By Shannon Stronger
Health Impact News
Most of us are familiar with sauerkraut, kimchi, and cucumber pickles as forms of fermented vegetables. Or we are, at the very least familiar with the store-bought vinegar-brined modern day versions of what once were lactic acid fermented vegetables.
But you can ferment just about any vegetable, turning it into a lively probiotic-rich snack, condiment, or enzymatic addition to your meals.
Two Types of Vegetable Ferments
There are two major categories of vegetable ferments.
Think of sauerkraut and a finely shredded kimchi. These are the types of ferments that start with a grated or finely shredded vegetable. Salt is added and the vegetable is pounded, rubbed, or left to sit in order for the salt to draw the moisture from the vegetable.
This is how the brine is created in self-brining vegetables. The liquid present in the vegetable combines with the salt to create a brine that covers the vegetables. This provides the mostly anaerobic environment necessary for lactic acid fermentation.
There are times when the brine created in this manner is not sufficient to fully submerge the vegetables you are fermenting. This can come down to a lack of freshness in the vegetable, which often equates to lower water content. In any case, a bit of brine is quickly mixed and added to the ferment. Note that you do not want to add unsalted water to the ferment as this dilutes the salt concentration in the brine.
Think of sour dill cucumber pickles floating and bobbing in brine. These are the type of vegetable ferments that require a brine be made and then poured over the prepared vegetables and seasonings.
A brine is simply water and salt. A ratio commonly used is 2 tablespoons coarse salt to one quart of water. Note that the size of your salt crystals matters here. Larger particles have a larger surface area and therefore 1 tablespoon large-grained salt is not equivalent to 1 tablespoon fine-grained salt.
When preparing a brine it is a good idea to try to dissolve the salt completely. If you are using large-grained salt, this can be especially difficult with cold or room temperature water. Heating up 1 cup of water, mixing the salt into that and then adding the rest of the water while mixing is a good way to dissolve the salt and end up with a warm, not hot, brine.
Note: Never pour hot brine over your vegetables! The brine should be body temperature or below in order to preserve the raw qualities of the vegetables.
Which Method for Which Vegetable?
Most vegetables can utilize either method. Even cabbage, for instance, has been made into sauerkraut using larger pieces of the cabbage or even the whole head itself. That said some vegetables are better suited for one of these categories than the other.
Cabbage and other leafy greens like kale do better when shredded or grated. The alternative can get a bit slimy when large pieces of the leaf are used. Likewise, a hard vegetable such as a carrot or beet retains its toothsome quality when cut into larger slices or pieces, as in this recipe. Grated, on the other hand, produces something easily chewed as part of a salad or condiment.
Softer vegetables like tomatoes, though technically a fruit, would simply not shred but when diced up produce their own brine. Zucchini, also fairly soft, can produce a mushier shredded vegetable that works well as a fermented chutney or condiment. For these reasons, it is really up to the discretion of the one preparing the vegetable, taking into account, of course, what texture they want the fermented vegetable to result in.
One thing that may or may not be obvious is that shredding or grating vegetables takes much more time than chopping up larger chunks. Your time in the kitchen is certainly something that needs to be considered.
To Peel or Not to Peel
For some reason it has been engrained in many home cooks that we must peel all root vegetables. While this does produce a clean appearance for cooked or prepared vegetables, this can actually be antithesis to the process of vegetable fermentation.
The peels of the carrot are, most likely, the highest microorganism-containing part of the carrot. It was in contact with the soil and all of the microorganisms surrounding it. Peeling is not only unnecessary but may even hinder the process of lactic acid fermentation.
This is one more argument for purchasing or growing organic vegetables. Some recommendations state that peeling certain vegetables helps to lower the toxic load of sprayed vegetables. This can all be avoided, and arguably the most nutritious part of the vegetable consumed, if no chemical herbicides, pesticides, or fertilizers are used in the growing process.
Simple Fermented Carrot Sticks
- 1 – 1.5 lb. organic carrots
- 2 garlic cloves, optional
- Brine: 2 tablespoons salt + 1 quart water
1. Prepare carrots by removing the top and the tail. Hold them up next to the jar you will be fermenting them in and note the length from the bottom of the jar to 1” from the top. Cut carrots to appropriate length and then into thin carrot sticks.
2. If using garlic, peel and place in the bottom of you quart jar.
3. Pack carrot sticks in tightly, tipping the jar to the side to allow room for more carrots. As the jar fills you can continue to squeeze them in between other carrot sticks to fill gaps. A tight pack is beneficial for keeping the carrots below the level of the brine.
4. Once your jar is full, prepare brine as noted above in “When preparing a brine”. Pour brine over carrot sticks until covered, but leaving 1” of headspace.
5. Place airtight lid on jar and seal tightly. Place jar at room temperature to ferment, checking twice per day to “burp” jar and release any carbon dioxide created through the natural fermentation process. Carrots, due to their higher sugar content, tend to carbonate faster and for longer periods than other vegetables so make sure to keep an eye on them.
6. After a few days they start to take on a slight tang and remain very crunchy. After 1-2 weeks they are much more flavorful and have softened just a bit while still retaining a pleasant crunch.
7. At this point, move to cold storage, if you haven’t already eaten them up. These are an especially kid-friendly ferment and work great in lunch boxes or as part of an afternoon snack.
About the Author:
Shannon is a popular blogger and freelance author in homesteading communities. Shannon grew up in a small town in northern Minnesota. She studied chemistry in college, graduated, and married her husband one month later. They were then blessed with two baby boys within the first four years of marriage.
Having babies gave their family a desire to return to the old paths – to nourish their family with traditional, homegrown foods; rid their home of toxic chemicals and petroleum products; and give their boys a chance to know a simple, sustainable way of life.
They are currently building a homestead from scratch on two little acres in central Texas. There’s a lot to be done to become somewhat self-sufficient, but they are debt-free and get to spend their days living this simple, good life together with their four young children.