When people think of fermenting vegetables they usually think of sauerkraut which is fermented cabbage. But there are many other vegetables that make great ferments. Here’s what to grow in a fermenter’s garden.
Two main way of fermenting vegetables
There are two main ways to ferment vegetables, I like to call them the sauerkraut way and the pickle way.
The sauerkraut way of fermenting, is to shred the vegetables and sprinkle with salt. The salt will draw out the liquid from the vegetables and create a brine solution.
The pickle way, is to chop or slice the vegetables and add a saltwater brine to them.
Both ways have a brine and both ways create an environment that allows beneficial bacteria to grow. While one way is not really better than the other, some vegetable don’t have a enough water content to create enough brine to cover them completely.
Keeping everything under the brine is the key to safely fermenting vegetables.
Not sure how to serve fermented vegetables? Here are some tips.
Beans are easy to grow and some of the first vegetables ready for us each spring. Beans either grow on a bush or vine. If you’re limited on space you’ll want to grow one of the vine varieties, called pole beans.
Snap beans come in several colors – green, purple, and yellow which are called wax beans. When cooked the purple variety turns green. When fermented they retain their color.
One of the great things about preserving beans by fermenting them is that you can do small patches, like one pint at a time. When you can beans you need enough beans to fill 4 quarts to safely use the pressure canner. This makes fermentation my go-to preservation method for beans at the beginning and the end of the season.
Beets are a cool weather plant that can be grown year round in some climates. The bulb is what most people eat, but the greens are also edible.
Beets have a high sugar content which means they’re a little trickier to ferment than other vegetables. Beets can be fermented by themselves with just spices added or the they can be grated added to other ferments.
Just be warned whatever ferment you add beets too will turn a lovely color of pink or red.
Carrots are a cooler weather crop and can be grown year round in some climates. Like beets, we normally eat just the roots but the greens are also edible.
Carrots can be grated and added to other ferments. They are sweeter than other vegetables and add a nice flavor less flavorful vegetables. Carrots can also be cut in sticks and fermented like pickles. They are are also fantastic in a Mexican carrot ferment with jalapenos and onions.
Cauliflower is a cold weather plant that can take anywhere from 55 to 100 days to mature. Cauliflower is best harvested while the head (called curd) is still compact. If you wait until the curd begins to separate, the cauliflower will have a very strong flavor.
Cauliflower makes a fun ferment because it will take on the color of other item in the ferment. If you use curry or tumeric, you’ll have yellow cauliflower. If you add beets, you’ll have pink cauliflower.
Cucumbers are a summer vegetable and the iconic pickled vegetable. There are two main types of cucumbers – slicing and pickling. Slicing cucumbers have thicker skin and have a higher water content than pickling cucumbers. That being said, small slicing cucumbers will pickle just fine.
Before there was canning, people pickled cucumbers naturally by lacto-fermentation. These naturally pickled cucumbers have mild vinegar flavor. You can add onions, garlic, dill, and any other spices to the jar just like vinegar pickles.
Garlic is usually planted in the fall and overwintered in the garden under straw. It will then be harvested the next summer. While garlic will store just fine in some climates, it won’t store for long in warm, humid climates.
A great way to store garlic and even increase it’s nutritional content is by fermenting garlic. Once fermented its also easier to digest. Garlic cloves can also be added other ferments.
Onions are another crop that is started in the fall and overwintered in the garden in most climates. They can be tucked around other plants and even used in edible landscaping.
Since onions don’t store well in my climate, I like to preserve much of our onion harvest. I’ll add sliced onions to other ferments.
If there are any underdeveloped storage onion bulbs – and let’s be honest, here always is – I ferment those as “pearl” onion with mustard seed, peppercorns and other spices.
Peppers are a heat loving plant with a wide variety of spice and flavors. The most common spicy peppers are jalapeno, Serrano, and habanero. The most common sweet peppers (they don’t taste sweet but they aren’t spicy so we call them sweet) are bell, banana, and gypsy peppers.
Pepper plants produce a lot of fruit that will need to be preserved in some way – dehydrated, frozen, canned or fermented. Our favorite way to preserve peppers is to ferment them. They are similar to canned peppers but without the overwhelming vinegar flavor.
You can mix and match peppers in the jars or keep spicy pepper together and sweet peppers together. You can also add sliced or whole peppers to other ferments.
Radishes are a fast growing crop that can reach maturity in as a little as 22 days. They can be grown year round in some climates. However, they get spicier in the heat of the summer. The greens are also edible.
It’s easy to over plant radishes and end up with too many to eat fresh. I like to add grated or chopped radishes to other ferments, especially if the radishes are a little spicy. I also like to ferment radishes by themselves. Small radishes can be left whole but large radishes will need to be sliced for even fermentation. Just so you know, red color from the radishes will leach out into the brine and you’ll have lovely pink colored brine.
Why preserve vegetables with lacto-fermentation?
There is no one best way to preserve vegetables, it depends on the vegetable and the family’s likes and dislikes. You can learn more about preserving vegetables in The Ultimate Guide to Preserving Vegetables. But there are several reasons to consider fermenting vegetables.
- Lacto-fermenting increases digestibility of the vegetable and increases it’s nutritional value.
- You can preserve in very small batches – just one pint jar at a time.
- You don’t NEED any special equipment – you can make your own (but if you don’t want to this is a great kit to purchase.)
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