From Sauerkraut to Kimchi

  • 04/11/13
  • Comments: 3

This week’s members blog comes from Vohn McGuiness, who attended our fermenting workshop in October, and shares her experiences and inspiration here…

As soon as I received the Autumn events programme from Fife Diet, I knew I had to book on the enticingly titled “Pickle Your Fancy: Lacto-Fermenting Workshop”. I love pickles and have had some fun with my own little pickling adventures this year, namely pickled cabbage, piccalilli and my personal favourite sweet pickled peppers.

What of this “lacto-fermenting” though? What’s that all about? The blurb mentions the “science, method and magic of wild fermentation transforming seasonal gluts” – this so appeals to my scientific brain and the zanier side of my nature but doesn’t really tell me very much at all! A quick google and I find that lacto-fermenting is about good bacteria from hands & air invading the dish, which lowers the pH & prevents bad bacteria. Interesting! It also increases the nutrient content, for example fermented cabbage has more vitamin C than regular raw cabbage. Wow – that is magical!

So, I headed to Burntisland armed with my chopping board, glass jar, cabbage, some spices and a big knife. Boy did it feel odd to be putting a large knife in my bag – I had a sudden realisation that I was probably breaking the law in a big way! What unexpected thrills the Fife Diet brings to our lives!

Fermenting 1

Tables were already set-up and about 20 of us settled down with cuppas and yummy Fife biscuits from Your Piece Baking Company. Our instructor for the day was Annie Levy, who had travelled all the way from Wales to fill our heads with her gems of wisdom!

Fermenting 2

Annie started by explaining that lacto-fermentation is basically a way to preserve food by creating an acidic environment which allows good bacteria to flourish and kills off dangerous things. These good bacteria are important for our guts to be healthy and the food is preserved without losing its goodness and can, in fact, be more nutritious after fermenting. There is some evidence to show the micro-organisms in fermented vegetables are anti-inflammatory, reducing migraines and arthritic-type symptoms.

Lacto-fermentation is common in many countries, where it is simply called pickling. Traditionally huge crocks are filled and then stored underground, to supplement winter foods when fresh vegetables are scarce.

Fermenting 3

Probably the most well-known lacto-fermented vegetable in Britain is the German Sauerkraut, which is fermented white cabbage. Annie passed this around for us to try. Next came Ruby Kraut, fermented red cabbage, which we tasted alongside the Pickled Red Cabbage I had brought along – they are both sour but in different ways. Then Sunshine Kraut, which has oranges added. Next came Umeboshi, or pickled plums – these were too salty for my tastes but it did start me thinking about pickling fruit as well as vegetables. Finally came Kimchi, or Korean pickled vegetables – this is what I was most excited about as the taste was not quite so sour and had a delicious blend of Asian spices. If your palate isn’t attuned to liking sour foods, which Annie says can take a while to learn to like, then Kimchi is a good starting point – especially if you love Asian food as much as I do.

Fermenting 4


Annie then gave us some ideas of how to use our lacto-fermented vegetables. Obviously they can be eaten as they are, as an accompaniment to your main dish but this is only the starting point! Mix them in with raw vegetables when you next make coleslaw to give an extra depth of flavour. Or make a mixed vegetable pickle, then puree down & freeze in ice-cube trays for home-made vegetable stock cubes. How about making a Polish Pickled Soup by mixing the jar of fermented vegetables, brine and all, with a white sauce? Or you could use Kimchi to make Asian Pickled Soup! Also, don’t forget the brine which makes a great salad dressing.

An idea which really appeals to me is to ferment whole leaves which can then be used to wrap other food, much like Dolmades. Why buy an expensive jar of grape leaves when you can make your own? Annie has fermented grape leaves herself but also encourages us to think about cabbage, nettle, kale and cauliflower leaves.

By this point we are all anxious to get started with our own jars and next up was the practical session…

1) Chop/shred/cube your veg to whatever size/texture you desire, or use whole leaves

Fermenting 5

2) Add one tablespoon of sea salt per cabbage (adjust to suit the veg you are using)

3) Massage the salt in for a few minutes

4) Add any flavourings, like herbs, spices, seaweed, fruit

5) Leave for a little while (about an hour) until brine starts to exude

6) Pack very tightly into your jar, pressing down firmly as add each handful

7) Completely fill the jar

8) Weight the top with a stone and/or jar – the veg should be completely submerged in liquid

9) Sit on top of a lipped dish, to collect any brine overflow, and keep at room temperature

10) Press down each day & ensure veg is covered in brine – top up with water if necessary

Fermenting 6

Top tips:

  • Some veg doesn’t create brine naturally so may need to add water at steps 5, 7 or 10
  • Veg with a high sugar content (e.g. beetroot) ferments quickly, so should be chopped large
  • When it starts to ferment can get a foamy head, like beer – this is natural – don’t panic!
  • If it does seem weird, try pureeing down and using as a sandwich spread or a marinade
  • Taste regularly and once happy with taste & texture, seal top and store in the fridge or a cool place
  • Have fun experimenting with different veggies & flavourings – be creative!

Here’s the beautiful array of creative mixes we all came up with!

Fermenting 7

 Lacto-fermentation is very much in-keeping with the Fife Diet, using local ingredients but supplementing with some spicing to produce global flavours. It has a low carbon footprint and is much cheaper than pickling, as no expensive vinegars are required – just good quality organic vegetables and good quality sea salt.

I had a great afternoon and learnt so much from Annie. I have already delved further into her blog and have a jar of rose-hip vinegar fermenting away. It was also wonderful to be in a room with like-minded people. For the first time I really felt a part of the Fife Diet community! If you are a member of Fife Diet but haven’t been to any events, I urge you to give one a go!



 The Lacto-Fermenting workshop was taught by Annie Levy, who blogs at Kitchen Counter Culture.

This post was written by guest blogger Vohn McGuinness, who blogs at Vohn’s Vittles.

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  • Vohn McGuinness February 9, 2014 at 01:14

    Thanks for the lovely comments ladies. I hope you are enjoying your fermenting adventures! Vohn x

  • Ingrid Glendinning November 9, 2013 at 14:55

    What an inspiring blog!
    I made Kimchi this morning after reading about it here. My recipe is slightly different and I am getting the hang of it. I had to experiment with times and ingredients and seem to have found the ideal fermenting time for my kitchen conditions and ingredients. Can’t get enough of it once it’s ready and it is the most wonderful way of preserving a glut of veg. I am always amazed at how much veg shrink and fit into a small jar after fermenting. I should live to 100 after all these healthy veg…

  • Choclette November 5, 2013 at 09:34

    Oh what a wonderful post. It’s made me look at our expensive sauerkraut pot sitting neglected in the corner with shame. We haven’t done any lacto-fermenting for years. Must get on to it.

    One of the particular successes we had was pickling nasturtium seeds, they were delicious and made very good caper substitutes.