Fermented Purple Pro

Lisa Ganora, CSCH Director

Here’s how to make some fabulous purple probiotic, flavonoid-rich fermented veggies, swimming in beneficial bacteria! This recipe uses red and purple veggies just for fun, and because those colorful molecules (including anthocyanins and betalains) have strong antioxidant, anticancer, and anti-inflammatory properties.

We are learning more every day about how a healthy microbial ecology in the GI system is important for nearly every aspect of health, from improving digestion, to healthy weight maintenance, to cooling chronic inflammation, to building immunity and even for helping with mood and brain health. It’s safe and easy to make fermented veggies at home with a few simple pieces of equipment. Using the recipe below, you can easily add a source of vigorous, live probiotics in a phytochemical-rich veggie matrix to your daily health routine.

You’ll need:

  • Half-gallon wide-mouth Mason jar/s, metal lid/s, “pickle pucks” (or if your veggies are larger, two jars, lids, and pucks)
    • I call them “pickle pucks” because they look like glass hockey pucks. Officially, they’re called Pickle Pebbles Plus. The ‘plus’ size fits a wide-mouth jar. Cooking and brewing supplies stores are starting to carry them and you can get them at several places online.
  • Shallow bowl/s to put under jar/s
  • Clean cutting board and sharp knife
  • Wooden kraut pounder or Vitamix® tamper (optional)
  • One oz. starter culture (or 1 tsp. granulated dried probiotics) per ½ gallon
  • One tsp. natural, non-iodized salt per ½ gallon
  • One tsp. red pepper flakes (if you want a little warmth) per ½ gallon
  • One small purple/red cabbage – remove outer leaves
  • One medium-to-large beet
  • Several red or purple carrots
  • One medium-to-large red/purple onion
  • One large or several smaller sweet red peppers
  • You could also add a few garlic cloves to taste

To make (takes about an hour for two ½ gallon jars):

  1. Wash equipment well with soap and water to get rid of unwanted bacteria.
  2. Mix salt and red pepper together in a little container.
  3. Chop veggies into fairly small chunks.
  4. Stuff a layer of veggies into jar (no need to pound) with tamper.
  5. Sprinkle salt/red pepper over veggies.
  6. Repeat, until jar is almost full.
  7. Add an ounce or so of starter (already swimming with lactobacteria).
    1. Starter can be saved from a previous batch, gifted from a friend, bought online, or made by dissolving 1 tsp. of living granulated or powdered probiotics in a little tepid spring / filtered water).
  8. Add almost enough water to top veggies.
  9. Tighten lid and shake jar to distribute salty water and starter liquid.
  10. Open lid and place pickle puck on top of veggies.
  11. Top up with spring / filtered water to cover puck.
    1. Don’t use chlorinated water, as this will discourage the growth of the beneficial bacteria. Ideally, the water will be just below the lid, but not touching it.
  12. Screw on lid, then loosen band just enough to let gasses fizz out.
  13. Set jar in a shallow bowl; liquid will ooze out of jar as veggies ferment.
  14. Let sit at room temperature for 5-7 days, out of sunlight.
  15. After that, remove puck and store jar of fermented veggies in fridge.
  16. When you’ve eaten those glorious veggies, drink the juice then save some as starter for the next batch. Keep your starter dormant in the fridge, and let it warm up to room temperature just before use.

It’s important to add non-iodized salt, because lactobacteria will flourish in a salty fluid, while undesirable bacteria will not. You don’t need much salt if you use a starter. If you don’t use a starter, you’ll need more salt – at least two Tbsp. per half-gallon jar. Keeping the veggies down under the surface of the salty liquid is important, as this will prevent the formation of mold and the growth of undesirable bacteria. If you do this and follow the safety rules below, you won’t have to worry about contamination or food poisoning!

Five important safety rules:

  • Wash hands and equipment well with soap and water before you begin.
  • Make sure your liquid is salty enough:
    1. If using starter, one tsp. salt per ½ gallon is sufficient
    2. If not using starter, use at least two Tbsp. salt per ½ gallon
  • Make sure the veggies remain below the surface of the liquid as they ferment
  • Don’t screw the cap down tightly as the veggies are fermenting; pressure will build up inside the jar and blow off the cap, or worse …
  • The nose knows: if your veggies smell tart and mildly fizzy after a week, they’re good to go (a little sulfurous smell is ok if you’re fermenting cabbage or other Brassica family veggies). If they smell weird, moldy, or rotten – they’re compost. Investigate what might have gone wrong, think it through, and don’t be afraid to try again!