How to Make Your Own Fermented Vegetables
It’s no secret that I consider fermented vegetables to be the ultimate superfood. Eating fermented vegetables is one of the simplest strategies for nourishing your gut, which is home to 80 percent of your immune system, and for optimizing your overall health.
While you can purchase high-quality fermented vegetables from carefully chosen sources, it’s ideal to make them yourself at home for three major reasons:
- You know that they were properly prepared
- You know exactly what’s in them
- You can customize your recipe to include ingredients you like
Why Eat Fermented Vegetables?
Properly made fermented vegetables contain very high levels of probiotics, much higher than the best probiotic supplements. That makes them ideal for optimizing your gut flora and promoting the colonization and growth of beneficial bacteria.
The probiotics from fermented vegetables offer many potential benefits, including:
- Breaking down and eliminating toxins and wastes from your body
- Helping your body produce B vitamins and vitamin K2
- Assisting in the absorption of minerals
- Helping you maintain your ideal weight
- Helping fend off disease and promoting wellness
- Improving your mood and promoting mental health
Making Fermented Vegetables at Home – Where Do You Start?
Making your own fermented vegetables at home isn’t a difficult task, but it does require a time commitment. You will be cutting up a large number of vegetables, which can be streamlined if you own a food processor. If you do, or if you decide to invest in one, make sure you use the shredding disc, as the S-blade will result in too fine a chop and a mushier product.
I recommend using a starter culture when making fermented vegetables.
It makes the process easier and your results more consistent. With my Kinetic Culture Starter Packets, you add just one packet of this enhanced formula to one quart of fermented vegetables mixed with celery juice.
As for the jars you will use to ferment and store your vegetables, basic wide-mouthed 32-ounce Mason jars are all that is necessary. These are inexpensive and easy to find at your local hardware store, grocery, or online. Make sure they are wide-mouthed, as you'll need to get your hand or a tool down into the jar to tightly pack the ingredients.
My Fermenting Jar Lids are an easy, inexpensive solution to making the fermenting process quick, fun and odor-free. Each lid features a special Carbon Filter Technology to eliminate odors while fermenting – a benefit that makes them superior to other lids.
We have been using these jar lids here at the Mercola office and they have made an incredible difference in removing the normal smells associated with the fermentation process.
Choosing the Vegetables for Your Fermented Vegetables
The most important consideration for choosing your vegetables is making sure you use only organically grown produce.
Here are some general guidelines for selecting vegetables, other than your favorites:
- Cabbage – Green or red cabbage should be the foundation for your fermented vegetables because of their natural probiotic content when fermented. About 80 percent of your blend should be shredded cabbage. When shopping, look for dense, tightly packed heads. As a general rule, you’ll get about two quart jars of fermented vegetables from one medium-sized head of cabbage. You’ll also be using some of its outer leaves to top off the vegetables in each jar.
- Root vegetables – Choose from carrots, golden beets (red beets will turn everything crimson), radishes, and turnips. Be sure to peel them first to remove their bitter-tasting skins.
- Extras – Ingredients like red bell pepper, Granny Smith apples, a small amount of finely chopped leafy greens like kale or collards, and even a hot spicy habanero pepper (use sparingly at first!) add interest and extra flavor.
- Herbs and spices – Remember, a little goes a long way. I’ve used:
Onions tend to overpower the mix, no matter how little is used, so I avoid them.
- Sea vegetables – A great way to increase the mineral, vitamin, and fiber content. You can add pieces of whole dulse, or use flakes. Wakame and sea palm do not have a fishy flavor but need to be presoaked and diced into the desired size. Be aware that arame and hijiki do have a fishy flavor and will impart it to your entire batch of vegetables!
Don’t be afraid to mix and match ingredients, and don’t feel like you need to follow a certain recipe. Just make sure you use the right ratios of brine and Starter Culture to vegetables – and enjoy the endless possibilities!
3 Simple Steps to Superior Fermented Vegetables
- Prepare your brine. For best results, I recommend using a starter culture dissolved in fresh celery juice that you juice yourself. One cup of celery juice is enough for 3 quarts of vegetables. Celery juice contains natural sodium that keeps the vegetables anaerobic, preventing the growth of unwanted bacteria. No extra salt is needed.
While you can do “wild” fermentation – that is, allowing whatever is naturally on the vegetable to produce the fermentation – this method is more time consuming, and the end product is less certain. Inoculating the food with a starter culture speeds up the fermentation process.
Although not quite as desirable for fermenting vegetables as my starter culture, you can use two of our 100 Billion CFU Complete Probiotic capsules in your brine for every quart of fermented vegetables to inoculate them with probiotics.
- Pack your jars. Make sure your jars and lids are clean and dry. Tightly pack your cut-up vegetables and brine mixture into each Mason jar, and carefully compress using a masher to remove any air pockets. Top with a cabbage leaf, tucking it down the sides. Make sure the veggies are completely covered with brine that reaches the top of the jar to eliminate trapped air.
Screw the lids, preferably my special Fermenting Jar Lids, on the jars loosely, as they will expand due to the gases produced in fermentation.
- Ferment your vegetables. Allow the jars to sit in a warm location for several days, ideally between 68 and 75 degrees Fahrenheit, 85 degrees max. Heat kills the beneficial microbes, so be sure to monitor temps. During the summer, veggies are typically done in three or four days. In the winter, they may need as much as seven days.
How do you know when they’re ready? Simply open up a jar and taste them. Once you're satisfied with the flavor and consistency, move the jars into your refrigerator. Refrigeration drastically slows down the fermentation process. Your fermented vegetables will keep for many months in your refrigerator, continuing to mature very slowly over time.
Please note: Always use a clean spoon to remove the amount of fermented vegetables you want to eat. Never eat directly from the jar or reuse a dirty spoon, as you can easily contaminate the entire batch with unwanted bacteria and germs from your mouth! Make sure the remaining vegetables are covered with the brine solution before replacing the lid.
One of My Favorite Fermented Vegetable Recipes You Can Try at Home
One of my personal favorites is sauerkraut, which is rich in beneficial bacteria and at the same time very tasty. If you enjoy cabbage, I recommend trying this raw sauerkraut recipe.
- 1 head green cabbage
- 2 carrots, grated
- 1 tablespoon fresh grated ginger
- Celery juice
- Starter Culture
- Grate, shred, or thinly slice the cabbage, except for the outer leaves (set them aside). Shred the carrots and ginger, and combine with the cabbage.
- Dissolve the Starter Culture in the celery juice. Add to your vegetables, distributing it evenly throughout.
- Pack cabbage mixture as tightly as possible in a ceramic pot or glass container (wide-mouthed Mason jars work best). Mash the vegetables down to release even more juices in your sauerkraut and to eliminate any air pockets.
- Place a cabbage leaf on top of your sauerkraut, and tuck it down the sides. Cover the jar with the lid loosely (Fermentation produces carbon dioxide, which will expand the jar). I suggest using my special Fermenting Jar Lids.
- Store the container in a place with a controlled temperature, such as a cooler, for 7 days. On the seventh day, transfer the sauerkraut to the refrigerator.
Raw sauerkraut is not only inexpensive to make, it also offers multiple health benefits:
- Contains high levels of glucosinolate. And once they break down, may help reduce DNA damage and support healthy cellular growth and development.
- Is an excellent source of vitamin C. One serving provides 35 percent of the average recommended intake of vitamin C, which is vital in the production of white blood cells, and promotes cell regeneration and repair.
- Supports bone growth. Sauerkraut is rich in vitamin K that helps strengthen your bones and releases proteins to help regulate bone mineralization. A single serving offers 23 percent of the daily recommended intake.
- Supports eye health. Fermented cabbage provides high levels of vitamin A, which promotes healthy vision and optimal eye health.
- Supports a normal inflammatory response. Sauerkraut’s phytonutrient antioxidants promote flexible and comfortable joints and muscles.
I suggest taking it slowly when you first start eating fermented vegetables. Start with one teaspoon of sauerkraut or other fermented vegetables per meal. Some individuals find they need to start with only the juice from the vegetables; its effect is that potent. Gradually increase your serving size of fermented vegetables as your body tolerates them.
Once your body becomes accustomed to fermented vegetables, one quarter to one-half cup of fermented vegetables eaten along with one to three meals per day is all you need to reap the health benefits of these remarkable foods.
However, some people do not tolerate fermented vegetables well, or may not always have time to prepare some at home. If this is the case, then taking a high-quality probiotic supplement, like my Complete Probiotics, is an ideal alternative.