So, I ferment my roots. And I activate my nuts.

One of my mish mash lunches with sauerkraut (and bone broth)

And my guts love me for it. If there is one kooky, “witchy” thing you should try right now, it’s fermenting, or pickling. I’ve been playing around for a few months, making sauerkraut, pickled daikon, and the most lush beetroot relish. I eat a tablespoon or two with as many meals as I can…see some of my suggestions below…and I’ve noticed a tangible benefit with my digestion. Which, for those of you who are interested to know, is crap.

Anyone with auto immune issues, IBS, bloating, sugar cravings or any kind of digestive or allergy issue should truly try fermenting.

Before you start: you might like to make whey. Why whey? It really makes the best fermented veggies. Trust me.  It’s simple, too. Just make my homemade cream cheese. It produces whey on the side, which you can freeze until you’re ready to use.

What is fermenting?

Lacto-fermentation has been around for eons as a health trick – all cultures have a history of fermenting veggies, dairy, nuts, grains etc for medicinal and digestion purposes. The nerdy stuff: it’s a biological process by which sugars – glucose, fructose, and sucrose – are converted into cellular energy and a metabolic byproduct – lactic acid. When the acidity rises due to lactic acid-fermenting organisms, many harmful micro-organisms are killed – so it’s often been used as a preserving technique.

Why the good health rap?

Let’s do this in dot points:

* lactic acid enhances a food’s digestibility and increases vitamin C and vitamin A levels.

* it produces a stack of helpful enzymes as well as antibiotic substances.

* lactic acid promotes the growth of healthy flora in the intestine

* fermented foods are rich in vitamin K2 – a known cancer fighter

* it cuts the sugar content of foods quite dramatically (the same process sees wine end up as pretty much fructose-free)

* plus all you IQS kids:  it helps you beat sugar cravings!

What you actually do:

Basically, you mix veggies (in this case) with salt and/or whey and store in a mason jar (those pickling jars with the seal and spring lever). Let it sit for three days to ferment. Then store for months and months and eat as you like. Stupidly simple!

* The best veggies to use are: root veggies, radishes, daikon, cabbage, garlic, ginger, cauliflower

* The salt inhibits putrefying bacteria for several days until enough lactic acid is produced to preserve the vegetables for many months.

* The whey acts as an inoculant, reducing the time needed for sufficient lactic acid to be produced to ensure preservation.

A tip: I buy the Nuigini brand of coconut oil, which comes in a mason jar. Otherwise you can buy mason jars at homewares shops and Kmart etc for about $6.

Homemade sauerkraut

  • 1 medium cabbage, cored and shredded
  • 1 tbls caraway seeds
  • 1 tbls sea salt
  • 4 tbls whey (if you don’t have whey, use an extra tbls of salt instead)

Mix all ingredients in a sturdy bowl and pound with a wooden pounder or a meat hammer or just squeeze with your hands (this is actually very soothing and meditative) for about 10 minutes to release juices. This takes a little work and some patience. Spoon into a mason jar and using the pounder or meat hammer press down until juices come to the top of the cabbage and cover it. Cover tightly and keep at room temperature for about 3 days before transferring to cold storage.

What I learned the hard way:

I had a few dire experiments with the process. Learn from me and stick to these tips:

* using whey will result in consistently successful results, although you can do it with just salt.

* use the best quality organic vegetables, sea salt and water. Lactobacilli need plenty of nutrients and if you use old, dodgy, chemical-laden stuff, it just won’t do it’s thing.

* make sure you get a good centimetre of juices sitting above the veggies…otherwise mould grows, ruining the whole lot. Tho’, says Sally Fallon in Nourishing Traditions: “Some lacto-fermented products may get bubbly, particularly the chutneys. This is natural and no cause for concern. And do not be dismayed if little spots of white foam appear at the top of the pickling liquid. They are completely harmless and can be lifted off with a spoon. The occasional batch that goes bad presents no danger–the smell will be so awful that nothing could persuade you to eat it.”

If I don’t extract enough liquid I add a small amount of water with a pinch of salt dissolved in it.

Note: for some veggies, you don’t actually pound the mixture and instead a brine is added (salt and water). Check out the links below for these recipes.

* close the jars very tightly. Says Sally: “Lacto-fermentation is an anaerobic process and the presence of oxygen, once fermentation has begun, will ruin the final product.” That is, don’t open it while it’s sitting for it’s three days.

* scald all equipment you will use with boiling water to sterilize it before you begin.

Extra stuff:

* Yeah you can buy sauerkraut and kimchi in the shops…but look at the ingredients first. They often contain sugar and vinegar which produce a product that is more acidic, and some are often pasteurized, which kills the lactic-acid-producing bacteria, which defeats the whole damn purpose.

* Most recipes ask for the final product to be stored in a cool cellar. Don’t have one, or live in a hot climate? The top shelf of the fridge is fine.

* Fermented veggies improve with age…I have several jars in the fridge and as one runs out, make another couple of batches.

For more…

Definitely check out Nourished Kitchen’s e-course on the subject. Definitive!
Nourished Kitchen’s Jenny has also shared a number of great recipes…her beetroot relish is divine!!
I like this very simple recipe for chucking in a bunch of vegetables with just salt and water in a standard jar and using clingwrap to seal.
Also check out the Body Ecology Diet…their newsletter’s pretty helpful.
And, of course, Sally Fallon’s Nourishing Traditions has a host of amazing recipes.

You fermented? What’s your experience?

Have your say, leave a comment.

  • Vera Dekanic Dragone

    If you want the best fermented veggies in Sydney you cant go past Kitsa….. and her fermenting methods are by far the best. I highly recommend looking her up and adapting her fermenting methods. It will change your life. Vera

  • Antoinette Errante

    This is a great post and also looked up Nourished kitchen. Unfortunately, found you after making my first batch of kimchi. I’d looked at a bunch of recipes that all said to open the kimchi jars and pound down once a day while making it. You and Nourished Kitchen both make a good case for not doing this. So is the kimchi ruined?Shuld I start over? Thanks for your help; will be trying these recipes.

  • Kate

    Hi Sarah, I just had a quick look the the Nourished Kitchen recipes and found the Beetroot and Apple Relish which I’m really keen to try. One question…Do you use Apple? I completed your 8-week detox late last year and haven’t had much fruit at all since then and haven’t touched an apple. I know that you don’t really eat fruit so I was wondering if you had an alternative to the apple in this recipe?


  • Karla

    Hi Sarah,
    Just wondering when making the whey, would it matter if I made Labneh (adding salt to the yogurt before draining for 3 days in the fridge) and used the whey from that?
    Thanks 🙂

  • Serena

    where do i buy the whey to ferment the veggies in in Australia thanks

  • catapurple

    But if u read and I am extremely new to this it puts the good things back into your gut, so u would think a big yes too! Doctors don’t get it right and go on their own knowledge, beliefs and undetstandings Add some slowly to her diet maybe

  • EAT Probiotics

    Love the great tips here and absolutely love fermented foods! At EATProbiotics, we make 100% organic, raw fermented foods including sauerkraut, kimchi and jalapeno sauerkraut that is packed with probiotics!

  • Anna

    the plastic bag idea is brilliant as it ‘will fill’ out the shape left at the top of the jar – I’m going to try this as my own DIY weighting down efforts have only be so-so.

  • Belinda

    Thank you so much for this. I had never imagined making cream cheese and cultured vegetables would be so easy.

  • Melanie

    What type of whey is everyone using? All that I found are for drinks & have a thickner added. Is there such a thing as just 100 % powder whey? Thanks 🙂

  • Melanie Kay

    I keep hearing that we should use starters with soil based organisms, but when I tried it, the cost was $5.00 per quart, and I don’t know how to make it more economical. Any suggestions? I know the leftover liquid can be used again, but I don’t know how many times or how to tell when it needs thrown out. I wish someone would tell me how to make my own soil based starter culture, until then, I will use whey because I have it in abundance, and I’m happy with the result.

  • Honeysuckle

    can you tell me please where to buy whey? I come in to Melb regularly from regional Vic

  • Laura FermentaCap

    We have found half gallon Ball Mason jars for about $10 per half dozen case. I sell a compact airlock lid for fermenting (Fermenta Cap), and that jar is the most popular jar for fermentation. Large enough to hold a good amount, but not so big that it floods you out. Ball brought them back specifically for fermentation, since they stopped making them when the USDA started to say you should not water bath can in them.

    • Sarah

      Laura, are you in Australia or US? Its really tricky to find anything like the airlock fermenta cap here in Australia.

  • jms

    is it normal to become extremely bloated & flatulent after eating a couple of spoons of fermented veg?

  • Melissa

    Hi Sarah. I haven’t read thru many comments so I don’t know if this method was offered, but when I started making sauerkraut a couple years ago, I struggled with the air & tight seal issue. My solution was to bag the mashed cabbage (I mashed it by bagging it in a zipper bag, then pressure-rolling it with a rolling pin – works great, but use a brand-new bag for the fermenting part), forcing every bit of air out & zipping it tightly, then submerging it in a rectangular bucket of water, holding it down underwater with a saucer weighed down by a cleaned rock. A brick or other some such would do too, or a container full of water. It works extremely well, & in fact, that’s where my kraut lives till I need more & pull some out to put in a jar. I live on a mountaintop, off-grid so no refrigeration; we use coolers to store our food, so ice & space are precious. Anything I can do to keep food without refrigerating it is very helpful (I also do a lot of canning). Hope this is helpful to some of your readers.
    I came here to learn about fermenting with whey, since I’m making lots of yogurt now, too. Greek yogurt & whey – yum, good quality food! Thanks for the tips. Melissa

  • Tinaja

    Isabella Wentz has some great info on this in her latest book. If you have Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis (I do), then raw cruciferous vegetables are fine, unless you have an allergy. Cruciferous vegetables may block absorption of iodine, which affects non- autoimmune thyroid disorders. If you have standard hypothyroidism, then either cook or ferment them. So regardless of which type of thyroid disease you have, fermented cruciferous vegetables are fine.

  • I’m making the Indian Kimchi from the Simplicious recipe, but about three days into the ferment my laundry cupboard (where I am storing the jars) smells terrible! Is it normal for kimchi to smell while it is fermenting?

  • Elaina

    My sauerkraut is way too salty. Is it supposed to be?
    Thanks Heaps

  • Rosie

    Where would you get whey from?

  • Meeda Ehsan

    I roll a piece a leaf of cabbage make it cicular and use as a plug! I will just dicard later as a part of it might be above the liquid.

  • Meeda Ehsan

    I roll a piece a leaf of cabbage make it cicular and use as a plug! I will just discard later as a part of it might be above the liquid.

  • Meeda Ehsan

    I roll a piece of cabbage leaf and make it circular and use as a plug! I will just discard later as a part of it might be above the liquid.

    • Meeda Ehsan

      Also for cucumber use freshly picked cucumbers…. same day better to get crunshy pickles… and rinse under cold water

  • Peter Gearing

    Hi Just completed my first batch of fermented cabbage. Can it be transferred to a non air tight jar or does it need to remain in the air tight Mason jar in the fridge.

  • ayra

    Hi, Dr Mercola advises not to close the jar tidily to help release the gases and i saw other websites advise the same.