How to Ferment Vegetables Using Easy and Safe Fermented Foods Recipes

by Kaitlynn Fenley

Are you curious about how to make fermented vegetables? What about how much salt you should use to ferment vegetables? We’re here to answer all your fermentation questions and equip you with the confidence to ferment foods at home with our easy and safe fermented foods recipes!

Which Types of Vegetables are Fermentable?

Mostly all water-dense vegetables can be fermented, as long as you use the right salt concentration, and the foods are fermented for the right amount of time. 

If you want to make traditional fermentation recipes from other cultures, some of which have quick fermentation times and high salt concentrations, find a teacher from that culture who provides recipes (there are so many) and follow EVERY step, method, temperature, time, and ingredient. These types of recipes are time-tested and perfected over thousands of years.

First, if you are a beginner to fermentation the easiest place to start is sauerkraut and cabbage-based fermentation recipes. Check out these fun and flavorful sauerkraut recipes:

Once you get the hang of fermentation with some easy sauerkraut recipes, you can ferment many other types of vegetables at home! I always tell beginners to start with cabbage ferments, then graduate to vine-growing vegetables like cucumbers and zucchini. Here are two easy recipes to try:

Once you are an experienced fermenter, you can develop your own recipes and experiment fermenting other vegetables, but there are some guidelines you must follow for food safety. Check out these two blogs to learn about food safety in fermentation and how to calculate ideal salt concentrations for various vegetables:

Why You Should Ferment Vegetables

Fermented Foods are extremely nutritious, and fermentation is a delicious preservation method. Fermented vegetables are packed with probiotics, essential vitamins, nutrients, minerals, and prebiotic fiber. All of these things benefit overall health and wellness. 

Fermentation has been around for thousands of years, but people didn’t fully understand it long ago. Fermentation is not magic; it’s a science with wondrous and fascinating explanations. Many foods in the world are fermented or rely on some fermentation product for flavor, preservation, or texture.

 First and foremost, though, vegetable fermentation has always been a method of preserving harvests for long winters. 

What Is Vegetable Fermentation? 

When we talk about fermenting vegetables, we specifically refer to a microbial process called lactic acid fermentation. This fermentation occurs when certain bacteria ferment plant compounds for energy and produce lactic acid as a byproduct. All it takes is the addition of a precise salt concentration to vegetables, and you can turn plain old produce into flavor-rich superfoods.

It’s important to remember that you are not actually fermenting anything. Microorganisms are fermenting. You just have to set the right microbes up for success.

Supplies You’ll Need to Make Fermented Vegetables

To summarize: No, you do not need a fancy expensive jar & no, you absolutely do not need a starter culture or whey for fermented foods recipes.

What you do need: 

  • Mason Jar
  • Fermentation Weight
  • Mason Jar lid
  • Metal mason jar screw band or Rust Free Plastic Band
  • unrefined sea salt
  • Scale
  • Mixing Bowl
  • Large jar or pitcher for mixing saltwater brine
  • The produce you’d like to ferment

How Much Salt Should You Use to Make Fermented Vegetables?

Always use a high-quality sea salt when making fermented vegetables.

It’s important to remember that the same volume of different salts weighs different amounts… so using volume measurements like tablespoons or cups can be very inaccurate and yield inconsistent results. For example, a teaspoon of flake salt contains half as much NaCl as a teaspoon of small grain Himalayan salt. 

Visit The Complete Guide to Safely Using Salt in Vegetable Fermentation to learn how to measure salt for fermented vegetables.

Tips on How to Make Fermented Vegetables Perfectly

Stay below the brine.

  • There is a lot of talk on the internet about what jars and lids are truly airtight and which ones really “keep oxygen out.” Airtight lids are nice to have (especially fancy ceramic fermentation crocks!), but a jar with a proper fitting lid will do fine (such as a mason jar and matching mason jar lid). As far as lids go, you want to prevent evaporation.
  • Click here to read more about keeping fermented food anaerobic.

Trust your senses. 

  • When your ferments are about 2-3 days into fermentation you should look for bubbles. This is the first indicator that your fermentation is on its way to success!
  • Your sense of smell is your greatest ally in fermenting. Smells should be pleasantly sour, never pungent or repulsive. If you should not eat something, your sense of smell will let you know!

Be Patient. 

  • Our fermentation timelines are accurate when you follow the recipe and the directions exactly. This means using the same ingredients, the same supplies, and keeping your ferments at the same temperature and light conditions will yield almost the same timeline for the stages of fermentation; if you vary the recipe, that’s fine too! Just be patient. If you have doubts that your ferments have made it to stage three and lingered there a bit, let them sit for a little longer time. A few extra days is better than too few days! 
  • If you want to make traditional fermentation recipes from other cultures, some of which have quick fermentation times and high salt concentrations, find a teacher from that culture who provides recipes (there are so many) and follow EVERY step, method, temperature, time, and ingredient. These types of recipes are time-tested and perfected over thousands of years.

A fungus among us or a funky smell. 

  • If you have a fungus/mold/film/stinky smell in your ferment, you need to throw it out and start over. You cannot simply scrape off fungus. Also, just because you don’t see it after scraping it out doesn’t mean it isn’t there. Fungus indicates that bacterial succession is not occurring properly. A definite indicator that something went wrong is a repulsive smell. If you have a curbside compost service or a personal compost bin, a great way to dispose of bad ferments is to compost them. Remember that your sense of smell is your number one sense in fermenting! Trust your nose! 

Reference Material

Unique Microbial Diversity and Metabolic Pathway Features of Fermented Vegetables From Hainan, China

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1 comment

Theresa June 11, 2019 - 6:03 pm

Hello! Thank you so much for this–it is reassuring to have more information on the science behind the fermentation process, which has always made me nervous! I am running into an issue, however: when assembling the ingredients for my jar of kimchi or kraut, it’s hard for me to know exactly how much water to use. I recently mixed up a batch of salt/water brine for my vegetables by estimating how much water I’d need, but it ended up being too much for the veggies + the jar. I had to up ultimately dump some out, which changed the ratio again. I actually had to dump some more out after the vegetables fermented for a couple of days, changing the ratio yet again. Any tips on how to approach adding the salt and water to the vegetables?