fermented foods feature

Fun Foods to Ferment

Whether you are looking for better health, extending the life of the food you harvest, or ideas to craft creative creations for your family meals fermenting is a great way to give you all three.

Fermenting is one of the oldest forms of preserving food, and if you are an avid food gardener or just a foodie, you’ll be happy to know that there are countless fruits and veggies that you can easily ferment. We’ve rounded up some of our favorites, with a few recipe tips thrown in for good measure. Here’s to your gut health!

What is Fermenting and Why is it Good for You?

Fermentation is the process of converting carbohydrates into alcohol or organic acids using yeast or bacteria. The science of fermentation is called “zymology” or “zymurgy,” but for home gardeners, “fermentation” will do. Before we get into what garden foods you can ferment, let’s talk for a minute about why we might consider fermenting in the first place. Among the benefits of fermented foods:

  • Extends the shelf life of many vegetables and dairy products
  • Creates a zippy tasting food out of previously bland garden foods
  • Creates gut health
  • Improves digestion
  • Boosts immune system
  • Increases nutrient absorption

Fun Foods to Ferment 

fermented cabbage
fermented cukes

It might be quicker to talk about foods that you can’t ferment, but that wouldn’t be too fun, would it? So, here are some common garden foods as well as some food of the more “fun” variety to try fermenting — and be sure to keep reading for some recipe tips below!

  1. Cabbage: You’re in luck if you love sauerkraut, because it’s pretty darn easy to make your own. Red or green cabbage, salt, and some water are all that’s needed to make this popular sweet and sour side dish. Once you get the basic recipe down, you can have some fun with additional ingredients like apples, caraway seeds, or even juniper berries.
  2. Cucumbers: Fermented cukes are similar to homemade dill pickles, but are not processed with heat. A little experimentation is necessary to ensure that your fermented pickles are tasty and crunchy, rather than soggy — but it’s a simple taste-as-you-go kind of thing.
  3. Carrots: Nothing could be easier than carrot sticks, water, and salt to make crunchy fermented carrots. These tasty treats are fun for kids to make as their first fermented food project, and if you want to encourage your kids to be a little more adventuresome with flavor, add in some garlic or peppercorns.
  4. Lemons: Whaaaat? Preserved lemons? I’m in. Use Meyer lemons or whatever variety you grow, salt, and lemon juice — the result is a tangy, sweet, and salty fermented lemon that blends with other ingredients (olives, basil, mozzerella) to make mouth-watering appetizers.
  5. Tomatoes: While you can indeed ferment tomatoes all on their own, when you add some peppers into the mix, a fermented salsa is the result. Why ferment a salsa? While it will taste similar to unfermented salsa, the fermented variety has a little added kick and a hint of fizziness to it.
  6. Watermelon radishes: While “regular” radishes are spicy, watermelon radishes boast a milder, less peppery taste with a gorgeous pink-red hue. Fermented radishes tend to have a rather unpleasant scent when you first open the jar, but not to worry — like a fine wine, it simply needs about 15 minutes to “breathe” before being ready for your dinner plate.
  7. Banana peppers: These bright yellow (but also orange and red as they really mature) members of the chili pepper family are silly easy to grow and even easier to ferment. They have a milder, tangy taste that pairs beautifully with the salty kick of the fermenting brine, without the high heat of other peppers.
fermented peppers

Fermenting Recipe Tips

Most fermenting recipes use simple ingredients like salt, vinegar, sugar, and a variety of add-ins like lemon or lime juice, celery seed, mustard seed, herbs, and spices. These ingredients create what’s called the “brine,” which is then poured over the foods in a jar.

  • Make sure all of your jars, lids, and utensils are squeaky clean to avoid introducing unwanted and harmful bacteria into your fermented foods.
  • Read your recipe directions carefully — some call for mixing all of the ingredients together before placing in the prepared jars, while others have a pour-over brine to make separately.
  • Many recipes require the filled jars to sit on the countertop for a week or more, then moving to cold storage in your refrigerator.
  • Use jars and jar lids that are recommended for fermenting — wide mouth mason jars are ideal, with regular lids or those specially made for fermenting.
  • Veggies should remain submerged in the brine to avoid mold from forming — there are several different techniques and tricks to keep them submerged, including fermentation weights. Your recipe should give you recommendations on the best method to use.
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