(homemade, lacto-fermented salsa)
Once you know the amazing benefits of lacto-fermentation (I really just named a few yesterday, Benefits of Lacto-Fermentation), the next question is how to get started and which method works best.
Today I would like to share specifically about the fermentation methods for vegetables. I thought I would share some of the different ways I have made lacto-fermented vegetables, the pro’s and con’s of the different methods, plus some new ideas that I am excited to dig deeper into! As always, I would love to hear your thoughts and experience too.
Before I get into the nitty-gritty details, I also wanted to mention one online store where you can buy an item needed for one of the methods listed below, which is Cultures For Health. I am really impressed with their selection of sourdough starters, yogurt starters for raw milk, milk and water kefir grains, and kombucha mushrooms as well! (And yes, one of the methods below does use one of those listed products! I am excited to try it!).
First there are two main methods I am aware of, both of which I have worked with.
Mason Jar Method: This is the method that Nourishing Traditions and the Body Ecology Diet uses.
Pros: It’s very easy to do. You simple fill your jars up and ferment right in the jar. No special equipment needed. I’ve gotten some great tasting fermented salsa, beets and pickles using this method.
Con’s: I haven’t always gotten as good as tasting sauerkraut with this method. It’s often had to rest in the refrigerator for months before it tasted right to us. This may be especially true since I don’t use the whey, which speeds up the process a bit. To counter this, you can try to ferment it on the counter for longer then the three days. But you will need to release the pressure in the jars, because the longer it sits, the more pressure builds up and the more likely it is to explode your jar. I’ve also had the jars leak a lot.
Pro’s: I have had great success getting some great tasting sauerkraut with this method. I feel like I have a little more control over it, because I am tasting it everyday, after about day 3-5. Then when it tastes just right, I put it in jars. It’s definitely produced our favorite sauerkraut thus far. And this is the method I plan to continue to use the most, especially for sauerkraut.
Con’s: You may need special equipment. This is going to be the easiest with a real crock. I’ve so far been using a large bowl with a plate and weight, but it’s harder to work with.
Now I would like to give a brief overview of different methods using different ingredients.
This is the method that I have mostly used. It’s also the traditional way to produce ferments. The salt not only keeps the product more crispy, but it also preserves the vegetables until the good bacteria starts to grow.
Pro’s: First I would have to say that since this is the traditional way to produce ferments (using the crock method), I have a bias towards it. It does produce a very tasty product, and even though it does take a bit longer to ferment, perhaps that longer time period is giving us advantages we don’t know of. Another advantages: Very easy to make, you don’t need extra ingredients, just vegetables and salt, and the finished product tastes great.
Con’s: Some find it too salty. I am a firm believer that good, unrefined, high quality salt is good for you, so I have no problem with salt in my ferments. But taste-wise, some don’t like it as salty. Many, however, don’t use high amounts of salt in a salt ferment, and it turns out great. So for those of you who are having a hard time with ferments coming out too salty, you can probably cut back on the salt significantly. Read Sandor Ellix Katz’s thoughts on simplifying the salting process (he is the author of Wild Fermentation). Salt ferments will also take longer.
This is the method that Nourishing Tradition uses.
Pro’s: It adds good bacteria into the ferments, thereby speeding up the fermentation, adding good bacteria, and also allowing you to use less salt.
Con’s: Those who are dairy intolerant can’t use it. You need to make sure you have good tasting whey as well. My mother-in-law, who was successful in making whey ferments found that you need a good tasting whey to make a good tasting ferment. You should also make sure to strain the whey, as one family I knew had gotten some of the whole milk yogurt bits in their ferment and it had gone bad much more quickly.
Yes, you can actually make saltless ferments. The Body Ecology utilizes this method (get directions here) and in Wild Fermentation, there is at least one saltless variation (though he doesn’t necessarily recommend it).
Pro’s: Those who either don’t like the salty taste of ferments, or who try to not have as much salt, like this method. For the Body Ecology diet, you are eating a significant amount of cultured vegetables. If it was very salted, you would be eating a lot of salt. This way allows you to eat a lot of cultured vegetables without eating a lot of salt.
Con’s: Taste and texture might not be quite as agreeable. You also have to be very careful that everything you use is quite clean otherwise bad bacteria could grow before the good bacteria has a chance. Read this quote from Sander, the author of Wild Fermentation on saltless cultured vegetables,
“Some people promote the idea that salt-free sauerkrauts contain more beneficial organisms than salted krauts. I don’t believe that. The most specific beneficial bacteria we’re after, Lactobacillus, is salt-tolerant and abundantly present even in salty krauts; arguably, salt-free ferments are more biodiverse, but this diversity often results in mushy textures. Though it is possible to ferment vegetables without salt, a little salt results in far superior flavor and texture—and just as much beneficial bacteria. So again, salt to taste.” Source
The Body Ecology store also sells cultures that you can add to jump start the ferment with some good bacteria. It is a bit expensive, but I am sure that it would work great. Others actually just use a bit of coconut kefir, either bought from The Body Ecology store, or homemade. This is a dairy free option to the whey.
Finally, this is a very interesting method that I just learned about! In my last post Kaylin left a comment mentioning it. I was intrigued! I found this wonderful site talking about it (I’ve quoted them below). I think I just may have to try it.
Pro’s: Like adding the whey, culture, or coconut kefir, it helps the good bacteria grow quickly in your ferment. Some feel that it produces a better product in the end. You can make it saltless as well. When made the saltless way, it will ferment very quickly.
“On the opposite side of the chopping board however, kefirkraut is cultured with the addition of kefir grains incorporated as a starter-enhancer. This permits the culture-process to proceed much more rapidly and efficiently in comparison, and without the use of any salt, or, a small percentage of salt just for taste [or to extend shelf life] may be used, if desired. The culture-product can be tailor-cultured to suit personal preference of the Kefirkraut-Master. Incorporating kefir grains influences a more rapid fermentation and as a result produces culture-vegetables with optimal nutritional value, for oxidation of nutrients is minimised. I would not be surprised if like many kefir recipes, kefirkraut may too produce the powerful antioxidant common to milk kefir, soy kefir and rice milk kefir, as research has shown. This would make an interesting area for further research.”
Con’s: You do need to get your hand on some milk kefir or water kefir grains (like I mentioned earlier, Cultures for Health is one great place to get them). You could run into some of the same problems as saltless ferments (mushy texture), but you can also utilize this method with salt, though it will take a bit longer. Other then that, I don’t know of many disadvantages since I haven’t even tried it yet! Except perhaps that it does conflict with my bias towards the most traditional methods of making sauerkraut.
So there are some of my thoughts and experience thus far in my lacto-fermenting journey. I would love to hear from you! What’s worked and what hasn’t for you?