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13 Reasons to Ferment Your Own Food: Introduction to Fermenting

Avatar for Jodie Weston Jodie Weston  |  Updated: July 4, 2019
13 Reasons to Ferment Your Own Food: Introduction to Fermenting

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There are a lot of reasons why fermentation is such a popular method for preserving foods. The health benefits include better digestion, tastier vegetables, value adding, and it is a method that is very easy to get right the first time you do it. This post is intended to educate fellow preppers on why they should start fermenting and what benefits it has to offer their household and health.

We will also briefly cover what you need to get started and few basic recipes. In future posts, we will offer more in-depth information on the different aspects of fermentation and the equipment that is available to you.

1. Preserves without refrigeration or canning

Using a fermentation crock or vessel properly means you can store fermented foods without refrigeration. Storing in a cool place is helpful but as long as it isn’t in the direct sun you are fine. A large fermentation crock can replace a lot of canning jars and time spent.

It is worth repeating this in any article on fermentation: Canning kills the beneficial bacteria and flora that you have created by fermenting.

Sure, it is tempting to do it for storage or for giving to friends but if you want small containers on hand so you don’t have to get into your crock as often to retrieve food, then get some mason jar lids equipped with airlocks and store in your kitchen where you can have it on hand.

2. Adds nutrients

It has been proven that the act of fermentation actually boosts nutrient levels in foods. This allows you to get a lot more out of vegetables and milk products than you normally would.

3. Adds value to cheap foods

Cabbage can be found in North Carolina for about $14-$16 for a 70 lb bag. I can turn that into 5 gallons or more of saurkraut. With quality kraut in glass going for at least $4-$5 a quart at a grocery store, that $15 is easily turned into more than $100 worth of food.

If you are new to canning and preserving kraut and pickles can be so satisfying because they are hard to mess up and the work is broken up into manageable stages for those that are really busy.

4. Helps with stomach issues by improving the digestive process

Fermentation preserves nutritional value but the process makes it much easier for you to digest the food so there is less chance of stomach troubles. Think of fermented foods as already being partially broken down. For example over the years I developed an intolerance for dairy products.

I discovered that cultured and fermented dairy products like cheese and yogurt do not cause me distress. The process of fermentation breaks down the lactose that caused my trouble. Your stomach doesn’t have to work as hard when foods are a little bit naturally processed for you.

5. Fermented foods add good bacteria to your gut for an overall healthier you

We live in a world of very processed foods that lack a lot of the good bacteria that is essential to good health. Fermented foods contain natural live cultures and bacteria that help restore balance.

Some people find that adding fermented foods has helped them overcome intolerances to some food products like lactose or gluten.

6. Restores enzymes to your body that are harder to come by the older you get

It is probably not that much of a surprise to a lot of readers that stomach issues get worse as you age. At least part of this may be blamed on your body producing less natural enzymes.

Having a good level of enzymes is essential to digestion and your bodies absorption of essential nutrients. That’s right, fermented foods will help you get more out of your food.

Consider what getting more out of your food means in a long term survival situation or crisis? Anything that can help your food offer more to you is going to be a welcome thing in a long emergency.

7. Boosts your immune system

Fermenting foods adds valuable probiotics to your diet that can help you stay well. Getting ill, feeling down, or developing any type of medical condition can effect everything in your life.

During a SHTF scenario, you especially need to be in the best condition you can be at the start of it. Natural immune system boosters can be hard to come by but fermented foods can help take care of you.

8. Fermented foods add flavor and variety

Even the blandest foods will taste better if you add something that is fermented. I know plenty of preppers that might have a lot of food put back but let’s face it, eating bland foods with little flavor is not going to make a survival situation any easier.

Fermented foods add some zing.

Pickled peppers and some salt are going to make those beans and rice seem a lot better in a true emergency plus there is health and nutritional value unlike spice blends that have little or no value in terms of nutrition or health. Yes, I know herbs are medicinal but the amount in a bowl of rice and beans is not going to offer much overall.

9. Fermentation makes foods like cabbage more appealing

I bet you are not going to want to eat a cup full of raw cabbage straight from the head. Why would you? It lacks any type of salt and tastes quite bland. Now consider eating a cup of saurkraut.

With the act of fermentation, you can take a food that doesn’t taste so great normally and make it appealing. Cheap foods like cabbage, carrots, and banana peppers are all good examples of foods that gain a lot from the fermentation process.

10. Easy and inexpensive food prepping

Getting started fermenting foods doesn’t have to cost a fortune. You can get the crock of your dreams for $60-$160 but you can also get started just using some airlocks and mason jars that cost under $30.

Since the supplies are reusable, you get a big return for your investment over the years.

11. Adds variety to your diet

If you have found that you are always eating the same thing and you are a bit bored with your diet then fermented foods are a great new food avenue to explore. You can ferment practically any vegetable or you can co ferment many types of vegetables for a delicious treat.

Most Popular Fermented Foods

  • Saurkraut
  • Pickles
  • Kim Chi
  • Garden Veggie Variety
  • Garlic
  • Okra
  • Peppers
  • Salsa

12. Helps get kids to eat healthier

Getting kids to eat healthy can be a challenge but fermenting foods can help both of you out in this situation. Plenty of kids love to eat pickles but getting them to eat a raw cucumber seems impossible!

Kids like flavor and things like pickles can be made to be sweet, salty, or a bit of both! On top of that, you may find that your child is less prone to illnesses due to a healthy level of good bacteria in their developing body. Nutrient absorption is key to healthy kids!

13. Space efficient food storage

Limited space can be a problem when it comes to prepping. This means you need to find ways to maximize your space. Canned foods are great but fermented foods can be kept in a cool place and sealed for months at a time without using extra canning jars.

The stackable square containers for storing fermented foods like those from Crazy Korean are especially good for maximizing storage space.

What You Need To Start Fermenting

  • Non Iodized Salt
  • Crock Or Food Grade Bucket
  • Chopper, Food Processor, Knife, whatever you have to cut stuff up with. A cheese grater works well for cabbage if that is all you have! I prefer a cheese grater to a knife beyond quartering heads of cabbage.
  • Spices (This will vary based on your recipe)

Avoiding The Smell: Enter the Airlock

One thing that prevents some people from venturing into fermenting foods is the odors that it can create. This is one reason to use an airlock to ferment. After using crocks without proper lids for many years, my husband suggested using a brew bucket like that used for beer or wine and an airlock.

While I think the fermentation goes a bit slower this way, the buckets are a lot cheaper than a crock and you never smell it so you can make a big run of kraut anywhere you have just a tiny bit of room.

Crocks that have proper weights and lids don’t smell like the ones I used that were not sealed well. There are a lot of different vessels out there to ferment in. If you live in a small space then make sure you get one that you can handle any smells from. Again, check out Crazy Korean Containers for ultimate smell reduction.

Basic Kraut

Cabbage and salt are the basic ingredients.

Many recipes say to use ¼ cup of salt per 5 lbs of cabbage but through trial and error my husband and I have discovered that most recipes call for too much salt. I would say a ¼ cup per 10 lbs is a better ratio if you don’t want it super salty.

The good news is that if you do happen to get your kraut too salty you can rinse it or soak it in water and drain before cooking or serving. I definitely had to do this one of the first times I made a big batch.

The Method:

Chopping or shredding cabbage: I usually cut heads into 4 pieces and make sure to remove cores and residual stems. I prefer to shred it with a grater or a food mill. The mill definitely makes it go a lot faster and buying one is a good investment because you can do so much with it.

  1. Shred around 5 lbs of cabbage
  2. Add desired amount of salt
  3. Repeat the process until the crock is at least ¾ full.
  4. Cover and let wilt for 20 minutes or so.
  5. Come back and use a wood spoon or specially made kraut stick to beat the kraut down into the crock.
  6. The goal is to get liquid to rise up to cover the kraut.When this happens, add your weights or stones and cover.
  7. Let ferment for 1-4 weeks before eating.

It really depends on temperatures where you are fermenting and how much fermentation you like to occur before eating. The longer it ferments, the more sour it will be.

Shelf Life If Canned

Honestly, kraut never seems to go bad since it has already been broken down some and it is acidic.

If jars are stored where the lids cannot rust readily, you could eat kraut that was 10 years old and be fine. I made a batch 3 years ago and it seems as good as the day we canned it.

Dill Pickles

[Recipe from The University Of Georgia and the USDA]

Use the following quantities for each gallon capacity of your container.

  • 4 lbs of 4-inch pickling cucumbers
  • 2 tbsp dill seed or 4 to 5 heads fresh or dry dill weed
  • 1/2 cup salt
  • 1/4 cup vinegar (5 percent)
  • 8 cups water and one or more of the following ingredients:
    • 2 cloves garlic (optional)
    • 2 dried red peppers (optional)
    • 2 tsp whole mixed pickling spices (optional)

The Method:

  1. Wash cucumbers.
  2. Cut 1/16-inch slice off blossom end and discard. Leave 1/4-inch of stem attached.
  3. Place half of dill and spices on bottom of a clean, suitable container. For more information on containers see “Suitable Containers, Covers, and Weights for Fermenting Food” .
  4. Add cucumbers, remaining dill, and spices.
  5. Dissolve salt in vinegar and water and pour over cucumbers. Add suitable cover and weight.
  6. Store where temperature is between 70ºF and 75ºF for about 3 to 4 weeks while fermenting. Temperatures of 55º to 65ºF are acceptable, but the fermentation will take 5 to 6 weeks. Avoid temperatures above 80ºF, or pickles will become too soft during fermentation. Fermenting pickles cure slowly.
  7. Check the container several times a week and promptly remove surface scum or mold.

Caution: If the pickles become soft, slimy, or develop a disagreeable odor, discard them. Fully fermented pickles may be stored in the original container for about 4 to 6 months, provided they are refrigerated and surface scum and molds are removed regularly.

Canning fully fermented pickles is a better way to store them. To can them:

  1. Pour the brine into a pan, heat slowly to a boil, and simmer 5 minutes.
  2. Filter brine through paper coffee filters to reduce cloudiness, if desired.
  3. Fill jar with pickles and hot brine, leaving 1/2-inch headspace.
  4. Adjust lids and process as recommended in Table 1 , or use the low-temperature pasteurization treatment described below.

The following treatment results in a better product texture but must be carefully managed to avoid possible spoilage.

  1. Place jars in a canner filled half way with warm (120º to 140ºF) water.
  2. Then, add hot water to a level 1 inch above jars.
  3. Heat the water enough to maintain 180º to 185º F water temperature for 30 minutes. Check with a candy or jelly thermometer to be certain that the water temperature is at least 180ºF during the entire 30 minutes. Temperatures higher than 185ºF may cause unnecessary softening of pickles.
Table 1. Recommended process time for Dill Pickles in a boiling-water canner.
Process Time at Altitudes of
Style of Pack Jar Size 0 – 1,000 ft 1,001 – 6,000 ft Above 6,000 ft
Raw Pints 10 min 15 20
Quarts 15 20 25

This document was adapted from the “Complete Guide to Home Canning,” Agriculture Information Bulletin No. 539, USDA, revised 2009.

Fermenting For The Future

Hopefully, you are thinking about all the great stuff you might be able to ferment. Just remember to start out slow and take your time. Find tried and true recipes online or invest in a fermenting book with lots of recipes.

It may take a few tries to get foods exactly how you want them but at worst they will still be edible. Fermenting is a lot easier than most think it is and it can be a lot of fun on top of all the other benefits it has to offer.

Knowing how to ferment foods also means that if times get tough and you are growing a lot of veggies, then you have the knowledge and tools to preserve them and not let anything go to waste.

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9 Responses to “13 Reasons to Ferment Your Own Food: Introduction to Fermenting”

  1. a while back, I tried my hand at sauerkraut. I did everything the recipe said to do,but for some reason it turned brown when exposed to the air and had an awful taste to it. I used a quart jar with an airlock and a glass pickling weight.

  2. My favorite is a mixed ferment of whole green beans, sliced carrots and whole garlic cloves. Steamed the beans the first time, going to try using them raw next time. Online recipes for fermented green beans do it both ways.

  3. I started fermenting 4 years ago with ” refrigerator pickles” and making my own hot sauce from cayennes!

    My last batch of sauce turned out fantastic from a trial&error method i had thought of. 64oz mason jar, weighted the peppers under the vinegar. Poked 4 holes in seal, nylon screen and ring!! Turned out just fine 30 days… then i see a picture above of usage of a nylon net screen… lol 😉

    Thank you for your dedication Gaye!

  4. Apparently this article was published last fall. I do not remember. Therefore it is worthwhile to repost articles. I liked it then and I like it now. When it comes to a skill or process I have to read over and over. For example I have made Kim Chi several times. I got the recipe on Pinterest and can’t even count how many times I read it. The Kim Chi turned out fine with the first batch. However my Korean friends said I used too much ginger and not enough hot red pepper. I did that on purpose because of my own taste and stomach issues. I consider a meal to be a bowl of rice with a serving of Kim Chi on top. Interesting that in a survival situation that might be all you get to eat sometimes. By the way, I am very happy to learn about the Korean square crocks in this article. Looks like a great investment. My interest in Kim Chi is because I don’t like sauerkraut but I do love cabbage. So I had to find something else to do with it. Great article!!

  5. Does anyone know why we can ferment cabbage with salt alone, but cucumbers seem to require salt, vinegar, herbs, and then hot processing? Is it a matter of safety, or just flavor?

    • Lathechuck,

      Cabbage seems to get (or have within it) some lacto-bacteria that does the fermenting. That bacteria is salt tolerant, whereas the bad bacteria aren’t. The salt causes the water in the cabbage to ‘express’. That’s where the ‘juice’ comes from. The bacteria then (in an anaerobic, saline environment) start fermenting. Don’t know that cucumbers get that lacto bacteria, so they don’t ferment.

      I’ll second Ray’s ratio of 3 tbsp to 5 lbs. Been working well for several years. Not too salty. I let it go in the ‘crock’ (food grade plastic) for only two to two-and-a-half weeks. It’s still really firm and crunchy (too crunchy for immediate use), but after being packed in jars, they keep over a year without turning to mush. Just used the last pint jar from last year. Nice and firm.

      Just in time for this year’s harvest. 🙂

      — Mic

  6. Salt for kraut, according to most Cooperative Extension Offices, is 3T of Kosher salt to 5 lbs of shredded cabbage.

    For a big batch, I use a food grade plastic trash can (available at most restaurant supply stores) and add 5lb of cabbage, top with salt, toss and repeat until I run out of cabbage.


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