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If you’re new to fermenting vegetables, here’s the perfect fermented vegetables recipe to get your feet wet.
When we first started fermenting foods, I feared breeding harmful bacteria in our batches, so was reluctant to try our first batches. Fortunately(?), my husband had a braver soul (and claimed to have a stronger stomach) to sample our experiments without hesitation.
Well, years later, we are still fermenting foods and have never gotten sick from any of our fermentations.
I can understand any apprehension you may have if you are new to fermentation. This fermented vegetables recipe is a perfect beginner’s recipe for fermentation, because it’s very simple and doesn’t take a lot of time. Once you get a very basic feel for fermentation, then you should feel comfortable progressing to more involved recipes.
A Brief, Yet Interesting History of Fermented Foods
I thought I’d share a brief history of fermented foods, in case anyone else finds the timeline equally interesting.
The earliest known instance of food or drink fermentation is around 7000 BC, where artifacts revealed the Chinese practice of making a fermented, alcoholic beverage from rice, honey, and fruit. When one archeologist recreated a 5,000-year-old Chinese beer recipe, she concluded that ancient Chinese beers were probably more like porridges and fruity compared to modern beers.
Researchers next credit Egyptians with making the first known fermented bread (i.e. bread leavened from wild yeast) around 3000 BC. As a side note, the earliest forms of bread were basically sourdough, a practice that has become popular again in recent history (See our article, Beginner’s Guide: Proven, Easy Sourdough Starter Recipe.).
The first known instance of pickled vegetables dates back to around 2400 BC in Mesopotamia (i.e. the modern-day eastern Mediterranean region). Cleopatra apparently attributed her beauty to regularly eating pickles.
Health Benefits of Fermented Vegetables
Improved Gut Health
The top health benefit from eating fermented vegetables is its probiotic content. This scientific paper found that probiotic health benefits include improving your intestinal tract health, reducing symptoms of lactose intolerance, enhancing your immune system, enhancing the bioavailability of nutrients, and reducing the risk of some cancers.
Better gut health can also improve or influence your mental health.
Improved Bioavailability of Nutrients
One study revealed that vegetables that are lactic-fermented have more iron bioavailability than fresh vegetables. That is, your body can absorb the iron from a meal better when coupled with lactic-fermented vegetables.
Another study found that fermented raw cabbage had significantly higher Vitamin C levels (up to about 695 mg per serving) and antioxidant levels than unfermented cabbage. Feel free to use cabbage in our fermented vegetables recipe.
How Salt Brine Ferments Vegetables
Our fermented vegetables recipe relies on a salt brine solution for fermentation. Quite simply, immersing vegetables in a salt brine solution halts any harmful bacteria that are present in the vegetables from otherwise spoiling or rotting the vegetables.
By sealing the vegetables into an airtight jar with salt water, you create an oxygen-free (i.e. anaerobic) environment, which prevents harmful aerobic bacteria from surviving. In turn, anaerobic bacteria (i.e. not requiring oxygen) like lactobacillus bacteria, thrive.
The anaerobic bacteria eventually outnumber any harmful aerobic bacteria that would otherwise spoil the vegetables. The salt also creates an inhospitable environment for mold. Thus, although not common, if you happen to find mold above the brine level, it’s generally considered safe to eat any food below the brine level where no mold is present.
What Flavor to Expect from the Fermented Vegetables Recipe
If you’re not used to eating fermented vegetables, you may have to get used to the flavor. Fermented vegetables have a sour/tangy base flavor, but you can modify the final flavor in our fermented vegetables recipe by using different herbs or spices .
Fear not, the more fermented vegetables you eat, the more your taste buds should grow to like them. I never ate fermented vegetables with any regularity growing up, but am now used to eating them regularly with snacks or meals.
Spooning out fermented vegetables is actually a handy way to get in some daily vegetables if you don’t otherwise eat or cook vegetables daily.
Great Uses for Fermented Vegetables
You can eat fermented vegetables straight out of the jar, just like pickles. The convenience of simply opening a jar and grabbing a fork (along with the bonus of consuming more vegetables!) often motivates me to eat them as a snack.
However, one of my absolute favorite ways to eat fermented vegetables is alongside scrambled or fried eggs. The combination may not sound exciting, but works surprisingly well.
Fermented vegetables also go well as a side to meat or rice. If you’ve ever eaten a traditional Korean meal, you’ve likely experienced the bevy of (delicious!) fermented side dishes (i.e. banchan) that accompany your meal.
Supplies Needed for Fermented Vegetables Recipe
Feel free to click on the images or links for more information.
Wide-Mouth 1-Quart Mason Jars
1-quart mason jars are the perfect size to keep an eye on your fermentation and to allow different you to experiment with different flavorings per batch. Be sure to get wide-mouth jars to facilitate filling and weighing down your jars. Also, to match wide-mouth fermenter lids (below).
Fermenter Wide Mouth Lids
Fermenter lids make fermenting a lot easier, where you don’t have to constantly monitor your jars to ensure they don’t spill over. As carbon dioxide builds up inside the jars, fermenter lids allow the gas to escape without letting more oxygen into the jar (also decreasing the likelihood of mold). If you decide to ferment without fermenter lids, you should open your jar 1-2 times a day to release any pressure.
These glass weights are the perfect size to fit inside a wide-mouth mason jar. They weigh the jar’s contents down to try to prevent any vegetable pieces from floating along the top of the brine solution (and therefore being susceptible to mold). If you opt not to use glass weights, you can try using a clean, flat rock that can lie across the surface.
Having a kitchen scale is very handy in general if you do even a moderate amount of cooking (but especially baking). As explained in our “Blurb on Salt” section further down, measuring out an accurate amount of salt is crucial to getting the right brine salt level.
Notes Before Making Fermented Vegetables
- If you have smaller chunks of vegetables or herbs that float to the top, despite using glass weights, you can lay a cabbage leaf under your glass weight to help spread across the surface wider to hold everything underneath.
- Since taste is so subjective, you would best know what herbs or spices may appeal to you best. For instance, my favorite go-to seasoning for fermented vegetables is curry powder (about ½ tbsp. per 1-quart jar), but not everyone likes curry. Whereas, a more classic combination is mustard seeds and dill, which I personally find less exciting. If you like spicy, you can add crushed red pepper or even sliced serrano chilis.
- Expect to see your vegetable jar bubbling during the fermentation process, which is from the bacteria releasing carbon dioxide. This is a good sign that fermentation is happening!
- Your brine solution will probably get cloudier over time, which is normal.
- If any vegetables float to the top and stay out of the brine water for an extended period of time, feel free to discard them out of precaution.
Fermented Vegetables Recipe
- Fresh vegetables (I’d suggest any combination of carrots, cauliflower, green beans, or bell peppers), chopped into small chunks
- Kosher Salt or Sea Salt* (see our Blurb on Salt below the recipe)
- Crushed Whole Garlic (optional)
- Filtered Water
- Optional Herbs or Spices (e.g. bay leaves, celery seeds, fennel, mustard seeds, dill, crushed red pepper, curry powder)
Make a 2.5% brine solution, which should work best for the suggested vegetables. If using Diamond Crystal Kosher Salt, dissolve 12.3 grams (or 0.4 ounces, or about 1.5 tablespoons) of salt in 2 cups of water for each 1-quart mason jar that you use.
To dissolve the salt quickly, stir it in ½ cup of hot or warm water. After the salt is dissolved, add 1½ cups of cool or room temperature water. Your brine solution should be room temperature or cooler, but not hot.
Put all of your desired herbs and spices, including crushed garlic, at the bottom of your empty mason jar(s). Placing these lighter ingredients at the bottom decreases their chances of floating to the top.
Pile your chopped vegetables on top of the spices/herbs, and pack them in as tightly as you can. Fill the vegetables to about 1½ inches from the very top of the jar.
Pour the brine solution over the vegetables, up to about 1½ inches from the very top of the jar.
Push the vegetables down again to ensure they are tightly packed in the brine solution. You may have to remove a couple of vegetable pieces if they can’t fit in the solution.
Place a glass weight on top of the vegetables to weigh them down and to keep them fully submersed in the brine solution.
Seal the mason jar with a fermenter lid and store the jar somewhere relatively dark, like a cabinet or pantry.
Monitor your fermented vegetables. The longer your vegetables ferment, the sourer and tangier they will be. I usually let mine sit for seven days. Any sooner, and I find them too crispy with not enough sourness.
Seven days is the magic number for how I like my fermented vegetables in our particular house temperature (ranging anywhere from 68 to 80 degrees, depending on the season). However, if you house is a lot warmer, your vegetables could be sufficiently fermented in as little as four days, or could take longer than seven days if your house is a lot colder.
Once you are satisfied with the taste and consistency of your fermented vegetables, then you can consume them. Store them in the fridge to slow any further fermentation.
Blurb on Salt
People often fail to account for the variations salt crystals can have in types and sizes. Not all salt is equal when it comes to volumetric measurements, which is why a kitchen scale is handy.
We regularly use Diamond Crystal Kosher Salt, so give the exact measurements for this type of salt in our fermented vegetables recipe. If you use a different brand or type of salt (e.g. sea salt), then keep in mind the crystal size and weight may be different.
A kitchen scale will ensure you use any recipe’s recommended amount of salt, instead of relying on volumetric measurements like tablespoons, cups, or teaspoons. If you choose to measure by volume, just understand that in making a brine solution, you may not have the right salt-to-water brine ratio.
For my fermented vegetables recipe, I recommend a 2.5% brine solution. I found this handy Gradient Salt Brining Calculator on the Internet that calculates how many grams, ounces, or tablespoons of various salt types to use for various brine salt levels. Click on the “Gradient Calculator” calculator tab to get to the applicable calculator.
Per the Gradient Salt Brining Calculator, you will see that making a 2.5% brine solution with Diamond Crystal Kosher Salt requires 12.3 grams (or about 1½ tablespoons) of salt in 2 cups of water, but using regular table salt would call for about 0.7 tablespoons for 12.3 grams.
(Note: I quote table salt as an example, but would not recommend using table salt for vegetable brining, because of the iodine and other additives it may contain.)
Thus, you can see that different salt types are not equal in volume, despite sharing the same weight! (In the above example, about a ½ tbsp. of regular table salt will give you the same salt level as 1½ tbsp. of kosher salt.)
Much like good bakers recommend measuring flour by weight instead of volume (to account for different flour packing or aeration), it’s recommended to use a kitchen scale with measuring salt content in recipes.
Enjoy Your Foray into Fermented Vegetables!
Making this fermented vegetables recipe should easily inspire you to make more intricate fermented vegetables. You can progress to trying popular fermented vegetables like sauerkraut, giardiniera, or kimchi next.
If you have any questions or feedback on how your batch went, olease comment below. Also, please share any flavor or vegetable combinations you used, since everyone loves hearing other people’s ideas!