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Best Foods to Ferment (And What You Should NOT Ferment)

Cultures around the world have enjoyed fermentation for thousands of years. The variety of health benefits and ease of producing fermented foods make it an obvious choice for homesteaders today. Knowing the best foods to ferment (and those that don’t ferment well) for a healthy gut and providing long-term food storage is easy.

A woman holding up a jar of fermented green beans.

Why I Love Fermentation

Food preservation is a must-know homesteading skill everyone should learn. It’s a great way to increase self-sufficiency and is not as difficult as some might think. To help build your confidence, I have put together an introduction to each method as a primer:

Fermentation for long-term preservation is one of my favorite methods because it is easy, inexpensive, and can increase the nutritional benefits of the foods being preserved.

Lacto-fermentation refers to lactobacilli bacteria that consume sugars in fruits, vegetables, grains and dairy products, creating lactic acid and fermenting food. 

Fermenting meats is a different process because of the lack of sugars in the meat, but you can still successfully ferment meats at home. 

Fermented foods have anti-microbial, anti-carcinogenic benefits and probiotics, which aid in our gut health, allowing us to boost our immune system naturally. 

Consuming fermented foods has also been linked to lowering inflammation and blood pressure, easing irritable bowel syndrome, increasing bone health and stabilizing blood sugar levels for those with type 2 diabetes. 

These health benefits, combined with a short learning curve, cheap set-up costs, and a delicious tasting preserve, make learning to ferment a great place to begin your food preservation journey. But what are the best foods to ferment and which should be avoided? Keep reading to find out.

It’s important to note that I am not a certified medical practitioner. This post is not intended to diagnose or treat but is for informational purposes only. Please contact your medical care professional before introducing new remedies into your wellness routine. 

A woman picking beans from the vine.

Best Foods to Ferment

The foods listed below are some of our family favorites that you will find in our kitchen and pantry. They’re among the best foods to ferment, especially when just starting. This method of preservation has lowered our grocery bill and keeps us eating well on a budget:

Vegetables

Fermenting limes in a crock next to the ingredients needed to ferment limes.

Fruit

Various dairy products sitting on a wooden countertop.

Dairy

Fermentation is a great way to make homemade dairy products practical.

  • Cheese – Cheeses made with unpasteurized milk are very high in probiotics. Cow, goat, and sheep milk are great options with its lactic acid bacteria for a super gut-healthy fermented food. Homemade cultured soft cheese (aka “dream cheese”) is one our family enjoys! Raw milk cheeses that have been aged at least six months are best.
  • Yogurt – Fermented, unpasteurized milk (cow, sheep or goat) teams with gut-healthy probiotics. This easy Instant Pot yogurt recipe keeps our refrigerator stocked with this delicious and creamy treat.
  • Cottage Cheese – Raw cottage cheese made from unpasteurized milk is another fermented dairy food packed with probiotics. Make sure you read the label if purchasing from a grocery store; organic farmers’ cheese (dry curd) is best.
  • Kefir –  Kefir is a drinkable yogurt made with unpasteurized cow, sheep or goat milk. Kefir is loaded with probiotics, vitamins and minerals and is one of our favorite ways to use raw milk
A woman and her daughter clinking their glasses of kombucha together.

Beverages

A bowl of mayo with a spoon, cracked eggs and a halved lemon on a counter.

Condiments 

  • Ketchup – Store-bought ketchup can contain excessive sugar and high fructose corn syrup. Why not make easy fermented ketchup that is gut healthy and delicious? My kids love it!
  • Mayonnaise – Lacto-fermented mayonnaise is better for you than store-bought mayonnaise, and when homemade mayo is fermented, it lasts longer in the refrigerator. Making this switch is another easy way to add ferments to your daily intake.
  • Salad Dressings – Homemade vinaigrette dressing or other homemade salad dressings made with fermented apple scrap vinegar or fermented lemon or lime juice are an easy way to add probiotics to your foods.  
A bowl of dough with a whisk and wooden spoon in the foreground.

Grains and Beans

  • Wheat – Making a sourdough starter will ferment the grains you use. While baking will kill off beneficial bacteria, fermentation helps predigest these grains, making it easier for your body to absorb the nutrients from the grains. We make these Parker House sourdough rolls and homemade fudgy sourdough brownies.
  • Miso –  Fermented soybeans, brown rice or barley infused with koji (a fungus) has been used in soups and other foods for thousands of years in Japanese and Chinese cuisines. 
  • Tempeh – This soybean-based food fermented with tempeh starter, a mix of live active molds, becomes a grainy, firm, cake-like product with probiotics and protein similar to tofu.   
A beef brisket inside a food-grade bucket soaking in a brining liquid.

Meat

When fermenting meats, you should follow strict safety measures. I advise using reputable sources along with tested and approved recipes. 

Salt with nitrates (pink salt), sugar, and active cultures are added to meats because they lack sugars to feed the lactobacilli, which ferments and preserves the meat.

  • Beef – There are no sugars in beef to form lactobacilli, so you must add sugar to the seasoned rub or brine you use to feed the bacteria, keeping it alive and fed to ferment the meat safely. Trim the fat from the meat and use the freshest lean cuts you can.
  • Pork – Use the freshest high-quality pork you can find. Trim off any excess fat, sinews, or glands, especially when making sausage. 
  • Fish – Thoroughly clean fresh fish, removing the skin, entrails, bones, head and tail. You must add salt and whey to get the proper fermentation results.  
Up close photo of chickens eating fermented chicken feed.

Homestead

Fermentation isn’t just for your pantry; here are some ways to benefit from fermenting outside the kitchen.

Who Should Not Eat Fermented Foods

The jury is out on who should not eat fermented foods, such as the immunocompromised, children under one-year of age, pregnant women and those with histamine issues. There are many differing opinions on the topic.

To avoid bloating, I recommend adding small amounts of fermented foods to your diet and gradually increasing them as you go. The intestines need time to become accustomed to the fermented food. 

Over time your gut will start to heal and become healthier, inviting the variety of fermented foods offered.

I ate fermented foods when I was pregnant; my children eat and drink fermented foods, and we are healthier for it. All that to say, when in doubt, seek the counsel of your physician as well as a second opinion from another wellness expert if you’re still unsure.

Baby greens in a pile.

Foods You Should Not Ferment

In my opinion, you can ferment most foods, but not all foods ferment well, such as lettuces, which are high in chlorophyll.

Some foods may not maintain an appealing texture or flavor; it is a personal preference.

A woman demonstrating how to make fermented limes.

Fearless Fermenting

As you can see, fermentation is a method I encourage everyone to try. If you are ready to learn how to make delicious, healthy, and probiotic vegetable ferments, my Fearless Fermenting Class is a great place to start.

You will learn…

  • The five rules of vegetable fermentation to make amazing ferments every time!
  • Preserve your garden produce in less time than it takes to heat your canner.
  • Store your ferments without taking up all of your refrigerator space.
  • Help train your tongue (or your family’s) to enjoy the taste of these SUPER IMMUNE-BOOSTING foods.
  • Walk step-by-step with Carolyn through 2 family-favorite, immune-boosting, vegetable ferment recipes.
  • Learn how to create your fermented veggie combinations confidently.

Sign up and get instant access to start fermenting today!

Jars of home canned tomato sauce in a water bath canner.
A man and wife smiling.

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Josh and Carolyn bring you practical knowledge on how to Grow, Cook, Preserve and Thrive on your homestead, whether you are in a city apartment or on 40 acres in the country. If you want to increase your self-sufficiency and health be sure to subscribe for helpful videos on gardening, preserving, herbal medicine, traditional cooking and more.

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