Here’s a list of the most common questions people ask when starting out making fermented veggies.
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Fermentation is a food preservation technique, it’s as simple as chopping up some veggies, adding salt and stuffing it in a jar. The lactic acid bacteria called lactobacillus starts the fermentation process and creates more beneficial bacteria in so doing it preserves the food, keep it safe from pathogens and enhances the health benefits of your ferment, read more about what cultured veg is here.
Jar or fermentation vessel
A good lead-free ceramic or stoneware crock is a good idea but it’s NOT a necessity, you can successfully ferment your veggies in a clear see-through glass jar! A 1 liter jar will work well if you want to start out with a small batch of fermented veggies. Some say food grade plastic is okay to use but I wouldn’t suggest using plastic or stainless steel especially when starting out because ultimately you really want to see what your veggies look like and gain some confidence before moving over to a lead-free ceramic or stoneware crock even. I like using fido or clip top jars for fermenting because it’s got a glass lid and a rubber seal which allows for air to escape and no air oxygen to enter into your ferment. I have bored holes in some of my glass flip tops for airlocks but was a waste of time because of the rubber seal I’ve mentioned earlier, it already serves as some kind of airlock. If you don’t have a fido or flip top glass jar, you can also use a normal 1 liter Consol jar, just line the lid with parchment paper so that the metal has no chance of getting in contact with the ferment. Fermenting veggies is an anaerobic (without oxygen) ferment. To avoid mold, you need to prevent oxygen from reaching the fermenting vegetables
“Properly fermented vegetables are actually safer than raw vegetables,” says Fred Breidt who works at a lab at North Carolina State University, Raleigh, where scientists have been studying fermented and other pickled foods since the 1930s and he goes on by saying “With fermented products, there is no safety concern. I can flat-out say that. The reason is the lactic acid bacteria that carry out the fermentation are the world’s best killers of other bacteria,” says Breidt,
Breidt adds that fermented vegetables, for which there are no documented cases of food-borne illness, are safer for novices to make than canned vegetables. Pressurized canning creates an anaerobic environment that increases the risk of deadly botulism, particularly with low-acid foods.
Botulism is unlikely to happen as there are NO documented cases of botulism relating to fermentation.
Many mistakes this thin white layer for mold but it’s actually a layer of yeast better known as Kham Yeast. You don’t want this yeast to overgrow as it will affect the flavour of your ferment.
- Remove as much Kham yeast as you can and discard it, the vegetables below will still be fine.
- Keep the vegetables submerged under the brine and keep the container sealed. Create and keep an oxygen free environment with a closed flip top jar or an Airlock on a sealed jar. Add a weight or a cabbage leave to keep the veggies under the brine.
- Use fresh vegetables
- Ferment in lower temperatures and try to keep it below 22°C
Keep your veggies submerged under the brine. Use a fermentation airlock system (doesn’t mean that you have to go buy an airlock) if you don’t have an airlock system, use a cabbage leave or fill a food safe Ziploc bag with some salty water and press it down on the top of the veggies to push them down into the brine liquid. Then seal the jar. The weight of the bag will press the veggies into the brine so the surface of them does not contact the air. No Air No Mold.
The foaming is sometimes present and forms part of the normal fermentation process and will pass, it usually happens with vegetables with a high sugar content such as beets and carrots.
Action: This is normal, simply enjoy the phases of the good bacteria doing their work!
The slime is caused by slime-producing microorganisms.
This sometimes happens in too high temperatures, too little salt, certain times of the year at certain regions also with fruits and veggies that have a higher sugar content. This can also happen if the veggies are not being submerged in brine.
- Ferment at temperatures below 22°C
- When you get slime in the brine it’s not necessary to discard to batch, wait it out because this is normally just a stage and will normalize when the stage is over.
- Don’t eat it while it’s slimy.
It’s ok. This is a normal occurrence as the cell walls are broken down and floating around or it can also be because of iodine or anti-caking agents found in some salts.
- Cloudy brine is loaded with B-Vitamins and it’s fine to eat
- With time the cloudiness will eventually settle at the bottom of the jar
- Use salt without additives.
The white sediment is yeasts that is settling at the bottom – a small amount of yeast settlement is normal. White sediment also follows after a cloudy ferment. Safe to eat except if your veggies turned out slimy.
Use salt without anti-caking agents and iodine.
Sometimes too much salt happens or we don’t ferment for a long enough time period, resulting in overly salty vegetables.
There are two ways to make a salty ferment edible and unfortunately, both ways destroy the probiotic profile of the fermented food.
- The brine can be diluted by pouring some off and adding water or
- The veggies can be added to soups or “bredies” or casserole dishes. The veggies may not be as probiotic rich but it will still be safe to eat.
Kham yeast on the veggies that have not been removed can cause soft ferments. High temperatures will cause veggies to go mushy.
- Try to ferment at temperatures below 21°C
- When culturing cucumbers, cut the stems because this can cause cucumbers to become soft.
- Add an organic black tea bag in each jar or ferment. Oak or grape leave can be used to add tannins and keep the crunch.
- Mushy veg can be used in soups or other “Bredies”.
- Add more salt next time
- Ferment for a shorter time period next time
It’s normal for red Cabbage and red radish turn the ferment pink but if green cabbage turns pink then you have a problem developing on your counter as this is a sign of the microorganisms being out of balance.
- Add less salt next time and keep the veggies submerged under the brine, it’s best to keep the temperature below 22°C and discard the veggies by composting it.
During the fermentation process, you can expect to lose some color, overripe veggies used for fermentation can also become a much lighter shade than it originally was. This is a normal occurrence and it’s Safe to eat
Iron in the water, ground spices, high temperatures, brown sugar added, oxidization due to oxygen exposure can cause the veggies to darken. If it looks good, smells good and tastes good, then it’s probably good to eat.
- Make sure your utensils and water don’t contain copper, brass or lead which can leach into your ferment and spoil it!
- Always make sure your veggies are under the brine
- If your senses tell you NO, then it’s ready for the compost heap. Rather start over to be safe.
Garlic contains anthocyanins, water-soluble pigments that can turn blue or purple under acidic conditions. This is a variable phenomenon that is more pronounced for immature garlic but can differ among cloves within one single head of garlic! Sometimes the garlic has more blue pigment and becomes more visible after fermenting. Iron, tin, and aluminum in water or leaching from utensils react with the pigments in the garlic. As long it’s not fuzzy it’ll be safe to eat.
- If you grow your own garlic, be sure to mature it at room temperature for a couple of weeks before using it.
- Refrain from using any aluminum utensils.
The vegetables used must have enough liquid in it and that’s why it’s important to choose fresh vegetables at all times. When vegetables just don’t have enough brine, you’ll notice it when massaging the salt into the vegetables and see that you have to work harder and longer to draw a puddle of brine. It could be that the vegetables used have dried out in storage. The longer the vegetables are out of the soil and standing, waiting to be eaten the more liquid it loses and the less Lactobacilli bacteria is active on the surface of the vegetables. The more Lactobacilli the better the ferment!
When making sauerkraut feel the cabbage by picking it up, the weight vs size will give you a good indication of how much brine you’ll be able to draw from the cabbage.
- Choose a cabbage that seems heavy for their size
- Try to buy your cabbage at a farmers market in fall after the first frost.
- When already in the jar and it turns out that it is a bit dry simply add 2% brine which is 1 tablespoon dissolved salt to 2 cups of water, and top up.
- Fermentation crocks with a water seal lid tend to help retain more brine.
- If the veggies get dry in cold storage it will be advised to add more 2% brine to keep the veggies covered. Some people don’t like doing this during cold storage though, because it tends to dilute the delicious flavors that developed during the fermentation process.
Your ferments can take anything from 3 days to 3 months + to reach the best-preferred end result (personal preference) and here’s a couple of factors to consider when fermenting:
- Size does matter The size of your ferment, small jars of fermented vegetables will mature quicker than the bigger fermentation crocks will.
- Starters Starter Cultures like whey, kefir grains and powdered cultures speed up the process quite a bit and you’ll have a faster fermentation time when using these.
- Temperature Warmer temperatures also speed up the fermentation process. Cooler temperatures slow down the fermentation process and it will take longer for your ferment to mature.
- Salt The more salt you use the slower the fermentation process.
You’ll know your ferment is ready when it has a tart and tangy taste to it. This is where it’s really helpful to make your own ferments at home because you can decide when it tastes tangy enough to be moved the fridge.
Here you have to trust your senses there’s a difference between rotten and pungent. If your veggies are off it will most probably be accompanied by other telltale signs, like mold, slimy and mushy vegetables, if all of this is evident then it may be in your best interest to compost the batch and start over. It must look good, smell good and then you can taste it if it tastes good then it is GOOD!
- Make sure you have washed and rinsed your equipment properly, the rinsing is just as important part as the washing is.
- Add more salt next time
- Use only the freshest vegetables available.
This happens as the gases are released by Leuconstoc mesenteroides, these gasses push their way up and out and that’s what’s creating the whispers, bubbles and boil overs. These bacterial strains are most active during the first three days of fermentation. After their work is done the bubbles and brine will settle back down into the jar.
- Leave enough headspace in your jar for expansion. When using a flip-top jar you will hear whispers as the gases that accumulate escapes from the jar. It’s safer to loosen an airtight jar lid because it may lead to an explosion or the ferment bubbling over when opening. The carbon dioxide is heavier than the oxygen and will not allow oxygen in when the lid is loosened slightly. If you don’t want to open the lid slightly I would be good to check the lid and release pressure daily.
- Don’t pack the jar higher than the bottom shoulder of the jar leaving at least 20% headspace for expansion. Sugar-rich veggies or fruits is better to ferment leaving more headspace 30-50%
- Keep the jar in a shallow bowl to catch any brine that spills over.
Sometimes it may happen that a ferment just doesn’t seem to bubble and come alive as it would usually do. Your ferment can be quiet the initial 36 hours of fermentation and then only start with the bubbling and fizzing.
- Try Warmer temperatures around 21°C.
- In winter times it takes longer for fermentation to progress when it’s too cold try to get a warmer spot like above the fridge or in a cupboard, put your ferment in a cardboard box and wrap it in a towel to keep it insulated from the cold.
- Use a starter to kick-start the process.