Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Intro to Fermenting Vegetables

I have been absolutely obsessed with fermenting foods the last few weeks. My interest began as I read and heard reports on the multiple benefits of probiotics and the importance of a healthy balance of bacteria in the gut. It went beyond good digestion and better absorption of nutrients. Studies show better mood and brain function associated with healthy gut flora. Research suggests that 80% of the immune system may be in the gut, with probiotic-rich foods, like kimchi, offering serious illness preventing effects.

A study published in Nature found that, "Mice fed a strain of Lactobacillus rhamnosus were less anxious and produced fewer stress hormones than control animals."

I'm sold! But consuming effective amounts of probiotic tablets and yogurt can get very expensive. Multiply that times the six anxious, antibiotic ravaged guts in our household, and it is completely cost prohibitive. Then I remembered, I could culture my own probiotics! I've posted before about kombucha and kefir, but I was having trouble getting my hands on kosher kefir grains or a kombucha SCOBY. I discussed my interest with a friend, who told me she makes her own sauerkraut - and it's easy!

Video of me introducing the things I've been fermenting - part 1 of 3

fermenting cauliflower, fava, and lemon; kosher dill pickles; carrots in brine

Here is an abbreviated list of the "ripe" experiments I just moved into my fridge:
  • Sauerkraut with apples, carrots, onion, parsnip, celery seeds, anise seeds
  • Saurkraut with wakame and a little ginger
  • 'Kimchi-kraut' from shredded cabbage, kohlrabi, raddish, onion, with a little asparagus, chili pepper, garlic, and ginger
  • 'Sriracha' fermented chili peppers (with sugar, if I remember correctly), fermented then blended and strained
  • 'Sweets and Beets' with half a vanilla bean
  • carrots
  • Dill pickles - cucumbers, fresh dill, whole mustard seeds, turmeric; then rinsed after a few days and moved to fresh brine with just one large crushed garlic clove (the current family favorite)

 Now I'm taking a little break while I wait for my birthday presents (two books, below) to come in the mail. My fridge is full of all the veggies and two kinds of sourdough starter. I have a big gorgeous jar of lemons preserving in the pantry, and I'm moving onto my next obsession - water kefir!

Check out my Cultured Foods Board on Pinterest for some of my favorite videos and other resources to get you excited about fermentation.

In the coming weeks, I'll give you instructions for the simple sauerkraut I've been making, the soda-like water kefer (tibicos) my kids and I have been enjoying, and give you ideas and recipes to incorporate all those fermented foods into family meals.

Rice paper rolls with raw, cooked, and fermented vegetables.
Related Posts:
Beer Part 1 - Intro and History
Beer Part 2 - Process
Basic Sauerkraut
Water Kefir - Tibicos
Dill Pickles
Sriracha - Thai Hot Sauce


  1. Hurray! Happy to see all this fermenting. I'm expecting your gut is happier, too.

    I have a hard time getting my pickles to stay crunchy. You might find it easier, as you live in a warmer climate so the fermentation is faster. I'm waiting until I can buy the cute little summer pickles at the organic stand in our farmer's market.

    1. I used mini cucumbers this time, but I was planning to use bigger ones next time. Did you cut off both ends of the pickle? I read that the blossom end has an enzyme that impedes the process and makes the pickles soft. I also read to put a grape leaf in. The tannins or somethings are supposed to keep the cucumbers crunchy. I think dill might do the same thing, and might also carry more probiotics, with would help it ferment faster. You could add some bottled probiotics or brine from your last batch to move things along faster.

    2. Yes, it helps to scrape of a bit of the blossom end of the cucumber. Yes, the tannins in grape leaves will improve the crunchiness. In fact, some black tea leaves will do the same thing. Dill will improve the flavor, but will not affect the crunchiness (no tannins), will not affect the level of the probiotics, and will not affect the speed of fermentation. Actually, a warmer climate is likely to result is softer pickles, not crunchier ones.

    3. Thank you for your comments Rahel. I will have to try using tea leaves. I also heard that getting the cucumbers really cold first helps. I don't understand it, but the one time I washed/soaked the cucumbers in icey water (as recommended in "Wild Fermentaion" by Sandor Katz) I got excellent, crunchy pickles.



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