This will be your starting post for diving into the wonderful world of lacto-fermentation. I want to explain the benefits and methods for creating any ferment of your choosing so you can run free and experiment! I think the best place to start is to explain the general mechanism of fermentation and lay out the benefits of this incredible superfood.
Process of Lacto-Fermentation:
There are naturally occurring lactobacilli bacteria that are the cornerstone of this process. When vegetables or fruits are placed in an anaerobic environment, with just enough salt to keep the bad bacteria from getting a foothold, the beneficial lactic-acid producing bacteria (lactobacilli) will feed off the sugars in the fruits and vegetables and produce lactic acid as a byproduct. Also, carbon dioxide and probiotic beneficial bacteria are produced. Optimal fermentation time is 21-30 days and the resulting product is naturally preserved and can be kept in the refrigerator indefinitely. The process is really simple and doesn’t require any inputs besides fresh produce and a little salt.
Benefits of Lacto-fermentation:
Here is where you are going to be amazed!
- Naturally fermented produce retains all the fibre, trace elements, vitamins, and minerals, which would normally be damaged or reduced by other heat processing methods
- Besides preserving nutrition, the resulting ferment also contains live enzymes, lactic acid bacteria and lactic acid.
- Consuming lactic acid bacteria have been shown to improve immunity, generate antioxidants, help body to synthesize B vitamins, aid in the digestion of protein, have a soothing effect on nervous system, and aid in digestion by stimulating the production of healthy gut bacteria.
- In some cases lacto fermentation can also reduce or remove naturally occurring toxins and anti-nutritional compounds in certain raw fruits and vegetables.
- It is a great way to preserve the harvest that doesn’t require heat.
- It tastes fabulous!
There are two different ways you can make vegetable ferments. You either add salt to a shredded vegetable and let the natural juices come out to make the brine. Or you can cut your vegetables into bigger pieces and create a 2% salt solution (brine) to pour over the vegetables.
Method 1: We will start with the first method. What I love about this is you can pick whatever vegetable you want to use. If you don’t like cabbage, try carrots or beets or parsnips or brussel sprouts. The sky is the limit on the things you can put into a ferment. Once you have chosen your vegetables and/or herbs, chop or shred them into small pieces. You can use your food processor or a grater or you can chop by hand. I like to have longer shreds of cabbage so I chop by hand. You need to weigh your produce either before or after you chop it so you know how much salt to add.
When using chopped or shredded vegetables, the ratio is 1 1/2 to 2 tsp of salt for every 1 pound of vegetable. It doesn’t have to be exact, but you want enough salt to keep any bad bacteria from getting a foothold in your new ferment. After a day or two the good bacteria will take over.
Sprinkle the salt over the veggies, let it sit for a hot minute (anywhere from 20 minutes to an hour) to let the salt extract juice from the veggies. Then you can use a blunt object like a potato masher or end of a rolling pin to mash the veggies to get more juice out of them. Once you have some liquid at the bottom of the container you can start packing it into your jar. The tighter the better. As you pack, the liquid will hopefully cover the vegetables. If you need to you can add some more salt and water to top it off. The goal is to have all the vegetables submerged under the brine.
Type 2: The other way is to chop your veggies into slices, spears or pack them in whole and pour a brine (salt water solution) over the veggies. I make a 2% salt solution and use a ratio of 4-5 tsp of salt to 4 cups of water. I mix the salt and water together in a separate mason jar and then pour the brine over my packed veggies.
A quick tip to keep your shredded or sliced veggies from floating above the surface of the brine is to use a larger piece of vegetable and wedge it into the jar.
Here I was making a carrot, cilantro, ginger, jalapeño ferment. So I took 2 extra carrots, sliced them in half lengthwise and wedged them into the jar in a criss cross pattern.
Many people just use a standard mason jar and lid. However, this doesn’t work very well because you have to burp the jars to let out the excess CO2 and the lids aren’t airtight. For the highest production of lactobacilli bacteria we want an anaerobic (NO oxygen) environment. There are special jars you can get, but they are really expensive. I decided to make my own airlock lid using a punch, rubber grommets and an airlock.
You punch the hole, insert the grommet, make sure everything is washed really well and then you insert the airlock and screw it on your jar. The airlock allows the release of CO2 from fermentation so your jars don’t explode, and it keeps oxygen from getting in and causing mold growth. Win/win :).
Letting the Magic Happen:
Okay, now you have your jars filled with brined vegetables, and they are capped with pimped out lids. Now you can sit back and let them bubble away into fermented bliss.
With most recipes you see, the instructions will say to let your ferment sit for 3-5 days, testing every day until you get the desired taste and then store it in the fridge. You will also read that if you have mold on top you can just scrape it off and keep going like everything is fine. I disagree with both of these statements. If you know mold, you know it is systemic and travels quickly. If you see mold on the top of the ferment, it is likely the whole solution is contaminated. I definitely don’t want to be eating that! Since I have been using my DIY airlocks I haven’t had a problem with mold on my ferments.
If you can wait, it is best to let your ferment sit for 21-30 days. That gives you the highest count of beneficial bacteria and ensures that your ferment won’t deteriorate once you move it to long-term storage in the fridge.
Once they are finished, you can take off the airlock, cap them with a regular lid and store them in the fridge indefinitely. I have been super happy with how everything has turned out so far and I will be posting a series of recipes coming soon! But with these basic instructions and ratios you can go ahead and start fermenting anything you want!
Have you ever tried lacto-fermentation? What is your favorite thing to make?