Nondairy fermentation methods for culturing vegetables and fruits without whey or additional salt due to dietary restrictions.
In my eBook Real Food Fermentation Favorites (available via Healthy Home Plus), I discuss the history and enormous benefits of consuming fermented foods and beverages on a regular basis. Many recipes are also provided with guidance on which ones are best for particular h
I would suggest that consuming small amounts every single day would not be overdoing it. In fact, it would be in keeping with indigenous cultural practice.
More recently, the European Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology published that ferments are a potential mitigator of severe coronavirus disease and mortality due to the amazing immunity boost they provide!
Avoiding Whey as Fermentation Starter
You may have noticed that many traditional fermentation recipes recommend probiotic-rich liquid whey as the most common starter culture.
This provides the beneficial bacterial medium necessary to kick start the fermentation process.
Within a few days, this synergistic mix creates a plethora of additional enzymes and boosted vitamin content. Simple raw foods transform into super raw foods.
The problem is that milk is the source of liquid whey. What about folks who have a dairy allergy?
Is there another approach to fermenting foods and beverages that avoids whey as the microbial inoculant?
As a matter of fact, there are two ways to ferment without whey.
Fermentation fans can use either of these methods or a combination of the two with any whey-based recipes.
Salt Only Fermentation
Good quality sea salt is the easiest and most affordable way to ferment foods and beverages without a dairy-based inoculant.
Prior to modern refrigeration, indigenous cultures used salt to preserve food. Seasonally grown vegetables were not only preserved but also fermented this way.
Pros of Culturing with Salt
Using only salt to ferment foods has many advantages. First, the principle of osmosis tells us that a salty brine will naturally pull the water out of food. Since bacteria typically require moisture to thrive and grow, this naturally suppresses pathogenic bacteria and molds.
With pathogenic bacteria prevented from propagating, strains of beneficial Lactobacilli bacteria present on the surface of all living things can thrive and rapidly grow with no competition. Conveniently, these Lactobacilli are resistant to salt!
Cons of Salt Only Ferments
The downside to using salt is that the fermentation process is slower than when using whey. It is also not desirable for those who need to avoid salt for whatever reason.
In addition, salt-based fermentation is not optimal for use in beverages such as Hindu lemonade as the salt tends to overwhelm the sour/sweet flavor.
However, for cultured vegetables that will be stored for long periods of time, salt-only fermentation is a good choice.
How to Use
If you decide to ferment using salt only, the general rule of thumb is 2 tablespoons of good quality sea salt per quart of water. This creates the proper pH for the brine to optimally ferment the raw vegetables.
I enjoy using several different kinds of sea salt, but this brand is my favorite as it imparts the most flavor, in my opinion, with over 90 minerals and trace elements. It is also lower in sodium than other sea salts and tested to be free of contaminants.
In addition, I have confidence in this pristine sea salt again now that it is being tested.
If you wish to minimize or eliminate the salt in your ferments, there are a few companies that offer vegetable starter cultures. I recommend either of these brands.
These single-use starter pouches contain beneficial microbes such as Lactobacillus plantarum and a prebiotic like inulin. This combination will ferment a wide variety of vegetables without any salt.
The downside of this salt-free fermentation approach, however, is that the veggies tend to get mushy and/or slimy. Another downside is that pathogenic microbes have the opportunity to run rampant without any salt to inhibit them. This increases the chances of fermentation mold.
Will a Probiotic Capsule Work?
Will a simple probiotic capsule work to kick off a ferment? Many people online claim that they successfully use this approach.
In some cases yes, a probiotic will work. However, this depends on the strains in the capsule.
For example, I would recommend a probiotic that contains Lactobacillus plantarum, Leuconostoc mesenteroidesas, and Pediococcus acidilactici which is what the vegetable starter pouches contain. I don’t know of a probiotic brand that contains all three of these. If you do, please post in the comments!
Ultimately, caution is the best policy with this approach. It may take a bit of trial and error to get this method to work. If you are up for that, then no reason not to try it!
Considering the expense of good quality organic vegetables these days and the limited time and patience we all have for failed ferments, it is best in my view to just use a tried and true vegetable starter culture where the potency is known.
How to Get the Best Results
For the best dairy-free fermentation results, use a small amount of pristine sea salt (1 tablespoon per quart of water) combined with a freeze-dried vegetable starter.
This approach will ferment as quickly as using liquid whey while preserving the crunchiness of the vegetables, enhancing flavor, and reducing the chance of mold.