Beginner’s Guide to Fermenting Foods at Home

Beginner’s Guide to Fermenting Foods at Home

Keen to get stuck into fermented foods but don’t know where to start? Here is your home fermentation 101 that will get you packing flavour into meals in no time.

Once upon a time on Earth, we lived seasonally. Papas would reap the harvest in the summer and Mamas would preserve what they could for the winter. And because we were wily survivors, we created a method of preserving veg that would ensure we kept our strength up during the sparse periods. Thus, the practice of fermenting foods was born.

Nowadays, fermentation is not a need for survival and consistent nutrition. We are spoiled with fridges, imports of fruit and veg, and a wider array of them for all seasons thanks to globalisation.

So, why ferment?

Because it tastes damn good. It enhances the flavour profile of the source product tenfold and causes an explosion of goodness in your mouth. It also contains good bacteria, which can help your gut and immune system. (For a full understanding, have a look at our last blog: Everything you need to know about food fermentation.)

Wary of eating fermented food? Well, it’s likely you are already doing it. Cheese, some bread, coffee, chocolate, yoghurt and even your pickles on your burger are examples of fermentation. If you’re partial to an evening toot, you’ll have been imbibing fermented products through your wine, beer or cider.

Fermenting Foods 101

Want to learn how to ferment food at home? We’ve got you covered.

What you will need:

*Be sure to sterilise all implements prior to starting by boiling them in water for 20-30 min. Except for the string, cloth and salt. Don’t boil those. 

  1. Mason or glass jar with lid.
  2. Clean cloth or kitchen towel.
  3. String/elastic band.
  4. Mixing bowl.
  5. Something to weigh down the veg in the jar. You can use a smaller glass jar, river stones, anything heavy and non-porous that fits in the jar.
  6. Salt (good quality is better). There are a few things you can use to begin the fermentation – salt, whey, a starter culture. To keep it affordable and easy, we will be using salt for our recipes.
  7. Ideally, use prepared (boiled and cooled) or filtered water for fermentation as water from the tap can contain contaminants/chemicals.


  1. Decide how you want to prepare your veg for the fermentation (grate, slice, whole, shred, chop) and do so.
  2. Put the veg into the jar, add water to cover. Note how much water you use.
  3. Add salt: 1 Tbsp (15ml) good quality salt to 1 cup (250ml) water. (Adjust according to how much water you used.)
  4. The veg needs to be without oxygen while fermenting, so ensure they are weighed down under the liquid/brine during this process using whatever weight you choose.
  5. Burp (let the air out) every day or two and weigh down further if not submerged in the brine.
  6. Store in a cool, dry place for 4-30 days, depending on how strong or mild you want the taste. Move to cold storage once it has reached your preferred level of tartness.

How to tell your veg are finished fermenting and are ready for cold storage:

Fermentation is a continual process and the longer you leave it, the more the flavours will change.

The type of veg you use, size of the jar and the temperature of the room all affect the rate of fermentation too.

Here are the signs to look for to know the magic is happening:

  1. Bubbling
  2. Sour aroma or smell. (Your nose will know – if it smells rotten or inedible, then throw it away. It should give off a vinegary, sour smell and even though it will smell strong, it should be pleasant.)

FUN FACT: Did you know that the brine of fermented food can be used as a hangover cure?
We haven’t tested this theory, but renowned Ukrainian chef and fermentation pro Olia Hercules swears by a shot of brine and a shot of ice cold vodka to clear away the cobwebs.

What if I get mould?

Mould or yeast growth is caused by exposure to oxygen. It’s not the end of the world. If there is adequate salt and everything else is as it should be, the veg under the brine should still be good.

  1. If it is white and fairly flat, it is probably kahm yeast. This is not harmful to you but doesn’t look great and could smell a bit weird. You can just scoop this mould off the top. Everything underneath the brine will be fine.
  2. Green, black, red or pink mould in fuzzy spots on top of the vegetables is bad mould, but it may still be salvageable. You might be able to scoop off this layer and have lovely, fermented vegetables in the oxygen-free zone under the brine. 

* Use your instincts though – if the veg tastes bad or too unpleasant to taste, then rather start again.

Some things that can cause it to go wrong:

  • Not enough salt
  • Too much oxygen
  • The storage area is too warm
  • Instruments are not sterilised properly

What about things like sourdough? Or kombucha?

For both of these, you need a starter.

For kombucha, that starter is a scoby (Symbiotic Culture Of Bacteria and Yeast). Basically, it’s a little raft that sits on your kombucha and gives it the goodness, causes the fermentation process, and protects the kombucha from the dreaded oxygen. It looks gross, but it’s actually the power source of the kombucha.

For sourdough, you need a starter made of wholewheat or a mix of wholewheat & white flour and water, which you feed with more flour and water over time. Think of it as the bread version of a Tamagotchi (remember those?). You need to feed it so the little creature can grow. Then, you use a bit of it in your bread-making process to make the bread rise and give it that lovely sourish taste.

We will be covering this in detail in future blogs, so look out for that.


Home fermentation of veg is easy, affordable, yummy and can aid gut health. And the bonus is that you know exactly what went into it. Plus, you get that sense of achievement that comes with making something from scratch (and the impressed eyebrow raises of friends when you casually drop that into dinner party conversation).

Here is a gift for you: A fermented tomato sauce recipe

Click image to view in PDF

For more exclusive recipes and insider tips and tricks on living a plant-based or vegan lifestyle, sign up for our fortnightly newsletter below and receive a free e-book for an easy vegan three-course meal. 

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Lisa Parsons

Lisa is a content writer and strategist with experience across many platforms. She is also a personal trainer and has a keen interest in holistic health encompassing physical, mental and emotional wellness. She enjoys travel, books, puzzles, learning languages, and a buttery Chardonnay.

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