Packed with important nutrients and low in calories, vegetables should be a regular feature on everyone’s dinner plate. But, what if you knew that there was a way to get even more out of your vegetables?
More nutrients equal better health, so it sounds like a no-brainer, right? And with that, let’s talk about fermented vegetables.
When it comes to fermentation, there are a lot of myths out there like how difficult they can be to make, or how long they may take to actually ferment… but fermented veggies aren’t only accessible, they’re worth the effort.
From kimchi to sauerkraut and miso — different cultures have been fermenting vegetables for centuries.1 And if you’ve ever had a pickle, you’ve tasted a fermented veggie.
Fun With Fermentation
It’s key to understand exactly how the fermentation process changes vegetables in order to understand how they can benefit your health. It’s all about bacteria.
As you know, bacteria play a role in rotting or spoiling food if it is exposed for too long. However, in the right conditions, there’s a sweet spot between fresh and rotten. And if your veggies hit that sweet spot, they can actually help your body.2
You see, like any other organism, bacteria need certain food to live. When vegetables are soaked in salt water or their own juices, bacteria start to grow. Then, they feed off of the sugars in the vegetable. This produces lactic acid.3
This combination of salt and lactic acid is what makes the difference between a fermented vegetable and a rotten one. Bacteria that are harmful to your body can’t survive in these conditions, so all that’s left are the good bacteria.
So, fermentation accomplishes three things:
- It kills harmful bacteria
- It supports the growth of good bacteria
- And it provides you with lactic acid
Now, each human body is its own living ecosystem. Your body is made up of trillions of microorganisms that live inside it. These organisms make up your microbiome.
Of course, certain parts of your body have higher concentrations of these microorganisms — like your mouth, skin, and gut.4
In fact, gut bacteria are especially important for several reasons — not the least of which is that your gut bacteria may play a role much larger than just helping you with digestion.
For instance, there’s a growing link developing between gut health and mental health. This is because gut bacteria play a role in sending and receiving messages to and from the brain. This is called the gut-brain axis.5
And the bacteria in fermented foods can help support your gut health (and overall health) by bringing balance back to the microbiome. By eating fermented vegetables, you combine healthy bacteria with essential nutrients.
Studies have shown that fermented foods have health benefits including:
- Heart health support
- Digestive assistance
- Maintaining your immune system
- Supporting a healthy brain
- Possible reduction in mood issues6,7,8
So, What Fermented Vegetables Can You Make?
Well, you can make all sorts of fermented vegetables. For instance, sauerkraut is just fermented cabbage. Kimchi is a combination of fermented vegetables but starts with cabbage as well. A pickle is a fermented cucumber.
If you’re vegan, you may have tried fermented food without knowing it. Tempeh is a cake-like fermented soybean product. It’s a common meat substitute due to its high amounts of protein and texture.9
If you’re scouting for vegetables to try fermenting, the sky’s the limit! Just about any chopped vegetable can be fermented. Generally, though, firm vegetables are easier for beginners.
Here are some common vegetables that are easy to ferment:
- snap peas
- green beans
Creating Your Own Fermented Vegetables
After choosing your vegetable, you’re probably going to want to invest in something called a starter culture. Starter cultures are a specific set of microorganisms used to jump-start the fermentation process.
Most of the time, you hear about starter cultures when dealing with cheese, yogurt, or other dairy products.
However, they are just as useful when fermenting vegetables. If you choose to forgo a starter culture, you’re likely going to be using something like salt to start the fermentation process.
Here’s the run-down on fermenting mixed vegetables.
- Prepare your vegetables. Chop, grate, slice, or leave them whole. Just know, some vegetables ferment better when they’re cut into smaller pieces.
- Stir your starter culture, salt with water.
- Pour your water mixture and vegetables into a mason or canning jar. Make sure to pack things together so the vegetables are submerged. Some people use a cabbage leaf to hold down the vegetables.
- Seal the jar and store it in a slightly warm, moist area from 24 to 96 hours. (Slightly warm means around 68-75 degrees.)
- When the culturing is complete, move the jar to refrigeration to slow the fermenting. Some indicators your veggies are ready might include a sour aroma or bubbling.
Fermented Foods and Veggies In Review
It’s true, there are myths about how difficult it can be to ferment vegetables, but in the end, you’ve really just got to let nature do its work. It’s a worthy investment of your time and energy.
Fermented vegetables are delicious and healthy. Give making your own batch a shot… your body will appreciate it.