Curtido: Kimchi’s Central American Cousin

Like coleslaw? Let’s take it up a notch and ferment it. Better yet, add some heat, and you have Curtido, Kimchi’s Central American cousin. Try this recipe to learn how to make Curtido and you will want it again and again.

Curtido is a fermented cabbage, carrot, onion, and hot pepper dish that serves as a relish, condiment, or full-on side dish in traditional food from El Salvador.  The end result after fermentation is very similar to Kimchi in Asian cuisine, but with a sweet tang. 

While it’s almost always on the table in traditional cultures, in the US curtido is most commonly served with pupusas, which take raw corn tortilla batter (masa flour & water) and stuff it with meat, cheese, or beans.  Imagine turning a taco into a tasty hand pie and you’ve got the idea.

While you can make a quick approximation of curtido by dressing the vegetables with salt and vinegar, it’s more of a Central American coleslaw at that point.  For the full traditional flavor, you’ll need to ferment it.  Fermentation times vary, but lacto-fermented curtido can be made in as few as three days for a lighter version, or as much as 12 weeks to get the full kick.

Fermentation times vary depending on the ambient temperature, too. For tips to help you with temperature fluctuations, see “7 Tips for Fermenting in Hot Weather.”

How to Make Curtido

A Lacto-Fermented Curtido Recipe

Prep Time: 10-20 minutes

Fermentation time: 3 days to 12 Weeks

Yield: 4-6 Cups

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• 8 cups Cabbage, Finely Sliced

• 1 Onion, Finely Sliced

• 2-3 Carrots, Grated or very finely sliced into strips

• Choice of Hot Peppers to Taste:

• 1 T Hot Pepper Flakes OR

• 2-5 Cayenne Peppers OR

• 1-3 Jalapenos

• 1 Lime, Juiced

• 2 T Salt

• 1-2 T Oregano (Preferably Fresh)

• 1 T Cumin Seeds (optional)

• Fermentools Fermentation Kit


  1. Finely slice all vegetables into short ribbons.
  2. Toss with salt, lime juice, cumin seeds and oregano until thoroughly mixed.
  3. Press into a half gallon Mason jar or crock.  Keep pressing periodically for the first few hours until enough liquid has been released to completely cover the veggies.  Add a 2-3% salt solution to fill the jar if necessary.
  4. Once covered, place a glass weight into the neck of the jar to hold the veggies under the liquid level.
  5. Attach your Fermentools airlock fermentation lid and ferment for 3 days to 12 weeks in a cool dark place.
  6. As it ferments, keep tasting your batch every few days or once a week.  Once it reaches your desired level of tang, place it in the refrigerator to slow fermentation.

Note: Unless you know you like a lot of spice, start with less peppers in your fist batch.  After three days, test your curtido and add more if desired.  Some recipes include 1/2 cup of whey to aid the fermentation, but this is not strictly necessary because you’re starting with raw vegetables.


Because wide-mouthed Mason jars are easy to get, inexpensive, safe for fermenting and come in a variety of sizes, the Fermentools products are made to fit them. Find glass weights, airlocks, specially designed surgical steel lids and more at the Fermentools store.

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