Raw cultured vegetables: Try 2 of our favorite beginner recipes
Is this the simplest way to make cultured veggies? Our reviewers say “yes,” and we think you’ll agree.
Cultured vegetables are made by shredding cabbage or a combination of cabbage and other vegetables and packing them tightly into an airtight container. They’re then left to ferment at room temperature for several days or longer.
From there, friendly bacteria naturally present in the vegetables quickly lower the pH, making a more acidic environment so the bacteria can reproduce.
The vegetables become soft, delicious, and somewhat “pickled.”
A few things to keep in mind before you ferment
As you prepare to ferment, it may help to know that:
- The airtight container can be glass or stainless steel. Use a 1 to 1½ quart container that seals with a rubber or plastic ring and a clampdown lid.
- Room temperature means 72 degrees Fahrenheit, for at least three days. We prefer to let ours sit for six or seven days. You can taste your cultured veggies (CVs) at different stages and decide for yourself.
- Seasons matter. In the winter months, if your kitchen temperature falls below 70 degrees, wrap the container in a towel and place it inside an insulated or thermal chest. In the summer months, the veggies culture faster. They may be ready in just three or four days.
During this fermentation period, the friendly bacteria are having a heyday, reproducing and converting sugars and starches to lactic acid. Once the initial process is over, it’s time to slow down the bacterial activity by putting the cultured veggies in the refrigerator.
The cold greatly slows the fermentation but does not stop it completely. Even if the veggies sit in your refrigerator for months, they will not spoil; instead, they’ll become more like fine wine — more delicious with time. Properly made, cultured vegetables have at least an eight-month shelf life.
While it’s not necessary to add a “starter culture” to your vegetables, we recommend that you do it just to ensure that your vegetables begin fermenting with a hardy strain of beneficial bacteria. Body Ecology’s Vegetable Culture Starter contains a very robust bacterium called L. plantarum, one of the most studied probiotic starters known to support the safety and shelf-life of fermented vegetables.1 (See our recipes below.)
Once you master the basic technique, get creative:
- Experiment with different vegetable combinations — and include dark green leafy vegetables, like kale and collards.
- Soak, drain, and chop up some ocean vegetables, like dulse, wakame, hijiki, and arame.
- Add your favorite herbs (dried or fresh), seeds (dill or caraway), and juniper berries. Even lemon juice can be added to the “brine.”
- Consider leaving out the cabbage altogether and making a batch of cultured daikon.
Donna likes to experiment with her CVs by adding some green apple — don’t be afraid of doing this because of the sugar. The microbes use it for food. The sugar will be long gone before you eat the cultured veggies. If you create a great new recipe you want to share with others in our worldwide Body Ecology community, please write or email us, and we’ll happily post it on our social feeds.
You may be thinking that making cultured veggies amounts to a big hassle. While it’s possible to buy them commercially (see our recommended products), store-bought amounts can be fairly small and too costly for many people. You wouldn’t be getting the “therapeutic amounts” you reap by making your own.
So, here’s a suggestion: Plan a “CV party” with your family and friends. Gather on a weekend afternoon to spend some time together and chop and pack the veggies. Make sure everyone leaves with enough containers to last until the next party. You and your loved ones will enjoy many meals of one of the most functional and economical foods you’ll ever eat.2-4
Hello, is it me you’re looking for? Use Body Ecology’s Culture Starter to make home-fermenting easy.
For newbies and fermented foodies: 2 quick-and-easy CV recipes
One important secret to making really delicious cultured veggies is to use freshly harvested, organic, well-cleaned vegetables. After washing the veggies, spin them dry. Clean equipment is essential. Scald everything you use in very hot water.
- 3 heads green cabbage, shredded in a food processor
- 1 bunch kale, chopped by hand (optional)
- 2 cups wakame ocean vegetables (measured after soaking), drained, spine removed, and chopped
- 1 tbsp. dill seed
- 3 heads green cabbage, shredded in a food processor
- 6 carrots, large, shredded in a food processor
- 3-inch piece ginger, peeled and chopped
- 6 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
To make cultured vegetables:
1. Combine all ingredients in a large bowl.
2. Remove several cups of this mixture and put into a blender.
3. Add enough filtered water to make a “brine” the consistency of a thick juice. Blend well and then add brine back into first mixture. Stir well.
4. Pack mixture down into a 1½ quart glass or stainless steel container. Use your fist, a wooden dowel, or a potato masher to pack veggies tightly.
5. Fill container almost full, but leave about 2 inches of room at the top for veggies to expand.
6. Roll up several cabbage leaves into a tight “log” and place them on top to fill the remaining 2-inch space. Clamp jar closed.
7. Let veggies sit at about a 70-degree room temperature for at least three days. A week is even better. Refrigerate to slow down fermentation. Enjoy.
To use Body Ecology’s Culture Starter:
Dissolve one or two packages of starter culture in 1½ cup warm (90 degree) water. Add approximately 1 teaspoon of some form of sugar to feed the starter (try Rapadura, Sucanat, honey, agave, or EcoBloom). Let starter/sugar mixture sit for about 20 minutes or longer while the L. plantarum and other bacteria wake up and begin enjoying the sugar. Add this starter culture to the brine in step 3.
*From the 11th edition Body Ecology Diet, by Donna Gates.
- 1. Behera SS, Ray RC, Zdolec N. Lactobacillus plantarum with Functional Properties: An Approach to Increase Safety and Shelf-Life of Fermented Foods. Biomed Res Int. 2018;2018:9361614. Published 2018 May 28. doi:10.1155/2018/9361614.
- 2. Chia-Ying Chuang, Yeu-Ching Shi, He-Pei You, Yi-Hiyuan Lo, and Tzu-Ming Pan. Antidepressant Effect of GABA-Rich Monascus-Fermented Product on Forced Swimming Rat Model. Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry 2011 59 (7), 3027-3034 DOI: 10.1021/jf104239m.
- 3. Rezac S, Kok CR, Heermann M, Hutkins R. Fermented Foods as a Dietary Source of Live Organisms. Front Microbiol. 2018 Aug 24;9:1785. doi: 10.3389/fmicb.2018.01785. PMID: 30197628; PMCID: PMC6117398.
- 4. Marco ML, Heeney D, Binda S, Cifelli CJ, Cotter PD, Foligné B, Gänzle M, Kort R, Pasin G, Pihlanto A, Smid EJ, Hutkins R. Health benefits of fermented foods: microbiota and beyond. Curr Opin Biotechnol. 2017 Apr;44:94-102. doi: 10.1016/j.copbio.2016.11.010. Epub 2016 Dec 18. PMID: 27998788.