It’s very likely that your fridge has never been fuller than it is right now. Sure, you’re going to the grocery store less, but you’re buying more when you would on a typical shopping trip. Most produce — vegetables, in particular — has a tendency to go bad if you don’t use it quickly. One very easy way to extend the shelf life (and allow you to go even more time between grocery runs) is with fermentation.
Fermentation involves allowing the naturally occurring bacteria on fruits and vegetables to thrive and produce lactic acid, which helps preserve them. The most common examples of this are sauerkraut and kimchi, but as Michael Perrine, founder of rejuvenation and detox clinic Vitality NYC says, almost any vegetable will do as long as it’s hardy. “Cabbage, carrots, beets, and other roots ferment really well,” he says. “I suggest using them as a base even if adding other veggies.” Perrine is one of seven experts we asked — including chefs, cookbook authors, and a professional sauerkraut-maker — for advice on everything you need to become a modern preservation-minded homesteader. Here’s how to get started fermenting at home.
The foundation of lactic fermentation is salt, which, according to Perrine, “creates an environment where lactic-acid bacteria will completely take over the medium destroying all the bacteria, molds, and yeasts.” There’s a bit of a divide on what salts to use, however: Kathryn Lukas, founder of Farmhouse Culture and co-author of The Farmhouse Culture Guide to Fermenting, which is geared toward true beginners, prefers high-quality, plain sea salt. “I like a higher sodium chloride salt, like Sonoma sea salt, because it’s really, really high in sodium chloride,” she says. “Some of these other salts, like Celtic sea salt or Himalayan sea salt, can be as low as 90% sodium chloride and the rest are minerals. Higher mineral salts can cause off-flavors.”
Perrine is in the latter camp, saying that he likes to use Celtic sea salt and Himalayan for not only the mineral flavor they lend but the health benefits of adding those minerals to a ferment. “I find a ratio of two teaspoons of salt per pound of vegetable to be perfect,” he says. Either way, look for the most natural salt you can. “Make sure that there are no additives, no anti-caking agents, no bleach, or anything like that,” says Lukas. “That’ll screw up the fermentation quickly.”
Next comes the equipment, which costs little more than a jar of premade kimchi. If you’re not quite sure you want to fully commit, David Zilber, head of fermentation at Noma in Copenhagen, says feel free to purchase a biscotti jar, which you can store in a dark cabinet during the fermentation process. “They’re much simpler to find,” he says, plus “they’re durable, they’re machine-washable, and they look as gorgeous as a fancy ceramic crock.” And if you give up on fermenting, you’ll end up with a very nice looking jar.