healthy lifestyle, nutrition, probiotics, recipes

New to Fermenting? Here’s the Basics of Veggie Ferments

Help Line, Please

Before I’d gotten the hang of fermenting my favorite foods, I know I asked a lot of questions and called a few friends for help.  This fact I had forgotten until just yesterday when a new friend decided to jump all in to the RYW Challenge.

When there’s so much info available, how do you know if it applies to your specific question?  And, to make matters worse, what if you find conflicting answers?

I think it’s easy to forget that the fermentation process is ancient, dating back centuries.  Sometimes modern cooking and life can make some things more complicated, like when you are really worried about killing yourself with these “alive” bacteria that could turn on you if you do “it” wrong.  Been there!

The Basics of Veggie Ferments

Non-Iodized Salt and Filtered Water (chlorine kills!)

Salt to water ratio is important to keep the “bad” away so that the “good” can play 😉

  • PictureCabbage: 2 head of cabbage (diced, sliced, or shredded) man handled or beaten with a mixing paddle with 2 Tablespoons of non-iodized salt.  The cabbage + salt will make enough of its own “brine” liquid that when you smash it into the jar, it will rise above the cabbage.  Weigh any “floaters” down
  •  If using a 2% brine, fill a measuring cup with 2 cups of filtered water and then add 2 T of salt, stirring to dissolve.  Pack the veggie into the jar and then pour the brine to cover, leaving about 1-2 inches of open space.  Weigh the veggies down so that they don’t float up.

Sealing the Jar

Do I leave it exposed? No.

Do I cover it loosely or cap it tightly?

  • Generally, you need to cover the ferment so that you are not allowing floating, airborne yeasts and bacteria to the party.  Also, ferments are stinky!  Many people comment that their house-definitely storage cabinet, smells like stinky teenage socks.  And, fermented onions? Cap that! (Your brain remembers smells automatically and so you may find yourself being turned away from remembrance of the smell when it comes time to enjoy it. FYI)
  • A metal canning lid and ring are fine, but you may want to cover the jar top with saran wrap first so that if any of the brine leaks or “burps” out, it doesn’t rust the ring.  Once rusted, always rusted.
  • An “airlock” system is ideal if you don’t want to even worry about contaminating your awesome ferment.  It lets the natural off gases escape without you needing to “burp” (unscrew lid and tighten it again) it once a day (or whenever you are curious!)
  • The plastic reusable canning lids work great.  Finger tighten and remember to burp the jar.  If you forget, it may leak during periods of very active fermenting so keep a plate or bowl under it.  Don’t reuse the brine that seeps out though (yes, I’ve been tempted…)

Keeping It Under the Brine

  • Excellent article done by the Food Renegade that is a must read
  • One of the benefits of using an airlock system is that the veggies will not be exposed to any new air since you are not opening the lid at all.  If the brine does get sucked up into the airlock system’s tube, just remove the tube to clean it, refill the water level, and put it back on.  Check the veggie brine in the jar to see if you may need to add a fresh 2% brine.
  • A liquid, pureed veggie like a salsa, can’t be “weighed” down.  I keep it capped but do give it a shake as it ferments.
  • If the veggies are out of the brine, exposed in the jar’s trapped air, mold can form on that part.  People get creative in finding free and easy ways to keep them submerged, like:
    • Cut end of the veggie pushed down on top as a weight (stem of cabbage, root end of onion)
    • Ziploc bag filled with more of the 2% brine.  Open the bag when it is inside of the jar and slowly fill it.  Stop before you think you should and try to zip it closed while pushing out the air pocket.  Tuck it all into the jar and screw the lid on.
    • submerged brine, fermentationGlass container weight like a 4 oz clean, baby food jar. Put a “paper” under it first: wax paper or parchment paper large circle, big cabbage leaf, green grape leaf, or green oak leaf (no, it won’t kill you!).  I’ve even carefully pressed saran wrap down into the jar and then up the sides and over the edge.  Caution: some companies sell food grade glass weights but enough people have had them break in the ferment; this type of glass is dangerous as it breaks as SHARDS of glass.
    • Ceramic weights.  These are awesome and on my shopping list!

When Is It Safe To Eat?

  • Look for little bubbles in the jar.  As the days pass, they will subside when they’ve “eaten their fill.” Watch this little video and listen for the hissing as I release the gases 🙂 Talking Sauerkraut
  • fermentation, probiotics, raw, vegetablesThe brine liquid will become cloudy
  •  They taste the way YOU want them to! Not too salty or mushy, but “mmmm.”
  • Here’s a three day example (of hard boiled eggs being fermented):

Where Do I Keep It?

  • To preserve your preferred taste, you need to slow down the fermentation process by keeping it cool.  Generally, think fridge temps if you are putting it in a root or canning cellar.
  • Some people leave their ferments on the counter.  Just remember that if your house temps fluctuate, then you risk complications.  This is a more scientific explanation, but still good for a general idea.

Troubleshooting Resources

Cultures For Health: Fermenting FAQ

The Fermentista’s Kitchen: Help!

When Your Pickle Is In A Pickle, PDF

For Dummies (but yes, accurate!): 10 Tips

Wild Fermentation (I encourage you to always get lost on this site and be amazed!