Fermentation is an ancient technique that has become trendy again and with good reason: not only do fermented foods have an irresistible tangy flavor, but they also carry multiple health benefits.
Fermenting preserves vegetables raw, so the vegetables retain all of their natural vitamins and minerals. On top of that, the fermentation process makes those nutrients easier for our bodies to absorb as well as creating probiotics to support the immune system and aid in digestion. No wonder fermented foods like sauerkraut are super-hot these days!
How does fermentation work? First, vegetables are submerged in a salt-water brine. Some vegetables, like cabbage, contain enough water that they will create their own brine when salted. For firmer vegetables, like carrots, you create a brine by dissolving salt into water. The brine attracts naturally occurring good bacteria, otherwise known as probiotics, that turn foods’ sugars into lactic acid, creating a tangy flavor, and prevents spoilage by creating an anaerobic, or no-oxygen, environment.
The basic procedure for making fermented vegetables involves first creating the salt water brine. Then, you prepare your vegetables by washing, peeling and chopping them. Place the vegetables and any seasonings in clean jars or crocks and cover them with brine. It may be necessary to place weights on the vegetables to keep them submerged. Cover the fermenting vessel to keep out dirt, but allow for airflow by either using cheesecloth or a lid with an airlock. Store your ferment in a cool place and check for mold or yeast regularly. (If you see some, simply skim them off the surface of the brine.) In one to two weeks, you will have your own healthy and tangy fermented vegetables pickles!
Fermenting can seem intimidating, but it is actually relatively straightforward. There are just three important factors to keep in mind: salt, temperature and time. Having the correct ratio of salt to water is critical for allowing fermentation to take place. Too little salt and the brine will not attract probiotics; too much salt and the product will ferment too quickly, which makes it mushy. The proper ratio is between 2 and 5% salt to water by weight. (By volume, try 1/2 cup of salt per 1 gallon of water.) Look for salt that is additive-free, such as kosher or sea salt. Chlorine can inhibit fermentation: so try to use filtered water, spring water or boiled water.
The second important factor is having a successful ferment is temperature. Too cold and fermentation cannot take place. Too warm and the process will speed up which can lead to mold or yeast growth. Store fermenting products in a dark place in your home that is between 65 and 75 degrees. A closet or basement is ideal.
The last factor is time. How do you know fermentation is happening? There are visual clues such as a cloudy brine and bubbles. A strong smell is another sign of fermentation. (But you can avoid unpleasant odors by using an airlock, as I will explain below.) Begin tasting your vegetables after a five or six days. If they taste salty, give the process more time. When your fermented pickles are sour and tangy and to your liking, they are done. At that point, move your ferment to fridge to stop fermentation process.
Happily, there are a wealth of new fermentation kits and accessories on the market today to help beginners get started. Check out Fermentation Creation’s Food Fermentation Kit that comes with a half-gallon jar, salt, and a specialized lid with a rubber seal to prevent mold and an airlock to allow gas to escape while keeping strong odors in! These kits are ideal for making fermented vegetable pickles like Spicy Fermented Carrots. For homemade sauerkraut, the Kraut Kit from Brooklyn Brew Shop provides everything but the cabbage! Another great option is the Kilner Fermentation Set. With these easy recipes, the right equipment and a teeny bit of patience, you can enjoy the unique taste and healthy benefits of your own fermented vegetables in just a few weeks.
1 medium head of green cabbage (3 to 3 ½ lb.,)
3-4 TB Sea or Pickling salt (not iodized)
Caraway seeds (optional)
Measure out salt into a small bowl, using a ratio of 1 tablespoon salt per pound of cabbage. For example, for 3 1/2 pounds of cabbage, use 3 1/2 tablespoons salt.
Remove any damaged outer leaves from the cabbage and quarter it. Cut away the core from all four quarters. Finely shred the leaves with a large knife or mandoline. Place one-quarter of the shredded cabbage in a large bowl. Firmly massage one-quarter of the salt into the cabbage in a large bowl. Repeat this process until all of the cabbage and salt have been combined in the bowl. Add the caraway seeds if using.
Set the bowl aside for 30 minutes to allow the salt to begin drawing the water out of the cabbage. Using your hands, squeeze the shredded cabbage over the bowl, allowing the liquid to fall into the bowl. Pack the cabbage into a half-gallon jar. Use a wooden spoon or other tool to tightly tamp it down and remove air bubbles.
After all the cabbage has been packed into the jar, add the collected liquid. The cabbage should be covered by the liquid. Place a glass weight on top of the cabbage to keep in submerged. Cover with the lid and insert in the airlock into the lid. Set aside out of direct sunlight in a room between 65 and 75°F.
Check the sauerkraut daily to make sure the cabbage remains submerged in the brine. You will see small bubbles begin to form and collect on the surface of the brine. If there is any scum (white, yellow, or bluish growth), carefully scoop it off without stirring it into the liquid, and discard. The brine will take on a darker color over time, and the odor may be pungent.
When it is no longer bubbling, the fermentation is complete. This process can take anywhere from 1 to 2 weeks, depending on the temperature of the environment. Once the sauerkraut is finished, store it in the refrigerator, dividing into smaller jars if desired. It will last for several months.
3 lbs. carrots
2 jalapeño peppers, sliced
4 cups distilled or spring water
2 TB Sea or Pickling salt (not iodized)
½ TB sugar
Peel the carrots and cut them into sticks. Pack them into a half-gallon jar.
Add the slices of jalapeño pepper to the jar, slipping them in between the carrots and along the side.
Dissolve the salt and sugar in the water. (If you heat the water to make it easier to dissolve the salt, allow it to cool to room temperature before proceeding.)
Pour the brine over the vegetable in the jar. Place a glass weight on top of the vegetables, if necessary, to keep in submerged. Cover with the lid and insert in the airlock into the lid. Set aside out of direct sunlight in a room between 65 and 75°F.
Check the carrots daily to make sure they remain submerged in the brine. You will see small bubbles begin to form and collect on the surface of the brine. If there is any scum (white, yellow, or bluish growth), carefully scoop it off without stirring it into the liquid, and discard.
When it is no longer bubbling, the fermentation is complete. This process can take anywhere from 1 to 2 weeks, depending on the temperature of the environment. Once the carrots are to your liking, store them in the refrigerator, dividing them into smaller jars if desired.