How to Ferment Vegetables in Brine

fermented vegetables

Click here to go straight to the recipe

When I prep sauerkraut, I add salt to a bowl of chopped vegetables, crush the vegetables, let them sit while they release water and then pack everything into clean jars.

When I prep kimchi, I add a lot of salt to a bowl of chopped vegetables, pour in water to make a brine, let the vegetables sit for a while, strain them, add my spices to them and then pack everything into clean jars.

Both methods ferment vegetables.

But the kimchi leaves me with a large amount of salt water (a brine) that I’d prefer not to waste. This past weekend, after I prepped the Napa cabbage, daikon radish and baby leeks pictured below from a recent farmers’ market haul, I reserved the salt water.

farmers' market produce
Farmers’ market haul, including kimchi-making ingredients

I decided I’d ferment carrots sticks in some of the brine. Fermented vegetables have a delicious, natural pickle flavor without adding any vinegar. (If you wonder how fermentation differs from canning, click here.)

After making my kimchi, I also made ginger beer for a workshop this weekend. That meant I had a few tablespoons of minced ginger, strained from my ginger bug, with no place to go. I made hibiscus soda with about half of it and threw the other half in with the carrots. The ginger, covered in yeast and bacteria from my lively ginger bug, kickstarted the ferment.

ingredients for fermented carrots
Brine, carrots and ginger

I still had lots of brine. What other vegetables were lying around? Oooh, red onions. Those would taste good…

sliced red onions
Red onion slices

You can see the bubbles in the gurgling jar of carrots below. The onions—I added no starter to that jar—have fewer bubbles. But they have some, indicating that fermentation is under way. 

fermenting vegetables
Vegetables fermenting in brine

I still have more brine. What else could I ferment? And do I need an intervention?

fermented vegetables
Eat the (fermented) rainbow; carrots far left, red onions far right
natural soda
Drink the rainbow?

I put the rest of the brine in the refrigerator. It’s just salt water with some vegetable bits in it, which will be well preserved in there. When I have a few vegetables I don’t know what to do with and need to use up, I’ll prep them and put them in a jar with some of this brine—depending on the vegetable. I wouldn’t recommend fermenting winter squash, for example. (Trust me. I learned the hard way.)

Keeping a jar of this brine on hand, I’ll not only prevent wasting vegetables, I’ll make them gut healthy and more delicious. (To read about the health benefits of eating fermented foods, go here.)


Brine Fermented Vegetables

Ingredients

  • Vegetables: carrot sticks, red onion slices, cauliflower florets, or green beans
  • 2 to 3 tablespoons salt
  • 4 cups water

Directions

1. Add salt to water and stir. It will dissolve after several minutes.

2. Prep vegetables and stuff into a clean jar. 

3. Pour enough brine over the vegetables to completely cover.

4. If necessary, place a weight on the vegetables to submerge them under liquid. A small jar within the jar works well for this.

5. Close the jar with the lid and set the jar on a plate at room temperature for three to five days or until you like the flavor. Open the jar every day to release carbon dioxide and to make sure the vegetables are submerged. You’ll notice the water become cloudy as the fermentation progresses.

6. Transfer vegetables to the refrigerator. They will keep for at least a year. 

Notes

1. Chlorine can kill the microbes necessary to ferment food. If your water contains high amounts of it, pour some into an open vessel the night before you make this. The chlorine will dissipate.

7 Replies to “How to Ferment Vegetables in Brine”

  1. Mary Couillard says: Reply

    When setting vegetables in brine for three days at room temperature do they need a lid?

    1. The Zero-Waste Chef says: Reply

      Hi Mary, yes they do. I’ll go add that to the post. Thanks for asking. You could leave them open with a weight on top but I always put a lid on my fermenting vegetables. ~ Anne Marie

  2. This is a great post! Thanks so much for sharing!

    1. The Zero-Waste Chef says: Reply

      Thank you! 🙂

  3. I just cut up some yellow squash to ferment in a 12 oz jar! I am confused. Do I need to stir this daily or just open the lid daily? I remember you said something about making sure it’s stirred to prevent mold, but I can’t remember if that was for making vinegar or fermentation. Please let me know, my squash depends on this! thanks

    1. The Zero-Waste Chef says: Reply

      Hi Selena,
      When you make scrap vinegar or mead, you have to stir that daily. With vegetables, you just let them sit in the brine. Keep an eye on squash as it can turn mushy very quickly when you ferment it. If they are mushy, I would try fermenting something harder next time like carrots or cauliflower. ~ Anne Marie

      1. Okay, it’s been fermenting for about four days. There are bubbles that go up once i take the lid off daily. At the bottom there is this thin layer of cloudyness. I don’t know what it is, and I can’t tell what mold would look like.

        Some background: I have a bit of contamination OCD but i love to see you making things for yourself and it inspires me to do the same for my own life. But i do not understand this very much, so i am hoping you can help me out here. I can send pictures if you like. Also i am deeply afraid of getting botulism. And i am planning to eat the squash tonight with salad, not sure if it’ll go good together, but if it tastes like pickles it’ll be tangy and nice i hope.

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