How to Culture Your Own Vegetables

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asdgdsawWhile you can do wild fermentation, which is allowing whatever is on the vegetable or fruit that you’re culturing to just naturally take hold and culture the food, this method is very time consuming. Inoculating the food using a so-called starter culture speeds up the fermentation process.

Although you can use a crock pot, Caroline recommends culturing your veggies directly in the glass Mason jars, which eliminates the need for a crock pot and eliminates a transfer step in the process. This also allows you to make smaller batches, and it eliminates the presence of wild yeasts which can occur when using a crock. These yeasts tend to give the food a cheesy sort of flavor, which many find unpalatable.

Here’s a quick summary of Caroline’s recipe for how to make your own fermented veggies:

1. Shred and cut your chosen veggies

2. Juice some celery. This is used as the brine, as it contains natural sodium and keeps the vegetables anaerobic. This eliminates the need for sea salt, which prevents growth of pathogenic bacteria

3. Pack the veggies and celery juice along with the inoculants (starter culture, such as kefir grains, whey, or commercial starter powder like our Complete Probiotics, all of which can be used for vegetables) into a 32 ounce wide-mouthed canning jar. A kraut pounder tool can be helpful to pack the jar and eliminate any air pockets. We hope to have our new starter culture which is optimized with strains of bacteria that will make high doses of vitamin K2 sometime in early 2013 assuming our testing goes well.

4. Top with a cabbage leaf, tucking it down the sides. Make sure the veggies are completely covered with celery juice and that the juice is all the way to the top of the jar to eliminate trapped air

5. Seal the jar store in a warm, slightly moist place for 24 to 96 hours, depending on the food being cultured. Ideal temperature range is 68-75 degrees Fahrenheit; 85 degrees max. Remember, heat kills the microbes!

6. When done, store in the refrigerator to slow down the fermentation process

Here are a few of Caroline’s suggestion for how to store the jars for optimal fermentation. (Remember, they don’t require a heated environment and only need to be kept around 72 degrees):

“Simply put the jars into a [portable] cooler and place the cooler OFF the floor (the floor is usually too cold due to heat rising away from it). Wrap the jars inside the cooler in an old towel and place an additional jar of HOT water into the cooler to make the environment warm. You can replace the hot water jar when you “think” about it – no need to obsess.

You can also place the jars in a casserole dish or baking dish and wrap them in a towel and place them in your oven with the oven heat OFF of course, but switch the oven light on. The heat emitting from the appliance bulb will keep the veggies warm.

Another option is to place as many jars as possible into a dehydrator and set it to the lowest temperature setting, but most dehydrators only accommodate a couple of jars max. It’s best to prepare many jars at one time due to the given fact that making veggies is a labor intensive process. I like the cooler or oven incubation processes best. They work well every time.”

Last but not least, resist the temptation to eat out of the jar! This can introduce organisms from your mouth into the jar. Instead, always use a clean spoon to take out what you’re going to eat, then, making sure the remaining veggies are covered with the brine solution, recap the jar.

One Dozen Tips and Tricks for Making Delicious Cultured Vegetables

Due to my own interest, Caroline has shared a lot of information with me. Here are a dozen more of her tips and tricks that she didn’t share during the interview:

1. Cabbage should comprise at least 80 percent of your vegetable blend. Carrots, sweet potatoes, beets, turnips and other hard root veggies can also serve as a great base for your cultured veggies, but they’re not as economical.

2. Five to six medium-sized heads of cabbage will yield about 10-14 quart-size (32 oz) jars of fermented veggies.

3. You can use red or green cabbage, but make sure they’re hard and heavy, with densely packed leaves. The lighter, leafier varieties will tend to turn into mush that doesn’t ferment well.

4. Add in other vegetables to suit your taste, such as: red, yellow or orange bell pepper, butter nut squash, dill, parsley, kale, collards and red or golden beets. Beware: use bell peppers sparingly as they have a very strong presence. One small pepper for 12 to 14 jars is plenty.

5. Always use ORGANIC vegetables!

6. Peel your vegetables as the skins can add a bitter flavor.

7. When adding aromatics, such as onion, garlic and ginger, remember that fermenting increases the flavor multiple-fold, so a little goes a long way. Don’t overdo it! A few medium-size cloves is enough to infuse a dozen jars or more with a mild garlic flavor.

8. Onion tends to overpower, no matter how little is used, so Caroline doesn’t use it in any of her blends.

9. When adding herbs, only use fresh organic herbs, in small amounts. Tasty additions include: basil, sage, rosemary, thyme and oregano.

10. Add sea vegetables or seaweed to increase the mineral, vitamin and fiber content. You can add pieces of whole dulse, or use flakes. Wakame and sea palm, which do not have any kind of fishy flavor, need to be presoaked and diced into desired size. Arame and hijaki do have a fishy flavor.

11. Use two packets of starter culture for a 12-14 jar batch during summer season. In the winter, you’ll need three packets.

12. During summer, veggies are typically done in three to four days. In the winter, they may need up to seven days. Just open up the jar and have a taste. Once you’re happy with the flavor and consistency, move the jars into the fridge.

Tools of the Trade

Having the right tools can make the process easier. You don’t need much, but canning jars, and a food processor to slice and dice large amounts of vegetables are recommended.

Canning jars can be found at your local hardware store and at some grocery stores as well. and other online sources also carry them. The 32 oz jars work really well, but you can find both smaller and larger, depending on your needs. Do get the wide-mouthed version, as they are much easier to work with. It allows you to get your hand down into the jar, and it’s very important to pack the jar firmly with vegetables to eliminate any air pockets.

Caroline explains:

“You want to squeeze all the oxygen out, and you want your cultured veggies or whatever you’re culturing to be anaerobic, meaning oxygen-free. Underneath water is the best way to do that, or underneath the liquid in the jar. And that wide-mouthed allows you to keep pressing down… A kraut pounder [can be helpful]. It looks like a tiny baseball bat. You can go to, I believe, and you can buy a little kraut pounder, and you just use that to press down to get all the oxygen out. That way, when you seal up this jar, you have this perfect, anaerobic environment within that vessel for it to culture.”


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