Lacto-fermentation: The Methods

Many people when starting out with lacto-fermenting think that “whey” is needed in the process, but this is not the case.

How Lacto-fermentation Happens

The process of lacto-fermentation happens when the starches and sugars found within vegetables and fruits are converted to lactic acid by friendly bacteria. Lactic acid is a natural preservative that inhibits the growth of putrefying bacteria.

The term “lacto” in lacto-fermentation refers to this production of lactic acid.

There are two methods of lacto-fermentation. Both can produce good fermented foods.

Whey Ferments

This method is the one most used in Sally Fallon’s book “Nourishing Traditions” – and the one I started out with. It is the easiest, or at least seems the most comfortable, to start out with for the super beginner. The whey helps “jump-start” your ferment, since it already has the “good guys” in it. If using whey in your ferments you can reduce the amount of salt used.

Lacto-fermenting eCourse

You must make sure you have “good tasting” whey, or your ferments will not taste so good. And those that are dairy intolerant may not be able to use the “whey method”.

Salt Ferments

This simple method uses pure salt for fermentation and is the traditional way ferments were made. The salt inhibits the growth of “bad” bacteria, allowing the “good guys” to take over.

 Salt ferments make for a very tasty product and helps keep the vegetables crisp (not mushy and soggy).

Some people find that salt ferments are too salty. Salt ferments also take longer to culture.

When should I use Salt and when should I use Whey?

This is mostly a personal preference. But there are some instances when it is definitely a good thing to use whey. For example: lacto-fermented condiments such as, ketchup, mustard, mayonnaise, etc. where using extra salt would make for a “too salty” product.

Below are some examples of when I use Whey and when I use Salt.
Whey
  • Salsa
  • Corn Relish
  • Bean Dip
  • Ketchup
  • Mustard
  • Mayonnaise
  • Fruits (must use whey)
Salt
  • Pickles (cucumbers)
  • Cabbage (sauerkraut)
  • Peppers
  • Asparagus
  • Green Beans
  • Carrots
  • Radish

Make lacto-fermenting easy with our Lacto-fermentation Air-lock System.

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Disclaimer: The information in this post is meant for educational purposes only. It is not intended as a substitute for professional medical advice. None of the opinions are meant to diagnose or treat any disease or illness. You should always consult your healthcare provider.


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Comments

  1. I recently made paneer have gallons of whey left. I used vinegar to desperate the whey from the curds. Wanting to use the whey up I googled uses and found lacto -fermentation. However all the recipes i have found call for whey derived from a different process. Will this matter?

    • Is the whey “raw”? If you used pasteurized milk it won’t work. If you used raw milk and heated it to make the cheese, then it won’t work. The whey must be raw or come from homemade milk kefir or yogurt in order to work properly in lacto-fermentation.

  2. Hi Shannon and Jeff,

    For people with hypothyroid, will fermented cabbage be beneficial for them? Since cabbage contains goitrogens that inhibits the thyroid from absorbing iodine, making the symptoms of hypothyroid more pronounced.

    Some sites are saying that goitrogens are not reduced in the process of fermentation.

    Do you have any experience in this regards. Thanks for your response.

    • Mary,

      I will not comment on cabbage and goitrogens. The reason I say this is just picking one thing out of a person’s diet and asking if this will help or not would be wrong to comment on. The diet has to be looked at as a whole along with each person. We all have different requirements. Such as some people do better with more protein and some with less, others have sensitivities to different foods. Instead I would suggest taking a bigger picture view. Is there an issue with eating fermented cabbage and the body absorbing nutrition? I would tend to say in a general sense no, as there would have been a recorded history of health issues for eating that food. After all there is a recorded history of issues from eating rotting food.

  3. Thanks for all the great information! I was wondering what happens if you don’t use enough salt? I just made a batch of jalapeño peppers and used a 1T to 1quart of water ratio. They taste good. Today I put up to ferment carrots, onions & jalapeños using the same ratio. Is this dangerous? Thanks for your help! Awesome site!

    • Liz, it is important to use enought salt to inhibit the growth of putrefying bacteria in the ferment. Our recipes have been tested to accomplish this on a consistent basis, by lowering the amount of salt used your could be inviting an unsafe situation. I would not recommend consuming the ferments you made with the altered salt levels, it is not worth the risk of food poisoning.

      You usually do not use all the brine that is prepared so you are in the end consuming less salt. Add to this fact that you also do not drink the brine of the finished ferment so again you are not consuming all the salt that is in the jar.

      Glad you enjoy the site and have started you journey into fermented foods. :)

  4. I see that whey must be used when fermenting certain food like fruits. I’m a vegan so I don’t want to use whey. Is there anything else I can use?

    Just found your site today. Love it! Getting ready to order the air-lock system and book.

    Thanks for your help.

    • Heidi, whey is always needed in lacto-fermented fruits and any vegetable ferments that have been cooked or roasted. The book, Lacto-fermenting: The Easy Way, covers 2 methods of lacto-fermenting… using whey and salt. All of the recipes in the lacto-fermentation book were created without the use of whey whenever possible. So when a recipe does call for whey it is really a must.

      If you are interested you could look into getting some packets of vegetable fermentation starter to use inplace of the whey. (The book does not cover how to use vegetable fermentation starters since there are so many out there, so you would have to experiment for yourself.) Try going to Cultures for Health, they have a good selection. Look for dairy-free options and follow the directions on the package. I can’t say how well they work, because I’ve never used them. They can be a little costly in that you have to use a packet with each ferment.

  5. Does the salt fermentation affect blood pressure?

    • Great question Tom.

      Here is a quick run down and do check on the web for more info.

      Let me quote Dr. F. Batmanghelidj MD. http://www.health-benefit-of-water.com/sea-salt.html#axzz1dW7wlg6j

      “Sea Salt and high blood pressure
      Salt is not bad for you. It does not raise the blood pressure
      - It is the insufficiency of other minerals that normally hold on to and keep water inside the cells that causes a rise in blood pressure.
      Contrary to the misconception that it causes high blood pressure (in conjunction with water and the other essential minerals).
      - One or two glasses of water with a little salt will quickly and efficiently quiet the racing and “thumping” heart and, in the long run, will reduce the blood pressure.”

      So from the quote above, the problem is the refined table salt, which has all the minerals removed. Use a good sea salt or Himalayan salt and you should not have any issues. Personally I used to have a high blood pressure issue, but through diet it is now normal and I eat fermented items made with salt every day (so real salt is not a problem, only man altered salt). At Cooking God’s Way we keep the salt to lowest amount required in the processes, so the food does not taste overly salty. Read more about Himalayan it has lots of great affects.

      Hope that helps with your question. Jeff

  6. jarider48 says:

    I have been told that whey is only the end of the lacto-fermentation process and misses much of the beneficial bacteria…I know that salt is the best to use but you do not refer to vegetable cultures for use in fruits, veggies, sauces, etc? Why?

    • Whey is great for lacto-fermentation…but you must get it from a good source. You can obtain “live” whey from any good quality store-bought or homemade yogurt. It is full of beneficial bacteria that helps to “jump start” the lacto-fermentation process.

      With that being said, salt is also good in lacto-fermentation in that it helps to keep any putrefying bacteria at bay so that the “good guys” can proliferate.

      I have not tried, nor do I feel the need, to use a vegetable culture in lacto-fermentation. But that is just my personal preference. If you choose to use one then you’ll need to follow the instructions included with it.

  7. How much salt per oh let’s say, quart of veggies? I have over a gallon of salsa on my counter right now,a nd I want to make sure it doesn’t spoil!

    • I would say the average is between 1 1/2 to 2 Tablespoons of salt per quart.

      There are different brine recipes for making pickled (lacto-fermented) vegetables.

      3.6% brine formula = 2 tablespoons salt to 4 cups water.
      5.4% brine formula = 3 tablespoons salt to 4 cups water.

      The higher the salt content, the crisper your vegetables will be. (Though you don’t want to over do it, as too much salt can also inhibit fermentation.)

  8. Brenda Cummings says:

    Thanks for the insight!

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