Salt and Brine For Fermenting Vegetables (Ultimate Guide)

Salt is a very valuable ally in making fermented vegetables (lacto-fermentation). But its use still raises many questions!

This article will help you understand the role of salt in fermentation, how to choose the right salt, and how much salt to add, whether dry salting or brining.

To simply know how much salt to add to your lacto-fermentations (read this short version)

Jump directly to the section that interests you:

 

Why Do I Need Salt To Ferment Vegetables?

Salt has many functions in lacto-fermentation. First of all, salt neutralizes pathogenic microorganisms. In doing so, it allows good bacteria to establish themselves before bad ones do. No wonder salt has been used to preserve food since the dawn of time!

Secondly, salt helps to draw water out of the vegetables. This creates a natural brine, full of nutrients for the microorganisms. It also covers the vegetables and prevents exposure to oxygen, creating the perfect environment for lacto-fermentation.

Thirdly, salt slows down the softening of vegetables. The more salt you add, the slower the fermentation, and the longer the vegetables will remain crisp.

Finally, salt is what makes fermented food taste good! A pickle, sauerkraut, kimchi… We like them with a little pinch of salt!

 

Which Salt to Use for Fermenting Vegetables?

It’s simple, salt must be “natural”, i.e. without additives.

Salt enriched with iodine or anti-caking agents (like many table salts) should be avoided. They could interfere with fermentation, and affect the taste, colour, or texture of the vegetables.

You can therefore use pickling salt, sea salt, or even pink Himalayan salt. It doesn’t matter! The only ingredient should be “salt”.

Salt and brine in lacto-fermentation

How to Calculate How Much Salt To Ferment Vegetables?

There are two ways to add salt to your fermentations: either dry salting the vegetables or adding brine.

In either case, you should aim to add 2% salt. Indeed, a 2% salt environment usually gives very good results with most vegetables.

Weigh the vegetables + add 2% of that weight in salt

 

Dry Salting For Fermenting Vegetables

Dry salting is used when vegetables can release their water after they have been crushed (sauerkraut, shredded vegetables, etc.).

Adding salt with the dry salting technique:

  1. Calculate the total weight of the vegetables with a scale (e.g. 1000g of vegetables).
  2. Calculate 2% of that weight to find out (determine) the amount of salt to be added (1000g x 2% = 20g)
  3. Add salt to the vegetables and massage them well.

The massage allows the salt to draw the water out of the vegetables, which creates a natural brine. Then, by compressing them in a jar, the brine will cover the vegetables.

This technique can be found in many recipes, such as the traditional sauerkraut or curried fermented carrots.

 

Brine For Fermenting Vegetables

If your vegetables are whole or produce little water, you can use the brining technique and mix salt and water to cover the vegetables.

Calculating Brine by Volume

No scale at hand? The simplest technique is to estimate the weight based on the volume of the jar used to ferment the vegetables.

In fact, the weight of vegetables and water in grams is approximately equal to their volume. Thus, if you fill a 1L (1000ml) jar, its contents will weigh more or less 1kg (1000g).

Since fermentation is not an exact science, such estimates are allowed. It is much faster than weighing, and gives very good results!

Therefore, to determine the amount of salt to add to a jar, calculate 2% of the volume of the jar, and you’ll obtain the amount of salt to add in grams.

Garlic flower and salt in a jar

After filling the jar with garlic scapes, you add the salt, calculated according to the volume of the jar.

For example, for a 1L jar, calculate 2% of the 1000ml, and you will get an amount of 20 grams of salt to add.

To calculate the amount of salt based on the volume:

  1. Fill a jar with vegetables
  2. Calculate 2% of the volume of the jar to determine the amount of salt to add (1000mL x 2% = 20g of salt).
  3. Add the salt to the jar
  4. Cover vegetables and salt with water
  5. Close and shake well to dissolve it (the salt).

That’s it! Your vegetables will be in a 2% salt content, an ideal environment for good lactic acid bacteria to work.

Fermented garlic flower in a jar

Garlic scapes are covered with salt water. No complicated calculations, no massages. It’s very simple!

Calculating Brine by Weight

To calculate the amount of salt to add to vegetables fermented in brine, you can use the total weight of vegetables and water as a guideline. For example, to prepare carrots in 2% brine, calculate 2% of the weight of the carrots PLUS the water in the jar.

Do you have a kitchen scale handy? Here’s how to proceed:

  1. Place the jar on the scale and set it to zero.
  2. Place the vegetables and spices in the jar.
  3. Cover with water
  4. Write down the weight and calculate 2% of that weight to determine the amount of salt to be added (for a total weight of 1000g, for example, calculate 1000g x 2% = 20g).
  5. Add the salt to the jar, close, and shake well to dissolve it.

Note: many recipes recommend dissolving salt in water and pouring this brine into the jar with the vegetables. However, with this method, you never know how much salt will end up in the jar as you don’t always put all the brine in the jar…

Calculating from the volume of the jar or the weight of the water and the vegetables helps to ensure that you always have enough salt to ensure a good fermentation.

 

How Much Salt To Ferment Vegetables?

The amount of salt can vary depending on your taste and the expected results.

The majority of recipes recommend using 2% salt of the total weight of vegetables. For example, if you have 1kg of cabbage, you will need to add 20 grams of salt or 4 teaspoons.

2% is not a universal rule. You can choose to use more or less.

A more salty fermentation (2.5 to 4% salt):

A less salty fermentation (1 to 2% salt):

  • Is faster
  • Will produce vegetables that soften quickly
  • Is suitable for short fermentations (a few days)

If there is not enough salt, the fermentation is more likely to fail. However, if too much salt is added, the fermentation will be inedible! This is because salt does not reduce with fermentation.

How do you know how much salt is right for you? Test it! Try your first sauerkraut with 2% salt. If you find it too salty, try a little less next time. Fermented vegetable juices are tastier with 1% salt.

 

Can I Ferment Vegetables Without Salt?

It is possible, but the risk of failure is greater.

Salt prevents pathogenic microorganisms from setting in. Without salt, lactic acid bacteria (which we want to favour) have a harder time defeating the competition. As a result, you may end up with mould, for example.

To boost the fermentation process, you can add an extra source of lactic acid bacteria at the beginning of the fermentation: a little liquid from a previous ferment, whey, or Caldwells type starter culture.

Salt-free lacto-fermentations are often very short (a few days) because vegetables soften quickly.

Therefore, if you want to reduce the salt in your fermentations, we advise you not to go below 1% salt, to minimize the risk of failure and get satisfactory results.

 

Don’t Have a Scale? Just Remember:

  • 1 teaspoon = about 5g of salt
  • 1 tablespoon = about 15g of salt
  • 500ml jar: 10g of salt (2 teaspoons) for 2% of salt
  • 1L jar: 20g of salt (4 teaspoons) for 2% of salt

 

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