Grate, Slice, or Chop: How to Prepare Your Vegetables for Fermentation
When you're first getting started with culturing vegetables there are a lot of things to learn, like how to know when they are truly cultured and how to be okay with allowing them to just sit out at room temperature for a while without refrigeration.
One thing to learn is how to cut your vegetables, for how you prepare your vegetables will affect the outcome of your ferment and can determine what other ingredients and preparations you need to include in order to create a good finished product.
You have a number of options on whether to grate, slice, or chop your vegetables and that decision will affect your next step.
Grating a vegetable for fermentation is often done either in a food processor or on a large box grater. You will most often see instructions to grate your vegetable when it is a hard or crunchy vegetable.
Good candidates for grating include:
Grating your vegetables for fermentation creates the most surface area of any of the preparation techniques. This increased surface area allows salt to penetrate the vegetable more quickly, which draws out the moisture and thus creates a brine for the vegetable.
This means that when grating you are preparing a self-brining cultured vegetable. These often have the texture of a relish when finished.
Some people make sauerkraut by grating the cabbage in a food processor. While this does facilitate the drawing out of the brine, it isn’t necessary to achieve a self-brining sauerkraut or other ferment.
Grated vegetables are generally the quickest to culture because of their increased surface area.
A chopped vegetable is simply one that has been cut to small bite-size pieces. When you cook vegetables and are told to “chop” an onion and then sauté it you most likely end up with a piece of vegetable that is small enough to have several bits in each mouthful.
When you chop a vegetable for fermentation it can be that small or much larger, as in the case with a carrot stick. Most often, if the ferment requires something other than a 1-inch or smaller chop, the recipe will specifically tell you.
Chopped vegetables almost always require a brine of salt and water.
Chopping requires much less time than grating (or slicing). You can very roughly chop up chunks of summer squash, cucumber, or carrot and throw some salt in water and you will have a very quickly prepared cultured vegetable.
Good candidates for chopping include:
The main consideration for what size to chop your vegetables is the length of time it will take for the vegetable to culture. A hard carrot stick will take about twice as long to culture as a grated carrot because the brine has to completely penetrate the hard carrot.
Chopped vegetables, depending on their size, usually take much longer to culture than grated or thinly sliced vegetables.
Slicing thinly is much like grating in that it increases the surface area. Long, thinly sliced vegetables — like sauerkraut — may create their own brine but other vegetables may have a cellular structure that still requires you to create a brine.
So while you might simply throw together thinly sliced cabbage, sea salt, and some juniper berries to create a simple sauerkraut, a thick cucumber slice would need a brine in order to culture properly and maintain its crunch.
Good candidates for slicing include:
Because most recipes call for grating or chopping vegetables, you will have to take into account the nature of the vegetable when deciding whether or not to create a brine.
Sliced vegetables are generally right in the middle in terms of a culturing time. This may give you a wider window of culturing time in case you need to get your ferment in cold storage when you are leaving town, or accidentally leave it to culture one too many days.