Preserving by fermenting

25th April 2013

With everything now playing catch up and an abundance of spring plants available, over the next few days we will look at different ways of making the most of the glut of wild plants by preserving them.  Today we will look at a method called lacto-fermentation.

This ancient method of preserving plants stems back to the days before canning and refrigeration and relies on encouraging the growth of naturally occurring lactic acid producing bacteria. The lactic acid they produce inhibits the growth of other, potentially harmful bacteria but it also adds a pleasantly sour flavour to the vegetables as well as adding beneficial pro-biotics and additional vitamins.  We are all familiar with this type of preservation in things like yoghurt, but less so when used for preserving vegetables.  The one most people have heard of is the European sauerkraut made from cabbage which is traditionally made in this way, although shop bought varieties may simply be pickled in artificially produced lactic acid.  In Korea there are dozens of varieties of Kimchi, which is like a spicy version of sauerkraut and can be made from a variety of vegetables and in Latin America there is Cortido, which again is spiced and flavoured with herbs.

Lacto-fermented Hogweed

The methods outlined below can be used on a variety of wild plants; hedge garlic, charlock, sea kale, nettles, hogweed, three-cornered leeks etc., etc.  Use this as a guide and don’t be afraid of experimenting with trying other plants, different parts of plants and adding additional flavourings.

For basic sauerkraut

  1. Chop the plant into thin slices and place in a large jar and add about 4 teaspoons (or 20g) of cooking salt per kilo.
  2. Mix in and allow the plant to wilt as the salt draws out liquid
  3. After at least an hour the chopped plant should have wilted and should be able to be squashed down without crunching, if not leave for a bit longer.
  4. Once it is fully wilted, press it down and the liquid released should completely cover the veg, if not add some salted water (15g salt per 250ml water) to cover.
  5. Place something on top of the veg and place a weight on top to make sure that all the veg is covered with  the liquid. Cover with a cloth or put a lid on the jar but be prepared to release any gas produced every few days.
  6. You should notice small bubbles being produced after a few days. Keep at room temperature for a week then transfer to a fridge to slow the fermentation down it will be ready at about 4 weeks
For something a bit spicier, here is the process for Kimchi
  1. chop veg and place in a bowl
  2. for every kilo of veg dissolve 45g salt in 1500ml of water and pour over the veg
  3. Weigh down and leave for 1-12 hours depending on the veg. It needs to wilt and go soft
  4. Drain the veg and reserve the brine
  5. Add 2 teaspoons of finely chopped ginger, 2 teaspoons of crushed garlic, 3 tablespoons of fish sauce, 1 teaspoon sugar, 1 teaspoon salt and chilli flakes or powder to taste
  6. Place in a jar and weigh down so that the veg is submerged beneath the liquid, if you need more liquid add some of the reserved brine
  • Leave covered for 3-6 days in a cool place then transfer to the fridge.
Three-cornered Leek Kimchi
From these instructions you will get the basic idea of lacto-fermentation.  Don’t be scared of giving it a go as it is a fantastic way of utilising some of the current spring harvest. In the worst case scenario…… doesn’t work, you will know as it will smell bad. So let your nose be your guide and get fermenting.
Three-cornered Leek Kimchi with Korean Beef and rice
Kev Palmer


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