Food Fermentation for Beginners

In our grandmothers’ world, fermentation was standard practice for preserving the bounty of the garden. Since the advent of modern canning techniques, the everyday use of lacto-fermentation for food has been lost.

Yet there are many health benefits to fermented foods, prompting some to focus on fermentation again, bringing crocks of sauerkraut, fermented pickles, kimchi and garlic to don our pantries and root cellars again. But, to the untrained cook, fermentation can seem a little scary. In the age of pasteurized and processed foods, letting your food seem to spoil on purpose seems a bit counterintuitive.

Once you get started it’s not scary at all. Need that extra little push? Think on this: packed with probiotics, lacto-fermented foods are a “friendly” bacteria. So, promoting their growth isn’t like letting your food spoil, but instead more like letting it blossom. The process is much like making homemade yogurt. You’re simply letting the yogurt (or whey cultures in the case of lacto-fermentation) have a little party and spread throughout the food. Probiotics are vital to digestive health.

Probiotics can help prevent and repair digestive disorders and reduce sugar cravings. Adding sauerkraut as a condiment to your meals alone can boost your probiotic intake and enhance your health.

If you’re still nervous. Try homemade yogurt first, as it’s one of the simplest recipes to follow, especially in a slow cooker. The next recipe to try is sauerkraut.

Easy Lacto-Fermented Sauerkraut
1 head cabbage, shredded
3-6 cloves garlic
1/2 Tablespoon kosher salt
1/4 cup whey

Combine ingredients in a mixing bowl. Cover and let sit at room temperature for 30 minutes. Remove cover and pound with a potato masher. Transfer to a wide-mouth jar. Press down firmly so liquid comes to the top of mixture. Leave about one inch of space at the top and cover tightly.

Leave mixture at room temp for 3-7 days. In the first 24 hours, open jar and press down firmly on ingredients a few times. When fermentation is complete, transfer to cool storage.

Or, you could try Kimberley’s Pickled Watermelon Radishes.

Lacto-fermentation can also be a great way to kick that store-bought soda kick. You can make your own kefir sodas at home through lacto-fermenation. For this recipe, instead of whey, you’ll be using kefir grains. You may need to purchase these online if they’re not available at your local health food store.

Kefir Soda


1-2 Tablespoons water kefir grains
Filtered water
Sucanat or sugar
Half an egg shell
Fruit or juice of choice for flavored soda 


Fill a quart mason jar with water about 3/4 full. Add sucanat, fruit or juice and the egg shell (the shell’s nutrients feed the kefir) and shake until the sucanat is dissolved. 

Add your kefir grains and leave the mixture on the counter for about 3 days. In warmer weather, your soda may ferment in as little as 1-2 days.

Strain the water into another container and reserve the kefir. Throw away the egg shell. 

If you want your soda fizzier, let it sit out on the counter a few more days before bottling. Otherwise, use a funnel to store in bottles and refrigerate. 

Take these easy first steps to lacto-fermentation for your health. For more recipes, see additional resources below. You may also want to dig up your grandmother’s (or great-grandmother’s) cookbooks from the pre-canning era for ideas. Digging up old recipes can not only improve your recipe repertoire, but it can create a connection between you and your ancestors that will make the recipes feel more special.

Additional resources:

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image: Fishermans Daughter