How to Make Probiotic Foods

Before we created probiotic Gut Kulture Shots, we researched as much as we possibly could about traditional fermented foods. In this email, we’ll pass on the most helpful tips I learned.

Although gut shots are very special indeed (they not only contain wild-fermented beneficial bacteria, but also specially chosen blends of herbs and whole foods), there’s still a place for traditional foods if you have the time and inclination–they’re incredibly healthy and delicious!

How to Make Homemade Traditional Fermented Foods (Safely and Easily)

The biggest misconception people have about making traditional probiotic foods is that it’s difficult or complicated. It’s not!

Your ancestors made fermented foods for their flavors and health benefits and as a means to preserve perishable foods, and you can, too.

This is how delicious staples like sour dill pickles, sauerkraut, and kimchi originated. With a little practice, you can make your own equally good, probiotic creations.

The basic formula is extremely simple: 

Begin by chopping or lightly crushing veggies or other ingredients of your choice, such as fresh herbs. (The size and shape of the vegetables affects their flavor and fermentation rate; experimentation pays off here.)

Add salt in a bowl and mix everything thoroughly by hand. (You can optionally add other seasonings during this step, but they’ll be plenty flavorful without anything extra.)

If possible, leave the mixture out overnight, then transfer to a jar and top off with water. (Leaving out overnight allows the salt to pull water from the plant cells and also for the mixture to become inoculated with your local wild bacteria.)

Store in a dim or dark area, preferably between 55-90 degrees Farhrenheit, until finished. (Trying a sample every 1-3 days is the best way to determine when it’s done–trust your taste buds.)

You can use the formula above to invent your own recipes, but make sure you don’t miss next week’s email with 3 easy, inexpensive, delicious probiotic recipes!

More Advice for DIY Probiotic Foods

If you’re new to fermentation, you might feel intimidated. That’s normal, because most modern people don’t have the same inherited wisdom about these foods that our ancestors had.

It takes some time to develop a healthy relationship again.

Follow these tips and you can’t go wrong:

For salt-based lacto-fermentation (which is what most vegetable ferments are), use a salt ratio of 2.5% by weight or weight-to-volume. Therefore, for a 1000 gram ferment (a liter or quart jar, or 2.2 pounds of veggie and water, total) you’d add 25 grams of sea salt.

It’s fine to estimate the weight of a ferment by volume (remember 1 milliliter = 1 gram, roughly) but you should always weigh out your salt rather than measure it by volume, because salt volume varies a lot. A tablespoon of fine sea salt might weigh double what a tablespoon of flake salt weighs.

Remember that salt inhibits “bad” bacteria, so it’s better to use too much salt than too little. Some cultures use 5-20% salt by weight! If you don’t like a lot of salt, you can rinse your fermented foods before eating–they’ll still be tasty.

Always submerge your fermented foods fully in water. You can use weights to keep the food from rising above the water line. Along with the salt, water is what ensures beneficial bacteria grow rather than harmful species.

Cover your fermented foods, but don’t seal them. They’ll produce natural carbon dioxide, so you don’t want them airtight. Special lids are available, but a cheesecloth or paper towel and rubber band are also fine.

Check the jars every 1-3 days. You may need to scrape some harmless yeast or mold off the top (it won’t affect what’s beneath the water if you remove it all) or top off with water. Add more salt directly on top if you keep having yeast or mold problems.

When checking your jars, always make sure to try a sample! This is the best way to determine when they’re done. Keep in mind that temperature affects the rate of fermentation, so in summer your jars could mature 2-3 times faster than in winter.