How To Ferment Vegetables: The Complete Guide to Fermentation

There are countless reasons to start fermenting your food. It’s healthy for you, it saves you money, and it’s delicious. But the process of how to ferment vegetables can be a little intimidating. Not to worry, we’re here to help get you started.

Peppers and onions ferment in a large Mortier Pilon crock on a counter next to fresh pepper & a head of garlic

What is fermentation?

There’s a phrase in the fermenting world that fermentation is controlled rot. You’re taking a fruit, veggie, or protein and exposing it to bacteria and fungi to create a chemical reaction that gives you an entirely different food. It’s how we go from cucumbers to pickles or cabbage to sauerkraut. 

The key ingredient is the culture or the bacteria that is used to ferment. Fruits and veggies have naturally occurring bacteria in their skin that yield the desired results with even just a simple mix of water and vinegar after a certain amount of time. Yogurt, for example, is made when you pasteurize milk and a standard bacteria is reintroduced. 

Time, temperature and flavor are the three major variables of fermentation. Let’s say I have a head of cabbage. I split it in half and add fish sauce and chilis to one half and juniper and caraway seeds to the other. Same process, same base ingredient. Two entirely different cultures. One is kimchi, the other, sauerkraut. 

But no matter how many times I do it, there will be an element of mystery in the fermentation. How long they ferment will influence their flavor intensity. And how hot it gets will influence the rate at which it ferments. 

The Japanese have a culture around fermentation that centers on hand taste. It’s the idea that the same ingredients, location, time, can yield an entirely different product just because of the person’s hands who made it. 

Three Mortier Pilon crocks of various veggies sit on a counter as they ferment

What can you ferment?

You can ferment anything. Any fruit, any veggie, any protein and that’s pretty much the whole spectrum. 

For beginners, I recommend veggies to start. It’s the quickest, it’s the most familiar, and it’s the most rewarding. At the store, you’re paying a premium for something that is fermented. But after you ferment your own food, you may not go back. 

Cucumbers are a great start. They’re forgiving and it’s an end result you’re already familiar with. A pickle!

Sauerkraut is another great one. It takes a humble vegetable and turns it into something rich in flavor and economical as an end result. When you make it yourself you get gallons for as much as you would pay at the store. 

Beets and peppers sit on a counter next to Masontops' fermentation kit

Why should you ferment vegetables & other foods?

Aside from saving money, which is a brilliant reason to do it. Your health is the biggest factor in fermentation. It’s healthier for you but it’s also about accessibility and resistance.

When you’re fermenting, you are changing the chemistry of whatever it is you are fermenting to better align with the part of your body you most associate with food: your gut. In other words, you’re encouraging the growth of bacteria that will benefit your gut and potentially even your mood.

Just how healthy fermented foods are for you remains debatable, but did you know every culture has fermented food? EVERY SINGLE ONE. You can’t find a society that doesn’t ferment. Even animals ferment their food! For me, this speaks volumes about how important it is to retain this information for our health even if you don’t know or understand exactly how or why it’s good on a microbiological level. 

Can I link health back to food solely? No. But processed foods are essentially sterilized items you’re putting inside you. I’m not poo-pooing hygiene, but I am pointing out the important relationships our bodies have developed with the bacteria that live in fermented foods.

Fermented foods are the antithesis of processed foods. And they might be impactful to more than just your gut! Did you know the majority of your serotonin receptors are in your gut, not your brain? We don’t always associate mood with gut health, but when your stomach is unhappy, you are for sure unhappy.

In addition to health, fermenting your own food gives you power over your own food security. I live in Boston and I have to pay a premium for products that are healthier for me. But why? Why should someone who might make less money than me not have access to food that is healthy for them? 

Without pointing too big of a finger at the food industry in America, forgetting how to preserve and ferment food means putting your food security in the hands of companies that really only have financial interests. Turning produce into a fermented delicacy won’t cost you much beyond time and it’s a great way to reclaim power at any income. 

Truly, the highest cost associated with fermentation is knowledge cost. People, understandably, don’t have a ton of confidence when they start. It’s a foreign process and, again, you’re controlling rot. It’s intimidating.

But it’s a fairly hands-off and inexpensive way to provide yourself with really healthy foods. You just have to be willing to learn and invest some time in experimentation. That willingness will pay massive and delicious dividends down the line.

Veggies are seen pickling in a mason jar

What are helpful tips to keep in mind?

First, make what you want to eat. Start with foods you know you like or find something you’d like to replicate. I love fancy (usually expensive) mustard. For the longest time, I was searching for an expensive jar in the store. And now, I’m making it myself and I’ll never go back. Why pay $12 for a petite jar for something I can make a gallon of for less than $10?  

If you’re fermenting something you like, you’re gonna be more excited about it. The last thing you want is to put all of this time into waiting for something you’re not even looking forward to eating.

Second, experiment. Start with small batches with a little bit of variation. Say you’ve got 12 pickles. Split them into two different recipes so that if you end up with something you don’t like as much, you don’t have them in bulk. 

Do some digging online, consult your local library, but there’s no substitute for hands-on experience. You won’t build a familiarity with the smells or tastes of a fermented food until you actually start doing it. 

Luckily for you, we have some great products that can be a huge help in getting started.

A myriad of vegetables sit in 4 individual fermentation crocks from Mortier Pilon

The sleek and modern fermenter

If you are a bit intimidated by the process of fermenting food but want to try it or you are a pro looking for a new system, Mortier Pilon has created a simple Fermentation Crock with a Recipe Book and Canning Set to help you become a fermenting wizard. The Fermentation Crock’s sleek and modern design looks good on any countertop while giving you the ability to ferment just about anything. Use the Recipe Book to make things like pickles and homemade sauerkraut, then store your delicious and nutritious fermented creations in the Canning Set and enjoy them for months. 

Ghost peppers and beets ferment in Mason jars using Masontop's fermenting kit

To ferment vegetables with a mason jar

We use mason jars for everything from holding our drinks in the kitchen to storing cotton balls in the bathroom. So, why not use them for fermenting food? Ferment fruits, vegetables, meat, and more with this easy-to-use Mason Jar Fermenting Kit by Masontops. The kit includes airlock seals, glass weights, and a tamper, or you can purchase each individually. The colorful mason jar fermenting lids screw onto the mason jars to help keep air out and let gases out. Put your extra mason jars to good use–and enjoy delicious fermented treats while you’re at it. 

Bowls of Curio Spice Co's pickling spice blend sit on a cutting board with fresh pickling cucumbers

To give your veggies an extra zing: pickling spices

When fermenting foods, it is important to season them well to get the most flavor. The Home Pickling Kit by Curio Spice Co. has made seasoning easy with carefully curated spice blends directly sourced from farmers and growers. The Curio Spice kit gives your veggies a perfectly seasoned Morracan or Madagascar flavor taste every time. Recipes are included in the kit to help give your food a globally-inspired taste.

A person uses Spirelli's spiral slicer  to spiralize fresh zucchini

A healthy (and fermented) version of pasta

Get your daily dose of vegetables and eat a healthy alternative to pasta at the same time. Slice your vegetables with this Spirelli Hand Spiral Slicer for thin noodles or Spirelli Spiralfix Spiral Slicer for strips that range from thicker noodles to thinner julienne strips. Slice cucumbers, zucchini, beets and more into a healthy-pasta. Ferment sliced cucumbers, zucchini, beets and more and get flavorful and antioxidant-rich fermented veggie noodles.

A woman uses the Kilner veggie spiralizer to spiralize a carrot & other veggies

Spiralize your veggies in one jar

This Kilner Veggie Spiralizer is a great way to cut and spiralize vegetables into thin noodles. Conveniently catch the thinly sliced strips into a jar and save them for later then throw the spiralizer in the dishwasher when you are done. Ferment the vegetable strips and have yourself a flavorful, healthy, and low-carb alternative to grains.

Whether you have your own garden that you’re ready to harvest or you’re just looking to spice up the produce you buy at the store, you, your gut, your wallet, and your taste buds are going to be glad you learned how to ferment vegetables.

Looking for non-fermenting ways to keep your produce fresh? Check out our guide to storing fresh fruits & veggies.

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