Wednesday, 16 November 2016

Fermentation of Vegetables for Food

Ian A. Reid, 11-Nov-16 (NAGA member since 1991)

This is the end of the gardening season and I have a few nutritious vegetables left in the ground.
I have no storage facilities and only a little extra space in my freezer. I have giver lots of vegetables away but still have lots left. Do I chop the vegetables up for the compost bin or do I ferment them? I choose to ferment them the way some of us did in the old days before the invention of electricity.

I will briefly answer the following questions; what, where, when, why and how.

Right off the bat, I must confess that I’m not an expert on the subject. I do have what I believe to be the best books on the subject that I’ll quote or at least refer to.

WHAT: Fermentation—Webster’s Dictionary definition: a chemical change with effervescence; esp: a transformation of an organic substance by the action of ferments. Sandor Elli Katz in his books a, Wild fermentation and the Art of FERMENTATION (Reference at the end) gives scientific explanations of fermentation.

What we need to know is that fermentation breaks down food into something nutritious: example (e.g.) Yogurt, kefir and sauerkraut. The literature also states no one has been poisoned so far as is known from eating fermented foods. It is stated that fermented foods are a powerful aid to digestion and a protection against disease.

WHERE: Any plant from your garden that hasn’t been sprayed with a chemical and is not rotten.
Any plant from anywhere else that is chemical free. Before starting the actual fermentation, all plants should be washed with chlorine free water. In addition, chlorine and fluoride free water must be used in the fermentation process.

WHEN: At any time, but generally, people ferment when there is an abundance of plant food available. At the end of the gardening seasoning is an ideal time providing surplus plants, in fairly good condition, are available before freezing weather sets in?

WHY: To prevent waste. Throwing good plants in the compost bin in not really a waste but a better choice is to make nutritious food that lasts well into the winter. Some authors state that fermenting food is as easy as 1, 2, and 3. Why not give it a try?

HOW: Please see the foods we are fermenting at the present time.

The two garlic bottles front left are in 2% brine. The bottle with air lock is self- brine sauerkraut. The others are 2% brine: Swiss chard stems, Collard greens stems.  bitter melon is self-brine. The bottles to the right are: 2% brine as follows: Back, Green Tomatoes, Beets and Radish, in front are Red Peppers.

Most authors recommend unrefined sea salt. These salts have the trace minerals intact. What you don’t want to use is iodized table salt with the material in it to make it run freely.

Brine Formulas
One tablespoon (15 ML) salt weighs about 14 g or ½ oz. It’s difficult to get an accurate measurement of salt as the grains are so large.

Pickle-it ( has 3 brine formulas as follows:

a) SELF-BRINE: meaning that the juices in the plants provide the moisture, no additional water is necessary. E.g., Cabbage, beets, bitter melon, Swiss chard leaves.
Formula: 19 grams salt plus 3 pounds of vegetable. This works out to about 1.4 % brine. The calculation is: 3 lb x 16 oz/lb = 48 oz. Now, 48 oz x 28.35 g/oz = 1360 grams. Therefore, (19g/1360g) x 100 = 1.4% salt.

b) 2% BRINE: This means for vegetables that haven’t enough juice when shredded or cut up into small pieces to make enough juice when pressed down in the jar to cover the vegetables. 

E.g, green beans, broccoli, garlic.
Formula: 19 grams of salt plus 4 cups of chlorine free water. As stated above, this works out to be 2% brine.

c) CUKE-BRINE: Pickling cucumbers have 2 formulas:
Full sour:  48 grams of salt plus 4 cups of water = 5% brine. 
Half –sour: 33 grams salt plus 4 cups of water=3.5% brine.

Please note that the above formulas are using air locks to exclude air from the vegetables being fermented. See example in picture of jar with air lock. An air lock allows the release of CO2 and oxygen, creating anaerobic conditions. Without oxygen mold doesn’t form.

Fermenting without an air lock requires a little more salt. To give 2% brine, a cabbage weighing 1360 grams requires 1360 x 0.02 = 27g of salt . Some authors use less salt others more. If you don’t have a digital scale, you can use measuring spoons to measure the amount of salt necessary for your 2% brine. A spoon measure is not as accurate as a digital scale measure. I’ve weighed the following on my scales using unrefined sea salt.

Another important consideration to keep in mind is that HEAT kills bacteria (good and bad). The most nutritional benefit is the live bacterial cultures which are destroyed by cooking. This doesn’t mean that you can’t cook the fermented foods. It only means that all the beneficial bacteria when cooked are dead. Store bought pasteurized fermenting foods have no beneficial bacteria left, they are all dead.  Fermenting foods give off a gas. If you sealed the container while the food is fermenting the container will explode. After an extended period of time, maybe after a month or more, all the food used in the fermentation process is probably consumed. At this time the container can probably be safely sealed. Fermented foods won’t last forever. As a rule of thumb, I’d check the quality of the fermented food after it’s been in the fridge for say six months. 

Since I’m most familiar with making sauerkraut I’ll briefly explain the process. Acquire a red or white cabbage and carry out the following steps. 1 weigh it, 2 quarter it, 3 and shred it 4 calculate weight of salt to use. Use the 2% formula for self- brining. 5 in a large bowl sprinkle the salt over the shredded cabbage. 6 with your clean fingers and nails work the salt into the cabbage. Salt brings the juice out of the cabbage. This step is very important so do a thorough job.7 Ladle cabbage into a suitable (not metal) container within about one inch of its top. Squeeze down the cabbage by hand or other tool so that the juice rises above the top layers of cabbage. Any portion of the cabbage not covered by juice will spoil. When necessary add a little salt water so that the cabbage is always totally covered. 8 Attach air lock or weigh down the cabbage with a glass nearly full of water that fits inside the cabbage container. Other clean weights can be used to weigh down the cabbage. Wait 2 or 3 weeks for fermentation to take place in a shady location. After the fermentation stopes, the jar can be placed in the fridge.  Since there is quite a bit of salt in the sauerkraut, one should limit, for health reasons, the amount of sauerkraut consumed at one time.

In the vegetables that had the 2%brine, there is lots of juice left in the container. This juice can be used as a digestive tonic and as a soup stock. Don’t throw this juice out because it contains complex flavors and it is full of Lactobacilli. If the juice is a little salty, add a little more chlorine free water.

Health Benefits
Many health benefits have been claimed for sauerkraut. Source: Wikipedia
It is a source of vitamins B, C, and K;[19] the fermentation process increases the bioavailability of nutrients rendering sauerkraut even more nutritious than the original cabbage.[20] It is also low in calories and high in calcium and magnesium, and it is a very good source of dietary fiber, folate, iron, potassium, copper and manganese.[19]
If unpasteurized and uncooked, sauerkraut also contains live lactobacilli and beneficial microbes and is rich in enzymes. The fiber and supply of probiotics improve digestion and promote the growth of healthy bowel flora, protecting against many diseases of the digestive tract.[20][21]
Sauerkraut has been used in Europe for centuries to treat stomach ulcers, and its effectiveness for soothing the digestive tract has been well established by numerous studies.[22]
Raw sauerkraut is distinctly different from store-bought, canned sauerkraut. While many food manufacturers can or jar their kraut using heat in order to extend shelf life, raw sauerkraut is lacto-fermented and is alive with good bacteria and probiotics. Raw sauerkraut is fermented over days or weeks at room temperature, packaged into jars with its own brine solution, then refrigerated to preserve the vitamins, enzymes, and beneficial bacteria without any heat. The lactic acid creates beneficial intestinal flora, balances stomach pH both directions, and helps break down proteins.[23]
During the American Civil War, the physician John Jay Terrell (1829–1922)[24][25] was able to successfully reduce the death rate from disease among prisoners of war; he attributed this to the practice of feeding his patients raw sauerkraut.[26]
Sauerkraut is a time-honored folk remedy for canker sores. It is used by rinsing the mouth with sauerkraut juice for about 30 seconds several times a day, or by placing a wad of sauerkraut against the affected area for a minute or so before chewing and swallowing the kraut.[27]
The October 23, 2002 issue of the Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry reported that Finnish researchers found the isothiocyanates produced in sauerkraut fermentation inhibit the growth of cancer cells in test tube and animal studies.[28] A Polish study in 2010 concluded that "... induction of the key detoxifying enzymes by cabbage juices, particularly sauerkraut, may be responsible for their chemopreventive activity demonstrated by epidemiological studies and in animal models".[29][30][31][32][33][34][35][36]
Sauerkraut is high in the antioxidants lutein and zeaxanthin, both associated with preserving ocular health.[37].

Remember, I said that I’m not an expert on the subject of fermentation. I hope that I’ve made no serious mistakes or gave wrong information. I’ve only scratched the surface. There are lots more to learn. If I’ve sparked your interest in this subject, I’ve accomplished my task.

Local libraries should stock the above two mentioned references. If they don’t carry them, they might order them. There are probably other good references on fermentation in our library. occasionally offer canning workshops, in Ottawa, as well.

a. Wild fermentation by Sandor Ellix Katz,Chelsea Green Publishing Company, White River, Junction,Vermont, 187 pages, The flavor, nutrition and craft of Live Culture Foods.
b. The ART of Fermentation by Sandor Ellix Katz,Chelsea Green Publishing Company, White River, Junction,Vermont, 498 pages, an in-depth exploration of essential concepts and processes from around the world.
(Please note that I haven’t copied or quoted from the above noted two books as the material is Copyrighted.)
c. Wikipedia (numbered references as indicated above per Wikipedia page)

Take care, 
Ian Reid