Fermenting 101

Have you wanted to start fermenting your vegetables but unsure where to start? Here’s a bit about the benefits and a quick recipe to get your started!

There are many benefits to fermenting your own vegetables. It’s a way to increase the helpful gut bacteria/flora in your digestive system, to keep things moving, and provides your gut with a wide variety of bacteria to boost your immune system (without the cost of buying a multi-strain probiotic – more on how to support the health of your gut/digestion one of my upcoming workshops!) Your gut flora outnumbers the rest of your body’s cells 10 to one – a little fun fact is that you carry around about 1 kg of beneficial gut bacteria. The history of fermentation goes back to the Chinese and Romans and was a way to preserve the summer bounty through the winter.

Fermenting vegetables is also called Lacto-fermentation which simply means that the natural bacteria feed on the sugar/carbohydrates of the vegetables, create healthy lactic acid and preserves the food (there is no milk involved).  The lactic acid bacteria that is produced during the fermentation process of the vegetables promote the growth of healthy gut bacteria/flora. Fermenting vegetables not only enhances the digestibility of the vegetables but also increases the vitamin levels in some varieties.

There are many sites that give you easy instructions on how to get started, check here, here, or here. You can use the salt/brine, salt and whey, or a starter culture method of fermenting. Outfitting your kitchen with the many different fermenting tools (pickle packer, fermentation weights, airlock) is easy and if you like gadgets you won’t be disappointed. You don’t really need all these tools and simple mason jars or jars from Ikea will work just fine.

I prefer the salt method and find that a good wooden spoon, some sea salt, and filtered water do the trick. Extra leaves of cabbage or beet tops/leaves help to keep the veggies under water. You’ll find that as the vegetable ferment, they will tend to rise up in the jar. If they are stubborn and continue to rise after pushing them back down with a spoon, I use a baby food jar to weigh it down and close the jar back up. You can use most vegetables that you have in the kitchen, my go-to are beets, cabbage, carrots, and fennel. I am experimenting with some cauliflower and onions this week, I will let you know how they turned out next month. I also usually add some ginger or garlic to my veggies for a bit of spice.

Tasting your ferment after about 5 days is a good starting point. There is no need to worry about opening the jar to push the veggies back down or tasting it every so often, the fermentation won’t be affected. When you open the jar you should see bubbles rising to the top which is your indicator that the ferment is happening as it should. Take care when opening jars (I usually advise to open it in the sink – slowly. I once had an incident with beets that left myself and my kitchen covered in purple juice.) and it should taste pleasantly tart/sour and not rancid. If it tastes rotten then toss it and start over. When the vegetables are done fermenting store the jar in the refrigerator.

Some Fermentation Tips:

  • Always use organic vegetables for fermenting. (Check the EWG list for the dirty dozen and clean fifteen)
    • When you start adding fermented veggies to your diet, do so slowly (only a spoonful at a time) and see how you feel. Then, gradually increase the amount you are consuming.
    • Have at least 2 (maybe even 3) jars for fermenting rotation.
    • Ensure the jars you are using have been washed with hot water and soap
    • To have a continuous supply of fermented vegetables you will need to start a new batch before you are finished with the one in the fridge. Since the fermentation process can take up to two weeks, depending on the temperature, you’ll need to gauge your consumption. You can always have an extra batch waiting in the fridge as well.

Now it’s your turn if you’ve been meaning to try fermenting your own vegetables, summer is a great time to get started there is an abundance of fresh produce to choose from. If you have any questions you can always email me: monika@nourish-alo.com

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