How Much Salt?

Salt is an important ingredient in fermenting. Besides adding flavor, it performs an important role in controlling the fermentation process, as well as in preservation.

Many foods such as meats were traditionally preserved using only salt, as salt will slow or halt the bacterial process that leads to decay. Fermentation is also a method of preserving food. Since fermentation is really a controlled process of decay, using measured amounts of salt can slow down the fermentation to the fermenter’s specifications. A slower fermentation can allow the development of flavors, or can keep vegetables crispy while still allowing probiotics to reproduce.

Often you can simply add salt to your recipe and let it dissolve naturally in the juices of the vegetable you’re fermenting. Other times you will dissolve a measured amount of salt in water, producing a brine. The amount of salt you add to water will vary depending on what you are fermenting, how salty you like your vegetables, or the natural flavor of the salt.

Different saturations of salt in water are usually measured in ounce-per-gallon, but you are more likely to be measuring in teaspoons or tablespoons.

Basic Salt Conversion Formula

  • 1 ounce of salt = 1-2/3 tablespoons (5 teaspoons)


Now, this is not a hard-and-fast conversion when it comes to preparing a brine for fermenting vegetables, or for storing cheeses, or even for adding to soup. Some things that will affect the amount of salt you use include:

  • Personal taste. Some people just like things saltier!
  • What you are fermenting. Spicier foods need less salt, for instance. Softer foods might need more.
  • The “saltiness” of the salt. There is a great variety in the mineral content and sharpness of different salts. You can use more of a mild salt without compromising flavor, or you might need a little less of a very strong salt.
  • The flakiness or coarseness of the salt. Unrefined salt may have larger particles, and thus take up more room in a measuring spoon. So 1 tablespoon of rock salt would be much less salt than 1 tablespoon of refined table salt.


The conversion formula above is for the same kind of salt. So, an ounce of table salt equals 1-2/3 tablespoons of table salt, but an ounce of rock salt might equal only 1 tablespoon of table salt.

You will have to make some adjustments as you experiment!

Cheese Brines

Cheeses are often cured in brines, or stored in brines. The primary purpose of the brine in cheesemaking is to slow or stop the conversion of lactose to lactic acid. The brine also pulls moisture from the cheese, which helps to form a rind, and inhibits the formation of many molds.

There are three basic brine strengths in cheesemaking:

  • Light brine: 13 ounces salt (approximately 21-1/2 tablespoons, or about 1-1/3 cups) to 1 gallon water
  • Medium brine: 26 ounces salt (approximately 43 tablespoons, or about 2-2/3 cups) to 1 gallon water
  • Heavy (saturated) brine: 32 ounces salt (approximately 53 tablespoons, or about 3-1/3 cups) to 1 gallon water

Cheese brines also sometimes include calcium chloride and white vinegar. Your cheese recipe will give you exact instructions.

Vegetable Brine

Vegetables are often fermented using starter bacteria, in the form of whey, water kefir, kombucha, juice from a previous ferment, or a packaged starter culture. They can also be fermented using only a salt brine, and even with a starter culture, salt is usually added.

The purpose of salt in vegetable fermentation is to add flavor, and to slow down the fermentation process so that the vegetables don’t become mushy while the bacteria eat up the carbohydrates to produce lactic acid. At the right concentration, salt inhibits the growth of “bad” bacteria while encouraging the growth of lactic bacteria, resulting in a successful ferment. But too much salt will kill off the lactic bacteria too! Salt also helps maintain crunch by promoting the flow of moisture out of the vegetables, leaving them tighter and crisper.

Even a light cheese brine is usually far too salty for vegetable fermentation. The formula for a light cheese brine translates to a little over 4 tablespoons of salt per quart, and if you have ever made a fermented vegetable recipe using a salt brine, you will probably agree that this quantity of salt makes an inedible product!

Most people are more comfortable with between 1 and 3 tablespoons per quart. The USDA recommends a brine of 1-1/2 tablespoons of salt to 1 quart of water when making sauerkraut, in addition to a small amount of salt used to draw liquid from the cabbage before packing into jars.

A common recommendation for fermenting is a 2% to 4% brine, or 2-2/3 to 5-1/3 ounces (about 4-1/2 to 9 tablespoons) in 1 gallon of water. That is only about a quarter to a half as salty as the light brine needed for cheese.

So for fermentation, the amounts would be (and adjust to taste):

  • Light (2%) fermenting brine: 1+ tablespoon per quart of water (4-1/2 tablespoons per gallon)
  • Medium (3%) fermenting brine: 1-1/2+ tablespoons per quart of water (6-3/4 tablespoons per gallon)
  • Heavy (4%) fermenting brine: 2-1/4 tablespoons per quart of water (9 tablespoons per gallon)

Before the widespread standardization of commercial salts, traditional picklers couldn’t easily measure the appropriate quantity of salt to use in pickling. Some old-time recipes recommended “enough salt to float an egg,” which would result in a successful ferment, but made the pickles too salty to eat! As a result, the finished pickles were soaked in plain water for several days before eating. (If your pickles turn out too salty, you can use this trick to rescue them!)



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Salt Water

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