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5 Ingredients I NEVER Use in My Sauerkraut [or Vegetable Ferments] and Why

Starter Cultures.



Celery Juice.

Brine from a previous batch (Back-Slopping).

There you have it.

Five ingredients I never use in my sauerkraut or fermented vegetables.

Not only can you safely ferment without them, but your ferments will have a

Greater depth of flavor, and you will

Save yourself money, and

Save yourself time, if

you instead transform that modest, humble head of cabbage into a flavor-packed nutritional powerhouse by the ancient practice of lacto-fermentation.

Lacto-Fermentation (Wild Fermentation) vs. Cultured Fermentation

Lacto-fermentation. | makesauerkraut.comFirst off…

Let’s make sure you understand what lacto-fermentation is. Then you’ll understand why starter cultures are not necessary.

Wild fermentation,

Lacto-fermentation, or

Lactic-acid fermentation –

as I promote in my recipes – uses the native bacteria that are present on the vegetables you are fermenting to culture the food.

“Lactic acid” is used to name this type of fermentation, not because it contains any dairy (it doesn’t), but because of the lactic acid bacteria (LAB) that make everything happen. These powerful bacteria are called lactic-acid bacteria because they produce lactic acid. So logical!

This lactic acid gives ferments a sour taste – much like vinegar – and acts as a preservative for your sauerkraut or fermented vegetables.

Lactic acid bacteria are present in our soil and therefore found on anything that grows in the earth.

You’ll also see the term “wild-fermentation” used because fermentation happens just fine without anything else – oops, salt – but the bacteria that occur naturally on the vegetables you’re fermenting.

You do not need to purchase starters.

You do not need to drip yogurt to get whey.

You do not need to juice celery.

You just need to give the bacteria the home they like – a brine of 2% – and let the trillions of members of our microbial world do their thing.

This is in contrast to “cultured” foods, where you do need to add a culture of some sort to make the magic happen.

Kombucha, water kefir and milk kefir are all fermented with the addition of a culture: a SCOBY (Symbiotic Culture Of Bacteria and Yeasts). The bacteria work together to create the actual physical SCOBY along with consuming the sugar in the sweetened tea (Kombucha), sweetened juice (water kefir) or milk sugars (milk kefir) and producing the finished product.

Or with yogurt, where a dollop of yogurt (from a previous batch) is mixed into warmed milk and left to culture for 8 to 24 hours in a warm place. During this time, the bacteria present in the yogurt go to work for us, growing and multiplying, to turn the milk into a thick, creamy product with a soured tang – more yogurt.

Now, on to explain why a starter culture, whey, vinegar, celery juice or back-slopped brine is recommended for use in vegetable ferments. Even if you never intend to use these methods, read on. You’ll better understand what is happening in that jar of yours that is fermenting on your countertop.

1. Do You Need to Use a Starter Culture to Make Your Ferment Safe?

Three boxes of different brands of starter culture. |

Started cultures are dried powders of various strains of bacteria that are used to inoculate your ferment. The powder is usually dissolved in water before being thoroughly mixed with your prepared cabbage and vegetables.

I must be honest and confess that I have never used a starter culture to make sauerkraut. When I first started fermenting, the only starter cultures available contained ingredients – such as skim milk powder – that I did not want in my sauerkraut. Since then, however, starter cultures have improved even to the point of using specific strains of bacteria to produce higher levels of specific nutrients, K2 for example.

I still am not drawn to them and prefer the simplicity of just cabbage, salt and time.

Starter Cultures for Fermentation & Why Some Recommend Their Use:

  • Speed up the fermentation process.
  • Control the fermentation process.
  • Safety.
    You can never be sure that there are enough naturally occurring lactic-acid bacteria on your vegetables to neutralize and crowd out pathogenic bacteria such as e Coli, salmonella, listeria.
    This was emphasized in one company’s video. This is fear-mongering to sell starters. Pathogenic bacteria can not survive in the acidic fermentation environment.

Starter Cultures for Fermentation & Why I Don’t Use Them:

  • Use of non-bacterial ingredients you might not want in your ferment.
    Here are some that I’ve seen listed on various starter cultures:
    Organic maltodextrin, as a carrier.
    Organic tapioca sugar as food for the bacteria.
    Inulin, a prebiotic fiber derived from chicory root.
    Lactic yeasts.
    Skim milk powder.
    Microcrystalline cellulose.
    Silicone dioxide.
  • Cost.
    A packet of starter cultures costs anywhere from $3-4 and is recommend for 2-5 pounds of vegetables. Such money is better spent on a weight and airlock system for fermentation that will shift your sauerkraut making into a fun and easy adventure for years to come.
  • Not reusable.
    I find it strange to have to buy a culture each time I want to ferment. Nature provides you with all the bacteria you need to successfully ferment… batch after batch.
  • May interfere with the natural – and ideal – progression of bacterial stages.
  • Flavor changes.
    By changing the fermentation process, starter cultures change the flavors of your fermented vegetable.
  • Shelf life. 12 months generally.
  • Not necessary for vegetable ferments.
    Vegetables have all the necessary lactic-acid bacteria already on them.
  • Commercially isolated strains of bacteria specifically chosen in a lab.
    These are the strains of bacteria in some popular starter cultures:
    Caldwell’s Starter Culture: lactobacillus plantarum, leuconostoc mesenteroides, pediococcus acidilactici.
    Cutting Edge Starter Culture: lactobacillus plantarum, leuconostoc mesenteroides, pediococcus acidilactici.
    Body Ecology Starter Culture: lactobacillus plantarum, pediococcus acidolactici, leuconostoc cremoris.

When You Need to Use a Starter Culture

UPDATE (September 8, 2016): In the few days after I published this post, questions came in that brought to light a couple of times when a starter culture might be useful. Here are two situations that I feel call for a starter culture. When you are:

  • Fermenting onions.
    “Onions are the only vegetable we now of that lack intrinsic lactic-acid bacteria.” – Shockey & Shockey, Fermented Vegetables
    If you are fermenting an onion-only relish or chutney, you’ll want to use a starter. You could also use a spoonful of brine from a batch of sauerkraut, but knowing now that the bacteria in that brine – see item number 5, below – are a different set than the bacteria that initiate the fermentation process, I would lean towards using a purchased starter for onions.
    Another way to preserve those onions is by pickling them in a citrus brine. Here’s one recipe I found without vinegar: Pickled Red Onions
    If I had a choice for starters, I would go with the Body Ecology Starter Culture. It contains isolated bacteria strains (lactobacillus plantarum, pediococcus acidolactici, leuconostoc cremoris) and inulin, a prebiotic that help feed the bacteria in the ferment.
  • Fermenting low-quality vegetables.
    “The quality of fermented vegetables, obtained as a result of natural spontaneous lactic-acid fermentation, is largely dependent on microorganisms present in the raw material. In unfavorable soil-climate conditions, the vegetables may become greatly contaminated with spore-forming bacteria, pathogens or mucous bacteria, yeasts, and molds which may predominate over lactic-acid bacteria, deteriorating the quality of fermented products.” –  Polish Journal of Food and Nutrition Sciences: Starter Cultures for Lactic Acid Fermentation of Sweet Pepper, Pattypan Squash, and Tomatoes
    This is why you want to use the highest-quality vegetables possible. Those vegetables are feeding the microbes that are doing the work of transforming humble vegetable into a flavor-rich ferment. Learn how to choose top quality cabbage for sauerkraut.

2. Why not use Whey for Vegetable Fermentation?

A glass measuring cup with a starter culture mixture, three yellow sticks with pink flower designs on the side in top of a flowery placemat. |

Whey is the cloudy, yellowish liquid you see floating on the surface when you open a tub of yogurt. Whey is also produced when making various kinds of cheeses as an old nursery rhyme captured.

Little Miss Muffett, sat on a tuffet, eating her curds and whey.

Whey is full of beneficial bacteria – depending upon its source – bacteria that you see called for in many fermentation recipes. In fact, when searching the internet for recipes, it is near to impossible to find a fermented vegetable recipe that does not call for whey. This is slowly changing as we better understand what is necessary for an ideal progression of fermentation.

The bacteria present in the whey, however, are different bacteria than would naturally occur on vegetables. Whey is a dairy culture and therefore contains bacteria that live and grow in dairy.

In fact, Amanda Feifer author of a highly recommend book Ferment Your Vegetables, is quite vocal – in all caps – about the use of whey in ferments:


Bacteria Found in Sauerkraut or Cultured Vegetables

These bacteria thrive in soil working together to break down organic matter.

  • Leuconostoc mesenteroides
  • Lactobacillus brevis
  • Pediococcus acidilactici
  • Pediococcus pentosaceus
  • Lactovacillus Plantarum

Bacteria Found in My Tub of Sagueen Yogurt

These bacteria work together in milk to break down lactose.

  • Streptococcus Thermophilus
  • Lactobacillus Bulgaricus
  • Lactobacillus Acidophilus
  • Bifidobacterium Species

Compare those two lists. I don’t know about you, but I see no overlap. By using whey, you are attempting fermentation with a totally different set of bacteria.

Whey for Fermentation & Why Some Recommend It’s Use

  • To reduce salt.
    Recommended by Sally Fallon in her book Nourishing Traditions as a way to reduce the amount of salt used in a ferment. We have learned a lot about fermentation since her book was first published in 1999.
    Many – myself included – were introduced to fermentation by this book. Using the proper amount of salt is key to successful fermentation. Correct brine percentages foster an ideal environment for the right bacteria to thrive and the wrong bacteria to die.
    Salt by Weight for Delicious Sauerkraut… Batch after Batch
  • To prevent waste.
    On old-style farms with dairy cows, the cheese-making processes produced a lot of whey. Only so much could be fed to the pigs, so some societies may have used it in their ferments.
  • Historical basis.
    Based upon some historical use of whey, whey was used when salt was not available.
  • Speed up the fermentation process.

Whey for Fermentation & Why I Don’t Use It

  • Changes the end flavor.
    More complex flavors are developed when you let the natural progression happen. Some may not taste this change. My first few batches of sauerkraut were made following Sally Fallon’s recipe, which calls for the use of whey. I did not like the end results – mushy with a dirty taste. It took me a while to feel comfortable not using whey, but when I started making sauerkraut without whey, boy did I enjoy the shift in flavors.
  • Often results in a soft and slimy texture.
    Either different bacteria are proliferating or fermentation is proceeding too quickly causing the vegetables to break down.
  • Changes the fermentation process.
    Adding microorganisms to ferments that don’t need them shifts the stages. No research to back this up, but I would assume that the health benefits would likewise shift.
  • Skipped fermentation stages.
    May cause pH to drop too quickly and skip the necessary stages for a fully fermented product.
  • An unnecessary extra step.
    Dripping a tub of yogurt takes time. We all have busy lives. The addition of one extra step may be the breaking point of sauerkraut getting made. Keep it simple.
  • Whey needs to be super fresh.
    Forget about keeping a stash of whey in the fridge for a few weeks. By then the balance of bacteria in the whey have shifted.
  • Introduces a different set of lactic-acid bacteria.
    The lactic-acid bacteria in whey come from dairy, not from vegetables. I eat a variety of fermented foods to innoculate my gut with a diverse range of bacteria. By uses whey in a vegetable ferment, a different set of bacteria are proliferating and there’s less of a chance of consuming lactic-acid bacteria from our soils.
  • Introduces dairy into a vegetable ferment.
    This is not an option for lactose-intolerant individuals.

Is There a Use for Whey?

Yogurt Cream Cheese is a staple in our home. I hang a tub of yogurt and then mix the resulting thick, creamy cheese with salt and spices for a delicious spread. I end up with a few cups of whey. Sadly, it often gets dumped into the compost pile after a few weeks of sitting in the fridge untouched.

How to Make Strained Yoghurt Cream Cheese

Maybe one day, I’ll learn to make cottage cheese with it.

Recipe: Traditional Whey Ricotta

This whey is also great for fermenting items that don’t come with their own beneficial bacteria to make the fermentation process happen.

My fermented coconut water recipe gives options for a variety of cultures, whey is one of them:

Fermented Coconut Water [The Complete Guide]

I’ve also have made many a batch of Rose Hip Hibiscus Soda with it. One of many favorites:

Rose Hip Hibiscus Soda

3. Can You Add Vinegar to Give Your Ferment Tang?

A small glass bowl with vinegar and a white plastic container of vinegar behind it. |

Vinegar is an acidic medium commonly used in commercial pickles, sauerkraut and condiments to give the final product a sour, tangy flavor.  Such foods are not fermented but instead “pickled” to make a quick shelf-stable product. A dead product.

The process of natural fermentation – promoted on this site for its countless health benefits – creates its own acidic medium – lactic acid. During fermentation, the starches and sugars in the fermenting vegetables are converted to lactic acid by the bacteria lactobacilli. This lactic acid naturally preserves the food and imparts the tangy sour smell and flavor. Hence, the often seen term of “lacto-fermentation.”

This acidity is why a surefire to sleep at night knowing your ferment is safe to eat is to check if the acids have developed enough to lower the pH to safe levels through the use of pH paper. Read how to do so on my Fermenting Supplies page.

Recipes for “refrigerator” pickles – or “quick” pickles – will call for the use of vinegar. This is a great way to make a shelf-stable product, but if you are wanting to develop great gut health, such pickles offer no probiotic or enzymes to aid in digestion and establish healthy gut flora.

Cucumbers can be naturally fermented without vinegar.

Naturally Fermented Pickles [The Complete Guide]

Vinegar for Fermentation & Why Some Recommend It’s Use

  • Makes for a shelf-stable product.
    Sauerkraut and pickles that you purchase off a grocery store shelf have been pickled with vinegar and then processed in a hot-water bath. These products are not fermented and hence do not offer the probiotic and enzymatic benefits of lacto-fermented foods.
  • A quick way to sour a vegetable.
    Adding vinegar to your vegetable ferment gives it an instant sour tang. With time, lacto-fermentation develops that same tang by the growth of the lactic-acid bacteria that create lactic acid to preserve and add tang to your ferment.

Vinegar for Fermentation & Why I Don’t Use It

  • Pickles the vegetables, does not ferment them.
  • Disrupts the ratio of lactic acid created by the bacteria in your ferment to the acetic acid created by fermentation. 
    By adding vinegar, even raw apple cider vinegar, you stunt the growth of the lactic-acid bacteria resulting in off-texture and flavor and a decrease in the natural preservative qualities of lacto-fermentation.
  • Lacking in lactic-acid.
    Lactic-acid is incredibly beneficial for digestion.

4. Should You Use Celery Juice for No-Salt Sauekraut?

An opened jar of celery juice and fresh celeries, apple, cucumber and half a cabbage. |

You may have come across recipes calling for the use of celery juice, usually a non-salt sauerkraut recipe. Celery contains natural sodium – nitrate – thus preventing the need for salt. You’ll also see it listed as an ingredient in naturally cured bacon. The use of celery juice for fermentation was made popular by a recipe featured on Dr. Mercola’s website that is designed to sell a starter culture instead of teaching you how to make traditionally fermented sauerkraut.

Celery Juice for Fermentation & Why Some Recommend It’s Use

  • A way to make salt-free sauerkraut.
    However, the level of sodium in the celery juice is unknown, thus it is hard to know if you’re achieving a 2% brine.
    In addition, the recipe I came across calls for the use of a starter to ensure a good ferment.

Celery Juice for Fermentation & Why I Don’t Use It

  • Need a juicer.
    A juicer is an expensive piece of equipment you may or may not already own. You’re better off putting that money into a crock or a nice digital scale.
  • Requires an extra step.
    And, a labor-intensive step. In my juicer, the celery fibers clog the blades and require frequent cleaning.
  • Vegetables naturally create their own brine.
    Adding salt to sliced vegetables extracts water from their cells and creates the necessary brine and at times more brine that can fit into your jar.
  • Adds a celery juice flavor to each batch.
  • Unknown levels of sodium in the celery juice.
    Salt – and the right amount of salt – is essential in establishing a safe fermentation environment conducive to beneficial bacteria and inhospitable to pathogenic bacteria.
    How Much Salt Do I Use to Make Sauerkraut?

5. What’s Wrong with Using a Bit of Brine from a Previous Batch of Sauerkraut?

A jar of sauerkraut with a wooden scooper inside. |

Periodically, someone emails me asking if they can add brine from a previous batch of sauerkraut to their next batch of sauerkraut. I never had a clear answer to that until delving into the use of starter cultures for this post.

Back-slopping, or taking a few tablespoons of brine from a previous batch of sauerkraut, and adding it to a new batch makes sense. After all, why not take advantage of all those good bacteria to help with the fermentation process?

There’s also the question of a reusing a large quantity of brine from a batch of pickled vegetables, like carrots or pickles. Why not just repack the jar with a fresh set of carrot sticks?

Brine from a Previous Batch for Fermentation & Why Some Recommend It’s Use

  • Reduce waste.
    The best use for any probiotic-rich leftover brine in a jar of pickles or sauerkraut is to drink it (or make a salad dressing with it).
    We are slowly seeing fermentation companies promoting exactly that. Gut Shots can now be found on grocery store shelves (refrigerated, it’s live!). There’s even drink recipes calling for its use. Dirty Martini anyone?
    Any leftover brine I have just gets dumped into another jar of finished sauerkraut.
  • Makes sense.
    Until you look further into why it really doesn’t. See below.

Brine from a Previous Batch for Fermentation & Why I Don’t Use It

  • Alters the stages of sauerkraut fermentation.
    The 3 or 4 stages of sauerkraut fermentation are altered when you add brine from a previous batch. If you add the bacteria from the finished ferment, the bacteria at stage 4 of the process, it will be a different product because you are interfering with the first few stages. A lot of the flavor happens in some of these stages. Let them progress as nature intended.
  • Lowers the acidity of your ferment prematurely.
    The pH of the brine from a finished ferment (<4.0 pH) is much lower than the pH of the brine when first packing the cabbage and vegetables into the jar or crock. Different bacteria prefer different levels of acidity. Your ferment has not yet gone through the steps to create that acid environment.
  • Can result in mushy, flavorless sauerkraut due to the shifting of the fermentation stages.

What to Use Instead of Starter Cultures, Whey, Vinegar, Celery Juice or Leftover Brine?

Six different kinds of salt in small piles on top of a wooden chopper board and a metal scoop the to the left and measuring spoons on top. |

Salt, and Time.

And during this time, it’s the microbes doing the work, not you.

Let them do their job in their own sweet time. Trust in them establish that ideal environment for healthy bacteria, develop a broad flavor profile in your ferment and open your eyes to the incredible and awe-inspiring world of fermentation.

Good-bye to starter cultures.

Here are a set of recipes to get you started:

Sauerkraut Recipes to Please Any Palate


Can I Use Bragg’s Raw Vinegary in My Brine?
The Crucial Difference Between Fermented and Pickled
Fermented Fruits and Vegetables, A Global Perspective…
The Fermented Food Podcast, Episode 10: To Starter or Not to Starter Culture
Microorganism in Foods 6: Microbial Ecology of Food Communities

Do you agree or disagree about the use of starter cultures in sauerkraut and vegetable ferments? What are your experiences?

Last update on 2021-10-24 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

64 thoughts on “5 Ingredients I NEVER Use in My Sauerkraut [or Vegetable Ferments] and Why”

  1. Wow! Holly

    Great article, now I know why a few batches of Kraut I have made turned out Yuky.

    Glad I decided to subscribe to your News Letter.


      • LOL,,Yep, I have done the very same thing, I had all of this great Kraut Juice left over so I decide that I would use it again “””WRONG”””
        the batch came out mussy and Fermented way to quick,, Spoiled the whole batch,,
        I have a problem making each batch turn out the same,, but after reading your “”Salt”” mixture of 3tb spoons for 5lb of cabbage that may just fix my problem,, I also understand that the Temperature has
        a lot to do with the final product.

          • Well Holly

            You talked me into it lol,,Just ordered the KD8000,not that expensive considering that I make 2,, 5gal. crocks full, so if I lose a batch the scale will pay for itself .the first time.
            This has been my problem all along, that and the high temps.
            I will keep you informed on my success lol.
            Now for the salt.

            Thanks for your help

          • You won’t regret it. I’ve found so many uses for my KD8000. Do make use of the % key. I just discovered it after using my scale for a year! And, read the directions on how to disable the “auto-off” feature. I’ll include all this in a post, although not in time for your needs.

          • Hello Holly
            Yes I am excited about trying your method out,,, I know now that has been my problem all along,, (SALT) your method is fool proof and simple, 1.75 ib or 800 grams x .02 =16 grams of salt
            900 grams x .02 =18 grams of salt
            I have been using the measuring spoon and different salt also
            I also ordered the Himalayan Salt .
            Cant wait to try a batch..

            Thanks for help,

  2. Hello Holly

    Well I have been trying to figure out the KD-800 🙂 I see what you mean about the %
    function that is fool proof (I hope) lol,, I am trying to brush up on my Metric Conversions.
    so far the math has been working out, I will work in 5lb. batches, = 2,267.962 grams x .02
    = 45.35 grams of salt or 3.02 tbsp. of salt. or you can do it this way 3x 1.75 = 5.25 lb. and 16 grams x 3 = 48 grams of salt .
    Got the jars in the dish washer, got the Crock cleaned up 🙂

    Hope you have a Great Week-End

    • No need to brush up on metric conversions – work in grams!!!

      2400 grams for a 5 pound batch, approximately. Weigh that out – or what every size you want – and then hit the percent key and slowly pour in salt until you hit 2%.

      I may not have that exactly right. I do need to do a guide to go with my scale recommendation, In due time, but that won’t help you. Search some YouTube videos for “KD8000 My Weigh percent key.” Here’s one (tells you how to turn off the auto-off feature, too):

      Thank you for your kind feedback and let me know how you make out.

  3. This is a killer post. Well done!! I think that nature knows best and simpler is better. However I do see a case for using “cultured” vegetables in addition to naturally fermented vegetables to diversify the spectrum of beneficial gut bacteria or to produce harder to come by nutrients, like K2. But the cultures must be of impeccable quality and super pure.

    I have never considered the “stages of fermentation” and the idea seems so obviously beneficial. Nature knows best.

    Thanks a ton.

    • Thank you Tyler, I learned a lot while putting it together and am continuing to learn as I answer readers’ questions. Like, I discovered onions contain no LAB (lactic-acid bacteria). I’ve always pickled them in lemon juice, thinking I was fermenting them. Not! Time to update the post.

      Now, I want to buy some cultures and try them with onions to see if there is a difference.

      And yes, “cutlured” vegetables is a nice way to broaden the range of bacteria we ingest. Kinetic Culture (Mercola) is the one that grows K2 (shorter shelf life for the K2 in the finished product), but then I wonder if we should be getting our K2 from other sources, instead…

      • Hi Holly, I’m confused about the onion thing, are you sure they contain no LAB?
        I started fermenting a batch of onions a few days ago, sliced them thinly and massaged them with salt, just like you do when you make kraut with cabbage.
        They started producing CO2 on the second day and are still fizzing away nicely, I assume this is due to the LAB that were present on the onions, but you say there are none.
        Have I misunderstood you in some way?

        (I’ve really enjoyed reading your blog by the way)

        • I’ve contacted my source on that info and am waiting for the research document. So thank you for asking and testing out the “theory.” I will have to do likewise. One batch with no culture, one with packaged culture and maybe one with brine. But, I would think if there are CO2 bubbles, there had to be LAB around to make that happen.

          Will share the research once I have it.

          • thanks Holly, I’ll be interested to see what you come back with!

            I have to say that although they yielded brine quite easily the onions were quite a palaver to process, I had to wear goggles to protect my eyes from the fumes…and they steamed up pretty quickly so it was all a bit of a to-do!

            I put them in a tall narrow spagetti jar with a clip seal lid and large outer layers of onion as a ‘lid’ to hold the shredded onions down, then put a jar in as a weight
            Day 8 now and they are still giving up bubbles when I press down on the inner jar.
            Here’s a picture, you can sort of see some bubbles 🙂

      • Hi Holly, what sources of K2 do you use? Do you have any favorite ones, or do you ferment anything specifically for that purpose?

        • Natto is on my “incorporate into my diet list” – and has been for a long time. Stinky and a unfamiliar taste, so it hasn’t happened yet. 🙂

          Hard cheeses, grass-fed Gouda and liver are also good sources of K2. I do not ferment anything right now for K2. I would probably just buy my Natto though one could learn to ferment it. Sauerkraut does have K2 but not at therapeutic levels. Soo, I take my K2 in the form of a supplement.

          • Same here, natto is on the long term list … Holly, I remember you said that you prefer the garbanzo miso from South River. Like you, I won’t be eating any soybeans ever again. What would be your source of information on how to ferment the natto right, with beans other than soybeans? Have you come across any reliable sources?

          • I did a quick search and came across Amanda from Phickle with a great fermentation book. Her recipes are generally good. Here’s her post with additional info in the comments section, where someone talked about using Pinto beans. I don’t think she’s made numerous batches but sometimes those first lessons are fresher with a newbie.

          • Thanks, Holly, I found it. Apparently, in Japan they also sell ‘black natto’ made from black beans. So that’s one option.

          • All right! These days I’m working on getting the sourkraut right, based on your recipes. Next is pickling, again I’m learning from the articles you sent me in another post. So then after miso there comes natto’s turn… Step by step. Thank you so much for everything you do for us!!

          • Good plan. One step at a time. It helps fight overwhelm and leaves the mind open for good fermentation. And, you’re most welcome. I also appreciate all my thankful readers. 🙂

        • I hope you don’t mind me jumping on here but I use corn silk tea for bladder and UTI health and it is a natural source of vitamin K2 so much so that people who take Warferin are cautioned against using it as it works as a blood thickener. worth looking into if you are looking for other things to get K2 into your diet. I save and dry my own from sweetcorn at harvest (organic is best).

          • Thank YOU for chiming in here, Ermerald. So much to learn from one another. I have not heard of corn silk as a source of K2 before. I appreciate you sharing.

  4. Glad to find this blog and the really clear instructions for making sauerkraut. I am a first timer, made some with red cabbage and I see that it takes longer to ferment. Made it on 25/8/16 and it is only now starting to show bubbles. Starting to taste quite good, am excited to see it progress. Am going to try some other recipes on your site, didn’t even realise you could put other things in with the cabbage … duh!!

    • Hello Maureen, Good to hear your sauerkraut is progressing. Congrats on your first batch. It only gets easier. How about pineapple in sauerkraut??? Quite good. Enjoy the other recipes and let us know how your first batch turns out.

  5. Fantastic post! There’s a ton of information here. Found it while searching for what to do with all the whey leftover from my ricotta making, and help in finally getting started making sauerkraut this winter. It’s a project I’ve been trying to get to for YEARS. Thanks so much for sharing your knowledge. Glad I found you!

      • No, I make very small batches so the yield would be very low. But, I just found a recipe for a Norwegian cheese made from ricotta whey called gjetost. It requires reducing and concentrating the whey. Will try it this weekend and let you know how it turns out.

        • Thanks – look forward to it. I’ve been saving jars of whey in the freezer in hopes of one day trying the Whey Ricotta. The recipe I saw just cooks it down into ricotta…

  6. That was a GREAT article that answered many questions I have had while pickling and fermenting many things over the years (kombucha, water and milk kefir, saurkraut, fermented pickles, non-fermented refrigerator pickles) but it did not answer my current burning question. I have been trying to recreate paocai aka Sichuan Pickled Vegetables (cabbage and other) that I’ve had in several Sichuan restaurants and I’m going crazy trying to duplicate the amazing effervescent almost beery flavor and tingling taste. Many of the recipes call for several things that your article does not cover. 1. Creating the brine (usually 2%) in advance and letting it sit for a solid week to make “old salt water” (what is happening during this week??? are microbes starting!?), and 2. Adding 2 Tbsp per quart of brine of some clear alcohol like Vodka or Sake (what does this do!?!). I tried following these recipes and ended up with fermented cabbage that tastes just like sauerkraut, NOT like their fermented cabbage, which is not sour, but is like I said above, somewhat beery and tingly like carbonated, and salty, and the vegetables are tender like they were parboiled (but clearly it’s the fermentation that transformed them), whereas my sauerkraut cabbage stays crisper and gets sour, and has no effervescence or beery / alcohol-ish flavor (yet I did add the sake to the brine as called for).

    All the restaurants keep their methods closely guarded secrets, and every one of them insists they ‘ferment’ their pickled vegetables in the refrigerator for “safety” – I think they are just saying that to suspicious Americans who would turn them into the food safety department if they admitted to letting things grow at room temperature.

    Perhaps you have some thoughts or guesses as to how they are making their delicacy?

    • Hello Julia, Thank you! I’m glad to be able to answer some of your past questions. Now, for the current question… I’m sorry but I don’t have any fermentation suggestions.

      I would contact Kristen Shockey, author of Fermented Vegetables. She recently traveled to Myanmar, Burma and other places as a fermentation adventure and also experiments much more than I do with recipes. There might even be something in her upcoming book: Fiery Ferments.

      Don’t know how they would be fermenting in the fridge, unless it was vinegar pickles… like you said “being safe around the food police.”

      • Thanks a lot!!! I wrote to Kirstin and have hopes for some possible enlightenment. I really doubt any of those restaurants are truly fermenting in the fridge. I went to yet another Sichuan restaurant a couple days ago and tried their version (which was fermented broccoli stems rather than cabbage, and it had that same distinctive tingly effervescent tang on the tongue) and the waiter I asked actually claimed they just chop them up fresh in the kitchen and add the seasoned brine! Each dish created only after being ordered. No fermentation at all! Clearly there is a tacit agreement among all employees of all Chinese restaurants everywhere to keep the ignorant or litigious Americans in the dark about their “dangerous” traditional ways)

        • And so unfortunate, because they are slowing taking away all our real food, but don’t get me into that one. All the more reason to know how to ferment. Let me know what you learn from Kirsten. FYI – from Kirsten, broccoli stems are fine for a short ferment, but not the rest; turns somewhat nasty, flavor wise.

  7. I guess some people do not live in 100+ year old houses.
    My house forbids Sour Dough and Lacto Fermentation without a 3rd party starter.
    100% failure with out starters.
    (Did you know there is a Neon Yellow Mold? My no-starter rye sour dough slime does)
    After giving up because every single cucumber actually became a green bag of puss, I later tried starters, because what could be worse than 100% failure.
    And they work! For the first time I have made cucumbers, asparagus, sweet peppers and even Beet K’Vass. Yes it is expensive, but what is cost when the alternative is vile, probably poisonous microbiological infestation?
    If you don’t need to, don’t waste the money, but if its the only way DO IT. Real pickles are so worth it.

    • Thank you for taking the time to share your experiences and I’m happy to hear of some real-life experiences when one really does need starters. I’ll make a note in my post of your situation and when one might want to try them. Do you have a favorite brand?

  8. Thanks for the advise about “back-slopping”. I just finished a batch of back-slopped kraut and it tasted odd. I’ll not do it again.

  9. I would like to try fermented garlic but recipes seem to add whey for fermentation…can you give me a recipe without a starter

  10. Hi Holly,
    I’m trying to widen my fermenting experience a bit. I love cauliflower and found a recipe for Mediterranean Cauliflower Pickles. My question is can I use meyer lemons instead of ‘regular’ lemons? I have preserved lemons before and they are great.

  11. Thank you very much for a fascinating article.
    You might not agree with this – but I have just started experimenting by using water-kefir or juice kefir instead of brine (or vinegar). Note that this is NOT a dairy kefir but one that has been living off fruit or vegetable juices – a different ecosystem as it were.

    Two main reasons – I have huge colonies of probiotics and I am producing more than I can drink! (I could produce 4 litres in a day or two). Secondly, I like to steep herbs and spices in the kefir and this makes a delicious starter flavouring.

    After a first round of tests it’s been great. Kefir orange juice with cumin and coriander used with peppers; kefir orange juice with turmeric and Indian spices with cauliflower; red cabbage with kefir merlot grape juice and ‘mulled wine’ spices; and kefir citrus juice with slices of lemon.

    It can be ready in a few days, and keeps for weeks. It doesn’t go mushy or have the characteristics you disliked when using whey. These particular colonies I have ‘trained’ or they have ‘evolved’ (most likely, a shifting population) over a few years to a fruit (or vegetable) diet. I imagine they do not suppress the natural bacteria on the surfaces of the vegetables and fruits but probably are included in the current scoby.

    One thing I can imagine is that the profile at the end of the process is not the same as the microbiotic profile at the beginning. But it certainly hasn’t impaired the flavours.

    Thanks for your very interesting site!

    • What a wonderful, creative set of “Kefir starters” for the various vegetable ferments. For sauerkraut, are you using salt to create a brine and then pouring over the flavored kefir? Or, doing more of a brine ferment? I would assume there would be different bacteria at the end, not to a detriment, necessarily, just different. I don’t necessarily disagree with your methodology, and see it more of a way to impart a range of flavors, especially handy with brine ferments.

      • It’s definitely a way to impart a further range of flavors, as you say. It’s also a way to put ‘too much kefir and kombucha’ to good use!

        I haven’t used this with actual sauerkraut – that is, green cabbage – yet. I have used red cabbage (with and without beets) in kefir-ed red grape juice that has been fermented with kefir grains then second-fermented with ‘Christmassy’ or ‘mulled wine’ spices.

        I haven’t used brine or salt – I don’t even pound any more. Just pack it all in, pour over the microbe-rich liquid, and let it go do it’s thing.

        I’m with you in not wanted to use a packaged, dried, or indeed ‘commercialized’ starter culture. I think in this case I’m using something that has been evolving in a much more natural way, in my little ecosystem, off fruits and vegetables I’ve been using in the original ferments. No idea if it suppresses, augments, or is maybe even the same species that are naturally present on the raw vegetables.

        If I was rich I’d send it to labs for testing! 🙂

  12. But without a starter you have have only a few strains (yes many colonies, but all of the same strains). A starter gives you a variety of strains. I am not a fan of the famous Dr. Mercola at all, but his culture starter has NINE!! different strains to begin with.

    • Yes, but those few strains of bacteria – and they’re finding more and more (not positive if that’s colonies or strains) – are all that are necessary to make fermentation happen. The few times I’ve tried starters when making sauerkraut, it’s felt so foreign to me. Adding a packet of bacteria to the bowl when I don’t need to. Messing with the ancient wisdom, I guess and an unnecessary expense. The useful area of exploration would be able to reduce the amount of salt used for those concerned about their salt intake. Thank you for your comment. It keeps my brain working hard.

  13. You don’t even need salt to ferment safely. The salt will actually slow down the fermentation and prevent the growth of a greater variety of bacteria, enzymes, amino acids and also vitamins. All you need is water, even an airtight seal is unnecessary. In more ancient times salt was unaffordable except for royals, so people did it without salt or other preservatives for ages.

    The salt will also add a lot to your daily sodium intake, and it’s not needed for safety since the acidity will kill off pathogens naturally. The only advantage of salt is that it preserves the ferment for up to a year, while without salt it will stay good in the fridge for only a month, which for most people I think is plenty.


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