The century-old technique of preserving food is on a comeback in the culinary and health world—the health benefits of fermented foods have been scientifically proven to help the human body in numerous ways (thanks to the naturally forming probiotics), and as people become more interested preparing foods from scratch, eating locally, and enjoying the harvest, it’s no surprise that lacto-fermentation is becoming such a hot topic. One of the biggest health benefits to fermented foods is the action of probiotics upon the gut. Probiotics are bacteria that are present in many foods, but in the right conditions, they will flourish and suppress other harmful bacteria. The conditions favored for fermentation are anaerobic—the absence of oxygen. The basic science of fermentation is a sugar/carbohydrate turning into a lactic acid or alcohol in the presence of lactic acid bacteria (the probiotic). The alcohol or lactic acid produced act as the preservative for the food. Another preservative used in most fermentation is salt. Salt helps to draw the water out of the food and prevents the growth of harmful bacteria. These actions also help to start to digest the food—therefore, when it enters the digestive system, some of the work is already done. This allows for easier digestion, as well as increasing the availability of certain nutrients.
Recently, the Monadnock Food Co-op paired up with Cheshire Medical Center to do a series of presentations and cooking demos on fermentation. Once the basic skills have been practiced, this ancient technique of preserving food can easily be incorporated in everyone’s diet and lifestyle.
To start, remember the basics of vegetable fermentation: Chop, Salt, Pack, Wait.
Chop/Cut the desired vegetables, the smaller the chop, the more surface area that is exposed and the easier the food will ferment.
Salt the food by wither massaging salt into the food pieces (called dry salting), or make a salty water mix, called a brine.
Pack in the vegetables tightly to allow water to fully submerge the food, creating an anaerobic environment.
Wait. The longer a fermented food sits, the more the tastes will evolve and allows the growth of the beneficial bacteria.
To get you started, I’ve included a few basic vegetable fermentation recipes. For more information, I recommend the following books and websites. Happy Fermenting!
Sandor Ellix Katz, The Art of Fermentation
Katherine Green, Home Fermentation,: A Starter Guide
Jennifer McGruther, The Nourished Kitchen
2 pounds green cabbage, cored and sliced thin
1 ½ tablespoon sea salt
- Toss the slices cabbage in a large bowl with the salt. Set aside for 10 minutes.
- Massage cabbage, squeezing and lightly pounding to release water. Massage for 7-10 minutes, until cabbage is limp and there is water on the bottom of the bowl.
- Start packing the cabbage into a 1 quart mason jar, pressing down firmly as you go. Pressing firmly once you have filled the jar, release enough water to cover the cabbage by at least 1 inch. If needed, add filtered water to cover thoroughly.
- Use a weight* to keep cabbage submerged. Or, cover with whole cabbage peels that fit under the rim of the jar to keep cabbage pieces below liquid.
- Cover jar with lid and sit at room temperature. Loosen lid to burp air out, and make sure cabbage remains below the liquid. Taste after bubbles have started rising, and every few days.
- Refrigerate or keep in a cool dark place to allow for continuous, slow fermentation when desired sourness and taste are achieved.
*Possible Weights: Knobbed root of cabbage, potato, or other root vegetable, a clean stone, a jar or shot glass filled with weights or water
2 cups grated carrots
1 ½ teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon grated ginger
- Combine ingredients together, set aside for 30 minutes for water to release.
- Pound with a blunt object (such as a potato masher) or fists for at least 5 minutes until juices from the veggies are released.
- Put into glass vessel and press firmly to submerge vegetables in water-may need to add some water to fully submerge veggies, leave 1 inch between the water and top of jar.
- Cover and let sit at room temperature (65-80) for 5 days, burping after 2 days.
- Refrigerate; will keep for 3-4 weeks
Yield: 1 pint
1 medium onion, diced
2 tomatoes, diced
1 medium jalapeno, diced
Garlic clove, minced
Handful of chopped cilantro
2 teaspoons salt
- Combine all ingredients into a glass bowl, mixing well. Set aside anywhere from 10-60 minutes to allow some water to release.
- Pour into mason jar and press down firmly with clean hands to release as much water as possible.
- Add additional, non-chlorinated water as needed to fully submerge veggies. Place weight over veggies and cover.
- Leave at room temperature for 2-4 days, tasting after 2 days.
Yield: 1 quart