Salt and Fermentation

Salt and Fermentation

Why? How much? What kind? of salt do I need for fermentation?

Salt seems to cause a lot of consternation for the new fermentista so I thought I would add a salt post to troubleshooting fermentation.

Salt doesn't preserve

First the salt doesn’t preserve the veggies the acidification of the process does so if you are worried about "killing yourself" more salt doesn't make it safer. (Keeping it under the brine does.) What the salt does is give the good bacteria (#lactobacillus) the upper hand to get started and once these guys get going they quickly overwhelm any "bad" bacteria with their acidic output.

Crispy and Tasty

Salt also hardens the pectins (that’s your crisp) and slows down the fermentation a bit, which can be important in hot climates or if you are storing without refrigeration. Salt also makes your ferment taste better, remember salt is a flavor enhancer. Of course too much salt and it is no longer tasty. Choose a mineralized salt you love, taste your ferment for saltiness—should be salty like a chip not briny like a mouthful of seawater. Most importantly — It should be tasty!

What kind of salt?

What kind of salt is personal preference though I don’t use processed industrialized salts, like pickling salt, etc.

How much salt?

This is where things get confusing. The truth is I never measure my own ferments, for me it feel but I do measure and now even weigh the veggies and salt when I am developing a recipe for others. I try to stick to a 1.5 % ratio by vegetable weight. This is enough to do what salt needs to do. Many recipes go as high as 5% and for me that is way too salty and doesn’t make the ferment any safer. So there is a lot of variability!

If you read older recipes you will see things like "packed in salt" or amounts that are crazy high. This is because they had to keep their ferment working a little slower because it stayed in a cool spot like a basement all winter and never was slowed down by a refrigerator. They also did not have as much salt in their regular diet as we do now so it wasn't a problem in many cases the ferment contained the salt that was added to an otherwise bland, starch-based meal. 

I have over-salted, does the salt go away?

Somewhere the myth that the salt in a ferment goes away is out there alive and well. Sorry to report it has no where to go--too much salt continues to be too much salt. (In fact if anything a long ferment could evaporate slightly thereby concentrating the salt.)

Thick Sticky Beet Brine

syrupy fermented beet brine

Hello Kirsten.
The brine on my beets is very thick and slimy.
They did not bubble very much for the three days I had them fermenting.
I wonder if I packed them too much?
And if they are safe to eat.
They are crispy and do taste OK but I'm worried. This is my first attempt at fermenting.
My thanks for this help.


Hi Merilyn,

Beet brine is very thick and viscous because beets have so much sugar. The other thing is that 3 days isn’t very long for a ferment like this and sometimes there is a thick slimy phase in fermentation that will work itself out. The picture I am sending is a ferment that is fine but went through this slimy phase. It happens sometimes.

I think you are fine and that they are very safe. The important thing to remember is that if they are bad (as in unsafe) they will be awful smelling and tasting too.

I would let them ferment a little longer and realize beets are also just like that to a point. I hope that helps.



This sauerkraut was fine, it smelled good and had no scum. The problem was the viscous brine. It was quite unappealing. This happened because the ferment had been fermenting very slowly at temperatures in the low 50° F range. We advised the maker of this kraut to move it into a warmer space and ferment it longer and Violá it worked! The kraut was perfect in a few days.

This sauerkraut was fine, it smelled good and had no scum. The problem was the viscous brine. It was quite unappealing. This happened because the ferment had been fermenting very slowly at temperatures in the low 50° F range. We advised the maker of this kraut to move it into a warmer space and ferment it longer and Violá it worked! The kraut was perfect in a few days.

Cloudy Lacto Fermented Garlic Brine

garlic brine

Dear Kirsten and Christopher,

Thank you so much for all the resources you offer on your website.

I started fermenting recently, and would probably have given up right at the start if it wasn't for all the invaluable information, reassurance, and support that lovely people like you provide.

My latest attempt was to ferment garlic cloves and I'm not sure if it's working as it should:

They went in 12 days ago, on July 13th, and a couple of days ago, little white particles started appearing in the water. There is a lot of it now and some of the cloves are a darker yellow on one of the ends.

I'm worried about the floating white bits. Are they normal?

I don't know if this information is useful, but I used Himalayan pink salt (and there were little bits of pink here and there on the first couple of days, which are no longer visible).

Thank you so much for any feedback you could give me, and once again, for all the wonderful resources you offer us.

Have a lovely week,



Dear Camila,

I am so glad to hear that the information we provide is helping you become a confident fermenter! Thank you for letting us know.

I know those bits do have a concerning look about them and I wish I could tell you exactly what they are in a science-y sort of way but I don’t know exactly what is happening. What I do know is that they are normal and we get them in some of our brined garlic as well. Smaller sediment floaters in other vegetable brine ferments are very, very normal, so normal that in fact they can be a sign all is well, soI do think that these are just garlic’s version. As our experience has shown this happens in the same way. I have wondered if it has to do with the sticky nature of the garlic.

The darker portions are also normal. Last year I did a test of 18 garlic ferments simultaneously and all the pickles developed that to some degree and they are all great and delicious.
Hope that helps,



Fermented Garlic Turned Blue

Fermented garlic turned blue

Hi there!  
Firstly, I want to say that I love this book!  I have been fermenting every vegetable I can get! Force-feeding everyone around me, too. :)

I have a question about garlic. I started the jar a week ago, and it has been bubbling away. For the last day I notice some of the cloves (I put in whole cloves) are turning a strange blue or green color. I'm totally paranoid because of all the press about Chinese garlic!  Is turning colors a sign that it's tainted? Is it normal??  
Thanks again for writing the amazing book!  I'm so happy to have learned something new!



Hey Sarah,

Anyone force-feeding fermented veggies to the ones they love has our heart. :)

I think every fermentista remembers their first blue garlic.  The good news is that our research and experience is that its harmless. If you turn to page 182 in the book you will see the little Fermentista’s Tip on it. The timing of your message is great because Kirsten has a batch of fiery ferments going for the new cookbook and one of them did the blue-green thing on us. We also fermented about 30 lbs of garlic with a farmer friend a week or more ago and all of those are beautiful little creamy orbs like they are supposed to be.

So its okay, it will taste fine and be a conversation starter for sure. Lastly, we have noticed over time in the fridge many times (though not always) this blue fades.

Let us know how all of your creations turn out Sarah and if you have any more questions.

Christopher & Kirsten

White Ring on the Bottom of a Ferment Jar

Hello Kirsten,

I've recently made a bottle of spinach kraut by following one of your recipes. And when it was done, I put it into the fridge. Only after a few days, I saw a "white ring" at the bottom of the bottle. I've attached a picture here to explain better. Do you know why that happened? And is it still safe to eat?



Hi Tracy,

The white ring at the bottom of your ferment it fine and a normal part of fermentation. It is similar to the sediment at the bottom of pickles (like Bubbies brand or home fermented pickles). I am happy to report it is very normal and harmless. I believe you are seeing it because the spinach ferment is darker in color than most. If you look carefully at other ferments you will likely see a similar ring.




Herbs on Brine—Mold or Yeast?

herbs on pickle brine

I’m fermenting some cucumbers and carrots using a simple garlic and dill recipe. As you can see, all of the vegetables are safely below the brine (I’m using glass weights to keep them down), but the dill has floated to the top. I’m worried that this will cause mold to grow but am not sure if mold will grow from an herb like dill or if it only grows when the vegetables themselves are exposed to air. It’s been fermenting for 5 days and so far no mold but there’s a very thin white film on the top of the brine (hard to see in the picture), and it looks like some whitish coloring is forming around some of the pieces of dill. I don’t have an airlock system so I keep the jar covered but not airtight to allow the gasses to escape. What do you think?

Hi Justin,

Yeah those pesky small herbs always sneak past the weights.

Your ferment looks fine, it looks like you are developing a small bit of Kahm yeast (the white) not a big deal and very normal. I wouldn’t touch it until you are ready to taste and eat at which point you will scoop off the yeast with a spoon and discard (along with the dill bits that are floating in it.) Generally, once you refrigerate the yeast doesn’t return but if it does just scoop off as it is harmless—just can taste a little yeasty and will soften any veggies that get up above the brine and into this yeast. That won’t be a problem though with your weights.

I have made pickles without air-locks for years and still do — its all good!





Beautiful kraut below a dirty brown brine

Hi! I've made a kraut from beats, turnip and cabbage. I made 3 batches and this one mysteriously turned brown on top. This happened within the first week. I left it 28 days. It smells sweet. It looks dirty, like brown specs in the brine. And brown on the cabbage on top . It's not slimy... and I havnt tasted it. The bottom half is a beautiful fusia. 

I also made a batch of carrots that had white blotches like dried fat on top. Strange since I used an airlock.

I so appreciate any help!! I'm kinda new to this!!  


Hi Katharyn,

For some reason your kraut oxidized on top…not sure why or how with the airlock.

The brown flecks are leftover from some initial foaming likely. The good news is that this is fine—just get rid of all the discolored kraut everything underneath will be just fine. Enjoy!

As far as the carrots—it sounds like Kahm yeast. This is common on carrots and again just remove it is harmless. 

All best, Kirsten


Are my fermented pickles ok?

Yucky Pickles

Dear Kirsten and Christopher,

I bought a copy of your book last month and successfully preserved a bunch of farm fresh vegetables using your fermenting techniques. However, I am having some doubts about my pickling cucumber ferment. I followed the NY Deli-style pickle recipe. After 5 days I noticed Kahm yeast and removed it. Before refrigerating I noticed some slime so I added more salt to the brine. Upon doing so, I noticed white clumps formed the minute I added a bit of grey sea salt. The water itself looks cloudy and some of the pickles seem to want to float. The white clumps have since settled to the bottom of the jar. The brine itself smells great but before tossing the batch and deeming them unsafe to eat I thought I would get a second set of eyes to look at my jars of pickles. Please see the attached pictures. Any feedback would be greatly appreciated.

Many thanks,



Hello Tina,

Thank you for the pictures, they really help. All veggies want to float in the brine and it looks from the pictures like maybe they did some floating in the jar. If any of them did slip out from the pack and float to the top that would be a conduit for develop enzymatic or yeast infections. We are guessing you may have one or both on this batch. Cloudiness is normal but the white chunk is baffling to us. Our recommendation honestly Tina is to compost this batch and try again. If you are up for that  really pack them in tight and under that shoulder of the jar - they should be in there tight enough that none can float to the top. It also helps to find a tannin rich leaf—grape, oak, horseradish to tuck over the top to keep things under the brine and crispy. We hope you still have cukes and that you have a good second batch.

Christopher & Kirsten

Brownish Brine

brown brine on asparagus pickles

Question: I just started fermenting. First I made sauerkraut - Delicious!  Now I just made your asparagus & caulikraut recipes.  The caulikraut looks great but the asparagus brine turned brown after 1 day.  Is this okay??? Thanks for your help.

Answer: The brine in this picture looks fine. It is at the beginning of the process and often at this stage the brine will take on some of the colors from the vegetables or spices. This is a normal color for asparagus. You will continue to see changes in the color of the asparagus as well as the brine. 

My vegetables are not fermenting

More than once we’ve been asked, “What is going wrong? My ferments just don’t ferment. I make them and wait and then throw every thing out and start again.” 
“How do you know? Was there mold? Slime?” 
 “No, absolutely nothing happened. Nothing. No bubbling. No mold. Nothing.”
“Did you smell and taste it?”
“Well, you might have just had an quiet ferment—always check on it before throwing it out. Likely it was perfect.”
Watching a ferment actively bubble is very satisfying and many ferments offer plenty of effervescence to please that need to know something is happening. Beets for example usually don’t disappoint, you can think of them as extroverted. They are working and they want you to know it. If you are a beer or wine or cider maker you are used to that first ferment where the yeasts are pushing all kinds of foamy sludge from the carboy. If that doesn’t happen in brewing you know there might be a problem. In vegetable ferments you may or may not see active fermentation. It depends on the usual list of variables such as sugar content or environmental conditions. 
The introverts on the other hand are quiet. Our little bacteria processors hard at work and we cannot see or hear a thing. Just like it is okay when your ferment is bubbling out of the container it is not a sign of failure if you don’t see or hear a bubble. 

This isn't always the case. Of course, there are other reasons that a ferment won't ferment—this is just a reminder to make sure it truly hasn't fermented before you throw out your ferment.


Vegetables Floating on Top of the Brine?


QUESTION :: I tried Cebollas Encurtidas per the recipe in your book. It seemed to do OK but the onions, as a bunch, seemed to keep wanting to float above the brine. The weight I used was the water in the baggie trick and it clearly wasn’t heavy enough to keep everything down.

There still appeared to be some brine above the onions, so I think they remained unexposed for the most part. But I did not expect this (see picture). Is this normal for this recipe? Do I just need a heavier weight? If I catch it doing this, do I just keep pushing it down to the bottom?

I ended up scraping the top layer of onion off and tasted the rest. It didn’t taste bad, but I have no frame of reference for this recipe so I don’t know if the taste was right.



ANSWER :: This happens, it is not recipe or onion specific. It is as you suspect—not enough weight.  The high amount of released CO2 is trapped between the onions and causing them to float above the brine. To solve this simply push the vegetables back under the brine and add more weight. It is a good rule of thumb to remember that the larger ferments require larger bags with more water.

Some ferments just need more babysitting then others. This can happen with wetter ferments such as this one or pepper pastes. Just keep pressing your floating veggies back under the brine.




I don't see any bubbling, is my kraut okay?

kraut curing with ziplock


I am trying my first batch of fermented cabbage and have a question.  I followed your instructions. The cabbage is in a glass jar with large leaves on top.  Then I put a filled zip lock bag on top of that and then it is covered with a towel. It has been sitting for 4 days and nothing appears to be happening in terms of bubbling and releasing of CO2. 

My question is this: I pushed the bag into all "corners" of the jar so it is pretty well sealed. Does the gas have to escape or is it so well sealed that releasing the gas in unnecessary?  Because all the cabbage has remained under the leaves, I have just let it sit and have not pressed it down more. THANKS for the help,

Best regards,



Your ferment looks great. The color looks good and that it is starting to change. You did a wonderful job of placing your zip lock bag, you want it well sealed like you have it. The CO2 can escape while the cabbage is kept weighted down. 

The thing with fermenting is that there is a bit of variation. Not all ferments cause a wild scene while working. I like to say they are introverted. :) Some reasons for that are due to the sugar content of the vegetables—this varies even from cabbage to cabbage.

The other thing that can cause a ferment to move slowly is cooler temperatures. If the location that it is in is chilly you can move it to a warmer spot. Likely it is fine and is just working slowly.

As you see the cabbage turn more yellow (notice that some in your picture have a more yellow quality) and less green you can feel free to taste it. You will taste the acidity. Just press it down and repack after you “sneak” a little out.

Can I still eat this sauerkraut?

mold and yeast on beet kraut

Question :: When I pulled this beet sauerkraut out of the back of my refrigerator I found this  this white growth on top. Is it still safe to eat?  — Jane, CA

Answer :: It looks like you have two things happening on the top of the sauerkraut. The first is kahm yeast which is harmless but it makes the flavor quite "yeasty". The other issue appears to be mold. This is something you do not want to eat. Both of these things happen with the exposure to air and can be avoided by pressing your sauerkraut under the brine before storage. Also always use clean utensils.

Because of the condensation on the container it is difficult to see the sauerkraut that is under the affected area. It appears there are air bubbles throughout the kraut. If this is the case the entire batch may have been exposed to air in which case the molds and yeasts can move throughout the kraut. This sadly means it must move on to the compost pile.

When you are faced with a sauerkraut that has something undesirable on top you do not always need to throw the whole thing away. Often it is just the top layer and maybe the first inch of sauerkraut that must be composted. Everything under the brine is anaerobic and safe to eat. 

The best thing to understand is if it is bad you will know it is bad. Flavor, color, smell—all your senses will let you know.

Is my brine fine?

spilling brine on kraut fermentation

Question :: "This brine keeps overflowing!  I put the batch in a larger jar and submerged it was another jar of water like you mentioned, but the brine keeps spilling out.  How does volume increase like this? Just expanding? Oh wait, I pushed down on it, and it released a ton of bubbles. So I was able to pour that brine back in, and it seems like I'll just keep doing that? Should I put it in divided jars?"

Answer :: You are right that pressing it down and letting the brine sink back into the cabbage is what needs to be done. The jar is quite full and so there isn't much room to accommodate the action. You will need to press it down regularly, or you can press it into a larger jar. Thanks for the photo!

As far as the CO2 action you are seeing--it is different all the time. Some cabbage batches are not as active as well…its a funny thing and hard to predict. The good news is even the quiet ones are working.