Sauerkraut, Kimchi and Chutney, Oh My! 
Fermentation Fun

Have you ever wondered how sauerkraut is made? Do you love fermented vegetables beyond a reasonable explanation? Could you eat a jar of kimchi in a single afternoon? If so, I understand. I have long adored all foods fermented, and a few years ago I set about learning how to pickle, ferment and preserve vegetables myself. In this article, I discuss the basics of vegetable fermentation. 

Through the fermentation process, vegetables become more bio-available so that our bodies better absorb their nutrients, which makes fermented vegetables incredibly good for us. They are nutrient-rich, naturally raw and vegan and contain a multitude of live probiotics. People also eat fermented vegetables to improve gut health and support healthy digestion. 

Fermentation is one of the safest forms of vegetable preservation. By slicing veggies very thin, sprinkling with salt and massaging rigorously, we drive liquid out of the vegetable. This liquid becomes the brine, water which eventually submerges the vegetables. The vegetables ferment for several days safely under the brine layer.  

Vegetable fermentation is, among other things, a process of acidification. The naturally released vegetable brine, combined with salt, creates a highly acidic environment (anaerobic lactic-acid bacteria), which keeps the fermenting veggies safe from mold, yeast and other unwelcome microorganisms. Lacto-fermentation is a stellar way to preserve food, enhance flavor and lock in nutrients and vitamins.  

Fermentation is also a way to reduce food waste. Instead of letting produce spoil and go to waste, we can proactively turn extra veggies into a vegetable ferment.  

The real reason we love fermented veggies  

We are not only drawn to fermented vegetables because they are good for us, are safely preserved and help us reduce waste. We are drawn to them because they are delicious. And you can make fermented vegetables whenever you have the time. You don’t need much to ferment, brine or pickle your own vegetables. Start with a large bowl, knife, cutting board, salt and a jar or crock. 

Go ahead, ferment something! 

The beauty of vegetable fermentation lies in its ancient simplicity. Nearly every culture in the world practices some version of food fermentation and salt preservation. Making fermented vegetables is easy once you’ve learned the basic tricks. With a few common pieces of equipment, anyone can make delicious, fermented vegetables in their own kitchen. After chopping, shredding, slicing, salting, massaging and packing, the result is a naturally preserved, nutrient-rich and delicious food that you can incorporate into almost any meal or use when fresh veggies are not at hand.  

Veggies ideal for fermentation 

Cabbage, carrots, fennel, radish, garlic, turmeric, escarole, ginger, peppers, leeks, beets, celeriac, collard greens (my favorite!), jicama, horseradish, onions, turnips and parsnip, to name but a few.  

For more detailed information and instructions on food fermentation, I recommend checking out Kirsten Shockey’s book: “Fermented Vegetables.”

About Author

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Laurel Podulke-Smith is a kombucha enthusiast and lives in Rochester, Minnesota, with her husband, Darin, their dog, Rudy, and a small flock of backyard chickens. When not engrossed in culinary adventures, Laurel serves her community as an elected county official, and is an advocate for sustainability, resilience and urban farming.

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