How Much Salt Should You Use to Ferment Vegetables?

by Kaitlynn Fenley

How much salt to use when fermenting food is a fundamental question. We are here to answer this… with science! Thanks to microbiology, we now know what is safe when fermenting vegetables. We know the best salt to use for fermentation, how much salt to use when fermenting vegetables, and how long you should ferment foods. Learn fermentation science with us!   

Everything You need to Know About Salt and Fermenting Vegetables 

If you really think about it…WE are not fermenting vegetables, the MICROBES are fermenting vegetables. We just have to set them up for success and watch it happen. 

Fermentation is an ancient way of preserving foods. We know people have been fermenting without a background in microbiology for thousands of years.  We definitely aren’t the first people to do it, and we are not the first people to do it “right”. There are many ways in which humans of the world ferment foods. Whether in wooden barrels, in a hole in the ground, in crocks, in glass jars… fermentation methods are eclectic and fascinating.

We love to learn about traditional fermentation methods. After all, we have to understand where the practice comes from. But there are a lot of irresponsibly culturally appropriated and Americanized fermentation recipes out there, that are giving fermentation a bad reputation in the USA. Because of these recipes, people get nasty and bad results. These recipes leave people confused, feeling like they are missing a piece of the fermentation puzzle. People feel like they fail at fermentation because the recipes do not produce consistent results. People eat ferments that are not made properly and it leads to stomach aches, hives, itchy eyes. These inaccurate recipes are tarnishing the good name of fermentation.

Natural fermentation precedes human history, I know. Since ancient times, humans have exploited the fermentation process. I think it’s only reasonable that, in our modern times, we allow ourselves the space to respect and learn about the microbes of fermentation. We should choose to understand microbes to harness fermentation in the healthiest way possible. Also, let’s not irresponsibly culturally appropriate recipes and instead bring pride and respect to the long-standing culture of fermented foods by understanding the process fully.

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.

How Much Salt Should You Use to Ferment Foods?

Check out The Complete Guide to Safely Using Salt in Vegetable Fermentation to learn about different salt concentrations for different vegetables.

The salt concentration is the first step in establishing a safe fermentation environment. Particular concentrations of salt pave the way for creating a happy home for lactic acid-producing bacteria. These bacteria are species of Leuconostoc and Lactobacillus. It isn’t about how salty or not salty you like your fermented vegetables. It is about the home you are supposed to create in order for these beneficial bacteria to thrive. All the microbes needed for the fermentation process to start are already present on your vegetables, even after you wash them. Once you provide the proper salt concentration, bacterial succession can occur and lactic acid can be adequately produced. 

So How Do We Measure Salt in Fermentation?

In order to use a precise and accurate salt concentration, you must use units of mass to measure your salt. There are two mathematical ways to create an exact percent salt concentration, and the desired salt concentration varies by type of vegetable. You can see recommended salt concentrations in our blog The Complete Guide to Safely Using Salt in Vegetable Fermentation. Next, I will use 2.5% as an example.

Creating a 2.5% total salt concentration: 

To create an exact 2.5% total salt concentration place a bowl on a scale and tare/zero the scale. Add 2.5 grams of salt to the bowl, then add your produce and any water into that same bowl up to 100 grams. That’s a 2.5% total salt concentration. 

What we do is slightly different and easier: We weigh all of our produce and water, multiply that weight by 2.5%, and add the number we get in salt. This results in an approximate 2.5% salt concentration that is perfectly safe and optimal for fermentation.

Example: 

If we have 100 grams of produce and water, we multiply by 2.5%. So 100 x 0.025 (you have to move the decimal because you are multiplying by a percentage) = 2.5. So we add 2.5 grams of salt. This ends up being a 2.44% total salt concentration.

In order to calculate a total percent salt concentration of the mixture you divide the grams of salt by the total grams of the whole mixture: 2.5 grams of salt / 102.5 grams (of salt + water + produce) = 0.02439.

Move the decimal to make it a percent and you get 2.44%  And guess what? With this method, we end up with 2.44% salt, no matter the weight of vegetables or water… if we add 2.5% salt, the resulting total salt concentration will always be 2.44%

For example, If we have 756 grams of cabbage and water, we multiply that by 2.5%. That equals 18.9. So we add 18.9 grams of salt.

18.9 / (756+18.9) = 0.02439

Yep. That’s 2.44%

The only way you will get a consistent salt concentration throughout different batches of fermentation is by weighing the produce and water, doing math, and then weighing out your salt. 

Reasons to weigh everything and do the math to determine salt concentration:

1. Between batches and throughout the seasons, the weight of vegetables you are fermenting will vary and majority of the mass of most vegetables is water.

2. Sodium chloride (aka NaCl aka Salt) is an ionic compound with a mass…therefore, total salt concentration can only be determined by weighing the salt. Depending on what brand, style, and type of salt you are using the amount of NaCl in a volume measurement, such as a tablespoon, varies greatly

Unrefined sea salt can be found in many different “grains”, such as flake, large grain, small grain, etc. A teaspoon of flake salt has a mass of about 1 gram. A teaspoon of small-grain Himalayan salt has a mass of about 3 grams. If you added the teaspoon of flake salt to 100 grams of vegetables and water you get a 0.99% salt concentration. If you add the teaspoon of Himalayan salt to 100 grams of vegetables and water you get a 2.9% salt concentration. That’s a huge difference, and the 0.99% salt concentration is completely unsafe, and probably won’t select for probiotic microbes to thrive.

Common Questions About Measuring Salt in Vegetable Fermentation: 

  • Why weigh the vegetables? All vegetables are at least 93-98% water, so you have to account for the water inside of the vegetables contributing to water activity. Because of osmosis and concentration gradients, the total salt concentration includes the water found in the vegetables. 
  • They didn’t need math to ferment 2000 years ago. This is more of an argument than a question… “They” also lived in a less toxic world where agriculture was different, salt was different, microbes were different and antibiotic-resistant bacteria didn’t exist.  No, people didn’t always use science to ferment… but they have used weight measurements for recipes, trade, and calculations for a LONG time. A long time meaning since around  1200 BC at least. People of the Eastern world used mass and ratios (aka math) to make fermented vegetables for thousands of years. Not American tablespoons. Traditionally, in the eastern world, fermented vegetables are made with high salt concentrations between 5% and 20%. 

No matter what salt concentration you use, the concentration of salt in vegetable fermentation can only be determined using the mass of the salt, and the mass of the total mixture. One tablespoon of two different types of salt will have two different masses, so there is no possible way to achieve the desired salt concentration by using arbitrary amounts like a head of cabbage and a tablespoon of salt… and you definitely cannot estimate a salt concentration by salting to taste. Taste is arbitrary and salt perception is vastly different for each person depending on diet and lifestyle.

So when someone tells you that they saw a Korean grandma or an old German lady “eyeball” amounts to make fermented kimchi or sauerkraut, those old women with family recipes are eyeballing a weight of cabbage and a weight of salt. They are not eyeballing a fluid ounce/volume measurement such as tablespoons. I have been making sauerkraut and kimchi on a large scale for almost four years now. I know exactly what 600 pounds of shredded cabbage looks like and what 2,024 grams of the same sea salt I’ve used for four years looks like. So I can “eyeball” a recipe too, but my guesstimates are visually based upon mass.

Other Fermentation Factors

Accurate salt concentration, providing adequate time for the fermentation to proceed, and proper temperature are necessary for a healthy population of microbes to develop in vegetable fermentation.

The temperature for vegetable fermentation should be between 70-80 degrees F. However, anywhere between 60 and 90° F is acceptable. The cooler the temp, the slower the fermentation. The hotter the temp, the faster.

Once the temperature is established the two main factors that need to be tailored to the microbes are salt concentration and length of time for the fermentation. If all of these things are accounted for appropriately, the pH of the fermentation will drop, lactic acid will build up, the microbial population will consist only of probiotic bacteria, and the vegetable matter will be preserved. 

Are you interested in safely fermenting foods at home?

Try out these recipes:


References: 

Salt Reduction in Vegetable Fermentation: Reality or Desire?

Effects of salt concentration on Chinese sauerkraut fermentation

Survival of Escherichia coli O157:H7 in Cucumber Fermentation Brines

Frias, Juana & Martinez-Villaluenga, Cristina & Peñas, Elena. (2016). Fermented Foods in Health and Disease Prevention.

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Leave a Comment

44 comments

Jay March 30, 2018 - 4:41 pm

Hi..In your para above "If you do not add a proper salt concentration to the vegetables (calculated by using mass), bacterial succession will not take place, an aerobic environment will not be formed, lactic acid will not build up, and the pH will not drop sufficently. This means that without first a proper salt concentration, then an adequate amount of time to ferment, the vegetable fermentation is not safe to eat, it is not preserved, and potential pathogens such as pathogenic yeasts and Clostridium spp. could be present."
Did you mean to say anaerobic or aerobic environment?
Thanks!

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Scott Chachere March 30, 2018 - 5:20 pm

Hello! Thanks for pointing out the typo! It’s supposed to be anaerobic. Assuming my auto correct was confused by the "an anaerobic" and thought I was repeating "an"!

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Amanda February 14, 2019 - 5:19 am

Fantastic blog! I learned so much and will definitely be saving this. I only wish someone with this knowledge went into a deep dive of on kombucha brewing. Needless to say, if you branch out, I’ll be eager to read 🙂

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Ryan February 19, 2019 - 12:01 am

Thanks for the info! I do have a question though. In trying to get a 2.5% salt solution, shouldn’t you only measure the water and salt? That way your brine is consistent no matter what type of vegetable you are fermenting. For example, if you are including your vegetables in the total mass, then the different vegetable with different mass will make the brine solution more or less salty depending on the vegetable. When you include the vegetables in the total mass, the actual brine solution will not end up being 2.5%. Some will be much more salty and some less so.
I am new to fermenting, so I am just trying to understand the reasoning behind your method. I guess it is a question of what is more important – the consistent salinity of the actual solution/brine (water and salt) at 2.5%, or the salinity of the total mass (including veggies), and why? It seems to me that the consistent salinity of the solution would be more important for consistent microbial growth (just like a petri dish with culture media). Can you help me out here. I hope this makes sense.

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Cultured Guru February 19, 2019 - 1:16 pm

Salinity, salt solutions, “saltiness” via taste perception, and salt concentration are all different things. Solutions and mixtures are also two different things if you’re speaking about science.

Fermented vegetables are a mixture of salt, water and vegetables. Total Salt Concentration refers to the total amount of salt present in comparison to the amount of the entire mixture (including all the salt, water and vegetables).

So salt concentration should be calculated (grams of NaCl added) divided by (the combined mass of the water, vegetables and added salt).

If you add 2.5% of the mass of vegetables and water in grams of salt, you will always end up with a 2.44% total salt concentration of the mixture. The type of vegetable is irrelevant as long as you weigh it. (except for root vegetables, that is what I have a disclosure statement within this blog about this not pertaining to root vegetable fermentation). Understanding that 1 milliliter of water weighs 1 gram and that mostly all vegetables are between 91-98% water helps this to make sense… especially when you account for the fact that the 91-98% water will diffuse in and out of the plant tissues with osmosis/concentration gradients.

Salinity (which is the concentration of salt in a homogenous solution of salt and water) is typically measured as concentration of grams of salt per kilograms of water. So to calculate you would have to add the mass of the water + the percent of the vegetable mass that is water in kg… then it’s: (the mass of the salt added in grams) divided by (the combined mass of water added + water mass of the vegetable in question in kg). The unit of measure for the result is ppt (parts per thousand), not a percent.

This is also why, if you make sauerkraut without the addition of water, you just add 2.5% of the cabbage weigh in salt. The salt draws the water out of the cabbage, and you again end up with a 2.44% total salt concentration of the mixture.

In culture media: if I wanted to make a 2.5% NaCl agar plate I would add 2.5 grams of NaCl to 97.5 grams of mixed media (solid agar, mixed in liquid water).

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Peter van Rens January 9, 2020 - 4:11 pm

Nice explanation. Thank you

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Kaitlynn Fenley January 10, 2020 - 2:35 pm

You’re welcome!

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Bobbie April 9, 2020 - 5:46 pm

Thank you so much for this article. I am one that is terrible at math and i always want the science behind things… This article spells out the math so I will not have a problem with it. Science behind especially food. I brew milk kefir and keep bread starters . The science was and still is often hard to find. I have search for years about the science behind bread making With no real luck.
So thank you for the detailed explanation about the mouth and the science and the process of the science.

William Gross March 19, 2019 - 6:53 pm

Thank you for your information! After seeing so many differing opinions about the amount of salt needed to ferment vegetables, this is the first source I’ve found that is backed by science. Considering the real potential for food borne illness that can come from culturing microbes found in the wild, I feel much better using your methods than just winging it.

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Peter C May 20, 2019 - 4:51 am

Thanks for the informative article.

Three questions if i may:

  1. Where does the 2.5% salt percentage target come from? I.e. Why is the ideal salt concentration? I have read the for soft vegetables (cucumbers) some recommend a 7% solution. Source: Ferment For Good, Sharon Flynn

  2. When you talk about things not being safe until a full fermentation cycle has taken place, are you talking about being safe to preserve or being safe to eat immediately. I.e. If i leave pickles to ferment at 2.5% solution for 1 week are they not safe to consume, immediately?

  3. What is the effect of increased salinity on fermentation time? Does a higher % salt solution lead to longer time before a full fermentation cycle and is there any literature on this?

Thanks so much!!!

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Cultured Guru June 9, 2019 - 12:41 pm
  1. The salt percentage is defined by the living parameters of the microorganisms involved in the fermentation process. It is also defined by the living parameters of microbes not wanted in the fermentation process.

  2. Both. One can taste test things in stage two of fermentation, because Leuconostoc bacteria are not harmful… but allowing time for the acid to build up is what makes the fermentation preserved AND safe. Proper pH = Safety. Once you start putting utensils in the fermented mixture, you expose new microorganisms to the mix. To prevent contamination, it needs to be fully preserved with enough microbe-produced acid.

  3. It’s not salinity, It’s total salt concentration. two different things. The trend of salt concentration and fermentation time is not linear, and there are parameters of too little salt and too much salt. It all depends on the vegetables, the vegetable microbiome, the temperature, the salinity, the fermentation vessel, seasoning and spices used. etc. It’s the environment as a whole that influences fermentation time. There is some literature on this, I use about 30-40 different microbiology textbooks when I need to reference… but mostly I do my own research and draw my own conclusions from my five years of education in Microbiology. You can try to use google scholar to find any publish papers on the matter.

Hope this helps! 🙂

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Ed L. July 22, 2019 - 1:22 pm

Thanks for this. I’ve been fermenting my home-grown hot peppers into sriracha sauce for a few years with great success, but my cucumbers have been hit and miss, and now I know why. Whereas my 2% (salt) pepper mash is calculated simply by weighing the mashed peppers and multiplying by .02 for the proper amount of salt, it appears, according to this article, that the cucumbers AND the water must be weighed together in order to calculate the proper amount of salt for immersion fermentation. This makes sense. Previously I had been adding 2 tablespoons of pure "pickling" salt to a quart of spring water, regardless of how many cucumbers were in the batch, thus the inconsistent results.

I have a huge National Pickling cucumber patch (jungle is more like it) and they are just starting to mature to harvest size. I’ve begun a test batch with the first 8 cukes using your methodology, creating a 5% brine. For the next two batches I’ll go with a 4% and a 3% respectively, keeping meticulous records and judging the winner by taste, texture, etc. If you’d like, I’ll be happy to report my results later on. Thanks again for this refreshingly scientific approach to pickling.

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Cultured Guru September 1, 2019 - 12:18 am

I’d love to learn about your results! Glad we can offer some help for consistency with your fermentations. : )

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ED. L. November 29, 2019 - 1:27 pm

Hello again. The experiment was a great success! I created batch after batch as the cucumbers ripened from late July through late August. The first batch was a 5% salt solution — way too salty — so I gradually reduced each successive batch down to 3%, settling on 3.5% as my favorite. I used pure pickling salt. The average fermentation time was 21 days with a maximum of 25 days, at about 72°. The cucumbers were translucent throughout, firm and crunchy, and remain so. I have only 3 jars left out of 12 batches!

I just inherited a giant cabbage, so now I have to relocate your sauerkraut recipe. Thanks again!

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ALEX KISH March 11, 2020 - 7:20 pm

Hello, some great info you have here! Thank you! You make no mention of acetic acid formation. I have a ferment going that smells of vinegar. What can you tell us about the conditions that produce it?

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Kaitlynn Fenley March 12, 2020 - 3:45 pm

I do mention acetic acid formation. This happens in stage two of vegetable fermentation, and the acetic acid is produced by Leuconostoc bacteria. See the paragraph under the heading “Stage Two”

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ALEX KISH March 13, 2020 - 7:10 pm

I apologize. I read that too quickly I guess. But, is there any thing you can say about what conditions favor acetic acid vs. lactic acid? I’ve read a lot of conflicting information about this. I am also wondering what happens to the acetic acid when the ferment keeps ripening. The vinegar smell in my ferment is going away now, about 4 days in. Thank you!

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Kaitlynn Fenley March 13, 2020 - 7:22 pm

In vegetable fermentation, there aren’t really conditions that favor acetic acid over lactic acid. The formation of acetic acid is simply a checkpoint that happens when heterolactic Leuconostoc bacteria thrive. They quickly die off and then homolactic Lactobacillus spp. thrive and produce copious amounts of lactic acid. Minimal acetic acid will still be present, just overpowered by lactic acid. This is all part of bacterial succession in wild fermentation. Each group of microbes produces different byproducts.

Making vinegar (acetic acid) is a completely different process from vegetable fermentation. It requires the presence of more sugars. Using apples as an example: yeasts will metabolize the apple sugars into alcohol first. Then acetic acid bacteria convert the alcohol into acetaldehyde, then into acetic acid. This process requires a starter (aka a MOV) to ensure the presence of the right kinds of acetic acid bacteria.

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Dan April 15, 2020 - 6:30 pm

Very informative article, thank you. As this ratio is for vegetables, what percentage of salt would be ideal for fermenting grains like quinoa?

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Kaitlynn Fenley April 16, 2020 - 1:41 pm

You cannot lactic acid ferment quinoa the same way you ferment vegetables. You will end up with alcohol. See the most recent blog post on our home page, it’s a complete guide to using salt in fermentation.

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Karen May 18, 2020 - 7:16 am

Hi, Kaitlynn.

In our tropical climate, a common room temperature here is around 86-90 F. Hence, not possible for me to place it in a room with the ideal 70-80 F temperature range as you advise above. Can I still ferment my vegies in room temperature then?

Or should I just place it in a Fridge? For how many Days till good to be consumed with enough probiotics in it?

If such given temperature range is still possible, for how many Days till good enough to be moved to Fridge? What are the expected Differences we will see as the Results? E.g. taste, bacteria types, bacteria volume, benefits, etc.

Looking forward to your answers. Thanks!

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Kaitlynn Fenley May 19, 2020 - 3:06 pm

You can still ferment at room temperature! Two things are likely to happen:

1. Softer fermented vegetables, like cucumber and zucchini, may become soggy because of intense microbial action. Leuconostoc spp. and Lactobacillus spp. LOVE warm temperatures, and are VERY active at temps between 85-100 F. You may find that even fermented cabbage isn’t as crunchy.

2. Because of the intense microbial action, things will ferment faster. Generally, everything is about 5-7 days faster at your temperature range. So just knock about 7 days off the timelines I provide, then put it in the firdge. You can expect the same bacteria. But you’re likely to have more bubbly/effervescent ferments. This is because Leuconostoc bacteria from the second stage of fermentation will do most of the acidification. These bacteria are heterolactic fermenters and produce carbon dioxide along with the acids. You don’t want to leave the ferment going fully into Lactobacillus dominated stage three at that high of a temperature, because everything will turn to mush. So you’ll get to stage three of fermentation in the refrigerator.

So in a nutshell, you’ll get all the same benefits. You’re just going to experience a difference in the texture of the vegetables.

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Christi September 7, 2020 - 2:50 pm

This is all excellent information . I love getting to the how and why of things. I do have a question on timing. Every source I find on kimchi making calls for a shorter ferment time. Is kimchi a different type of fermentation i.e. not a brine? It also doesn’t seem to be a vinegar process. Does the initial salt soak help kill off pathogens so it is safer?

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Kaitlynn Fenley September 8, 2020 - 10:07 am

Thanks! I develop my own recipes using my own unique methods and microbiology expertise. So my recipes are, of course, different from traditional Korean kimchi recipes.
Usually, the cabbage used in traditional Korean kimchi recipes is soaked in a 10-15% salt brine for 24 hours before being lightly rinsed and used in a short fermentation process. Yes, this high salt concentration soak does help control initial pathogen and fungi growth. This is still lactic acid fermentation and either way the timeline of bacterial succession is about the same. The short fermentation time is because a lot of people like to eat traditional kimchi while it is still very bubbly. So they refrigerate and eat in the second stage of vegetable fermentation when Leuconostoc bacteria are dominant and are still producing carbon dioxide.

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Tina Quinn December 12, 2020 - 8:14 am

Fantastic explanation of the succession stages. I am pro wild fermentation and would love your thoughts on the use of veggie starters and how they would effect the 3 stages of fermentation.

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Linda Dean February 2, 2021 - 1:58 pm

Thank you for the great and helpful information. If I’m using Celtic sea salt that has a high moisture content, should I try it before I measure it out? It seems like the moist will alter the final salt concentration.

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Kaitlynn Fenley February 2, 2021 - 2:22 pm

Celtic sea salt does have about 10% residual moisture, but residual moisture isn’t just water… it’s other minerals too. The residual moisture content in Celtic and Sel Gris salts will change the total salt concentration slightly, but not by an amount that’s relevant to food safety. You can just measure it using the method outlined in this blog and it will work fine.

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Sherri Para March 5, 2021 - 7:34 am

Very informative and well explained article. I am new to fermentation and find salt amounts recommended online very confusing. Your science and research based explanation is reassuring. I have to buy a kitchen scale that will measure the amounts you recommend, I think I saw the scales you use somewhere in your blog. I have a question about lactic acid and the effect it might have on arthritis. Is it safe to eat fermented vegetable for an arthritic? And also does it affect blood pressure or diabetes. Thank you

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Kaitlynn Fenley March 8, 2021 - 9:09 am

Hey there,

I’m glad you enjoyed the blog post! Lactic acid consumed through food shouldn’t influence arthritis, but you need to consult your health care provider if you have concerns about introducing new foods to your diet. Fermented vegetables contain sodium and therefore do influence blood pressure.

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Sherri Paradisopoulos March 16, 2021 - 6:43 pm

Thank you for your answer regarding arthritis, and possible influence of salt fermented vegetables on blood pressure. Maybe I can wash off the salt from fermented vegetables!!! Thank you

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Marko June 25, 2021 - 4:35 pm

Is there an exact optimal salt concentration for fermenting cabbage? I usually see ranges of 2 to 2.5%, but with a digital scales i can accurately measure salt in grams to at least 2 decimal points, and my cabage as well. Do given i can do this, what is the optimal salt concentration to 2 decimal points? By optimal i mean the crunchiest, least salty tasting, most laden with the right nutrients such as lactic acid once the 3 + weeks of fermentation is done.

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Kaitlynn Fenley June 25, 2021 - 5:20 pm

The ideal w/w total salt concentration for cabbage-based fermentation is 2.50%.

The number of grams of salt (and the decimal places of that integer) you will be measuring using your scale will depend on the weight of cabbage and water you are working with.

You can also reference our blog The Complete Guide to Using Salt in Fermentation

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Charles L Spiegel August 7, 2021 - 1:34 pm

Great, informative blog! Question: Since most of the salt is rinsed from kimchi, and it only takes 1-2 days, is it fermented?
Thank You

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Kaitlynn Fenley August 8, 2021 - 8:48 am

I think you’re talking about traditional Korean kimchi which is a completely different fermentation process, with different desired outcomes. “Most of the salt” is NOT rinsed from the cabbage when making Korean kimchi. Traditionally, Nappa cabbage is covered with 10% salt for 24 hours before rinsing and using to make kimchi. Because of something called concentration gradients, about half of that salt remains within the cabbage leaves after rinsing. Korean kimchi is usually refrigerated after 3-5 days of fermentation at room temperature because the effervescence from stage 2 of fermentation is a desired sensory quality.

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Wenche October 15, 2021 - 11:02 am

My sauerkraut with apple has dried, there is now brime over the weight. It is in week three. Did not use your recipe on this one. Should I throw it out?

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Kaitlynn Fenley October 19, 2021 - 10:02 am

if it did not stay below the brine, I’d throw it out. I cannot offer much advice on other people’s recipes.

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Omar October 18, 2021 - 5:46 pm

My question is, I’ve followed your timeline and salt concentration, as I’ve typically use 2% and and a week at room temp (forc me that’s between 73-75F). Using your parameters of 2.5% and at least 21 days I find that the vegetables are extremely acidic to the point that they are no longer enjoyable, and I like acidic food! But it’s too acid, like they are steeped in pure vinegar except they don’t taste like vinegar just acid. At least they are crisp! Is this normal? are they supposed to be this strongly acidic? and maybe it’s just a matter that I’m not used to eating food that acid? How should a vegetable taste using your technique?

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Kaitlynn Fenley October 19, 2021 - 9:55 am

Taste is arbitrary and different for every person. So taste is not a reliable way to measure the success of my fermentation techniques. The vegetables should taste quite tart and sour… I suggest testing the pH. Fermented foods should always be around 3.5 to 3.7 pH. If you don’t like food in this pH range, then you don’t like acidic food. Quality sauerkraut, pickles, and other fermented vegetables should always be this acidic.

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Mac October 28, 2021 - 3:57 pm

I am so appreciative of this article and really excited to have found your blog! I have been fermenting cabbage into sauerkraut for a while now and just started with shishitos from my garden. So far so good!

I do have a slightly technical question about brine and salt concentrations. I first learned about “equilibrium” brining with meats. When using salt and sugar one used the water weight plus the weight of the water in the meat. Not an exact science but the government does provide some good whole muscle numbers. I have used the shortcut of water plus the water in the meat (say natural not pre brined or injected chicken breast is 60% water as an example though I don’t remember the exact number)…you would take 100% of the water weight and 60% of the chicken weight and multiply by your goal percentages.

So yes it is a shortcut that slightly under salts due to not taking the weight of the salt into account. But close enough since it is in the fridge.

When using pink salt (nitrites) you need to be more exact and solve for the concentration you want with a bit of algebra. I really don’t do these much more risky brines because of the precision needed.

So that was long winded…now my question. Technically shouldn’t you be weight the water in the vegetables and not their total weight? Of course even if we have averages of 93-98% it will vary among specimens, and it is so close to 100% as not to matter. Especially since you will get slightly more salt with your approach. Not a safety issue. Just curious if the correct approach conceptually is to account for the water, the water in the veg, and the weight of the salt such that the weight of the salt is your target percent?

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Kaitlynn Fenley October 28, 2021 - 4:48 pm

I love an inquisitive comment!

Yes, you are correct. For an exact measure of brine salinity even for vegetables, you would calculate using 100% of the water weight and the % water weight of the vegetable, not the total weight, as with your chicken example. That’s the correct approach to calculate salinity because salinity is the total amount of salt dissolved in an amount of water.

But yes, as you said, vegetable water concentration is so close to 100% that the distinction is basically negligible.

That’s why I’m not teaching here how to calculate salinity, I’m teaching % composition of the total mixture (total w/w salt concentration… % of salt in the total mixture, including solid matter)

I like to teach this simpler way to achieve total w/w % of salt, instead of teaching salinity. This calculation is much easier than calculating salinity. It’s a lot easier for people to understand and allows people to achieve safety and consistency without scaring them off with too many math steps.

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Gala October 28, 2022 - 1:48 pm

The first time I tried the 2.5% method I thought the salt ratio tasted very weak, but I had great results. The second time I tried it, it seemed that loads of salt was going into it, and it was in fact, extremely salty (860g water & veg, multiplied by 2.5% = 21.5g salt). The result didn’t work out, it was too salty. What have I done wrong?

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Kaitlynn Fenley October 29, 2022 - 8:04 am

You thinking that it’s too salty is not an indication that it “didn’t work”

Every single person has a different perception of saltiness, so tasting saltiness is an arbitrary measure of success.

Fermented foods are meant to be salty and to be used as a salty sour condiment on relatively bland food.

Sounds like you might need a better kitchen scale.

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John Carson November 14, 2022 - 2:14 pm

How about measurements in terms normal people can understand.

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Kaitlynn Fenley November 14, 2022 - 2:23 pm

“normal” people are perfectly capable of using a kitchen scale to measure ingredients. It’s not difficult.

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