Cultured Salsa

I love homemade salsa. It’s such a wonderful treat, and now is the perfect time to make it with tomatoes growing well in everyone’s garden. But have you ever tried to culture it? Doing this allows you to keep your fresh salsa for at least several months in the fridge, and gives you a huge boost of health benefits. And it tastes wonderful!

Lacto-fermented (fermentation with the use of whey), or cultured food should be an important part of our daily diet. However, we have lost the art of culturing our foods, and so it seems like a “big step” for most of us. But it’s really very simple. Our family has enjoyed several different types of cultured food, including sauerkraut (one of our favorites) and cultured salsa. Culturing our vegetables not only helps it last for long periods of time, but it provides you with very important enzymes (helps your digestion), and gives you beneficial bacteria. It also increases nutrients in many vegetables so that you are able to absorb more vitamins and minerals from your food.

I have to say that I think that cultured salsa is the easiest cultured food to like. It just tastes like…..salsa. With many of us having fresh, local tomatoes at our disposal, this is a wonderful way to “save them” for a few months.

This recipe was adapted from the Nourishing Traditions recipe. I have simplified it, and instead of chopping everything up by hand, I use my food processor to quicken the process. I have found that everyone likes their salsa differently. Some like it spicy hot, some like it mild. Some like it chunky, some like it smooth. If you have a favorite salsa recipe using fresh ingredients, I am sure you could adapt it to become a cultured salsa. The important thing is to know how you like it, and adapt. I will often play around with this recipe to come up with variations, which is very fun.I have some friends who grilled some of the veggies before they cultured it, and it turned out wonderful. You can also use different peppers as well.

This salsa is a very fresh tasting, mild salsa, with a lot of cilantro.

Cultured Salsa

Make sure that all of your kitchen equipment is very clean before you start.

4 pounds of ripe tomatoes
4 small onions (I personally like the sweet onions, like walla walla, or the young ones you can buy at the farmers market. If you use strong onions, you may want to cut back on the amount)
2 bunches of cilantro, washed and stems cut off
2 jalapenos, washed, stemmed and seeded (if you want it hot, you can leave the seeds in)
4 tablespoon sea salt (The salt is important. It preserves the salsa until the beneficial bacteria can take over)
4 lemons, juiced

1-Start by peeling the tomatoes. Bring a large pot of water to boil, and drop the tomatoes in, a few at a time, for about 15 seconds. Place either in a bowl of ice water, or run very cold water over in a colander in the sink to stop the cooking process. The skin should peel right off. Stem the tomatoes, cut in half, and then gently squeeze the seeds out into the trash, sink, or small bowl.

2-Fill the food processor about half full, and pulse until the tomatoes are just starting to get into small pieces. It’s important not to completely puree them, because, in my experience, that seems to make it ferment to fast (which you don’t want). Continue until you have done all of the tomatoes. You could also just chop them finely. Place the tomatoes in a large bowl.

3-Next peel your onions, and cut into quarters. Pulse them until finely chopped. (I have overdone the onions a few times, and it was just fine). Add to the bowl

4-Do the same to the cilantro and jalapeno separately, and add to the bowl.

5-Add the lemon juice and salt and mix thoroughly. Now is the time to taste test, and make adjustments if needed.

6-Place in canning jars..
,,leaving about an inch at the top. Close tightly and leave on the counter for about two days, and then move to the fridge to slow down the fermenting process.

This post is part of Kitchen Tip Tuesday!

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I love beautiful and simple food that is nourishing to the body and the soul. I wrote Fresh: Nourishing Salads for All Seasons and Ladled: Nourishing Soups for All Seasons as another outlet of sharing this love of mine. I also love sharing practical tips on how to make a real food diet work on a real life budget. Find me online elsewhere by clicking on the icons below!


  1. Jenny @ Nourished Kitchen says

    I’ve been looking forward to trying a fermented salsa, but have been concerned that tomatoes wouldn’t taste all that great when fermented. Hmmm … with all the heirlooms coming into season right now I might try it anyway just to see.

    • Shawnee says

      The “Lacto” in lacto-fermentation does not have anything to do with dairy. In lacto-fermentation, sugars are converted into lactic acid by bacteria such as Lactobacillis acidophilus. In addition to L. acidophilus, other lactic-producing bacteria involved in food fermentation include:
      * L. bulgaricus,
      * L. plantarum,
      * L. caret,
      * L. pentoaceticus,
      * L brevis and
      * L. thermophilus
      Lactic acid bacteria (LAB) are primarily, and naturally, located on the surface, or skin of fruits and vegetables. The lacto-fermentation process encourages their growth, while suppressing the growth of “harmful” bacteria that would spoil the foods being preserved. Anyhow the Lacto in lacto-fermentation is from the lactic acid, not because whey is used. The use of whey can add a few extra helpful bacteria at the beginning of fermentation to speed the process, but much of the lacto-fermentation recipes require only high-quality salt. Hope this helps.

  2. Kimi Harris says

    Oops! I am so used to using the terms interchangeably that I didn’t even think about using them both in this post. Sally Fallon gives you the choice of lacto-fermenting with the use of whey or just salt. Because I am not able to have dairy right now, I always use just salt. But you can use part whey as well. I have fixed my post to avoid future confusion. Thanks for pointing that out. 🙂 I think it would just be called “culturing” without the use of whey.

  3. Reba says

    I have a question about lemon juice that would apply to all the culturing you use it with…

    Lemon juice in a bottle from the store has been pasteurized. I prefer fresh lemon juice, but if it’s not available, what effect do you think using pasteurized bottled juice would have?

  4. Sarah says

    Salsa is our FAVORITE lacto-fermented product so far! I just used our normal pico de gallo recipe and added some whey . . . one month later we opened it and it was as fresh and tasty as the day I canned it!

    Great to know that using the salt only worked as well for you too!


  5. Debbie S. says

    How much salsa does this recipe make? Does it taste extra salty?

    I’d love to try this, too. What is the recipe variation to use whey?


  6. Kimi Harris says

    This made a little less than three quarts. It tastes a little salty, but not overpowering (to me at least. I like it!). To use the whey, cut salt in half and add 8 tablespoons of whey. 🙂

  7. Kimi Harris says

    I think that you could probably use bottled lemon juice. I think I have in another cultured pickle recipe, but since I am not an expert in the field, I can’t say for sure. But it did seem to work for me. You obviously won’t have all of the enzymes or have that fresh lemon taste, but it could work. 🙂

  8. Anneatheart says

    I was re-reading Nourishing Traditions last night and wondering how the salsa recipe was. I just haven’t had luck with the cultured veggies, except my first batch of sauerkraut- the second one and the pickled cucumbers didn’t taste quite right. But I used whey, so I wonder if whey changes the texture. Ok just rambling here…

    • Susan says

      Have you tried fermenting using a Pickl-It? I am totally against kitchen gadgets BUT I too never had luck with my ferments: off-colors, mushy, or not-so-great tasting. I recieved a Pickl-It from a friend and everything I make is now spot-on. (No, I don’t sell these – just love it. And am in the process of ordering more.)


        • says

          Me too – love love these pickl-its – I had to totally rethink my whole teaching approach after learning the science behind the pickl-it – goodby mold, goodby yucky bad yeasts! Hello consistently great results! And I do sell them – that’s how much I believe in them!
          Plus they are super-affordable and keep your food safe as well! I think it is a kitchen necessity if you are lactofermenting – not a gadget as all – a mason jar just doesn’t come close to providing the closed air or anaerobic environment that defines lactofermentation….

  9. Kimi Harris says

    The whey can cause off flavors, according to some of the ladies I know who use it a lot. I am told that the whey must taste good, for the laco-fermented product to taste good. So it’s possible that it was effecting your final product. 🙂

  10. E says

    Kimi, thanks for clarifying the lacto info. I haven’t tried to make any lacto-fermented products yet. I am just scared they’ll taste like sour milk!

    I noticed that someone commented about having good whey – how do you know if it’s good?

    thanks for your patience, I’m new at this! (have gotten Sally Fallon’s book out of the library a couple of times).

  11. Kimi Harris says

    I usually let it set another night in the fridge, partly because I don’t like it warm, but I think it’s done after two days. 🙂

  12. Kimi Harris says

    The person I talked to would actually taste the whey. All whey is sour, but it shouldn’t have off flavors. She told me that this helped her decide whether she wanted to use it in her cultured products or not.
    Hope that helps! I think it’s one of those things you actually have to try out for yourself and learn what you personally like, as well. 🙂

  13. Donna says

    I’ve been trying to culture a few things lately but the salt has been very hard to adjust and SF’s are too much for me.

    I made the gingered carrots from my garden carrots and they were pretty cool, to me. Fizzy in your mouth, but I dumped off half the (very salty) liquid and replaced with filtered water.

    Also, do U have any kid-friendly cultured foods? My kids won’t touch anything I’ve made,lol.

    I worked up some cukes and I thought they were good but upon a later check, most were soooo soft that I couldn’t get them outta the jar, mush!

  14. Kimi Harris says

    I agree that using just salt can be quite salty. It is actually possible to culture without so much salt. In The Body Ecology Diet, she cultures without any salt. You can check our her website, I think she may have some recipes on there. But it will get soggier pretty fast without the salt.

    As far as kid friendly foods, I don’t have much advice there because I think it’s partly just getting them used to it. You could also do the one bite rule until they get used to the taste. My toddler loves the sauerkraut, which I make using the method outlined in Wild Fermentation (he also has his sauerkraut recipe on his website, do a google search for it, if interested).
    As far as your cukes, they do get soft fairy fast. The secret is supposed to be putting a small piece of peeled horseradish in each jar. That is supposed to help keep them firm. It seemed to help mine stay fairly crisp! 🙂
    Hope that helps!~

    Oh, and one more thing, everyone seems to like the carrot recipe, but I have never gotten mine to turn out right! Maybe I just don’t like gingered carrots, lol. 🙂

  15. Stephanie @ Keeper of the Home says

    This is great! I love, love, love making my homemade salsa, but it never lasts long enough. With my tomatoes coming ripe any day now, I will definitely be making some of this. Thanks!

  16. Donna says

    Thanks Kimi,
    I will look at the B.E. site.

    I do the one bite rule, so I’ll just keep trying. 🙂

    You’ve given me some great things to think about, like going soft without salt.

    I do want to try cabbage…I’m waiting on my garden. I might can get that one over better with the kids, as they have eaten it from a can before.

    Have U tried the Rejuvelac?? I love it!!

    I made the ginger ale too, but it’s very salty so you must have a no sodium mix if you want bubbles, otherwise the salt will choke you with a regular soda/seltzer!

  17. Karen says

    I just made a batch of the salsa today and used the culture packets from Body Ecology. I only had a few quart size jars so I had to use the pints jars. I got 5 quarts and 15 pints! I can’t wait to try them. You say we only have to wait about 2 days to open one and eat it?
    Thanks for sharing about culturing veggies. I am new to this but so willing to learn. You can share with us more of the veggies you culture. I love your ideas!
    Thanks so much

  18. Kimi Harris says

    It should be fine after the two days to eat them. 🙂 I hope that it turns out well for you! It is one of our favorite cultured foods to have.
    I will try to share more about cultured foods in the future.

  19. Lizzzzzzzz says

    Wow, when I was a kid, my parents had the three-bite rule. You’re letting your kids off easy with the one-bite rule. However, my parents mostly gave up on healthy eating, and we ate a lot of take out by the time I was in my teens, so maybe for parents frustration factor, one bite is better.

  20. Kim says

    I thought lacto-fermentation referred to the lactic acid that is given off during fermentation (whether you use whey or salt) and not to the use of whey in the fermentation process?

  21. Karen says

    Hello there! I recently made this recipe for cultured salsa and it turned out too saltly for me! I can hardly eat it. In this case can i just add some more tomatoes, jalepinos, etc. to the jars and let it set out a little or more, or just leave the newer veggies “fresh” or not fermented? Thanks for the help!

  22. Jessie says

    @ Kim – the lacto- part of lacto fermentation is because of the lactobacillus bacteria that is present on the food that will multiply & then change the ph of the food so that no other bacteria will live & thus it is preserved. I think adding the whey makes sure you have a lot of lactobacillus. The salt is used to preserve until the lactobacillus take over. Which is why you must use extra salt if you don’t use the whey – to make sure whatever you are fermenting doesn’t start rotting.

    I made this salsa last summer & am coming back to the recipe to get ready to do it this year. I think I did use whey last year & cut back on the salt. I also used parsley instead of cilantro because my husband hates cilantro.

  23. Susanna says

    Hi Kimi,
    I just made this salsa recipe. The 2-day culture time was up tonight. There was a layer of white mold/fuzz on top. I skimmed it off and the salsa smelled/looked fine, so I put it in the fridge. I’m assuming this is normal and OK to eat? I used the salt/whey combo.
    I’m excited to be able to preserve some of our tomato abundance in this way!!!

  24. Tami says

    Hi! I just tasted my lacto-fermented salsa that has been fermenting for just about two days and it is a hot mushy mess. I’m afraid to taste it in full. Where did I go wrong? And is it still edible if we can get past the mushiness?

    Thanks for any help or response.

  25. David says

    Hey was curious if anyone has ever tried to culture Guacaomole> Spell check on that. hehe. Also if a recipe uses Whey, say 4 tablespoons but you are a vegan, would you change that to salt? What about Miso ? I also heard some people open probiotic capsules to speed up the ferment? The miso by the way is the unpastuarized kind, I read someone used this instead of the salt. Just curious, cant wait to try it.

    • Rachel says

      David, I don’t know if you ever got an answer to your question but you never have to use whey to culture if you don’t want to. I’ve cultured many things that have turned out wonderfully – all w/ no whey. Two resources you may want to look into (I think they were actually both mentioned here) are the book Wild Fermentation & Body Ecology. Good luck!

  26. says

    I make a comercial fresh salsa and sell it to local markets. I have been looking for ways to improve shelf life. We package in 16 oz. plastic containers with our labels. Does the glass jar help and is that a vital part or would my tamper proof containers work, do you know? I wonder what the health department would tell me for my product? Sounds great though! Would love to give it a try!

  27. Bertha says

    I used the measurement you told about with whey and salt. One of my jars had some fuss on the begginjng of day two. Could I remove it and let it finish sitting or should I move it to refrigerator. It never got bubbly like other things I have fermented. Is this a problem. The taste was still good. Could it be saved once I remove that top layer? Thank you for all your information and help.

  28. BB says

    Have you ever made it without having to skin the tomatoes? I was just wondering if was ok to skip this step?

    • Mary says

      I have been making this salsa without skinning the tomatoes for quite some time, lazy I guess. My sister-in-law skins hers, but I can’t tell a whole lot of difference. Try it, you’ll like it! If not, skin the next time.

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