Fermentation is one of the many ways to preserve your harvest. It is also one of the best ways to retain the natural nutrients in raw living foods. Unlike other preservation methods that require cooking to some extent, fermentation uses salts and natural bacteria that generate lactic acid. These bacteria provide many digestive and gut health benefits by producing probiotics that strengthen your digestive organs and improve enzyme activity.
If you are sensitive to lactose and can’t use the natural probiotics found in yogurt and other milk-based products, fermented vegetables are the perfect alternative for you! Fermented foods have also been claimed to, “reduce risk of cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity and inflammation. They have also been linked to better weight management, better mood and brain activity, increased bone health and better recovery after exercise.”
How Does Fermentation Preserve Fruits and Vegetables?
Unlike fermentation of grains that use yeast to convert sugar to alcohol, bacterial fermentation converts carbohydrates into lactic acid. This acidic and salty liquid covers the raw vegetables creating an environment free of oxygen and preventing the natural break-down process. The solution interacts with the food to withdraw gases preserving your food for up to a year and a half, depending on your storage conditions. This method has been used for thousands of years, proving it to be a tasty and effective method of preserving a nutritious harvest. To get started find a recipe you want to try and follow the instructions below.
How to Ferment Your Harvest?
Step 1: Prepare Vegetables
You can cut your vegetables or ferment them whole. The larger the vegetable, the longer it will take to be ready to eat. Whether you decide to chop, grate, shred, slice, or leave your vegetable whole, maintain similar sizing throughout your container. This will allow your fermentation to mature evenly. Add your prepared vegetables to your mason jar. For large batches we recomend using a German fermentation crock pot.
Step 2: Prepare the Brine
You may purchase a starter culture or use the juices from a previous fermentation batch. However, a starter culture is not the only way to generate the needed lactic acid. Saltwater or whey brine can also be prepared. If you are using salt, avoid iodized or table salt as this may kill your needed bacteria. Instead, use kosher, pickling, Celtic sea, Himalayan, or pure sea salt. Always use clean water free of potential contaminants that lead to unwanted bacteria or mold.
- Salt Brine - Add 3 tablespoons of salt to a quart of water. Add the liquid mixture to your vegetables until they are completely covered.
- Dry Salt/Wild Fermentation - Add salt to your prepared vegetables that have been shredded or diced to withdraw the natural liquids to form your brine. The naturally occurring bacteria in vegetables like cabbage will generate the starter culture. You should see enough liquid to cover your vegetables within 1 day. If there is insufficient liquid, supplement with clean water until your vegetables are covered and continue the process.
Step 3: Weigh the Vegetables Down
It is important that the vegetables be completely submerged in the starter culture or brine. If they have contact with air, the natural maturing process will continue allowing mold to appear. This is easily avoided by using a weight or our fermenting kits. The acidic environment of the brine will prevent mold from forming, thus preserving the vegetables and their naturally occurring nutrients.
When Are Vegetables Done Fermenting?
There are three signals you want to check to know your fermentation is ready for storage. The first is bubbling throughout the container. The bubbling is caused by the active bacteria releasing gasses created from forming the lactic acid. The second signal is a pleasant, vinegar-like sour aroma when opening the container. If your fermentation ever smells rotten, it should be thrown away. Third, check for a desirable flavor. If you can observe bubbling, check your fermentation after as little as 3-4 days. Continue to check daily if the flavor is not yet to your liking.
How to Store Fermented Vegetables
It is important to start storing your fermented vegetables in a cool location as soon as the taste is to your liking. Storing it in a cool location will slow the fermentation process. The process does not stop, which affects the shelf-life of your product depending on how cool your storage location is. The ideal locations include a fridge, cellar, cool basement, or wine cooler. Fermentations may last as little as a few weeks or as long as 18 months. You will know if your mixture is bad by the rotting, rancid smell. It may also start to appear brown and slimy in texture.
For more information we recommend listening to the "Fermentation: Beyond the Basics with Wardee Harmon" Podcast from Old Fashioned on Purpose.
About the Author
I'm Ashleigh Smith, a native to Northern Utah. I first gained a love of gardening with my grandmother as I helped her each summer. I decided to make a career of it and have recently graduated with a Bachelor's degree in Horticulture from Brigham Young University - Idaho. My studies have focused on plant production while I also have experience in Nursery & Garden Center Operations.
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Started fermenting some of my vegetables from my garden. Really like some of the different flavors fermented vegetables produce. Made a zucchini pepper relish that was fantastic. Carrots and ginger we’re also very tasty.
Mmmm. Carrots and ginger. Thanks for the tip. It sounds really good. I have a friend that loves that kind of spice. I’ll her a batch. I’ll use baby carrots, they won’t take as long.
I really enjoyed this article. It provided detailed info to help people learn to ferment safely.
I tried making Kimchi for the first time this year. So way and so very, very tasty
This next year we are planning on trying fermentation with some of our harvest. Can’t wait
I have started this past year fermenting my own hot sauce. Definitely worth it
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