Introduction: Lacto-Fermentation

About: Made in Canada, I grew up crafting, making, and baking. Out of this love for designing and creating, I pursued a BFA in product design from Parsons School of Design in NYC. Since then I've done work for Martha…

Step 1: Why This Method Works

This is the gist of the lacto-fermentation process:

  • slice, chop or shred some clean veggies (like cabbage, carrot, radishes, etc.)
  • add salt
  • give them a little massage
  • place the veggies in an UNSTERILIZED jar along with their own brine - the result of the salt and massage
  • weigh down the food bits
  • loosely screw on a lid
  • set the jar on a plate

The process of lacto-fermentation probably seems so counterintuitive given everything we've learned about temperature and spoilers and scary bacteria, that I would understand completely if it made you uneasy.

But I swear it is indeed safe and here's why:

Yes, there are bad guy bacteria, but there are also good guy bacteria. It's the good bacteria that are the stars of this process. These good bacteria, the process' namesake Lactobacillus, live on the surface of fruits and vegetables and are more salt tolerant than the bad guys. The salty brine starts to kill off the bad bacteria, while the good bacteria begins its job of converting the lactose and other sugars in the food into lactic acid. The low pH environment that this increase in lactic acid creates, is inhospitable to bad bacteria. It also gives fermented food its signature tangy taste. The good bacteria just continue to grow and multiply the longer the jar stays at room temperature. Which is a GOOD thing! :)

Another benefit of these helpful bacteria, is that they are probiotic. In fact Lactobacillus is the most common probiotic found in yogurt and fermented foods. They help balance the good and bad bacteria in your gut and help move food through your digestive system. People pay big money for store bought probiotic capsules when all they have to do is roll up their sleeves and give some vegetables a massage. :)

Hopefully you will enjoy the process and taste enough to make lacto-fermented foods a staple on your plate.

NOTE: Because of the high acidity of lacto-fermented foods, use it as a meal supplement and not a meal in itself. 1/4 cup a day is a good rule of thumb.

Step 2: Tools & Equipment

Here are the tools you'll need to make each recipe in this lesson:

Lacto-Fermented Green Beans

  • scale
  • colander
  • medium bowl
  • measuring spoons
  • measuring cup
  • (x2) clean quart jars*

Garlic Sauerkraut

  • scale
  • cutting board
  • chef's knife
  • large bowl
  • grater
  • peeler
  • measuring spoons
  • (x1) quart jar w/ plastic lid*
  • (x1) 4oz jam jar without lid*

*It's not necessary to sterilize the jars. Washing and drying them is enough as the low pH environment that the good bacteria and lactic acid create, is inhospitable to bad bacteria.

Step 3: Lacto-Fermented Green Beans

This recipe is so easy, and the results are so mild and delicious, it makes me want to plant my entire yard with green beans. But then I remember I also love peppers, and carrots, and tomatoes, and...

This is a beginner great project to try your hand at lacto-fermentation! See link to my instructable below:

Lacto-Fermented Green Beans

Step 4: Sweet Garlic Sauerkraut

Making sauerkraut is my all time preserving favorite! It's quick, easy, delicious to me, and it's naturally occurring probiotics are so good for the ol' gut! That's a lot of benefit from a bit of elbow grease and a couple of humble veggies.

I highly recommend trying this recipe! See the link to my instructable below:

Sweet Garlic Sauerkraut

Step 5: Storage Tips

The best (and only) place to store your ferments once they've been at room temperature for 2 - 28 days (the time at room temperature depends on the recipe) is in the fridge. (Or the coldest area of a root cellar if you're lucky enough to have one.)

Different areas of the fridge are slightly different temperatures, so placement will affect the pace at which your foods continue to ferment.

The shelves in the door are the warmest area of the fridge, so if you'd like to reach a more 'fermented' flavor quicker (i.e.: you plan to eat them within 1-2 months and you love a robust ferment tang), put your jars there.

If you expect to keep your ferments for the long haul before digging in (11-12 months) and want a milder flavor, place the jars in the back of the top shelf. This is the coldest area of the fridge.

Try and keep all the food bits below the brine line so that they don't dry out. They tend to sneak up the sides of the in-use jars if you're not vigilant.

Fermented foods will last for up to 1 year if stored in the fridge and for 3-4 months in a root cellar.

NOTE: Make sure to tighten the jar lids before placing it in them the fridge for storage.

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