermentation
Humans have been fermenting since about 7000 BC, according to Wikipedia. So, as you can imagine, there are many excellent books written on this fascinating topic. Start with one of the classics such as Sandor Katz’s The Art of Fermentation or this excellent beginner’s book, Fermentation for Beginners: The Step-By-Step Guide to Fermentation and Probiotic Foods.
I also love Kirsten & Christopher Shockey’s books’ including Fermented Vegetables: Creative Recipes for Fermenting 64 Vegetables & Herbs in Krauts, Kimchis, Brined Pickles, Chutneys, Relishes & Pastes, and Fiery Ferments: 70 Stimulating Recipes for Hot Sauces, Spicy Chutneys, Kimchis with Kick, and Other Blazing Fermented Condiments.
Happy fermenting, my friend!
PIN IT FOR LATER!
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