Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Lacto-Fermented Vegetables

I know that several of my older relatives remember the days when pickling their vegetables was done in the lacto-fermented manner. There is a lot of information about lacto-fermentation of vegetables available online but the recipes remain basic.
The basic process of preserving fruits and vegetables through lacto-fermentation occurs when lactobacilli (lactic-acid producing bacteria, which are present on the surface of many living things including leaves and roots of plants growing near the ground.) convert the sugars and starches in fruits and vegetables into lactic-acid.

Lactic-acid is beneficial in many ways. It inhibits the growth of harmful bacteria, enhances the digestibility of the fruits and vegetables, increases the level of vitamins, support the growth of healthy intestional flora, contains helpful enzymes and has anticarcinogenic and antibiotic substances. MicrobeWiki, says about lactobacilli "as natural GI microflora they are believed to perform several beneficial roles including immunomodulation, interference with enteric pathogens, and maintenance of healthy intestinal microflora."

A partial list of lacto-fermented vegetables from around the world is sufficient to prove the universality of this practice. In Europe the principle lacto-fermented food is sauerkraut. Described in Roman texts, it was prized for both its delicious taste as well as its medicinal properties. Cucumbers, beets and turnips are also traditional foods for lacto-fermentation. Less well known are ancient recipes for pickled herbs, sorrel leaves and grape leaves. In Russia and Poland one finds pickled green tomatoes, peppers and lettuces. Lacto-fermented foods form part of Asian cuisines as well. The peoples of Japan, China and Korea make pickled preparations of cabbage, turnip, eggplant, cucumber, onion, squash and carrot.
Korean kimchi, for example, is a lacto-fermented condiment of cabbage with other vegetables and seasonings that is eaten on a daily basis and no Japanese meal is complete without a portion of pickled vegetable. American tradition includes many types of relishes;corn relish, cucumber relish, watermelon rind;all of which were no doubt originally lacto-fermented products. The pickling of fruit is less well known but, nevertheless, found in many traditional cultures. The Japanese prize pickled umeboshi plums, and the peoples of India traditionally fermented fruit with spices to
make chutneys. (Nourishing Traditions:The Cookbook That Challenges Politically Correct Nutrition and the Diet Dictorates by Sally Fallon and Mary Enig. see

When preparing lacto-fermented foods, use very clean glass jars and lids and preferably organic, nutrient-rich vegetables. Imputies and lack of proper nutrients can result in spoilage. Salt is added to inhibit putrefying bacteria until the production of lactic-acid takes over. Whey is rich in lactic-acid bacteria and reduces the amount of time needed to produce a sufficient amount of lactic-acid for preservation. Using whey will produce more predictable resuls and is especially needed for preserving fruits.

Lacto-fermented fruits should be eaten within two months of preparation. Lacto-fermented vegetables, however, should improve with maturation. They will last for several months in cold storage. Some lacto-fermented products will be bubbly or have some foam on top. This is normal for lacto-fermentation and the foam can be spooned off.

Basic Lacto-Fermented Fruit and Vegetable Preparation

Peel, quarter and slice nurtient dense vegetables or fruit
Place in clean, glass jars (preferably wide-mouth)
Completely cover in solution of filtered water, sea salt and whey. (Per cup of water - add 1 Tablespoon sea salt (never iodized) and 4 Tablespoons whey. If you are not using whey use 2 Tablespoons sea salt.)
Add water to within 1" of top. Seal tightly with lid. Set in warm area (at least 72 degrees) for 2 - 3 days. (Longer if cooler and shorter if your temperature is higher.) Then store in cool, dark place.

You may have to use a weight to submerge some foods. Oxydation will harm your final product.

Whey (from yogurt)

1 quart of yogurt will produce about a pint of whey
(Line a strainer with cheesecloth, let yogurt drain whey into a bowl below, about 24 hours)

Whey (from kefir)

Let at least one cup milk culture with kefir for about 48 hours or until the culture separates. Strain as above.

Beet Kvass Recipe (by Sally Fallon and found at Nourished Magazine online)
This drink is valuable for its medicinal qualities and as a digestive aid. Beets are loaded with nutrients. One glass morning and night is an excelent blood tonic, promotes regularity, aids digestion, alkalizes the blood, cleanses the liver and is a good treatment for kidney stones and other ailments. Beet kvass may also be used in place of vinegar in salad dressings and as an addition to soups.
•3 medium or 2 large organic beetroot, peeled an chopped up coarsely.
•1/4 cup whey made fresh from raw milk, leave raw milkon the bench it will turn to cheese and whey within a few days (if fresh whey is not available just add another tablespoon of sea salt)
•1 tablespoon sea salt
•filtered water
Place beetroot, whey and salt in a 2-quart glass container. Add filtered water to fill the container. Stir well and cover securely. Keep at rooom temperature for 2 days before transferring to refrigerator.

When most of liquid has been drunk, you may fill up the container with water and keep at room temperature another 2 days. The resulting brew will be slightly less strong than the first. After the second brew, discard the beets and start again. You may, however, reserve some of the liquid and use this as your inoculant instead of the whey.

Note: Do not use grated beetroot in the preparation of beet tonic. When grated, beets exude too much juice resulting in a too rapid fermentation that favors the production of alcohol rather than lactic acid.


  1. I'm not sure why, but after I put my lacto-fermented watermelon rind in the refrigerator, all the liquid was absorbed. Do you have any idea why that might happen?

  2. I tried watermelon rind a few years ago. It seems like it would be delicious. I have only tried it the one time though and am certainly no expert.
    How fresh was it when you used it? The refrigerator can be very dry as well. I would say, perhaps there is too much in one jar. Try dividing it between two jars and add more liquid. Be sure to leave it out for a few hours to let it start fermenting and then move it to the refrigerator.
    Watermelon rind is more like a pickle, than a kraut, and should have more liquid. Did you chop it, or shred it? I would love to hear how it turns out.

  3. Can you use whey that has been heated/cooked?

  4. I am sure you can still use it. If it is from yogurt, which has been cooked, it is good. Same thing goes for sour cream. I am not sure but my opinion is that too high a temperature would cause the whey to lose its beneficial bacterial. Here are two articles I found about the benefits of whey: and