I’ve been meaning to write a post about cultured veggies for a long time now. Ok, let’s be honest, I’ve been meaning to write a lot of posts for along time now…but anyways, back to the topic at hand.
Culturing or fermenting vegetables is something that I knew NOTHING about as of a year ago. I knew that kimchi and sauerkraut existed, but I had only ever tried kimchi as mini samples at H-Mart and the only sauerkraut I’d had was the cooked, pasteurized, vinegary kind served with hot dogs and German food.
Apparently, however, according to Sally Fallon’s Nourishing Traditions, there was another option – one that offered a multitude of health benefits, taking the nutrient contents of fresh vegetables to the next level! And, best of all, it’s very easy to make at home! Wow! Tell me more! What must I do to reap these benefits???
The centuries-old traditionally-prepared version of these pungent condiments is called…lacto-fermentation.
Wait, what? Fermentation? As in things rotting and going bad? Gross!
Don’t worry, that’s not what it means! There are certain types of microbes (bacteria, yeasts, molds, etc.) that cause rotting and decay and produce toxins, but the types that are involved in lacto-fermentation are quite beneficial to our health!
What is Lacto-fermentation?
Lactic acid-producing lactobacilli bacteria are present on the surface of all fruits and vegetables. As they break down the starches in the foods, the bacteria produce lactic acid, enzymes, and vitamins. The lactic acid produced acts both as a natural preservative (lacto-fermented veggies do not require refrigeration!) and as a powerful digestive aid!
What are the nutritional benefits of Lacto-fermented foods?
Here’s what I learned from my reading:
“The proliferation of lactobacilli in fermented vegetables enhances their digestibility and increases vitamin levels. These beneficial organisms produce numerous helpful enzymes as well as antibiotic and anticarcinogenic substances. Their main by-product, lactic acid, not only keeps vegetables and fruits in a state of perfect preservation but also promotes the growth of healthy flora throughout the intestine.” ~ Sally Fallon, Nourishing Traditions, pg 89
- Probiotics galore! Healthy gut flora is crucial to your health, including hormonal & immune balance, heart health, digestion & absorption, protection from toxins, etc.
- Vitamins galore! Vitamins act as cofactors for a number of vital processes, boost our immune systems, and act synergistically to help absorb other nutrients
- Enzymes galore! Enzymes help us digest foods, and are involved in all body functions
- Other benefits:
- Fermented foods are easier to digest & absorb
- The process of making them is a great stress-reliever!
You can even invite friends over and have a cultured-veggie-making party! (I’ve hosted several already – it’s a blast!)
To make cultured veggies, you will need:
- fresh organic produce
- wide mouth canning jars
- good quality sea salt
- whey (optional) for a less-salty version
Basic Lacto-fermented Veggies Method #1: Shredded Veggies
- 1 lb shredded veggies (cabbage, carrots, etc.)
- 1 Tbsp sea salt (or 1 Tbsp + ¼ c. whey)
- Your choice of seasonings: herbs, spices, garlic, ginger, etc.
Mix the shredded veggies, flavorings, salt, and whey (if using) in a large glass bowl. Let sit for at least 10 minutes.
With clean hands, squeeze the mixture to release the juices. You want at least a half cup of liquid at the bottom of the bowl.
Pack it all (including the juices) into a wide-mouth canning jar, pressing down so that the liquid covers the top of the veggies.
Cover tightly, and let sit at room temp. for at least 4 days, You may want to “burp” the jar after a couple days, however, to release accumulated CO2.
Refrigeration after the 4 days is optional.
Basic Lacto-fermented Veggies Method #2: Diced & Whole Veggies
In the first method, the veggies were submerges in their own liquid. However, you can still ferment veggies that are not conducive to shredding and squeezing liquid out of. This would include beets (shredded beets ferment too quickly, producing alcohol rather than lactic acid), carrot sticks, green beans, cauliflower, and cucumbers (pickles!). All you need is a salt water brine! Here’s a basic method:
- cut your veggies into your desired sizes (sticks, cubes, florets, etc.), and arrange in a wide-mouthed jar, leaving an inch and a half between the veggies and the top of the jar.
- add water to cover the veggies, using a ratio of 1Tbsp sea salt per 1 cup of filtered water.
- some recipe ideas:
Make a variety of types of fermented veggies – herby, gingery, spicy, etc. – to go with a variety of foods! Some dishes might benefit more from one version than another. For example, gingery or miso-enhanced krauts pair nicely with Asian-inspired dishes, whereas a southwestern kraut could enhance a variety of Latin-American dishes!
Here are some versions that I have at the moment: basic red & green cabbage kraut, Golden Kraut, and Southwestern Kraut
Suggestions for Incorporating Fermented Veggies into Your Meals:
- serve with meats & other proteins for better digestion
- top your burger & hot dog
- add into salads for a burst of flavor
- add zing & crunch to sandwiches (rubens!) and wraps
- roll gingery kraut into homemade sushi & spring rolls (pictured below)
- fold into omelets
- tosswith rice or quinoa for a flavorful side dish
- mix into tuna or chicken salad
- add [homemade] mayo to sauerkraut for a probiotic coleslaw!
- mix fermented shredded carrots (such as my favorite ginger carrots) with flax, sunflower, and pumpkin seeds, and dehydrate them to make “crackers” (first picture)
- Kimchi & Cortido (Asian & Latin American versions of kraut)
- salsa, ketchup, mustard, mayo, and other condiments
- pickles, beets, carrot sticks, beans …
- fruit chutneys
- applesauce & such (dehydrate to make fruit leather!)
Have fun experimenting with different flavors and veggie combinations!
Here are some that I made yesterday at our cultured veggie party – aren’t they beautiful?!
The lovely purple jar on the left is red cabbage with ginger, and the jar on the right is diced beets and carrots with dill and garlic. The chopped veggies will take longer to ferment, but that’s ok.
Further Reading & Resources:
- CulturesForHealth.com (recipes, articles, videos, & free e-books!)
- Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon
- Wild Fermentation by Sandor Ellix Katz
- Real Food Fermentation by Alex Lewin
- Lots of tips and fermented recipes @ Girl Meets Nourishment