Lacto-Fermented Beets

One of the things I’m going to talk about on Wednesday is lacto-fermentation, that traditional method of preserving food with salt and/or whey, that results in a more nutrient dense food that is high in vitamin C, and full of probiotics.  I want to have an example to show everyone at the talk, and I had some beets in my refrigerator, so I chose to ferment them.

whole raw beets

I love beets prepared many ways, and fermenting them is just one way to make them delicious.  I first learned about lacto-fermentation from Andrew Faust, a permaculture specialist based in Brooklyn NY, but formerly lived 8 years off the grid in rural West Virginia.   He taught a fermentation workshop in Sunnyside (sponsored by Food Not Lawns) that was really great and I learned so much!  It got me really excited about fermentation.

To make these beets, I used my experience from this workshop with a little guidance from Sandor Katz’s Wild Fermentation, a wonderful book about, well, fermented foods.  These foods range from vegetables to dairy, to beverages, and more.  It’s an awesome book.

The first thing to do is find yourself a non-reactive bowl.  I use a large pyrex bowl when I’m doing any kind of fermentation, be it LF veggies, working with sourdough, or soaking grains/flours.  Another material to use would be ceramic – just don’t use metal.

Prepare your beets – rinse them off to get rid of dirt but don’t scrub the outside or peel the beets.  There are microorganisms living on the outside of the beets (and other vegetables, too), that you want to retain to help with the whole fermentation process.

I used about a pound and a half of beets for this batch.  It might seem like a lot, but it compresses quite a bit.

The next thing to do is to grate the beets.  Those of you with food processors, you can just put them through that, but a hand grater works great.  I use a box grater.  Be careful of those knuckles!

grated beets

After you grate the beets, add 1/2 to 1 tablespoon of sea salt; iodized salt is not recommended for this.  If you want your ferment to be saltier, use more salt.  I used a whole tablespoon because I’m going to use these beets as a flavoring for beans and grains, which I won’t salt.  Pound the beets with a wooden spoon, smashing them and mixing them together as you go.  Soon, the beets will start to break down and exude some liquid.

juicy beets

These beets got kind of foamy, probably because of the saponins within.

really juicy beets

Find yourself a very clean (sterilized is great, but thoroughly washed with soap and water works, too) glass jar with a lid – I like using canning jars with metal lids.  I also like to use a wide mouth funnel, which helps immensely when putting the beets in the jar.

the vessel

Put the beets in the jar!  As you put them in there, press down to exude even more liquid.

beets in the jar

This liquid is a kind of brine that will help protect the beets from exposure to outside air.

from the top

As you can see in this picture, there was space between my beets and the top of the jar.  So, I made a separate brine – 1 tablespoon sea salt to 1 cup of water. I poured it into the jar until there was about 1/4-1/2 inch left at the top.

pouring in the brine

After you’ve poured enough brine in, screw on the lid until it’s finger tight, but not too tight.  It’s good to turn the jar upside down a few times to let any air bubbles come up and release into the area just below the lid.

beets ready to ferment

Set your jar of beets in a dark, warmish cupboard.  After a couple of days, check the beets and see how you like them.  If you want them a little tangier, let them ferment for another day and check it, and so on.  If you like what you taste, store the beets in the fridge in the door.  The fridge is the best “refrigerator microclimate” for such things.

These beets – or any lacto-fermented food – are a living food.  Mine were so alive this weekend that they wanted to escape some!  Our warm summer no doubt has accelerated certain processes in the fermentation process; I doubt this would be the same situation in the heart of winter.

Apparently I tightened the lid just a tad too tight, so that the beets didn’t have any space to release their gas, so they pressed up against the lid as hard as they could!  The lid was slightly domed when I saw it on Sunday morning.  I had to release the tension so that I could check on them, and they exclaimed all sorts of fizzy sounds in the process!  I did spoon out a couple tablespoons of beets and added more brine to relax things.  They’ve been fine since then.

Of course, there are systems that are truly designed for fermentation.  The Harsch crock is one, regular crocks with a plate is another system, and there are fancy lids for mason jars.  My system has worked for me, and I’ve made some great LF foods this way.  Plus, it utilizes tools I have at home, at my fingertips.  One day I’ll buy a Harsch, I expect, but it’s not on my list for the moment.

I tasted the beets this morning and they are already tangy!  And a little salty, but they will be fantastic with black beans or millet.

Hooray for lacto fermented beets!  Yum.

holding beets

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24 Replies to “Lacto-Fermented Beets”

  1. Dear friend, I am seventy one years old, and have been plagued with sinusitis all my life, and I am fermenting beets, and I sure feel better and get a better stool, what with collard greens and ground up flax seeds, but I take no care in fermentation, but rather blenderize the beets in a blender with water and add sustenex, a very resistant probiotic, and other probiotics from the health food store. My best batch of this tasted like the floor of a stable, and was harmonious indeed in the belly. I am now tryng to find out if my method is producing what may be the first new vitamin in many years, PQQ. PQQ is said to be the product of wine fermentation and soybean fementation, or natto. Wonder if my sustenex will ferment soybeans, make natto, the highest measured source of PQQ? Yours truly, Vincent S. Flack

  2. I followed your recipe, but didn’t add extra brine on top. After two days of fermentation, I have mold growing on top. Should I just skim it off or should I through the whole thing out?
    It is my second attempt at fermenting veggies. I made sauerkraut with great success. Not so much with the beets…

  3. You say you can make this with salt and/or whey and never mention whey again. Mind sharing how to use whey?

    1. Hi Jennie – yes, whey is used regularly in some lacto fermented foods. Historically, I haven’t cared for using whey with root veggies; I do use it when making salsa, though. That being said, since I wrote this about a year and a half ago, perhaps my tastes have changed. I do have some whey ready to go, too. I’ll give it a try and will post about it. Thanks for the nudge!

  4. If you want the health benefits but find your recipe too salty just do it the traditional way by making KVASS. You just pretend you are making cucumber pickles: Coarsley chop about 3 beets, add pure water & 1 T. salt in a 6-cup jar, let sit for a few days at room temp., then place the jar in the refrig. or any cool spot.

    In a few weeks’ time, the liquid will have mellowed and will not be too salty. You drink this wonderful, healthful liquid, which is called KVASS. The beets themselves by this time have lost their sweetness and are bland. They are good for the compost pile.

    1. Thanks so much, Wyandotte. I haven’t explored kvass much but expect I will this year. Your recipe sounds really good. I saw a recipe for carrot ginger kvass, which looked amazing, too.

      Lately I’ve been exploring ferments with much less salt and am enjoying them very much. Much more palatable for my taste.

  5. Glad to help. But “carrot ginger kvass”? Holy cow! Does that sound exotic! Where can I find the recipe?

    By the way, kvass sometimes takes a bit of tweaking, but I got lucky my first try so I keep with the amounts as described. Some people complain that kvass is bland or whatever, but if you let it sit in a cool spot for some weeks, that is very important for development of good flavour.

      1. Thank you very much for the carrot kvass recipe. I wish to use carrots from my own garden (same as beets for beet kvass) but they are all gone, so I am going to wait till late summer! Will report back for sure. But there’s no ginger growing in central Canada, so I’ll have to buy some when the time comes. I just remembered, we do have a wild ginger growing here. I ought to look into this, and so I just did:

        Will try both kinds of ginger.

        God, how I love all vegetables! And lactofermentation was used for ages at a time when people couldn’t just run to the “store” in midwinter to get some. Re your fermented beets – maybe they need to sit awhile to mellow; what do you think? In any case, I want to try your method.

        Re Harsch Crocks, I hear that there are much, much cheaper and maybe even better versions!

  6. Ok, that sounds good, Wyandotte. What are you calling “pure water” I have well that is filtered, is that good?

    I tried making a fermented lemonade, it tastes like mold. I haven’t pitched it yet, but boy, yuck, I need to.

    I’m really trying, I am feeling like a failure with this stuff… and what can I do to use the whey I made? it’s still in the fridge…

    1. Whey lasts for quite a while. You can make sodas with whey, use it when soaking grains, use it to ferment salsa and other vegetable ferments. A friend of mine made some fermented burdock pickles with whey, and they are fabulous!

    2. Hi, Jenny. “Pure” water just means not chlorinated & fluoridated, or any added chemicals, which I believe interferes with good fermentation. Filtered well water sounds great! I use a mixture of deep cold well water + distilled. But only because our well water is so hard. I have a penpal who makes her pickles with rainwater (boiled first) but I can’t believe it isn’t polluted on the way down thru the sky. Anybody know anything on this?

      1. Haven’t heard about pickling with rainwater. In some places I would imagine it would be polluted, but other less industrial areas, perhaps not.

  7. No grains here. Do you have a recipe for sodas? I’m skeptical, but willing to try. I still have no idea why the lemonade went bad. I know I really need the benefits, I can’t handle apple cider vinegar at all…I know it’s because the bacteria in my body is wacked…

  8. Do you not have issues with your beets going to alcohol when they are shredded? I never shred beets for my ferments because of that issue. Of course, I am in the south so that might make a difference. I generally just slice beets and onions thinly and ferment them together in a brine. I also make beet kvass and enjoy it very much. I recently read a recipe that included garlic (facepalm). Why didn’t I think of that sooner? We love garlic so much that we ferment straight elephant garlic cloves.

    We are huge fans of the ginger carrot combo, too, so I’ll be trying the ginger carrot kvass today (I always have ginger and carrots in the fridge!). The link is no longer valid, but I found it easily on the site with a quick search. I’m going to try the lacto-fermented sodas, too. I’m so glad I found your site.

  9. Thank you so much for posting this. I followed your recipe with the salt to beet ratio and made 3 quarts of this 4 days ago. Today I checked them and much liquid had oozed out but no mold!!! I struggle with mold with my kraut, but wonder if I “forget” about it for too long. I scraped all the brown shredded beets off and tried some. Very pungent but I can see that it will be good! I would also love your black bean and beets recipe, my other favorite black bean recipe involves cooking a whole beet in the beans during the cook time. I would love yours. I love the idea of fermenting but not so much the taste yet. I’m trying! I also tried fermented kale 3 days ago with some beet greens and cabbage thrown in to bring it up to 3lbs.

    -Anna in Alaska

  10. Hi there, I used your recipe and though the beets smell fine, they are very ‘gooey’. I don’t love the flavor, compared to other fermented beets, might I have done something wrong? Thanks so much!

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