Recipe: Lacto-Fermented Pickled Vegetables (2024)

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Emily Han

Emily Han

Emily Han is a Los Angeles-based recipe developer, educator, herbalist, and author of Wild Drinks & co*cktails and co-author of Wild Remedies. For recipes and classes, check out her personal site.


updated Jan 29, 2020


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Recipe: Lacto-Fermented Pickled Vegetables (1)

Serves8Prep10 minutes

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Recipe: Lacto-Fermented Pickled Vegetables (2)

To the uninitiated, lacto-fermentation often sounds at best confusing and at worst frightening. Before I got elbow-deep into the world of kimchi, sauerkraut, and other fermented foods, I had vague notions of lacto-fermentation involving milk, bacteria, and jars of mysterious contents bubbling away in dark cupboards. Some of this is true, some of it isn’t, and I’ll get to that in a minute. But one thing is for sure: these lacto-fermented mixed pickles are crisp, tangy, and definitely not intimidating to make or eat. In fact they’re one of the easiest pickle recipes out there, perfect to serve alongside sandwiches, salads, or a Ploughman’s lunch.

When I first started pickling, I used vinegar brines and water bath canning methods, but these days I’m more likely to go the natural fermentation route. Lacto-fermented pickles are delicious, simple, and don’t require a lot of special equipment or ingredients — plus they have the benefit of homemade probiotics. DIY doesn’t get much better than that!

To dispel the most common myth about lacto-fermentation, it doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with dairy. Instead, the lacto refers to lactic acid. All fruits and vegetables have beneficial bacteria such as Lactobacillus on the surface. In an anaerobic (oxygen-free) environment, these bacteria convert sugars into lactic acid, which inhibits harmful bacteria and acts as a preservative. It’s also what gives fermented foods their characteristic sour flavor.

You can pretty much lacto-ferment any vegetable, and here I use a colorful medley of cauliflower, carrots, and red bell peppers. I also throw in a few spices, which you can adapt to your taste, and grape leaves, which help keep the pickles crisp. (If you don’t have access to grape leaves, you can omit them or try using black tea, oak leaves, or other tannin-rich leaves.)

Pile the ingredients in a jar, add salted water, cover the jar, and let the bacteria do their thing. You can put the jar in a cupboard, but I prefer to leave it out on the counter so I can see and taste what’s going on. The pickles will be ready when they taste and smell good to you — anywhere from a few hours to a few weeks depending on the ingredients and environmental conditions. This batch was good and tangy in three days.

A few notes on equipment: I like to weigh down the ingredients with a small bowl or jar that fits inside the larger jar. This is not necessary, but it helps keep the vegetables submerged under the brine and prevents mold growth. If you do encounter any mold or yeasty scum, simply skim it off. I also like using a jar fitted with an airlock (similar to a Pickl-It), which blocks oxygen yet releases carbon dioxide produced during fermentation. But again, you don’t need this equipment. A plain old mason jar works fine.


Lacto-Fermented Mixed Pickles

Prep time 10 minutes

Serves 8

Nutritional Info


  • 3 tablespoons

    iodine-free sea salt, pickling salt, or kosher salt (see Recipe Notes)

  • 1 quart

    water (see Recipe Notes)

  • 1 cup

    small cauliflower florets

  • 1 cup

    carrot chunks or slices

  • 1 cup

    red bell pepper chunks or slices

  • 1 clove

    garlic, smashed and peeled

  • 1

    bay leaf

  • 1/2 teaspoon

    coriander seeds

  • 1/4 teaspoon

    black peppercorns

  • 1 to 2

    grape leaves (optional, to help keep pickles crisp)


  1. Combine the salt and water in a measuring cup and stir until the salt is dissolved. (You can heat the water first to make the salt easier to dissolve, but it's not necessary. Let it come to room temperature before making the pickles.)

  2. Place the remaining ingredients in a very clean, large jar (a half-gallon mason jar works well). Pour the salt water over the vegetables, leaving at least 1 inch of headspace at the top of the jar. If necessary, add more water to cover the vegetables. (Optionally, place a small bowl or jar on top of the vegetables to hold them under the brine.)

  3. Cover the jar tightly and let it stand at room temperature. About once a day, open the jar to taste the pickles and release gases produced during fermentation. If any mold or scum has formed on the top, simply skim it off. (If using a jar fitted with an airlock, you don't need to "burp" it; just open occasionally to taste.)

  4. When the pickles taste to your liking, transfer the jar to the refrigerator. They will continue to ferment very slowly, but cold storage will largely halt fermentation. As a fermented food, these pickles will last for quite some time, at least a month or longer.

Recipe Notes

Salt: Use salt that is free of iodine and/or anti-caking agents, which can inhibit fermentation.

Water: Chlorinated water can inhibit fermentation, so use spring, distilled, or filtered water if you can. It is also recommended to rinse the vegetables in un-chlorinated water rather than tap water.

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Recipe: Lacto-Fermented Pickled Vegetables (2024)


What vegetables are best for lacto-fermentation? ›

In alphabetical order, the best vegetables for fermenting include cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, cucumbers, garlic, kohlrabi, peppers, radishes, snap beans and turnips.

What is the difference between pickling and lacto fermenting pickles? ›

An easy way to remember the difference between the two despite their overlap is that pickling involves putting food into an acidic brine to produce a sour flavor, whereas fermenting gives food a sour flavor without any added acid. Pickling is often the least healthy choice in terms of these two foods.

How long can you lacto ferment vegetables? ›

How long do lacto-fermented foods last? Fermented foods that are properly prepared and stored in a cool, dark place (like the refrigerator) can last at least 4-18 months. Always look for any signs of mold, an even color throughout, and make sure it still looks edible.

What is the salt ratio for lacto-fermented pickles? ›

What is the salt-to-water ratio needed for fermentation? The salt-to-water ratio is commonly between 2-5%. Somewhat depends on taste. Most recipes will call for about 2 tablespoons of salt per quart of water.

What is the easiest vegetable to ferment? ›

Cabbage is a relatively inexpensive and easy vegetable to ferment, and there are many options for creating flavors you might like. Experiment with herbs and spices such as ginger, garlic, hot pepper, caraway seeds, curry powder, and turmeric.

What is the most important ingredient in fermented vegetable processing? ›

Salt. Salt provides many functions in the fermentation process: Allows needed water and sugars to be pulled from the vegetables that are used as nutrients by fermenting organisms. Favors the growth of fermenting organisms over spoilage bacteria, yeast, and mold as well as harmful bacteria.

Are Claussen pickles lacto fermented? ›

The popular claussen pickles are not fermented, they are pickled. These are two different preservation methods; fermenting is pickling, but pickling is not fermenting. Let me explain, plus let's talk about brands of fermented pickles, how to find fermented pickles in the grocery store and how to make pickles at home.

Why are my lacto fermented pickles mushy? ›

It may be a normal reaction during fermentation caused by bacteria. If the pickles are soft, they are spoiled from the yeast fermentation. Don't use them. Using too weak a salt brine or vinegar solution may cause soft or slippery pickles, as can using moldy garlic or storing the pickles at too warm a temperature.

How do you keep lacto fermented pickles crispy? ›

Over time your Pickle will lose firmness (lol), but there is a practical solution to keep Fermented and non Fermented pickles firm. Add a small amount of Calcium Carbonate (food grade chalk), or carrots to your Pickles next time.

Is it OK to eat fermented vegetables everyday? ›

For the best results, start by eating one or two servings per day, and then slowly work your way up. Getting probiotics from whole foods is a simple way to take advantage of fermented foods' health benefits while reducing your risk of side effects associated with probiotic use, such as digestive issues ( 45 ).

Do you have to refrigerate lacto-fermented vegetables? ›

A refrigerator, the basem*nt, a root cellar, or even the coolest corner of your kitchen will work. If a ferment is not placed into cool storage, the food will continue to ferment, which isn't a bad thing necessarily, but it may become too sour or too soft for your liking.

Can you eat too much fermented vegetables? ›

The most common reaction to fermented foods is a temporary increase in gas and bloating. This is the result of excess gas being produced after probiotics kill harmful gut bacteria and fungi. Probiotics secrete antimicrobial peptides that kill harmful pathogenic organisms like Salmonella and E.

What is the white stuff on lacto fermented pickles? ›

When fermenting vegetables, it is common to notice a white layer forming on top of the liquid after a few days. Often this white film is mistaken for mold, and the entire ferment is discarded. However, the white film is usually a type of yeast known as kahm yeast.

Can I use iodized salt for lacto-fermentation? ›

One of the best types of salt to ferment with is sea salt. Sea salt contains several nutrients, including trace amounts of magnesium, potassium and calcium. Picking salt and Kosher salt are also good to use. The type of salt you should avoid in fermentation is Iodized salt.

Can you put too much salt in brine for fermentation? ›

Proper salting is critical for successful fermentation. Too little salt is not enough to kill unwanted bacteria while too much salt can stop fermentation so don't be tempted to adjust the salt in recipes. The best salts to use are pickling salt, canning salt or coarse salt. Read the salt label.

What are lacto-fermented vegetables examples? ›

Lacto-fermentation is a common technique for preserving various foods. Some of the best-known lactic acid fermentations include: Vegetables such as sauerkraut, kimchi, pickles, hot sauce, olives. Milk-based products (yogurt, kefir, cheese, etc.)

Are lacto-fermented vegetables healthy? ›

Regular consumption of lacto-fermented vegetables may stimulate bacteria with the potential to produce butyrate, a compound in the gut that is widely known for its positive effects on health.

Can you ferment any vegetable? ›

What are the best vegetables to ferment? You don't just have to limit yourself to fermented cabbage. Carrots, beetroot, radish and cucumber are all ideal options. In fact, almost every kind of veg - and even some fruits - can be preserved through fermentation.

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