We love fermenting here at Tant Hill Farm so figured it was time to share our tips and tricks to help you lacto-ferment at home. Lacto-fermentation happens when food is submerged in a salty brine and left to sit at room temperature for days, weeks or even months. A specific species of bacteria, Lactobacillus, converts sugars to lactic acid. This process not only preserves food but it also makes it more nutritious and digestible.
There is a lot to learn and we know it can seem overwhelming but it really boils down to the crucial steps listed below. Of course there is more to this – which type of container to use, how to flavor it, etc, but you need to understand these steps first. After reviewing the crucial steps, you will have a greater understanding of the sauerruben recipe below. We hope you enjoy it!
Crucial Steps for Successful Lacto-Fermenting at Home
- Salt is crucial because it both draws liquid from the vegetable, creating its own brine, and also creates an atmosphere where only healthy bacteria can thrive.
- Amount: most resources recommend using 2% – 5% salt of the fermented vegetables weight. That means trim, peel and cut your vegetables before weighing them and THEN calculate the amount of salt you need. I typically use about 3.5% salt and have had great results (I use sea salt). I would highly suggest investing in a digital scale to make this step easy.
- Type: do a quick online search and you will find different opinions on whether the type of salt you use makes a difference of not. It comes down to the amount of sodium in your salt, and luckily, it is printed in the nutrition section on the box. Table salt typically has 580mg in 1/4 teaspoon and sea salt has 440mg in 1/4 teaspoon. So, given that I typically measure my salt using a teaspoon or tablespoon, if you use table salt, it will result in a saltier (and sometimes too salty) end product. In the end, I recommend looking at the sodium content on your salt box and if you have a choice, use the salt with the lower amount.
- Lacto-fermentation is an anaerobic process, meaning it happens in the absence of air. That is why it is so important to have all vegetables submerged under the brine and all air-pockets removed. You will often see recipes that state you should add the vegetables a little at a time, pounding them down between each addition. This helps to ensure there are no air pockets remaining. You can also tap the finished ferment on the counter lightly or use a long skewer to remove any trapped air bubbles. There are all sorts of gadgets on the market to help – we love using the Kraut Source but you can use just about anything. It can be as simple as filling a plastic bag with brine and setting it on top to keep the vegetables submerged.
- Time & Temperature:
- Time and temperature work hand in hand. You can ferment anywhere between 55°F and 80°F. The lower the temperature, the slower the fermentation and conversely, the higher the temperature, the faster the fermentation. This also affects the flavor – slow fermentations typically have more complex, nuanced flavor whereas fast fermentations can have more intense flavors with a higher chance for off-flavors. There is a useful rule of thumb that states for every 10°C rise in temperature, the rate of reaction doubles. As an example, if it is 10°C (or about 18°F) hotter in your kitchen, expect your fermentation to finish in half the time. In the end, tasting your fermentation every day is the only way to know how it is progressing.
makes about 1 cup
Recipe note: traditional sauerruben is made with turnips but I added kohlrabi for an interesting twist.
- 15 ounces combined salad turnips and kohlrabi
- 1-1/2 teaspoons fine sea salt
- 1 bay leaf
- Trim the salad turnips and peel the kohlrabi. Grate on the large holes of a box grater. I had 8 ounces of grated salad turnips and 4 ounces of grated kohlrabi. The breakdown isn’t as important as the total amount as this determines the amount of salt.
- Add the grated vegetables and salt to a medium mixing bowl and mix well to combine. Allow to sit for 10 minutes or so to extract the water from the vegetables. You can use any type of fermenting vessel but a pint sized glass canning jar works great here. Add the vegetables a little at a time, pounding them down with the back of a spoon between each addition. There should be enough liquid to cover the vegetables. Add the bay leaf and submerge the vegetables below the brine. If you aren’t using a device that covers the top, cover with cheesecloth and secure with a rubber band. Allow to ferment as desired. I find that I like my ferments after a week or so. Once it is to your liking, cover with a lid and transfer to the refrigerator. I have kept ferments for months and months in the refrigerator but this probably won’t last that long.