Friday, February 15, 2013

Taking the Fear out of Fermenting Foods ~ Starting w/Sauerkraut

I tasted my first fermented pickle at my sister-in-law's and thought that they were very tasty. Sadly, I didn't give it a second chance until our garden provided over 50 cabbages at once. I understand that you could can and even freeze cabbage but fermentation takes less work, doesn't require precious freezer space and boasts numerous health benefits. The wonderful part is that you can ferment pretty much anything that the garden of Eden would have produced and the process creates your own homemade source of probiotics (something I had been buying!).

"Like the fermentation of dairy products, preservation of vegetables and fruits by the process of lacto-fermentation has numerous advantages beyond those of simple preservation. The proliferation of lactobacilli in fermented vegetables enhances their digestibility and increases vitamin levels. These beneficial organisms produce numerous helpful enzymes as well as antibiotic and anticarcinogenic substances. Their main by-product, lactic acid, not only keeps vegetables and fruits in a state of perfect preservation but also promotes the growth of healthy flora throughout the intestine."
~ Sally Fallon, Nourishing Traditions

Unfortunately, there is much paranoia surrounding the science of fermentation. What is interesting is that Ma Ingalls lacked microscopes and labs yet her family thrived on such food preservation. It was normal! Today these forms of food storage have become so abnormal that we are too fearful. Our worries have shifted. Many don't give a second thought to a chemical-packed prescription but when it comes to preserving/fermenting food, we can get nervous. I would like to encourage you to get excited! Preparing our own food promotes independence, makes for a healthier home while maintaining a valuable food storage of our garden goods!

"Yes," Ma said happily;
"nowadays we can all eat enough to make up for what we couldn't have last winter."
She was proud of the garden; it was growing so well.
"I shall begin salting down cucumbers tomorrow,
little ones are thick under all those vines."

~ Laura Ingalls Wilder, Little Town on the Prairie

Easy Ingredients:

Only three ingredients are necessary for safely fermenting food and that is fine sea salt, clean water and fresh produce.

"It is important to use the best quality organic vegetables, sea salt and filtered or pure water for lacto-fermentation. Lactobacilli need plenty of nutrients to do their work; and, if the vegetables are deficient, the process of fermentation will not proceed. Likewise if your salt or water contains impurities, the quality of the final product will be jeopardized."
~ Sally Fallon, Excerpt from Nourishing Traditions

The Basic Concept:

The main idea is to pack your fruits/veggies in a salt water solution, while making sure that they are kept submerged under the solution (aka salt water brine) the entire time it is fermenting. Many vegetables when coaxed (such as squeezing them/pounding them) provide their own waters in which to ferment itself in (such as cabbage). If not, a room-temperature mixture of water and salt will remedy that.

How Long?

There is no specific amount of time that you should let your food ferment. It is all about taste and how strong you want your goods to be. Some consider it ready in three days while others would rather wait and let the good bacteria accumulate in a month's time. It is important to date your jars so you know how long they have been sitting. When you feel it is finished, then the refrigerator will halt the process and your goods will last a long time when chilled. 

"Lacto-fermented vegetable condiments will keep for many months in cold storage but lacto-fermented fruits and preserves should be eaten within two months of preparation."
~ Sally Fallon, Excerpt from Nourishing Traditions

What to ferment in?

Glass vessels and crockware are good choices. Stay away from plastics and metals. Depending on your system, you may have to skim a white filmy residue from the top of your ferments by checking them once a day (if you use regular canning jars or crocks). They also make special fermenting jars (Pickl-it) which would eliminate that need though they are quite the investment. Fido jars are a medium alternative because they keep the oxygen out (which is the focus of fermentation) while allowing some of the CO2 to safely escape. I personally chose to use the Fido jars and love the results.

I haven't had to scrape any layer of film from the top which I appreciate. I have found that my vintage, milk glass ramekins fit inside the jars which help to keep the foods under the brine. I don't open the jars until we are ready to eat them (which is usually one month later). At that point, I place them in the refrigerator.

For further information on safely fermenting in Fido jars, visit here.

To prepare cabbage, simply shred the desired amount. A food processor is brilliant for this!

Sprinkle sea salt (to taste) into your cabbage. Approximately 2 TBSP per head though there is no exact measurement to follow.  

With your hands, mix in the salt and squeeze the cabbage as you go. It will release its own juices and you won't be required to add a brine. If for some reason you do not have enough juice to cover the cabbage in your jar, simply add some pure water until it is covered by at least an inch in the jar (though I haven't had to do this).

Pack your cabbage bits so that the brine is covering them by one inch. There are various ways to do this. One way is to fold up a large cabbage leaf and place a ramekin above it to submerge the food (as shown in photo above with the cucumbers). Let jar of cabbage sit in a cool, dark area until you are ready to use it. Some people give it a week but from what I have read, 3-4 weeks will give you the maximum benefits (this post is really helpful).

For Further Information/Helpful Sites and Articles

I hope this has helped to take some of your fears about fermentation away. I am not really "scientific minded" so this process really intimidated me.  However, there is so much information on the internet about this and the more you read, the more simple it becomes:

* Disclaimer: I have made my best effort to share safe techniques. I make no promise regarding accuracy, applicability, fitness, or completeness of the contents of this blog. Therefore you are responsible for the results of your efforts. The information contained on this blog is provided for general information and educational purposes only and do not constitute legal or other professional advice on any subject matter. The owner of this blog does not accept any responsibility for any loss which may arise from reliance on information contained on this site. Thank you for understanding.

Have you ever fermented food? Do you have any tips to share?


  1. Very interesting, my friend! I have never done anything like this, but your post has me wanting to try it :)
    Thank you for being so clear with your directions - I appreciate your time that you put into writing your posts.

    Happy weekend to you!


    1. Thank you for the encouragement :) I hope you do try this! It is so VERY good for you and tasty too :)

  2. My dad has been talking about trying this. I admit I am someone who is a little unsure of eating food that is fermented, but I know it is just the thought that bothers me. I buy one my sons powdered probiotics from a local health store for some stomach issues he has. I wonder if I could get him to eat some foods like these on a daily basis and if it would help him as well as they do.

    1. Oh, you should try! I don't need to purchase probiotics anymore because we always have some in our daily diet that is full of it. We have to eat food, might as well make it our medicine like Hippocrates says :) And it is so easy!

  3. I have made kimchi and fermented salsa, both of which I loved. However, I don't seem to make it all that often. I hope that this summer I will have an abundance from our summer CSA and I can make some more. I would love to have you share this at what i am eating

  4. Great post! I even printed it off for my preparedness notebook for later reference. Great job.

  5. Great post! Thanks for linking to my posts about Fido jars :)

    I do encourage you to ferment 4 weeks. I wrote all about it here:

    1. Hi Lea, I came to the same conclusion but looking forward to reading your link. Thanks for visiting and your expertise!

  6. I have been looking for a good method to make fermented cabbage. Thank you for the pictures, too, which make it much easier to understand. By the way, I have Sally Fallon's Nourishing Traditions, and it is an excellent read!

    1. You will be so pleased with how EASY it is! And healthy!! Thank you for sharing here :)

  7. My husband has said he wants to make his own saurkraut. I'll forward this post on to him.

  8. Thank you! I've been scared of fermenting as I tried to make some yogurt and it just tasted gone off to me, so I'm never sure what it's actually supposed to taste like or whether it's gone off. I am trying to make a starter to make some homemade bread thought so not sure if that's going to work. It seems a lot of work but I'd love get much more fermented foods in my diet.

  9. I would love to have you link up to The HomeAcre Hop this evening!

  10. This is such great information! I'm going to be starting the 'GAPS' diet soon, and it requires fermented foods. I've never attempted this, so the info. and pictures are a big help!
    I'm a new follower via 'Wise Woman'.
    Blessings to you ~ Mary

  11. Thank you for demystifying fermented foods. Your post was clear and concise and very informative. Since you asked if I had any tips to share, I will say that I have been fermenting foods for some time now, (have a crock of Kimchee ready to eat today!) and have found that it is a simple process, with only a few pitfalls. Most of those can be prevented by making sure not to introduce unwanted bacteria to your fermenting foods. All equipment should be sterilized, run through the dishwasher on "sani-rinse", or dipping glass jars in boiling water for a minute or so, (be sure to set the hot jars on a towel, not on the counter to avoid the jar breaking), is effective. Then once the fermented food is in the fermenting jar, sealed and set aside to do it's thing, leave it alone...don't be tempted to open the jar for a peak, every time the jar is opened it gives harmful bacteria a chance to get in.
    I recently posted a blog post about making raw sauerkraut if you are interested in reading it here is a link to the post:
    Thank you again for your post and have a great day!

    1. Thanks for the tips! I appreciate your advice! I will have to check out your post :)

  12. One of my favorite fermentation recipes is sour dough starter! Once it's started, you can use it as a yeast substitute. The only challenge is that it's a bit like a pet -- you have to feed it every two weeks and bake bread often to keep from having overflow.

    Thanks so much for your info on fermentation. My family loves sauerkraut, and with the cabbage we're planting, it'll be a great way to preserve it.

    Thanks for posting!

    1. Sour dough starter is definitively on my list! Thanks for sharing Christina!

  13. I've been buying fermented cabbage at Sprouts and Whole Foods. Didn't have any idea how easy it is to make. Thanks for all the great info.

  14. I hope to do some fermenting this summer when the veggies come in. I am excited about it! Wonderful post Jes!