Lacto fermented vegetable pickles are some of the healthiest things you can eat. I’m not talking about the pickles you find in the supermarket which are basically made by putting veggies into vinegar. Real pickles are made with an age-old process called lacto fermentation which not only allows you to preserve foods, but proliferate healthy bacteria.
Home fermentation does not require any preservatives, heat, or special ingredients. All living things have a type of healthy bacteria called lactobacilli living on them. When you pickle vegetables, you allow the lactobacilli to multiply. The lactobacilli create lactic acid which preserves the food, prevents harmful bacteria from growing, and gives you many health benefits. I’ve wrote about the health benefits of fermented foods before, especially in regards to fermented food being a source of Vitamin K2, which is really important for bone health.
If you want a more scientific, detailed, description of what goes on during fermentation, I recommend reading The Art of Fermentation by Sandor Katz. The book is basically the modern-day bible of fermentation. But, you honestly can skip the entire read. Pickling with lacto fermentation is incredibly easy. Basically, you do this:
- Put some veggies or fruits in a jar
- Pour salt water over them (aka “brine”)
- Make sure the veggies stay under the brine
- Wait 1-7 days (depending on temperature and sugar content of food)
- Viola! You’ve got pickles!
Even though I knew about all the health benefits of fermented food, it took me a long time to get over my fear of bacteria and start pickling.
What if bad bacteria gets into the pickles and I don’t realize?
Do I need to sterilize the glass jars?
How will I know when the pickles are done?
Ugh – how to make sense of all the conflicting advice about pickling out there???
If you have fears of home pickling, my advice is this: JUST TRY IT. You will soon realize it is ridiculously easy to make fermented vegetables at home. It is also a great way to use up any produce which is about to go bad so you throw away less food.
So long as you keep the veggies under the salt water brine, no bad bacteria will get to them. You WILL KNOW if the pickles have gone bad. They will smell funky and the water will turn an icky brown color.
Notes about Home Fermenting
- You don’t need any fancy starters. Any ol’ table salt is enough to start fermenting.
- You should see some bubbles forming. This is a sign that fermentation is happening!
- It is okay if you see a white film on top of your ferments. Just scrape it off.
- It is NOT okay if you see a brownish or black film on top of your ferments. Throw the batch away.
- Fermented food should smell pleasantly sour. Not like garbage.
- Veggies usually ferment within 2-7 days.
- Fruits ferment fast, in about 12-24 hours!
- Garlic turns blue when you ferment it! This is because of a compound called isoallin in garlic breaking down.
How To Make Pickled Vegetables with Lacto-Fermentation
- Jars – any jars will do but it can be fun to buy fermenting crocks
- Fruits or veggies
- Something to weigh the fruits or veggies down in the jar
- Something to cover the jars with (a towel, coffee filter, napkin…)
- Clean your jars. You DO NOT need to sterilize them with boiling water.
- Put some veggies in your jar. I like to slice mine because I use pickled food on sandwiches. But you can make them however you like. Smaller foods can even be pickled whole. Get creative and add herbs and spices!
- Put about 1tsp to 1tbsp of salt in the jar (measurements are for a quart-sized jar; use less or more depending on the size of your jar and how salty you like your pickles!). Iodine can slow fermentation, so it is best to use iodine-free salt. But I use iodized salt and have no problems.
- Pour water over the veggies in the jar. It is best to use filtered water because chemicals in tap water can slow fermentation. I use tap water and have no problems.
- Leave about 1 inch of space at the top of the jar. Fermentation causes some bubbling and water might overflow!
- Put a weight on top of the veggies to keep them under the brine.*
- Cover pickle jars to prevent dust/etc from getting in them. They need to “breathe” so don’t cover them completely! I use a kitchen towel to cover them.
- Put pickles in a warm place to sit. It is good to put a tray underneath them in case any water overflows!
- After about 2-3 days, test a pickle. If it is not sour enough for you, then allow to ferment more. Sugary fruits ferment fast, so test them after 12 hours.
- When pickles are done to your liking, put in the fridge. Fruit ferments will last about 1-2 months. Veggie ferments last 6+ months!
*For me, the hardest part about pickling was figuring out how to keep the veggies under the salt water brine. The most common suggestion is to use a cabbage leaf as a “lid” on top of the veggies to keep them under the brine. But then I kept having problems with the cabbage leaf floating up! Another suggestion was to put a smaller-sized jar inside the fermenting jar. But that caused water to overflow as the pickles settled.
The best solution I found was to use a plastic bag filled with marbles. This works wonders! Though my daughter was pissed that I stole all of her marbles…
Once I started making tons of fermented vegetables at once though, I bought these cool little fermenting presses. They are made of plastic, so that kind of sucks, but they only cost me the equivalent of 50 cents in my local plastic-ware store. If you are serious about home fermenting, it might be worth it to buy something nicer – like these glass fermenting weights available on Amazon.
Ready to get fermenting? Try this pickled kohlrabi recipe.