Fermented Vegetables

by Araluen Hagan

When we eat fermented foods, we eat the beneficial bacteria – the probiotics – that the food contains. This is important because we need a diverse population of bacteria in our digestive system for optimal health. Probiotics are responsible for improving digestion, enhancing immune function, producing antioxidants, normalizing skin conditions, reducing cholesterol, maintaining bone health, and managing blood sugar levels. 

The bigger the variety of fermented foods consumed, the better, as this helps populate the digestive system with a variety of microorganisms. 

Fresh fruits and vegetables have lactobacillus bacteria on their skins, the bacteria converts the sugars or carbohydrates into lactic acid, which preserves the vegetable and makes the nutrients more bio available for our bodies.

To ferment successfully, 2-5g salt (non-iodised) per 100g vegetables is required. 

  • Sprinkle the salt over finely chopped vegetables in a bowl. 
  • Massage the salt into the mix until there is a pool of brine in the bottom of the bowl. 
  • Pack the vegetables tightly into a large jar, ensuring they are covered by brine. Extra brine made using 2tsp salt per cup of water can be used if the vegetables are not completely submerged. 
  • Use a weight to keep vegetables under the brine. 

The ferment will also most likely gain the attention of tiny flying insects, so a cover is important.  Use a piece of fabric over the top secured with an elastic band or a lid with an airlock, as the carbon dioxide formed during fermentation needs to be able to escape. Place on a plate, because it can bubble over and get messy.

The ferment is finished when you like the taste – try after 3 days and then everyday after until they reach the desired tangy-ness. Then transfer into smaller jars with tight fitting lids and put into the fridge to reduce fermentation.  Fermentation will not cease completely, but it does slow significantly and can be stored in the refrigerator for months.  

A simple recipe, is to add all the ingredients used to make a coleslaw (except the dressing) with some ginger, chili and garlic.  

Imagination is the only limitation – cabbage, beetroot, onion, radish, carrot, fennel, celery, edible weeds and flowers, chili, cumin, caraway seed, peppercorns, garlic, ginger and turmeric are just some of the ingredients that can be fermented. Small amounts of fruit such as apples, dates and sultanas can add a subtle sweetness, although it is important not to use too much fruit as the sugar content can produce alcohol. 

Most importantly have fun with fermenting and play with your food, use what is available and in season. 

Key points
  • Keep mix submerged under brine – otherwise mould can form on the surface.
  • Carbon dioxide gas will form and most likely cause ferment to bubble over, so keep on a plate and do not use a tight fitting lid until it is refrigerated.
  • Keep out of direct sunlight and at room temperature, 17-25 deg is preferred and the warmer it is the faster it will ferment.
  • Cover with a cloth or lid with an airlock to prevent contamination by flying insects and to allow the carbon dioxide produced to escape.
  • It is ready when it is to your taste.

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