You’ve most probably heard of sauerkraut, and let’s be honest, you’ve probably also wrinkled your nose up at it. For years, people couldn’t imagine how Germans could enjoy eating fermented cabbage. But, sauerkraut, and it’s Korean cousin, kimchi (fermented cabbage with radishes), are currently riding a huge wave of hipness in the United States. Why? Because people are finally waking up to the huge health benefits of probiotics, and fermented vegetables are literally brimming with probiotics.
Let’s step back for a moment and answer this key question…
What Are Probiotics?
In simple terms, probiotics are thousands of live, “friendly” microorganisms. When they’re introduced into the gut flora, probiotics offer some serious health benefits. This is because probiotics can help inhibit “bad” bacteria and viruses, and they can help support the natural bacteria already living in your colon.1
But probiotics can’t change your gut permanently. So, a daily intake of probiotics is recommended for continued benefits.
What Are The Health Benefits Of Probiotic Foods?
The health benefits of probiotics are plentiful. Probiotics may potentially be of assistance for:
- Irritable bowel conditions
- Gastrointestinal issues
- Enhanced immune response (colds and flus)
- Supporting the body when taking antibiotics
- Weight loss2,3
How Does Fermentation Work?
Foods high in probiotics are usually fermented foods. This is because the process of fermentation involves bacteria.
Fermentation has been used for centuries to both preserve foods and to make them taste better – some date the technique back to 7000 BC China.4
During fermentation, lactic acid bacteria are able to grow in an oxygen-free environment. This bacteria then break down the food’s natural sugars into lactic acid.5 This introduces good bacteria into the food, and it keeps out the bad bacteria, acting as a preservative. It also creates some incredible sour, or tangy, flavors. Plus, fermented foods are easier for the body to digest.6,7
A perfect example of common fermentation is the process of turning milk into yogurt. Or better still, turning grape juice into wine.
Foods which are high in natural probiotics include yogurt, sauerkraut, pickles, miso, kefir-style drinks, tempeh, sourdough bread, and kombucha. Certain soft or semi-hard fermented cheeses, like cheddar, and particularly gouda, make the cut on a lesser scale.
Do keep in mind that some fermented foods may not contain probiotics if they have gone through other processes, such as pasteurization. Pasteurization kills all bacteria – including the “friendly” guys.
So, How Do I Ferment My Own Veggies?
Veggies are one of the easiest ingredients to get you started on some DIY fermentation. Fermenting vegetables can be as simple as placing veggies in salt water, though using a starter culture is popular, as it contains a whole host of healthy microorganisms.
Almost any vegetable can be fermented, and you don’t need any fancy equipment.
Let’s get started with a basic recipe for lacto-fermented vegetables. Feel free to substitute in your favorite veggies in place of what’s listed below.
- 3 tablespoons of non-iodized salt
- 1 quart of water (bottled or filtered – chlorine may inhibit fermentation)
- 1 cup of chopped carrots
- 1 cup of chopped beets
- 1 cup of small cauliflower florets
- 2 cloves of garlic, smashed or finely sliced
- 2 sprigs of fresh herbs, like rosemary or dill
- 1 teaspoon of black peppercorns, coriander seeds, or mustard seeds
- Prepare a large glass jar (like a 64 oz mason jar) by washing in warm, soapy water and setting aside to dry.
- Wash your veggies (also with bottled/filtered water), and roughly chop the carrots and beets into pieces. The cauliflower can be separated into florets.
- Dissolve salt completely in the water.
- Place your garlic and herbs into the mason jar first.
- Next, add in your veggies. Pack them in as tightly as you can, but make sure to leave about a half an inch of space at the top of your jar.
- Pour your salt brine over the veggies so they’re completely covered, again leaving about a half inch of space at the top of the jar. Make sure you cover the veggies completely with liquid, as this helps keep mold from forming.
- Tightly seal your jar.
- After 48 hours at room temperature, remove the lid and take a look – it should smell a little sour, and you should see some bubbles. This will help some of the gas to escape. You should do this once a day.
- The vegetables are usually ready between 5 – 10 days, depending on how you enjoy them. The longer they ferment, the more “tangy” they get. But there really is no correct number of days.
- Some people leave their veggies fermenting for much, much longer.
- Once you’ve decided they’re ready for your enjoyment, pop your fermented vegetables into the refrigerator, as this will stop the fermentation process.
- Your veggies should keep for a good couple of months.
The Odd Occurrence of Mold
If you happen to discover a little white yeast or mold growing on top, don’t panic. If it’s just a top layer, it can be scraped off and it is perfectly safe. You can read more about this in depth HERE. However, if it has affected the whole jar, it’s best to toss it.
Trust your taste buds and sense of smell – if it smells or tastes bad, you’ll definitely know that the entire batch is bad.8
The bottom line is that lactic acid makes it virtually impossible for any other organisms to grow, so fermentation is an incredibly safe way to preserve food.
For more info on food safety surrounding fermentation, read THIS.
If you’re frequently developing mold when fermenting, check that your jar is truly airtight and that you’re using enough salt. A good brine will keep mold at bay. What’s the right amount of salt to use? About 2-3 tablespoons per quart.
Tip: Make sure you’re keeping your batch of fermented vegetables in the coolest part of your home.
More Fermenting Ideas
There really is no limit to cultured veggie options. You can actually ferment your own:
- Homemade dill pickles
- Garlic cloves
- Mango or peach chutney
- Dijon mayonnaise
- Cherry chutney
- Spicy, hot chilis
- Beet Kvass (a popular Russian drink)
Give the Gift of Culture
Fermented vegetables can make a great homemade gift for friends and family to enjoy. They’re a great alternative to giving someone more chocolate or candy. And, they’re incredibly inexpensive to make!
When seeking out vegetables for your new hobby, try to always buy the best quality. Organic is ideal. Not only will your fermented vegetables taste better, but buying organic helps ensure that your veggies will be pesticide free. Pesticide residue can play havoc with the delicate fermentation process.
Here’s to your cultured adventuring!
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