Dr. Josh Axe, DC, DNM, CNS, is a doctor of chiropractic, doctor of natural medicine, clinical nutritionist and author with a passion to help people get well using food and nutrition. He operates leading natural health website DrAxe.com and is co-founder of Ancient Nutrition, a health supplement company. He’s also author of the books Eat Dirt, Essential OIls: Ancient Medicine, Keto Diet, Collagen Diet and Ancient Remedies.
By Dr. Josh Axe
Have you heard a lot about the benefits of eating foods that contain probiotics? And now you're wondering: what happens when you ferment foods to make them so beneficial?
Want to know how to make fermented vegetables or other probiotic foods at home? It may seem intimidating at first, but it's actually pretty simple to do.
This is especially true if you’re interested in making fermented foods like sauerkraut or other cultured vegetables, which only requires several basic ingredients (which you probably already have at home!).
Benefits of Lacto-Fermented Vegetables
Fermentation is the process of using microorganisms, such as bacteria or yeast, to convert carbohydrates to alcohol or organic acids under anaerobic conditions. There are two basic types of fermentation: alcoholic and lactic acid.
“Lacto-fermented” refers to foods that have been fermented by bacteria that produce lactic acid.
Specifically, the type of bacteria called Lactobacillus can convert natural sugars found in foods such as vegetables and fruits into lactic acid.
How do fermented vegetables taste? Once the process of fermentation occurs, the food winds up having a tangy, tart or sour flavor.
What happens to food after fermentation? Fermented foods develop healthy probiotics, which are microbes including beneficial bacteria and yeasts that are capable of populating the gut microbiome. Lacto-fermentation also creates beneficial B vitamins and enzymes within foods.
Including fermented veggies (also called cultured veggies) and other probiotic foods in your diet can provide benefits such as:
- Help absorbing, digesting and utilizing nutrients in food.
- Support for generally healthy gut function.
- Help with healthy digestion, including by reducing occasional constipation, gas and bloating.
- Supporting healthy bowel transit time and elimination.
- Support for healthy immune system function and defenses (this makes sense, considering that the vast majority of the immune system is housed within the gut).
Common Questions About Fermenting Vegetables
What do you need when you ferment vegetables?
To ferment vegetables you really only need several ingredients and minimal equipment. The whole process requires just fresh vegetables, plus water, salt and a glass jar with a lid.
What veggies are good to ferment? Can you ferment any vegetable?
The most popular types include cabbage, cucumbers, beets and carrots; however, you can really ferment just about any veggie you like. That being said, some types will come out better than others.
Other vegetables that come out great when you ferment them include mushrooms, green beans, radishes, bell peppers, cauliflower and onions. Garlic can also be fermented and makes a tasty addition to many meals.
Additionally, in some cultures fruits are fermented, such as pineapple, plums, peaches, cherries and apricots.
Can you ferment vegetables for too long?
Yes; letting the veggies sit for too long will cause them to become pretty sour and even moldy, which usually isn’t very appealing. Over-fermenting veggies can also cause a funky smell to develop, lead to discoloration, and possibly even cause dangerous bacteria to grow that you want to avoid consuming.
How long should veggies be fermented?
There isn’t one standard time, as it depends on the taste you’re aiming for. The longer you ferment a vegetable, the stronger the sour taste will wind up being.
Traditionally made sauerkraut requires about 3–4 weeks to ferment (at about 70 to 75°F), but you don’t necessarily have to wait this long. You can ferment some veggies for about one week and still benefit from their probiotics.
How to Ferment Vegetables
1. Gather your ingredients and equipment
Use a glass jar/container with a sealable lid, or a jar with a cloth or coffee paper filter and a tight rubber band. You want to be able to lock out all air once the veggies are finished fermenting in order to prevent mold from forming.
- 4 cups warm filtered water
- 4 tablespoons unrefined salt
- 2 quarts of coarsely chopped vegetables
- Optional for flavor: small chili peppers, bay leaves and whole peppercorns
2. Prepare the vegetables
Chop, slice, grate or shred your veggies. Try to have them be uniform in size and relatively small which assists in the lacto-fermentation process.
3. Use salt, whey or a starter culture
Depending on what you want to ferment, the recipe may call specifically for salt, a starter culture, sugar or whey. Measure this out depending on the specific veggie. If you’re making basic sauerkraut, you only need to use salt.
Combine your salt/starter with water to make a brine and put it in your jar, then put your veggies inside.
4. Weigh down your veggies
It is important to keep the fermented vegetables under your liquid brine to prevent spoilage. Use enough liquid to cover the veggies and try adding heavier pieces to the top to weigh them down. Close your lid and put the jar at room temperature in your home.
5. Wait for them to ferment then store them
You’ll need to wait for about 2–4 weeks for the fermentation process to be complete depending on the exact recipe. The hotter the temperature in your house, the quicker the process will take place.
When vegetables are done fermenting, move them to a cold environment such as the refrigerator (they’ll stay good for up to 10 months). You'll know when your vegetables are ready for storage if you notice bubbling and a sour aroma. If you notice a rotting or spoiled smell, discard, clean the container thoroughly and try again.
Note: Always take basic precautions and follow directions when fermenting your own vegetables to avoid any risks associated with home food preparation.
How Ancient Nutrition Uses Fermentation in Its Products
Fermentation is an ancient process used to break down food into more absorbable components. At Ancient Nutrition, we use the power of fermentation to help unlock many valuable nutrients within our supplements, making them more bioavailable.
For example, there are fermented ingredients in our Multi Collagen Protein, Collagen Peptides, Organic Herbal Apple Cider Vinegar, plus some of the botanical ingredients used in our SBO Probiotic formulas. We also ferment many of our herbs, vitamins and minerals (such as turmeric, functional mushrooms, ashwagandha and others).
When fermenting our herbs and botanicals, we use a proprietary, patent-pending, dual-stage, live fermentation process. We ferment select ingredients on a farm owned by fellow company co-founder Jordan Rubin and myself, so that we can ensure maximum quality. Likewise, some of our select fermented ingredients come from suppliers who adhere to strict quality and manufacturing protocols.