Transforming vegetables via fermentation

  • Katie Korby, fermentation manager for Real Pickles in Greenfield, tests a ferment. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO/KATE HUNTER FOR REAL PICKLES

  • Ingredients for pickling. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO/MATTHEW CAVANAUGH FOR REAL PICKLES

  • Carrots for pickling. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO/MATTHEW CAVANAUGH FOR REAL PICKLES

  • Katie Korby, fermentation manager for Real Pickles in Greenfield, tests a ferment. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO/KATE HUNTER FOR REAL PICKLES

  • Worker owners of Real Pickles in Greenfield. PHOTO COURTESY/MATTHEW CAVANAUGH FOR REAL PICKLES

For the Recorder
Published: 9/6/2021 4:44:18 PM

What is vegetable fermentation and why would you want to do it?

“Primarily for the health benefits,” said Katie Korby, fermentation manager for Real Pickles in Greenfield. “There has been a lot of exciting research, even in the past few months. For example, a USDA lab in New York recently published an article showing how fermenting stimulates a high production of the amino acid GABBA, which helps with anxiety and decision making.”

Korby went on to say that the process of fermenting vegetables also drives up the vitamin and mineral content: “Vitamin C goes way up and you get higher levels of (vitamin) K, folic acid, and B vitamins.”

Korby explained how probiotics actually work. “The cool thing — this idea of living organisms in your food — is really not about the organisms themselves but what they produce,” she said.

In addition, Korby said that research has shown that fermented foods help break down fiber so you can utilize it. If you have any reason you find it difficult to eat fermented foods, Korby said you don’t need to eat more than a tablespoon a day to reap the benefits.

Real Pickles states the definition of fermentation on its website https://realpickles.com as “A process of transforming food by creating an environment where beneficial bacteria can thrive. When fermenting vegetables, we mainly work with a broad category called lactic acid bacteria. They exist naturally on the surface of fresh vegetables (and in many other places, too, like our skin, in healthy soil, etc.). The key to a robust fermentation is giving the lactic acid bacteria a warm, slightly salty and anaerobic (no access to oxygen) environment.”

Korby leads workshops on how to ferment vegetables and said she enjoys helping people with any questions they have about it.

How to ferment vegetables

Assemble the tools for prepping your vegetables and jars or a crock to do the fermenting. Chop or shred the vegetables uniformly, Korby said, so that the fermentation can happen evenly.

“You want to keep the pieces on the smaller side. Larger chunks make it harder for the lactic acid to penetrate the vegetable,” she said.

She added that the bigger the pieces or shreds, the greater the crunch, and that chopping or shredding smaller pieces makes the fermentation process go more quickly.

“You definitely want to see initially vigorous fermentation. But once that settles down you can start taking tastes of it,” Korby said.

She said you will find by tasting how sour or crunchy you prefer your product. “If you like the taste and crunch after the first week, great. If not, let it go another week for the vegetables to be less crunchy,” she said.

Korby said the longer the fermented vegetables sit, the more their flavor profile develops, even while refrigerated.

The website details the two basic methods: brining and dry salt methods.

Brining method

“This method mixes salt and water to make the brine for a ferment of coarsely chopped or whole vegetables. The brining method is a great way to ferment veggies like salad radishes, spring carrots, snap or snow peas, beets and cucumbers. If you want to scale up this recipe for a larger batch, use this ratio: 1½ teaspoons salt to 1 pint water plus vegetables.”

1. Choose your combination of vegetables, herbs and spices to ferment (see part 2 for recipe suggestions).

2. Coarsely chop your vegetables to yield about 2 cups of cubes, coins, or matchsticks for each pint jar. Or leave them whole if they are tender and smaller than your little finger.

3. Place the veggies along with any herbs or spices in the jar, leaving an inch of head space at the top.

4. In a separate jar, mix 1½ teaspoons of salt with ½ cup of water until the salt completely dissolves.

5. Add the water and salt mixture to the jar of sliced veggies, then top off the jar with more water, leaving ¾-inch of head space. Make sure all your vegetables are below the brine.

6. Screw the lid on loosely. Shake the jar gently to make sure the salt is evenly distributed.

7. Put your jar in a warm (66-72 degrees F) place to ferment. Put a plate or tray under your jar as they often leak a little in the first week of fermenting.

Dry salt method

“This method is best for shredded veggies like cabbage or carrots. Mixing the salt directly into freshly shredded vegetables will draw out their water. Have you ever heard the saying ‘A pint is a pound the world ’round’? Believe it or not, about a pound of shredded/thinly sliced vegetables will perfectly fill a pint jar! If you want to scale up this recipe for a larger batch, use this ratio: 1½ teaspoons salt to 1 pound (16 oz.) ingredients.

1. Choose your combination of vegetables, fresh herbs and dry spices to ferment (see part 2 for recipe suggestions).

2. Finely slice or shred your vegetables with a knife, food processor or mandolin.

3. Place the mixing bowl on the kitchen scale and tare the weight. Add 1½ teaspoons salt and fresh herbs or spices. Then add your sliced vegetables until the total weight is 16 ounces.

4. Mix the salt thoroughly into the vegetables, herbs and spices. Let this sit for at least 15 minutes to allow the salt to draw out juices from the veggies as brine. The vegetables will also soften during this process.

5. Mix the salted vegetables once more and then pack tightly into the jar leaving ¾-inch head space. Press down firmly. It should all fit, though you might have a small amount left over and that’s fine. Pour any brine from the bottom of the bowl on top of the mixture and press the vegetables down until they are submerged. Your vegetables should be covered by the brine. If your mixture is dry, it’s OK to add a tablespoon or two of water.

6. Screw the lid on loosely.

7. Put your jar in a warm (66-72 degrees F) place to ferment. Put a plate or a tray under your jar as they often leak a little in the first week of fermenting.”

Food safety

One of the things that may occur while fermenting is mold may grow on the surface. Korby said mold can be skimmed off if it occurs.

“With no oxygen and plenty of salt, mold can’t survive beneath the surface,” she said.

Korby said mold doesn’t affect fermented vegetables the same as other food stuffs. “For hard cheeses, you can cut off the mold going down about an inch and it’s safe. With bread, because it’s fluffy and airy, the mycelia can penetrate throughout the loaf.”

She also recommends placing the fermented vegetables in small jars with as little “head room” as possible. “Oxygen is the enemy here.” Your finished products can be stored safely in the refrigerator for up to a year she said.

“I love making fermenting not scary for people,” she said.

Herbs, spices and hot sauce

The spices and (fresh) herbs you use will be a matter of personal taste. But typically, garlic, ginger, turmeric, dill, cilantro, oregano, basil, etc. can be used.

Korby said she and her husband, Justin Korby, like to plant a “hot sauce garden” every year. “We grow all sorts of hot peppers, then we ferment them with a salt pack with some tomato, onion and cilantro. When it’s done fermenting we liquefy it in a food processor. It’s a super fun thing we do every year,” she said.

For more information, write Korby at katie@realpickles.com

Cris Carl is a local gardener, licensed therapist and certified herbalist. She has written for the Recorder for many years. You can reach her at cstormfox57@gmail.com.


Jobs



Support Local Journalism

Subscribe to the Greenfield Recorder, keeping Franklin County informed since 1792.


Greenfield Recorder

14 Hope Street
Greenfield, MA 01302-1367
Phone: (413) 772-0261
Fax: (413) 772-2906

 

Copyright © 2021 by Newspapers of Massachusetts, Inc.
Terms & Conditions - Privacy Policy