How to Select Produce for Fermenting

Choose fresh produce for your ferments. The key to fermenting is that the decay is controlled. You want only good bacteria to flourish — not the bad — so make sure your vegetables aren't past their prime. You don't want to introduce any unwanted bacteria in the equation.

Choose produce that's slightly under-ripe. Fermentation softens your veggies a bit, so don't start with anything overly ripe, or you may end up with mush!

Ideal veggie choices for fermentation

Naturally crisp and crunchy vegetables make satisfying ferments. If you choose vegetables that come into season toward the end of summer and into fall, you'll be able to create ferments that will last you well into the colder months.

  • Cabbage: Use red or green cabbage for a simple sauerkraut or the Napa variety for a spicy kimchi. Cabbage is a reliable vegetable to use for fermenting. It softens and reduces in volume but doesn't lose its bite.

  • Cucumbers: Nowadays, cucumbers are pickled with vinegar, salt, and other preservatives, but you can ferment cucumbers to make crispy, tangy fermented dill pickles.

  • Greens: Kale, dandelion, and other greens are great additions to your vegetable ferments. They can be cultured on their own, but the strong taste may not please all palates!

  • Root vegetables: Carrots, beets, parsnips, and other root vegetables are especially suited to fermenting. Their sweetness lends itself to fermenting, and they pair well with spices like cumin, horseradish, and dill.

Where to find your fresh produce

You can venture out to your local grocery store to buy vegetables for your ferments, but if you're looking for fresh in-season vegetables, there are a few other budget-friendly options you might try:

  • Community-supported agriculture (CSA): These groups connect farmers with consumers who are willing to invest in the growing season. For a set fee, usually paid in installments, consumers receive a "share" of food each week. This setup supports farmers and ensures consumers have access to fresh food, farmed in a sustainable way. Some but not all CSAs are organic.

  • Local farmers' markets: Most towns have a weekly market where local farmers share their freshest picks. Getting to know your farmers is a great way to source top-quality produce at the height of the season. If you have any questions about how the food is grown or if you're looking for a hard-to-find item, they'll be happy to chat!

  • Pick-your-own farms: Some farms allow you to pick your own produce from their fields. Picking your own vegetables is a surefire way to guarantee freshness. And you can choose the size and quality of every item. It's cheaper too!

How to get the healthiest vegetables

If you want to make sure you're getting the highest quality organic and locally grown vegetables, here's what to do in order of priority. Make it work for you!

  • Grow your own veggies at home.

  • Become part of a local CSA; check online to find about them in your area.

  • Shop at farmers' markets and smaller health food stores.

  • Shop only in the organic section of your local grocery store.

The goal is to become an informed consumer, but more important, to give your body the nutrients it deserves from veggies. Then, when it comes time to ferment the veggies, they'll not only last longer but also taste better!

Choose organic and GMO-free produce

When buying produce for your homemade recipes, do your best to choose organic or GMO-free. Certified organic produce helps you avoid putting chemicals and pesticides in the environment but also in your body.

Similarly, looking for GMO-free labels and stickers ensures you know exactly what's in the food. These choices optimize the fresh flavor in your food. Try going organic or GMO-free for one day or one week — you'll be sure to notice the difference!

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