Lacto-Fermentation Old is New Again!

Humans have been fermenting foods for as long as we have been gathering food. Fermentation is probably the easiest and safest way to save food for another day. The key is the enzymes and bacteria used to ferment foods also prevent the bacterias and yeasts that cause spoilage from growing.

Even better, the bacterias used for fermenting actually add nutrition as they preserve the food.

Consider these great pluses:
1) Fermented foods are alive with probiotics the same way good yogurt is alive and good for our digestion.
2) Fermenting foods is faster than preparing foods for canning or freezing.
3) No energy or heat source is required for fermentation to work.

There are a lot of great sites already offering recipes, so I will just list the ingredients with links to the existing sites.

Cultured Salsa: Tomatoes, peppers, onions, lemons.

Sauerkraut/Kim Chi: Red chilies, green onions, carrots, dakon, broccoli, ginger, cabbage.

Raw Ginger Marmalade: Oranges, limes, lemons, ginger, honey.

Raw Plum Jam: Plums, honey, cardamom, cloves.

Papaya Sauerkraut: Red chili, onions, papaya, lime

Spanish Sauerkraut(Cortido): Cabbage, carrots, onions, red pepper flakes.

Garlic-Dill Cucumber Pickles: Cucumbers, garlic, dill

Turnip & Beet Slices: Turnips, beets

Beetroot Sauerkraut: Cabbage, beetroot, onions, parsley, chili.

Fermented Green Beans: Green Beans, red chili, garlic, radish, thyme

Fermented Asparagus: Asparagus, green garlic, tarragon, pepper and coriander seeds.

Naturally Fermented Ketchup: tomato paste, whey, garlic, spices

Common Thread

You’ll notice the key elements right off the bat:

  • creating surface area by chopping the veggies any way you like,
  • mixing in salt (and sometimes whey when you’ve got it),
  • mashing the veggies until the liquid runs out,
  • transferring the veggies into a glass jar or crock,
  • making sure the liquid covers the veggies,
  • letting it sit.

How long you let it sit is up to you and your tastes, but for most vegetables 2-5 days seems to do the trick.

So, What is Whey?

Whey is the by-product from making cheese, cream cheese and yogurt. You can easily ask your local diary producer to save you some whey from making their cheese. OR you can buy plain yogurt (organic preferably) and strain it through cheese cloth or linen catching the drippings. The left over yogurt has been transformed into a cream cheese and the drippings are the whey. Stores both in the fridge--yogurt cheese can last about a month(or 1-2 hours in my house) and the whey will be good for up to 6 months.

Kefir whey is the thin liquid you get from straining Kefir through linen rather than yogurt.

Fermented Soft Drinks
  • This PDF covers many different kinds of fermented soda including Ginger Ale, Rootbeer, and Mint Kvass.

From Love and Local:
When to throw out your lacto-fermented vegetables
: If your vegetables start to develop any kind of mold, smell bad or noxious in any way, or become slimy, compost them. If they are just getting a little tired or soft, chickens love them.

Once in a while, a fermentation goes awry. It happens oftener if you use chlorinated water or non-organic vegetables, or do not keep the work surfaces clean. Toss it out, and try again. If you have a lot of problems with batches going bad, try a different source of water. I have never used a low-pH water, but it might cause problems.

Vegetables suitable for lacto-fermentation:

  • Cucumbers (the original “pickles”; no vinegar required)

  • Winter squash and pumpkin

  • Root vegetables: beets, carrots, rutabaga, turnips, celery root, daikon, black radish

  • Green beans, wax beans (both must be blanched)

  • Zucchini and summer squash

  • Broccoli, kohlrabi, cauliflower

  • Tomatoes

  • Cabbage (sauerkraut); Napa cabbage (kimchee); kale, collards, curly endive; not spinach

  • Onions, leeks, peppers sweet or hot, celery, or corn as part of a mixture

If you have a vegetable not on this list, give it a try. Bean or pea seeds, even when fresh from the pod, are not suitable; uncooked beans have lectins that interfere with nutrition, and the proteins in cooked beans can cause dangers. Green beans, blanched, are fine.

Herbs and spices commonly used:

  • Caraway seed, dill seed, coriander seed, cloves, bay leaves, allspice berries, cinnamon sticks

  • Yellow mustard seed

  • Horseradish

  • Onions, garlic, scallions, leeks

  • Tarragon, savory, dill weed

  • Juniper berries

  • Raspberry leaves

  • Fresh ginger root

Again, feel free to try your favorite spices and herbs.

Other ingredients:

  • Apples (unwaxed)

  • Lemons (unwaxed)

  • Whey (you can get small amounts by putting plain live yogurt in a sieve and collecting the whey that drips out)

  • Quinces (unwaxed)

  • Almost any fruit or vegetable in smaller quantities as part of a mixture, though I wouldn’t use avocadoes or potatoes

  • Kimchees sometimes use oysters, shrimp paste, or other seafood ingredients; I have not been brave enough to attempt these ingredients.

Ursula’s Summer Mixed Pickles

These pickles are fun; use what you have around the garden. Possible ingredients are:

  • Corn kernels, cut off cob

  • Cut green beans (blanch in boiling water for 3 minutes, then drain); use young beans for this, before the bean seeds are mature

  • Tomatoes, cut up

  • Onions, peeled and cut up

  • Zucchini, shredded; remove seeds before shredding

  • Peppers, hot or sweet, seeded and sliced

  • Broccoli, cut into small pieces

  • Cauliflower, cut into small pieces

  • Napa or green cabbage, shredded

  • Cut-up small unwaxed cucumbers

You’ll want about 3 ½ pounds of vegetables for a half-gallon jar. Augment with dill seed, mustard seed, or other spices as desired. You will be using 1 tablespoon sea salt. If you have 2 tablespoons whey, you can add it to these pickles.

Prepare all vegetables by washing and cutting. Blanch green beans if you are using them. Add salt, and stamp vegetables lightly, not enough to turn them into a homogeneous mush. Pack the vegetables tightly into the jar. If the juices do not come to within two inches of the lid, fill with brine (1/2 teaspoon sea salt per cup of water). Put lid on, put jar on a plate or pie tin, and let ferment in a dark place for one week. Then cap tightly, and keep in a cold place.