Ferment Friday, no. 1: beets

July 6, 2012 · 6 comments

These days my life seems to revolve around finding various items at the farmer’s market, sticking them in a brine, and watching to see what happens.

You know, when it’s not revolving around sleeping, or finding highly-educational and physically-beneficial activities for my summered children to do all day, or feeding painfully-nourishing foods to those worn-out children, or eating bon-bons.

Because what could be more fun than fermenting random things? And sharing those things on Fridays?

So a mini-series it will be. Ferment Fridays. Not likely to happen every Friday, but you know, when it happens.

What’s with fermentation, anyway? Well, it was the original method of pickling — vegetables were dry-salted or brined, and therefore preserved for longer storage (through winter, in some cases). Meanwhile, as often happens, that preservation made vitamins and minerals more readily available, and increased the levels of lactic acid bacteria (bugs that are good for your gut). While the process doesn’t leave the veggies with the same intense punch of a vinegar (or “fresh”) pickle, they are still sour, sometimes quite pungent.

It took me a while to transition from a taste for fresh pickles to fermented pickles. But I’m there now, and loving it.

Today’s feature: fermented beets.

This is my second attempt at fermenting beets (not to be confused with pickling beets) — the first involved shredding the roots, making a relish. But these slices are crunchier, with the ultra-clean flavors of orange and ginger (see recipe note). I love these on salads, with eggs, or eating straight from the jar.

Only slightly more labor-intensive than other pickles because you shock them in boiling water first. But totally worth that extra five minutes.

Because, really. What’s five minutes in a world where ferments are happening?


Fermented Beets

Yield: makes 1 quart

If you aren't into ginger and orange, simply substitute other flavors to your liking: a fresh dill head and/or a teaspoon of dill seed would do nicely.


  • 1 1/4 pounds beets (about 6-8 medium beets)
  • the zest of (1) orange (zested with a vegetable peeler, in thick strips)
  • (1) 1" piece fresh ginger, peeled and cut into matchsticks
  • 2 Tbsp sea salt, divided
  • also needed: wide-mouth quart jar, half-pint jelly jar


  1. Wash and peel beets, cutting off roots and stems. Slice 1/8" thick (this is most easily done using a mandoline slicer, but a steady hand and good chef's knife will work too).
  2. Bring a large saucepan of water to boil, and stir in 1 Tbsp salt. Add the beet slices to the boiling water, and cook for 3 minutes. At the end of the cooking time, use a slotted spoon to remove the beet slices to a large bowl of ice water to stop the cooking.
  3. Drain beets, and toss in a bowl with the orange zest and ginger. Make a brine by stirring the remaining 1 Tbsp sea salt into 2 cups warm filtered water until dissolved.
  4. Pack beets into a very clean wide-mouth quart-sized canning jar. Pour the brine over the beets until the liquid is 1 1/2 inches from the top of the jar.
  5. Use a clean jelly jar to create an anaerobic environment for your pickles while they ferment: turn the jar upside down and nestle into the brine so the beets are pushed down below the liquid. This weighs down the beets, and creates an airtight seal for fermentation (see this photo over at Hip Girl's Guide to Homemaking -- scroll down in post).
  6. Place quart jar on a plate or pie dish to catch any brine that bubbles out. Leave in a cool, dark place for 5-7 days. Once soured to your liking, store covered in the refrigerator for a month or more.

Fermented Beets with Ginger & Orange on Punk Domestics
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ellen August 19, 2012 at 9:33 pm

wondering if the sugar content of fermented beets remains, or does it convert to a less glycemic sugar

katy August 19, 2012 at 9:48 pm

Ellen, while I can’t find a good link to confirm it, I do believe that there is a lower sugar content after fermentation. These are lacto-fermented, so the primary bacteria involved is lactobacillus, which feeds on sugar. I also know that beets are usually much quicker to ferment because of their high sugar content — so it makes me think the sugar is being converted.

If you are on a special low-glycemic diet, definitely check with your healthcare provider before trying them.

ellen August 19, 2012 at 10:21 pm

Thank you for your swift reply. I just want to clarify that I ferment totally raw beets with salt water only. Just want to know what the sugar content is. not on any speial diet.

katy August 20, 2012 at 5:36 pm

Lacto-fermentation occurs with a simple brine (i.e., salt water) just like it does with whey-added fermentation — it is named after the strain of bacteria that grows. I think the sugar content would be the same (lower after fermentation) whether the beets are raw or par-cooked, as in the recipe above.

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