4 Ways to Ferment Vegetables without Salt

Many people on low-salt or salt-free diets avoid fermented vegetables due to the high salt content.  They miss out on the helpful probiotics available in fermented vegetables. Is that really necessary? Does the salt in fermented foods adversely affect a person with high blood pressure or heart disease? Read on as Chris discussions this important issue and discover four ways to ferment vegetables without salt.

Posted by Chris

Healthy probiotics found in fermented vegetables, kefir, yogurt, and kombucha, help with weight-loss, support the immune system, promote longevitymental health, and brain health. But do these foods adversely affect our health due to the salt content? Maybe not. Let’s look a few factors—including the role of salt in ferments, and how to ferment without it.

What job does salt do?

The purpose of salt in the fermentation of vegetables is to slow down the fermentation and enzymatic activity.  General guidelines recommend 1 ½ to 2 percent salt by weight or roughly 2 teaspoons of salt per 500 grams/1 lb. of vegetables. (Katz, 100) The addition of salt prolongs the preservation potential, while inhibiting the colonization of the ferment with the wrong bacteria.

The ambient temperature also affects the speed of the ferment.  Cooler winter temperatures slow down the speed of the ferment, while warmer summer temperatures can speed it up.  If you are fermenting in cooler temperatures, less salt is necessary.

Salt is not essential to safe fermentation if the following four key strategies are followed.

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Four Ways to Ferment Vegetables without Salt:

Ferment in a cooler environment

First, ferment in a cool environment to slow down the fermentation process.  An unheated room or a cooler basement can slow down the process giving more time for the plant tissues to colonize with the beneficial bacterial.

Use a starter culture

One purpose of adding salt to vegetables during fermentation is to inhibit the natural rotting process, by discouraging unwanted bacteria or mold from consuming the vegetables.  At the same time, the high sodium content removes juices and water from the vegetables.  This aids in the rapid colonization of the mixture with good bacteria.

By adding a starter culture, the good bacteria are encouraged to multiply fast, crowding out any bad bacteria.  The starter culture can be a bit of liquid from a successful batch of fermented vegetables, whey that you’ve drained off of kefir or yogurt, or whey from cheese making.

The starter culture also shifts the pH in the ferment to the acid side of normal, favoring the fermenting bacteria over any bad bacteria.

In reduced-salt fermentation, always add a reliable starter culture.

 Include vegetables high in naturally occurring sodium

Some vegetables have naturally occurring sodium in high amounts.  Using these vegetables in the ferment encourages the levels of sodium necessary for safe fermentation, without causing damage to the body.

Sea vegetables like dulse or kelp contain high amounts of sodium, as well as potassium, magnesium, phosphorous, iron, and iodine.  Use them sparingly in your ferments. Note that kelp contains about 2 ½ times more sodium by weight than dulse.

Naturally occurring sodium is easier for the body to utilize than chemical sodium used as a food additive.  Vegetables have a wide range of naturally occurring sodium.  Sodium in excess of 75 mg of sodium per 100 grams of raw, chopped vegetable is considered high.  In contrast, 1 teaspoon of table salt contains 2,315 mg of sodium. The following list shows the wide range of naturally occurring sodium in common raw vegetables.

• Kelp, dried (4,457 mg of sodium per 100 grams)

• Dulse, dried (1,743 mg of sodium per 100 grams)

• Beet greens (226 mg. of sodium per 100 grams)

• Chard (213 mg of sodium per 100 grams)

• Cardoon (170 mg. of sodium per 100 grams)

• Celeriac (100 mg. of sodium per 100 grams)

• Celery (80 mg. of sodium per 100 grams)

• Spinach (79 mg. of sodium per 100 grams)

• Beets (78 mg. of sodium per 100 grams)

• Carrots (69 mg. of sodium per  100 grams)

• Chinese Cabbage (pok choy) (65 mg. of sodium per 100 grams)

• Parsley (56 mg. of sodium per 100 grams)

• Coriander (46 mg of sodium per 100 grams

• Red Cabbage (27 mg of sodium per 100 grams)

• Green Cabbage  (18 mg of sodium per 100 grams)

Chop Your Vegetables Small

Chopping vegetables into smaller pieces ensures that more surface area is exposed to the bacteria.  This speeds up the colonization of the jar with lacto-bacillus bacteria, the good bacteria, preserving the vegetables and inhibiting bad bacteria.

Using a kraut pounder to bruise the leaves to release juices also helps to expose more surface area to the fermenting bacteria.

The amount of salt necessary for successful fermentation is dependent on many factors.  When you apply these four keys, you will be able to reduce the amount of salt needed in your fermentation, and still have a successful batch of fermented vegetables.  Those who follow a low sodium diet may still be able to  enjoy fermented vegetables at home by following these strategies.

(Note:  If you are on a low sodium diet because of a medical condition please consult with your doctor before adding ferments to your diet.  This information is for educational purposes only.)

Try this recipe for Kimchi with no salt added.


Katz, Sandor. The Art of Fermentation, An Indepth Exploration of Essential Concepts and Processes From Around the World. (Chelsea Green Publishing: Vermont) 2012.


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1 Comment

  1. Is Sauerkraut Good For You? | Fermentools on November 13, 2020 at 7:52 pm

    […] with your doctor about whether salt restriction is right for you. If necessary, there are four ways to ferment vegetables without salt. Also, try a no salt kimchi […]

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