how to ferment vegetables

So, I ferment my roots. And I activate my nuts.

IMG 0339 how to ferment vegetables
One of my mish mash lunches with sauerkraut (and bone broth)

And my guts love me for it. If there is one kooky, “witchy” thing you should try right now, it’s fermenting, or pickling. I’ve been playing around for a few months, making sauerkraut, pickled daikon, and the most lush beetroot relish. I eat a tablespoon or two with as many meals as I can…see some of my suggestions below…and I’ve noticed a tangible benefit with my digestion. Which, for those of you who are interested to know, is crap.

Anyone with auto immune issues, IBS, bloating, sugar cravings or any kind of digestive or allergy issue should truly try fermenting.

Before you start: you might like to make whey. Why whey? It really makes the best fermented veggies. Trust me.  It’s simple, too. Just make my homemade cream cheese. It produces whey on the side, which you can freeze until you’re ready to use.

What is fermenting?

Lacto-fermentation has been around for eons as a health trick – all cultures have a history of fermenting veggies, dairy, nuts, grains etc for medicinal and digestion purposes. The nerdy stuff: it’s a biological process by which sugars – glucose, fructose, and sucrose – are converted into cellular energy and a metabolic byproduct – lactic acid. When the acidity rises due to lactic acid-fermenting organisms, many harmful micro-organisms are killed – so it’s often been used as a preserving technique.

Why the good health rap?

Let’s do this in dot points:

* lactic acid enhances a food’s digestibility and increases vitamin C and vitamin A levels.

* it produces a stack of helpful enzymes as well as antibiotic substances.

* lactic acid promotes the growth of healthy flora in the intestine

* fermented foods are rich in vitamin K2 – a known cancer fighter

* it cuts the sugar content of foods quite dramatically (the same process sees wine end up as pretty much fructose-free)

* plus all you IQS kids:  it helps you beat sugar cravings!

What you actually do:

Basically, you mix veggies (in this case) with salt and/or whey and store in a mason jar (those pickling jars with the seal and spring lever). Let it sit for three days to ferment. Then store for months and months and eat as you like. Stupidly simple!

* The best veggies to use are: root veggies, radishes, daikon, cabbage, garlic, ginger, cauliflower

* The salt inhibits putrefying bacteria for several days until enough lactic acid is produced to preserve the vegetables for many months.

* The whey acts as an inoculant, reducing the time needed for sufficient lactic acid to be produced to ensure preservation.

A tip: I buy the Nuigini brand of coconut oil, which comes in a mason jar. Otherwise you can buy mason jars at homewares shops and Kmart etc for about $6.

Homemade sauerkraut

  • 1 medium cabbage, cored and shredded
  • 1 tbls caraway seeds
  • 1 tbls sea salt
  • 4 tbls whey (if you don’t have whey, use an extra tbls of salt instead)

Mix all ingredients in a sturdy bowl and pound with a wooden pounder or a meat hammer or just squeeze with your hands (this is actually very soothing and meditative) for about 10 minutes to release juices. This takes a little work and some patience. Spoon into a mason jar and using the pounder or meat hammer press down until juices come to the top of the cabbage and cover it. Cover tightly and keep at room temperature for about 3 days before transferring to cold storage.

What I learned the hard way:

I had a few dire experiments with the process. Learn from me and stick to these tips:

* using whey will result in consistently successful results, although you can do it with just salt.

* use the best quality organic vegetables, sea salt and water. Lactobacilli need plenty of nutrients and if you use old, dodgy, chemical-laden stuff, it just won’t do it’s thing.

* make sure you get a good centimetre of juices sitting above the veggies…otherwise mould grows, ruining the whole lot. Tho’, says Sally Fallon in Nourishing Traditions: “Some lacto-fermented products may get bubbly, particularly the chutneys. This is natural and no cause for concern. And do not be dismayed if little spots of white foam appear at the top of the pickling liquid. They are completely harmless and can be lifted off with a spoon. The occasional batch that goes bad presents no danger–the smell will be so awful that nothing could persuade you to eat it.”

If I don’t extract enough liquid I add a small amount of water with a pinch of salt dissolved in it.

Note: for some veggies, you don’t actually pound the mixture and instead a brine is added (salt and water). Check out the links below for these recipes.

* close the jars very tightly. Says Sally: “Lacto-fermentation is an anaerobic process and the presence of oxygen, once fermentation has begun, will ruin the final product.” That is, don’t open it while it’s sitting for it’s three days.

* scald all equipment you will use with boiling water to sterilize it before you begin.

Extra stuff:

* Yeah you can buy sauerkraut and kimchi in the shops…but look at the ingredients first. They often contain sugar and vinegar which produce a product that is more acidic, and some are often pasteurized, which kills the lactic-acid-producing bacteria, which defeats the whole damn purpose.

* Most recipes ask for the final product to be stored in a cool cellar. Don’t have one, or live in a hot climate? The top shelf of the fridge is fine.

* Fermented veggies improve with age…I have several jars in the fridge and as one runs out, make another couple of batches.

For more…

Definitely check out Nourished Kitchen’s e-course on the subject. Definitive!
Nourished Kitchen’s Jenny has also shared a number of great recipes…her beetroot relish is divine!!
I like this very simple recipe for chucking in a bunch of vegetables with just salt and water in a standard jar and using clingwrap to seal.
Also check out the Body Ecology Diet…their newsletter’s pretty helpful.
And, of course, Sally Fallon’s Nourishing Traditions has a host of amazing recipes.

You fermented? What’s your experience?

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