3 Surprising Fruits And Veggies You Never Knew You Could Ferment

It's time to get more creative than just cabbage and cucumbers.

July 27, 2017
Cecilia Drotte/Getty

Sure, you're familiar with pickles and sauerkraut, and maybe even pickled string beans and carrots. But the truth is, there's really no limit to what you can ferment. And that's great news. Not only does natural, lactic acid fermentation impart a delightfully tangy bite to your produce, but it creates colonies of healthy bacteria (a.k.a. probiotics) that promote optimal gut health and boost your immune system. Not to mention, it's the perfect long-term storage solution for your excess summer and fall produce. 

That's why, here, we've rounded up the most unique recipes from the new book Traditionally Fermented Foods: Innovative Recipes and Old-Fashioned Techniques for Sustainable Eating, which prove you can ferment sweet potatoes, herbs, and even fruit.

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fermented herbs
Photograph courtesy of Traditionally Fermented Foods
Fermented fresh herbs

While dehydrating woody herbs such as oregano, thyme, and rosemary really locks in the flavor, annual herbs preserved by this method are generally underwhelming. To remedy that, try fermenting them in a brine or in a paste—their fresh flavor really comes through with the introduction of lactic acid during fermentation. It’s a good idea to make small jars of these guys because you will only use a few leaves or a spoonful or two at a time.

Makes: 8 ounces
Fermentation Time: 5 to 10 days, depending on temperature
Storage Time: 3 to 6 months

Brine-Fermented Method
1 cup lightly packed, fresh, whole herb leaves (any herb works here)
1 cup water
1 tsp sea salt

1. Pack a 1-cup jam jar with the herb leaves, leaving a bit of headspace. Combine the water and sea salt and pour over the herbs. Weigh down as you would sauerkraut, cover and allow to ferment for 5 to 10 days or until tangy and bubbling.

2. Transfer to cold storage. Keeps for several months at room temperature if left unopened. Will keep for 1 to 2 weeks at room temperature once opened or store for up to 6 months when refrigerated.

Chopped/Paste Method
2–3 bunches cilantro, parsley or basil
½ tsp fine-grain sea salt

1. Remove the cilantro leaves from the stems and chop them finely. Transfer to a small bowl and toss with sea salt.

2. Transfer herbs, salt, and any brine in the bottom of the bowl to one or two 1-cup-size jars, as needed. Pack them down tightly and check the level of the brine. If it hasn’t come up above the level of the herbs, add salt brine with a ratio of 2 teaspoons of salt to 1 cup water.

3. Weight down with a fermentation weight and cover the jar tightly. Ferment for 5 to 10 days or until tangy.

4. Once fermentation is complete, transfer to cold storage. Will keep for several weeks at room temperature, 2 to 3 months in a root cellar or up to 6 months refrigerated.

Note: Green herbs oxidize—turn black—over time. This is a natural process and does not harm the final product or shelf life of the herbs.

Variations: While single herbs are a great choice for picking and choosing what you use them with, mixed herbs create an all-seasons approach. This herb mixture will flavor everything from soups to casseroles, sandwiches to spreads. Just mix several of your favorite herbs and add some onion or garlic scapes for additional flavoring. Use this in place of the herb ration in the recipes above. 

Related: How To Make Fermented Pickles

fruit sauerkraut
Photograph courtesy of Traditionally Fermented Foods
Fruit kraut

The only way to ferment fruit for long-term storage is to make alcohol with it. Otherwise you are better off dehydrating it and adding it to fermented beverages as needed. That is, unless you want to mix it into some kraut. Adding a small amount of fruit to cabbage results in a sweet, tangy, fizzy kraut while preserving that fruit for several months. The only caveat is that the fruit can easily produce yeasts and therefore molds, so be sure to rinse it off before using it and be vigilant about checking your jars. 

Makes: 2 quarts 
Fermentation Time: 2 to 3 weeks
Storage Time: 3 to 6 months

2 medium cabbages
1 apple
2 pints blackberries
3 Tablespoons salt

1.  Shred the cabbage and apple as you would for coleslaw and combine in a large mixing bowl. Add the blackberries and salt and mix with your hands until all ingredients are well combined. Taste the mixture and make sure it has enough salt. It should taste like a fresh salad does when it is well-seasoned with salt. Add another sprinkling if it tastes bland.

2.  Pound the cabbage with a potato masher or kraut pounder. Alternatively, you can simply rub the salt into the cabbage and fruit with your hands until a bit of the liquid begins to come out of the cabbage.

3.  Once the cabbage is limp and has begun to give off its juices, pack the kraut into two quart jars or a half-gallon jar, packing the jars up to approximately 3 cups. Use your fist or a kitchen utensil to pack the kraut down into the jar as tightly as it will go so that the juices from the kraut come up above the level of the cabbage. If there is not enough brine to sufficiently cover the cabbage by at least 1 inch, make additional brine by combining salt and water at a rate of ½ tablespoon of salt per cup of water. Pour this over the kraut, leaving at least 1 to 2 inches of headspace.

4. Use a fermentation weight to weigh the cabbage down below the level of the brine. Seal the jars tightly and allow to ferment at cool room temperature (60 to 80°F) for 2 to 3 weeks. During this time, check the jar for carbon dioxide buildup. If you notice bubbling or pressure building up, quickly burp the jar by loosening the lid just enough to release some of the gases, then quickly tighten it again.

5. Once the kraut is sufficiently fermented, transfer to cold storage. Fruit kraut will keep at cool room temperature for up to 3 months and in cold storage for up to 6 months.

pickled sweet potato chips
Photograph courtesy of Traditionally Fermented Foods
Sweet potato chips with dried chilies

No one wants to eat mashed or roasted sweet potato in summer. That’s why these delightfully crisp and refreshing sweet potato chips are your best hot weather option. They do, however, need to be eaten quickly as their high starch content can soon become yeasty. But they make for a delicious, if short-lived, snack. 

Makes: 1 quart 
Fermentation Time: 2 weeks 
Storage Time: Up to 2 months

3 small sweet potatoes
2 Tablespoons sea salt
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
A small handful of tannin leaves
2 dried chilies (ancho, poblano, etc.)
Water, as needed

1. Cut the sweet potatoes in half lengthwise and then into thin slices. Mix the sweet potatoes with salt, seeds and tannin leaves in a medium bowl. Break the chilies into 2 pieces so that there are 4 chile pieces altogether.

2. In a quart jar, layer one-fourth of sweet potato mixture with 1 piece of chile. Repeat with remaining sweet potatoes and chilies until the jar is just over three quarters full. Pour in water to cover vegetables. Add a fermentation weight and seal the jar tightly.

3. Allow to ferment at room temperature for 2 weeks, burping the jar daily as needed. Transfer to cold storage for 1 to 2 months or consume within 1 to 2 weeks if storing at room temperature.

Related: 19 Delicious Ways You Can Cook Sweet Potato