Did you know that most pickles used to be made using only salt and water, no vinegar? The pickles were still tart when finished, even without the addition of vinegar.
Nowadays this method of pickling is called ‘Lacto Fermentation’. And it is the rage! For good reason too..
It turns out that this is the best way to pickle, because of its health benefits! It is completely safe to do at home, and does not require the lengthy boiling and sterilizing that regular pickling does. The reason for this is that lacto fermentation harnesses bacteria to cure and keep the vegetables. This means that the pickles inside the jar and the water they are in naturally keeps out pathogens and agents of decay. They do all of the hard work for you!
All you have to do is get a few jars together and make a salt water mix. But before we get into that, let’s take a quick look at some of science behind vegetable fermentation. Its pretty interesting!
The Science Behind Lacto Fermented Vegetables
The reason why vegetable ferments do not go off is because the heavily alkaline environment from the salt inhibits the development of decay causing bacteria. At the same time – in this ‘space’ – a different set of microbes develop. These are called lactic acid bacteria. Lactic acid bacteria are part of the colony of bacteria which make up the probiotic bacteria in our gut. These probiotic lactic acid bacteria also produce lactic acid, which is what makes pickles taste tart.
Besides curing the vegetables via fermentation, the lactic acid bacteria present in fermented vegetables are also a powerful probiotic.
Probiotic Power of Lacto Fermented Vegetables (Old fashioned pickles)
As mentioned aboved, when pickles are made this way, without vinegar – just salt water – they ended up becoming a veritable powerhouse of probiotic bacteria.
So much so that Dr Mercola stated the one teaspoon of sauerkraut (traditional sauerkraut is an example of a lacto fermented vegetables) contains more probiotics than a whole bottle of of probiotic capsules.
The Importance of Probiotic Bacteria in Our Bodies
While they used to be prescribed only after courses of antibiotics, studies are now suggesting that healthy levels of probiotics are vital to all over body health. This might sound crazy, but it makes a lot of sense once you take a close look at it.
Probiotics play a massive role in the uptake of food and nutrients. The are like the software of the gut, and are responsible for facilitating the exchange of substances into the body. The are like the workers, and the gut is the walls of the processing plant.
Proper uptake of nutrients is a huge part of good health. It does not matter how many superfoods we eat, if we are not absorbing the nutrition – it’s pointless! On the other hand, if we are taking up our food fully, this means that there are more building blocks and nutrient for the body to health and maintain itself with.
Probiotic bacteria also do a lot of the work involved for the body to carry out proper elimination and detoxification. Probiotic bacteria assist in making sure that waste such as faeces is excreted smoothly without conditions like as diarrhea or constipation developing. Certain probiotic bacteria also have the ability to grab hold of toxins and contaminants such as heavy metals and thereby excrete them out of them body via the faeces.
Probiotics Gut Bacteria Make up 80% of Our Immune System
Not only do probiotic gut bacteria make do most of the work when it comes to digestion and detoxification – they are also the largest component of the immune system. They protect us from ingested or inhaled pathogens by crowding them out from taking hold on our digestive tract walls. By doing so they protect us from viral infections, parasites, Candida overgrowth etc.
I always thought that the immune system was located under one’s armpits for some reason….! lol
Probiotic Gut Bacteria Produce Neurochemicals….
Yes, probiotic bacteria produce some of our brain chemicals. Like serotonin. Because of this having good levels of probiotic bacteria in our gut is essential for proper brain functioning and mood regulation.
This research is very new, but there are published studies available now, which are getting everybody very excited about this new scientific link between the gut and the brain!
There are many other areas which science is showing can benefit by probiotics such and cancer, heart disease, overly high cholesterol and allergies.
So…How Difficult Are These Things to Make?
Ok ok, that is all great – but how complicated is it to make probiotic fermented vegetables?
Answer: It is dead easy.
The basics are as follows: All you need to do is submerge your veggies in salt water and let them cure.
Yes. That is it. There are some guidelines to success, which I have listed below – but in essence it is that simple. Vegetables, jar and salt water!
Best Way Ever to Use Up Excess Veg
And the cherry tomato (pickled of course) on top is – this is one of the simplest ways to use up excess veg. If you have a garden and are experiencing excessive yields, or have bought too much at the farmer’s market and are feeling guilty because you won’t get to eat it all – simply seal the vegetables in salt water.
Making lacto fermented vegetables is ridiculously easy, and really the ultimate way to process excess produce. And of course, the end result of your bottling is a jar full of powerful probiotic veggies!
Do’s For Safe Bottling
While making lacto fermented vegetables is incredibly simple – there are some ‘good practices’.
- Use fresh vegetables
- Wash your jars beforehand
- Seal your jars with a lid
- Use a pickle pebble or regular stone to keep the vegetables submerged
- Open the lid once a day for the first week or two
I like to use a pebble from the garden to keep the tops of my vegetables from bobbing above the brine. If they do bob, it it is not a catastrophe. However they then tend to discolor on the tops. If you are selecting a pebble from the beach or your garden, make sure that it is a shiny and hard kind. Porous stones tend to chalk off into your ferment. This is thanks to your lactic acid produced by the bacteria.
IMPORTANT Safety Precaution
The last point above is very important. Once you have bottled your vegetables, you must be sure to crack the lids once a day. The reason for this is that as the lactic acid bacteria do their good work they produce carbon dioxide. This creates a buildup of pressure in the bottle.
If left uncracked, the bottles can build up enough pressure to the point that they can explode! Needless to say this can be very dangerous. So crack those bottles!
Sometimes when making your own fermented vegetables, a white film develops on top of the salt water. I researched it, and this is called kahm yeast. It is non toxic (in fact probiotic as well!) and completely safe to ingest. However it has an odd smell and I finds makes the ferment unappetising.
Kahm yeast is not a regular brewing occurrence – instead there are two factors which directly influence the chance of developing kahm yeast. Those are:
- Freshness of vegetables
- Amount of exposure to fresh air while fermenting
If your vegetables are slightly old, there is a chance that your ferment might develop kahm yeast. So try to bottle any excess veg before it loses all of its freshness.
And as far as exposure to air goes, if you do not seal your ferment this can also increase chances of kahm yeast. There are different ways that people seal their fermented vegetables, here is a breakdown of the three main ones.
Different Ways to Bottle
I always use a regular jar with a lid that seals nicely. Bail wire jars work great, but so do normal salsa jars.
- Ordinary jar with lid (with daily cracking)
- Lid with airlock
- Open ferment (no lid, just a cloth cover)
The first option is the simplest, all you need is a bottle or jar with a well sealing lid. I personally find this method to work well.
The second method with the airlocks is recommended for those who want to do lots of fermenting on a regular basis. The airlock releases any pressure buildup, so no daily cracking. It can also prevent the build up of kahm yeast. Have an airlock on your ferments is great, but not a requirement.
The third bottling method is one where you leave off any type of lid, and simply cover the top of your jar with a cloth and rubber band to keep out dust and bugs. It is highly recommended by some people, but I find that this method heightens the chance of kahm yeast developing. Almost every ferment I did this way got kahm yeast.
Below you will find my exact process for how I make my fermented vegetables There are lots of guidelines out there for fermenting vegetables, many varying slightly in instructions. This is what I do, and I find it works great.
As far as what vegetables to use, most vegetables work great. Softer vegetables will go even softer, which is why people often stick to harder types like onions, carrots, beans, etc. However the options are endless, and you can even do things like fermented salsa by simple blending softened fermented tomato and peppers together after they have cultured.
If you are wondering if a certain type of vegetable will work – give me a shout in the comments and we can chat. : )
- Vegetables of your choice
- Jars enough to hold them
- Pure water (do not use chlorinated water, rainwater or filtered water is preferable)
- Pebbles to keep down the veggies (optional)
Salt to Water Ratio
Before starting, the most important point is your salt to water ratio. This does not have to be excruciatingly exact, but it does have to be salty enough so that the vegetables preserve properly, and not so salty the you can eat the stuff later.
The standard salt:water ratio is 1.5 tablespoon salt:4 cups of water or 0.3 tablespoon salt:1 cup water
- Wash your jars with some hot water and vinegar.
- Fill them with the vegetables.
- Pour in water, until it almost reaches the brim.
- Then pour this water off into a measuring jug.
- Add the required amount of sea salt for the amount of water you have.
- Stir to dissolve.
- Pour back into the jars over the veg.
- Place a pebble on top to keep the vegetables submerged.
- Screw on the lid!
- Crack everyday.
You can also flavor and spice your jars. Pickling spices work well, or you can use things like whole garlic or chilies. To spice, simply add the extra ingredient(s) in after you have poured the salt water into the jars.
You can give your pickling vegetables a taste every so often to see how they are getting on. You can eat them at any point that you feel that are ready for your liking. To stall the culturing process (and to stop them getting more tart) you can refrigerate. However you can also store the bottles at room temperature. They will get more potent this way.