Recent Posts

Which Fermented Foods are Best for your Gut? 14 Must-Haves

Top view of bowls of different types of fermented foods on a white counter surface.

If you are trying to heal your gut naturally, fermented foods might be the answer. There is a diverse range of fermented foods available out there and you might be wondering which fermented food will be the best for gut health. 

There are many gut-friendly fermented foods out there. But if I were to choose one, it would be milk kefir since it has more probiotics than any other fermented food. Kefit also:

  • helps to heal the gut
  • is rich in vital nutrients
  • improves bone health

There are a lot of fermented foods other than kefir each with unique health benefits. This list of the best-fermented foods for gut health explains the health benefits they provide, so you will know which ones you should incorporate into your regular diet. So, let’s begin! 

14 Must-Have Fermented Foods for Good Gut Health

Fermentation is a process where food is broken down with the help of microorganisms like bacteria and yeast. Fermented foods have been popular among people since ancient times for two main reasons:

  1. Fermentation increases food shelf life.
  2. Consuming fermented foods regularly has health benefits such as improved digestive and immune systems.

These facts are scientifically proven which is why more and more people are including fermented foods in their regular diet. 

I’ve listed the best-fermented foods below to include in your diet that will surely improve your gut health and digestion.

#1: Kimchi

Kimchi is a traditional Korean fermented cuisine. This dish is mainly prepared by fermenting cabbage but can be made with other vegetables like radishes. Like any fermented food, kimchi has excellent health benefits, especially when it comes to reducing insulin resistance.

A group of researchers from the Ajou University School of Medicine, Suwon, Republic of Korea studied the effect of kimchi in reducing insulin resistance. For their study, they chose twenty-one candidates with prediabetes who consumed kimchi for eight weeks. 

At the end of their research, they found that those who consumed kimchi had reduced their body’s resistance to insulin and decreased their body weight and blood pressure. 

Kimchi is also effective for lowering cholesterol. In another independent study, researchers divided 100 volunteers into two groups. One group received a diet with a lower quantity of kimchi (15 grams). The other group received a diet with a higher amount of kimchi (210 grams). 

After seven days, researchers observed that the volunteers who consumed more kimchi had a greater decrease in LDL (Low-Density Lipoprotein) cholesterol and blood cholesterol

An open jar of sauerkraut surrounded by cabbage and other ingredients on a natural wood surface.
Sauerkraut is great for gut health

#2: Sauerkraut

Sauerkraut is another gut-friendly fermented food made by fermenting shredded cabbage in a saltwater brine with the help of lactic acid bacteria

Sauerkraut is rich in vitamins K and Vitamin C. It is also low in calories and has plenty of fiber. On top of that, sauerkraut contains antioxidants.

Also, sauerkraut is rich in probiotics which is great for gut health. It is truly a superfood with all these:

  • vitamins
  • fiber
  • antioxidants
  • probiotics

Sauerkraut is one of the easiest fermented foods that you can make right in your home!

NOTE: If you choose to buy sauerkraut from supermarkets, make sure that the product is unpasteurized to get all the health benefits it provides. Pasteurization kills all bacteria equally, whether good or bad.

#3: Kefir

This one is the first fermented dairy product on this list. The kefir grain is a combination of a certain type of bacteria and yeast that clump together in a way that makes them look like cooked grains. That is why they are called kefir grains.

This is a fermented food that has been consumed by humans for hundreds of years. Kefir appears to be a bit thick and has a taste that is almost like yogurt, just a bit tangy.

Kefir is a great source of probiotics. In fact, it contains more probiotics than any other fermented food (almost 27 billion colony-forming units per one-cup serving) making it good for gut health

It is also rich in vitamins and minerals like:

  • magnesium
  • calcium
  • biotin
  • vitamin B12
  • vitamin K2
  • folate

The most notable health benefit of kefir is that it improves lactose digestion. Researchers from Ohio State University, Columbus, have shown that kefir improves lactose digestion in lactose-intolerant people. They worked with fifteen volunteers that were lactose intolerant

In their research, the volunteers were fed kefir on a regular basis. After the end of the research, the group of scientists found that consuming kefir improved the lactose digestion and tolerance of the volunteers.

Other studies have shown that people who consume kefir regularly have significantly decreased markers of inflammation, and that kefir helps improve bone health. In other words, the health benefits of kefir are truly amazing.

2 clear bowls of plain yogurt on a light blue cloth with a silver spoon to the side.
Yogurt is a must-have probiotic ingredient

#4: Probiotic Yogurt

Another cultured dairy product, yogurt is produced by fermenting milk with the help of lactic acid bacteria. Yogurt is creamy and it tastes a bit tangy.

Yogurt has been used for hundreds of years by people throughout the world. In today’s world, it has become a must-have ingredient in many kitchens. 

Like kefir, yogurt is also rich in vitamins and minerals. These include:

  • vitamin B12
  • calcium
  • potassium
  • riboflavin
  • phosphorus

Scientists have found that yogurt can reduce blood pressure. Like kefir, yogurt can help improve bone health in older adults.

Yogurt has a higher concentration of probiotics in it which is good for gut health, especially after taking antibiotics. Antibiotics destroy all the bacteria in your gut, whether good or bad. This can result in diarrhea or other digestive problems

NOTE: While shopping for yogurt, make sure to avoid any sort of added or artificial ingredients like sugar and coloring, to get the most health benefit out of it.

#5: Kombucha

This fermented tea is typically made with green or black tea. It is a fizzy, tangy tea that is rich in probiotics and is often flavored with fruits.

Kombucha contains all the nutrients and health-promoting properties of the tea it’s made from, as well as probiotics from fermenting. Studies have shown that drinking kombucha helps to prevent liver damage and toxicity that are caused by harmful chemicals.

Kombucha is quickly rising in popularity, and now it can be found in any supermarket or grocery store. It’s also easy to make at home, learn how long to ferment kombucha in my full guide.

Top view of a veggie and rice bowl with tempeh in a white bowl.
Tempeh is a good meat substitute that is probiotic-rich

#6: Tempeh

Tempeh is a great source of vegetarian protein made from naturally fermented soybeans. It’s firm but a bit chewy. Before eating tempeh, it can be:

  • baked
  • fried
  • steamed

It is similar to tofu, which is another high-protein meat substitute.

Tempeh is rich in beneficial yeast and bacteria and is a great source of protein. On top of that, it is rich in nutrients and offers many health benefits.

Studies have found concrete evidence that soy protein can help lower cholesterol. A 2019 literature review has found that eating soy protein regularly for six weeks has resulted in an average of almost 3.2% decrease in LDL (Low-Density Lipoprotein) cholesterol and a 2.8% decrease in total cholesterol level.

Tempeh is a great source of soy protein. As a source of animal protein alternative, anybody can enjoy it whether you are a meat-lover or a vegetarian.

#7: Natto

Natto is another fermented food that is made by fermenting soybeans. This is a traditional cultured food in Japanese cuisine. Unlike tempeh, natto has a slippery texture and a very strong flavor.

Natto is rich in probiotics and has plenty of fiber which can help improve your digestive system. On top of that, it is rich in vitamin K, which can improve bone health. 

The fermentation process of natto produces an enzyme called “natto kinase” as a byproduct. This enzyme can help prevent and dissolve blood clots. On top of that, this enzyme can help reduce blood pressure.

#8: Miso

This is another traditional Japanese fermented food. It is made by fermenting soybeans and koji which is a type of mold. Usually, koji is cultivated from one of these:

  • barley
  • soybeans
  • rice

Miso is traditionally served as a digestion-boosting breakfast

Miso soup is famous for its unique umami flavor, and Japanese people have converted the making of miso as a form of art

Other than its unique flavor, miso also offers a lot of health benefits. Studies have found that the consumption of miso improves heart health and boosts the immune system.

Sourdough starter next to flour and other ingredients in wood bowls, on a light surface surrounded with a kitchen cloth.
Sourdough is a fermented food with many benefits

#9: Sourdough

Sourdough is used for making bread, but some might not even know that it is a fermented food. Like any other fermented food, sourdough also provides great health benefits as it:

  • helps with digestion
  • boosts the immune system
  • reduces digestive disorders

One of the most interesting facts is that a sourdough starter can survive more than a hundred years. Making a sourdough starter is easy! All you have to do is to add water to flour and it will eventually start to ferment.

As the fermentation process in the sourdough starts, the probiotics start to convert the gluten into a simpler substance which in this case is an amino acid. Also, the bacteria will predigest the starches in the dough making sourdough bread easier to digest.

#10: Pickles

Pickles are one of the most popular fermented foods around the globe. They are rich in probiotics and help heal your gut and improve your digestive system.

When shopping for pickles, always check what sort of brine they are in. Vinegar brines are acidic so they are not probiotic. On the other hand, saltwater brine is perfect for the growth of good bacteria and probiotics

So, to get all the health benefits that fermented pickles provide, get pickles in saltwater brine.  

#11: Cottage Cheese

This is another cultured dairy product that is good for your gut health. Cottage cheese is rich in probiotics and has several active cultures so eating it regularly can diversify your gut’s microbiome.

Cottage cheese is a great source of protein and calcium and has low-calorie content. Scientists have found a direct link between calcium and weight loss.

HOT TIP: Calcium helps prevent the accumulation of cholesterol and accelerates fat loss.

If you are trying to gain muscle mass, cottage cheese can be a great addition to your diet. The higher amount of casein protein in it can help build muscle mass. This protein is absorbed by your body very slowly, promoting muscle buildup and at the same time preventing muscle breakdown.

Cottage cheese can also help reduce insulin resistance and it is high in selenium, which helps boost antioxidant protection in the blood.

Cottage cheese has a soft texture and mild flavor which makes it easy to incorporate in many recipes. If you are trying to gain some muscle or focusing on losing weight, cottage cheese might be the right fermented food for you.

Apple cider vinegar in a jar with a flip top lid, on its side surrounded by apples, a cut apple, and apple leaves.
Apple cider is less probiotic but has tons of other benefits

#12: Apple Cider Vinegar

Apple cider vinegar is also a fermented food, but unlike yogurt or kefir, it doesn’t have many probiotics. However, it does still have a lot of health benefits.

In fact, apple cider vinegar is rich in nutrients and minerals like:

  • amino acids
  • manganese
  • antioxidants
  • magnesium
  • phosphorus

Some of the benefits that make apple cider vinegar a superfood are:

  • improves the digestive system
  • increases insulin sensitivity
  • reduces blood sugar level
  • lowers blood pressure

#13: Raw Coconut Yogurt

Yogurt is a great source of probiotics. For people who are lactose intolerant, raw coconut yogurt is a great alternative to dairy yogurt.

Coconut yogurt is:

  • creamy
  • delicious
  • very easy to make

Raw coconut yogurt provides health benefits that are similar to cultured yogurt. First of all, it is rich in probiotics, which is good for your gut health. Eating coconut yogurt regularly can heal your gut and improve your digestive system.

On top of that, it contains antiviral nutrients known as caprylic acid and lauric acid. These nutrients help prevent and kill bad bacteria and yeast that enters the body. Also, consuming coconut yogurt regularly can lower cholesterol levels.

It is recommended to make coconut yogurt at home rather than store bout which contains:

  • artificial ingredients
  • artificial color
  • sugar

#14: Coconut Water Kefir

This is another option for those who are lactose intolerant. As mentioned before, kefir is made by culturing milk using kefir grains.

Coconut water kefir is made by fermenting coconut water using kefir grains. It is rich in probiotics that promote:

  • immunity
  • gut health
  • digestion
  • can improve mood

Coconut water kefir contains antiviral nutrients that kill harmful bacteria in the body. Also, it boosts brain and liver health. Coconut water kefir has no sugar or fat and has lower calories compared to dairy-based kefir which makes it much easier to digest.

Coconut water kefir is an excellent addition to your daily diet, as it:

  • heals the gut
  • helps digestion
  • increases energy
  • kills harmful bacteria and yeast

Why Should You Include Fermented Foods in Your Diet?

Fermentation is an ancient process. At first, the main goal of fermentation was to increase the life of foods and drinks. But in today’s world, preserving food is no longer a problem.

However, that didn’t decrease the popularity of fermented foods one bit since they have so many health benefits. In fact, the popularity of fermented foods is increasing day by day as more people are incorporating them into their regular diets. 

Kefir grains in a strainer over a glass container with a spoon lifting some up to show the texture.
Fermented foods like kefir have many health benefits

The Health Benefits Of Fermented Foods   

#1: Improves Digestive Health

First of all, fermented foods can be digested with ease. The fermentation process is mainly converting a substance into a much simpler substance with the help of yeasts and bacteria. As foods undergo the fermentation process and make probiotics, the nutrients can be more easily absorbed.

#2: Boosts Immune System

The human body has a lot of bacteria living in the digestive system. These bacteria not only help with the digestion process but also prevent disease-causing bacteria from making you sick. Consuming fermented foods can give a boost to these bacteria that are in your gut.

Fermented foods provide us with lots of nutrients that are essential for health, and if you do get sick, they can accelerate the recovery process.

#3: Reduces Digestive Disorders

Consuming fermented food can help improve the digestive system and reduce symptoms of many digestive disorders like gas and bloating

#4: Restores Gut Health After Taking Antibiotics

After taking any type of antibiotic, you might have digestive problems like diarrhea. Antibiotics wipe out all of the bacteria in your gut which can cause digestive issues.

Probiotic-rich fermented foods will help restore your gut health to its normal state. 

A bottle with a home label saying kombucha next to chamomile flowers, a lemon, and other whole spices.
Mix and match these fermented foods for optimum gut health!


The microbiome inside the gut varies from person to person so a single fermented food might not be able to fulfill all your expectations. This is why I would recommend you mix and match these fermented foods for gut health in this article to get optimal health benefits. 

You might also be interested in:

Is Kimchi Better Hot or Cold? Get the Pros & Cons

Kimchi being held up with chopsticks.

Kimchi is the national food of South Korea. Almost every household in Korea has this spicy fermented vegetable dish stored in their kitchens. It is becoming popular in the West and is now available in many American supermarkets. If you are new to kimchi, you may wonder if kimchi is better hot or cold.

You can eat kimchi either hot or cold. It depends on your taste and the dish you are making. But according to researchers, cold or slightly warm kimchi has great probiotic value. If you heat the dish too hot, it may kill the beneficial bacteria. 

In this article, I will talk about eating cold and hot kimchi, and about different ways to eat both. First, let’s learn how people usually eat this traditional food in Korea.

How Kimchi Is Usually Eaten?

The people of South Korea have been eating kimchi for over two thousand years. The key ingredient of kimchi is traditionally cabbage, but people also prefer scallion and radishes. They mix the fish sauce with the brine and also add:

  • garlic
  • ginger
  • chili pepper

Finally, the brine full of vegetables is fermented at a cool temperature for a few days. This process helps to grow probiotics that have many health benefits. Moreover, fermented vegetables can be preserved for a long time like this. 

Therefore, South Koreans eat kimchi daily, not just for its spicy and crunchy taste but also for its health benefits. Koreans have at least five different dishes for every meal, and on special occasions, you will see at least ten dishes. They prefer spicy side dishes to add flavor to other dishes, and one is always kimchi!

Kimchi is a staple food of Korea, as it is always served with other dishes in almost every Korean household and restaurant. People also like to eat kimchi as a snack, but it is mostly served with rice. Kimchi’s tangy flavor can also enhance the taste of many other dishes, so people include it in making:

  • soups
  • porridge
  • pancakes
  • rice cakes
A bowl of kimchi with chopsticks resting on top, surrounded by jars of kimchi, leaves and peppers.
Kimchi enhances the flavor of anything you eat it with

Is Kimchi Better Hot or Cold?

As you can see, kimchi is a part of the everyday meal of South Korean people. Many people all over the world have also started to appreciate the unique spicy taste and health benefits of kimchi.

Kimchi is fermented at a cool temperature, and most people prefer eating it cold and do not want to put extra effort into heating it before every meal.

On the other hand, some people prefer to heat kimchi before meals. However, the health benefits and taste of kimchi can change when you heat it. So, let’s see the pros and cons of eating cold and hot kimchi. 

Eating Cold Kimchi 

Kimchi is a dish that is full of:

  • minerals
  • vitamins
  • antioxidants

It is also rich in vitamin C and K, which helps blood circulation and keeps bones healthy. All these health elements are intact in cold kimchi, and it is full of healthy bacteria or probiotics

Also, the taste of cold kimchi is actually its true flavor. It has a tangy and spicy taste, which goes well with other dishes. Here are the benefits of eating cold kimchi:

  1. The fermentation process of kimchi grows probiotics, which are good for our digestive system. We know the lactobacilli bacteria in kimchi as good bacteria, that ensure healthy digestion.
  2. The healthy bacteria of cold kimchi reduce gastrointestinal problems and can help colon inflammation and irritable bowel syndrome. 
  3. Eating cold kimchi can also improve your immune system. The healthy bacteria of the kimchi minimize inflammation caused by various diseases. 
  4. Probiotics in cold kimchi are great for boosting immunity to ward off common viruses.
  5. Cold kimchi has a sour and spicy flavor, and it is crunchy. Hence, many people love to eat it this way

There are not actually any cons to eating cold kimchi. However, some people might find the taste of cold kimchi too sharp. So, they heat it to reduce the pungent taste

Eating Hot Kimchi

Many people prefer eating kimchi hot. The good bacteria will die if you heat kimchi for too long, but it will still have nutritious value. 

Here are some reasons to eat hot kimchi: 

  1. Many people do not like to eat cold foods and kimchi is no exception.
  2. If you dislike the sharp taste of cold kimchi, you can heat it or microwave it to reduce the sharp taste
  3. You can add hot kimchi to different foods to add a smokey or barbeque flavor
Kimchi in a bowl of bright orange soup with tofu topped with green onions.
Kimchi is delicious warmed in soup

As you can see, eating hot kimchi is all about changing the taste. It does not contain the full health benefits of cold kimchi. Cooking kimchi will kill the bacteria, so there will be no probiotics. Also, do not go over 70 degrees while cooking kimchi because it will impact the taste. 

Although you can lessen the sharp taste of kimchi by heating it, the smell gets stronger. Once kimchi is heated, it needs to be eaten within a few days. Reheating hot kimchi will also destroy the unique flavor. So, heat kimchi in small portions and eat it as soon as possible.

If you compare the nutritional value of cold and hot kimchi, you see that eating cold kimchi is better than eating hot kimchi. If you prefer to eat kimchi for its health benefits, then eat it cold. Otherwise, you can eat it hot.  

Tips for Eating Cold and Hot Kimchi

There are many dishes for which you have to heat kimchi with other ingredients, and there are many dishes where cold kimchi is a perfect fit. Here are a few tips for eating cold, and hot kimchi with different dishes to get the best taste:

  • Mix kimchi with soup and cook it. Or you can eat it cold with soup. 
  • Eat cold kimchi with rice to get great taste and probiotic benefits.
  • To make fusion dishes add cold kimchi to a salad.
  • Kimchi kimbap tastes better with slightly warm kimchi.
  • Cabbage kimchi, radish kimchi, and onion kimchi can be eaten hot or cold. But you cannot heat cucumber kimchi, it will destroy the taste.
  • Adding fried and hot kimchi to tofu adds a smoky flavor. You can also put hot kimchi in a burger for the same taste.
  • The bibimbap rice dish is a famous Korean dish, and only cold kimchi goes well with this dish. On the other hand, hot kimchi also goes well with dolsot bibimbap. 
A white bowl with orange flower and other details, filled with rice topped with tofu and kimchi, with a plate of kimchi in the background.
Kimchi has more health benefits when eaten cold


Is kimchi better hot or cold? People eat kimchi not just for its flavor-enhancing power, but for its nutritional value. Therefore, it is recommended to eat kimchi cold or barely warm to get the probiotic benefits. 

You might also be interested in:

Does Kimchi Go Bad? How Long Does It Last? Kimchi FAQ Guide

Kimchi in a white bowl with a dark background.

Kimchi is a Korean dish that is a spicy fermented mix of vegetables. Fermenting is an effective preservation method, so you might wonder, does kimchi go bad? 

Kimchi can go bad. If you keep kimchi at room temperature after opening, it’ll last about a week. Kimchi stays fresh for a much longer time if you refrigerate it. It will remain fresh for three to six months or more but will continue to ferment and taste sour. Refrigerate your kimchi below 39 degrees F to reduce the speed of spoilage. 

There is so much to learn about kimchi, such as:

  • how to prolong its shelf life,
  • how to make it
  • how to tell if kimchi has gone bad

Keep reading to learn all the answers you need about kimchi! 

How Long Does Kimchi Last?

Kimchi is a Korean staple dish and has been for generations now. It’s easy to see why it’s a superstar in the kitchen. The flavoring in kimchi is intricate, but the recipe is relatively easy. It’s a harmonious and versatile dish that’s rich in nutrients and flavor

Kimchi is originally from Korea and staple to both North and South Korea with a broad appeal, rating five stars in the nutrition scorecard and various uses. Kimchi is made with:

  • cabbage
  • garlic
  • other vegetables
  • fish sauce
  • salted seafood
  • chili powder
  • spring onions
  • ginger

You’ll taste a plethora of flavors once it hits your tongue!

Kimchi can last months before it spoils. The shelf life of kimchi doesn’t have a specific and straightforward answer. A Korean kimchi veteran might say that kimchi doesn’t spoil. Instead, it merely ripens. However, it won’t taste the same forever as it is made with fermented vegetables. 

As kimchi is not pasteurized, the bacteria in it are alive. So fermentation is ongoing with kimchi, and it’ll become sourer with time

If you’ve bought kimchi from a store, you’ll have to look at the expiration date to see if it is okay to eat. Usually, the shelf life of store-bought kimchi is between eight and twelve months

There are several variables in the equation, like time or whether you’ve opened the kimchi yet. Temperature also influences the fermentation and makes the kimchi sour. If the kimchi is sitting in a warm spot, the fermentation rate will accelerate. Store a fresh jar of kimchi in the fridge right away after buying. 

It’s also tricky to answer how long kimchi may last in the fridge after opening. A prolonged lifetime depends on:

  • how long it was stored before opening the jar
  • the temperature
  • how sour you like kimchi

If I had to estimate it roughly, I’d say kimchi should taste fine between six months to a year after you open it. This calculation applies if you’ve refrigerated the jar after first opening, and it didn’t taste very sour. 

It’s also worth mentioning that if kimchi is pasteurized and unopened, you can store it for a couple of months in the pantry. Unpasteurized kimchi tastes best before a month.

NOTE: These are only rough estimates and are applicable for the best quality kimchi only.

How to Tell If Your Kimchi Has Gone Bad

To tell if your kimchi is safe to eat or not, you’ll have to look for possible spoilage signs. Some people throw away good kimchi because they think that it’s a lost cause. Read the signs below. If your kimchi looks like this, don’t panic because it should still taste fine and be safe to consume

  1. It’s not unusual for kimchi to explode upon opening. It may happen from the gas buildup during fermentation. This event is not unlike a champagne bottle popping off due to an excess build-up of gas. 
  2. If kimchi seems bubbly after opening, it should be fine. Bacteria are alive inside, so the kimchi might be fizzy and active
  3. It’s safe to eat the kimchi you’ve kept at room temperature for an extended period. It might become very sour, but you can add it to a soup or stew if you prefer. Or, throw in some other vegetables instead of eating it raw. 
  4. If the cabbage turns soft after storing kimchi for a long time, don’t panic. It’s perfectly fine to eat it. But if you don’t want wilted cabbage, try using the kimchi in a recipe

Look out for visual signs to tell if kimchi is spoiled. If you spot mold or a white film on your kimchi, you can scoop the mold part off the top and a layer underneath, or you can discard the whole dish just to be careful. 

If you see mold on your kimchi, it’s already begun spoiling. Some people are comfortable eating food where mold has been scraped off. However, molds can make you sick, so there is a risk

If your kimchi smells sour, it should still be safe to eat. But if it smells off besides just sour, discard it.

If you are still unsure whether you should throw away your kimchi, you can do a pH test on it. According to BBC, kimchi’s pH level should be 4.5. If it is ever more or less than that, throw it away

How long do other fermented foods last? Read my article to learn all you need to know!

If the kimchi is too sour for your taste, or the vegetables are not crunchy enough, you can mix it with stews or use it in stir-fries. It’s up to you when it comes to kimchi that tastes sour, your options are to:

  • keep it
  • throw it away
  • use it in a recipe
2 jars of kimchi on a wood surface.
Check to see if your kimchi is slimy or smells bad

Mistakes That May Spoil Kimchi Faster

There are things that can go wrong when making kimchi, especially for beginners. The radish might taste bitter, or the cabbage could be too:

  • thick
  • thin
  • fibrous

If the kimchi turns out too bitter or salty, next time try brining the vegetables more or less, depending on the issue. 

Sometimes, kimchi turns out slimy which is undesired. When unwanted microorganisms outgrow the beneficial ones, kimchi spoils and gets slimy. It might be safe to eat, but it will taste strange, have a weird texture, and won’t be enjoyable. So you’ll need to consider some factors to avoid this outcome

  1. Too Much Salt: Back in the old days kimchi was packed with salt before it was widely known that salt is bad for high blood pressure. Excess salt can make kimchi taste funny. 
  2. Too Much Flour Paste or Rice: Rice flour paste is not essential to make kimchi, and too much of it will undoubtedly spoil your kimchi. 
  3. Temperature: Prepare kimchi at the right temperature. The optimal temperature for fermentation is around 68 degrees Fahrenheit. Add more salt and monitor it closely if the temperature exceeds 72 degrees Fahrenheit. 
  4. Too Much Sugar: Be careful with how much sugar you put in kimchi, especially the salt ratio. Korean restaurants typically use artificial sweeteners because excess sugar tends to make kimchi slimy.

Additional Kimchi Tips

Ensure that there aren’t air-filled gaps and bubbles after putting the kimchi in a jar. Too much air inside the container will make unwanted bacteria grow, and the kimchi will taste off. It will also produce unevenly seasoned and fermented kimchi

It’s best to pack and press it all down firmly so that you’re leaving as little space as possible, using a fermentation pounder like this from Amazon can really help. Do leave space at the top of the jar to cover the vegetables with brine. Seal the lid tightly and do not leave the jar out for too long without refrigerating. 

Store the jar for a few days at room temperature, and it is essential to keep it away from sunlight. Only move the jar to the refrigerator once it has started to taste a bit tangy. The cold temperature will slow down the fermentation gracefully.  

How to Store Kimchi for Longer Shelf Life

By now, you already know how the temperature influences kimchi when it comes to storing it. You can keep unopened kimchi in the fridge or pantry. Leave kimchi that’s not sour enough at room temperature for a couple of days till you get the desired taste. It’s best to store the kimchi in the fridge once you have opened it. 

Kimchi doesn’t have a stable shelf life in general because it has live bacteria. As a rule of thumb, immerse the ingredients in the brine every time you open it and seal it again. 

Additionally, use clean utensils to handle the kimchi inside the container. Otherwise, it will encourage dirty bacterial growth and cause the kimchi to spoil. Try to open the container as little as possible to avoid exposing the kimchi to the air, risking unwanted bacterial growth. 

If you used a large container for storing your kimchi, you should consider dividing it up into smaller portions and placing them in smaller jars to preserve them.

NOTE: You can sort the portions out according to weeks, making it easy to keep track of them.

The bottom line is, you can increase kimchi’s shelf life if you:

  • limit the opening and closing of the jar
  • use clean utensils
  • immerse the kimchi in brine

How to Make Kimchi

Kimchi recipes vary from one region and season to another, but you can keep the dish entirely vegan using plant-based ingredients. Kimchi is sold on Amazon, is available in stores, and is comparatively inexpensive. If you ferment kimchi at home, it takes a while. 

Kimchi can be eaten as:

  • an ingredient in a recipe
  • a dip
  • a side dish

Additionally, kimchi can be made to preference with flavors that are:

  • sour
  • spicy
  • sweet

Napa cabbage is the main ingredient in kimchi, with other vegetables like:

  • Korean radish
  • carrots
  • cucumber
  • scallions

Kimchi is not a tricky dish to make, but if it’s your first try at fermenting vegetables it might feel overwhelming. Fermentation isn’t a conventional way of cooking. After all, it is rotting food! The only difference is that you’re in control of the rotting.

Here are a couple of recipes for making kimchi. The most widely used recipe is the one that uses napa cabbage. Before you begin, here are some things to consider during fermentation

  1. I recommend keeping a jar at room temperature to speed up the fermentation process and store the rest in the fridge. You have to do this for a few days before you put it in the refrigerator.
  2. Ideally, use an airtight container like a mason jar. Sanitize the jar first, and fill it so it has 1/3rd space left so the jar doesn’t explode. 
  3. It’s working if you notice bubbles in your kimchi. Check it by opening the jar over the sink every few days for a quick sniff test. You can stir it around a bit but ensure that the vegetables are always submerged in the liquid
  4. The pH of the kimchi won’t be 4.5 until two weeks have gone by. So don’t panic if it’s not at this level. 

I recommend eating it after a month and within three months of preparing it. 

A large wood bowl with gloved hands mixing cabbage with spices to make kimchi.
Napa cabbage kimchi is a simple recipe

Napa Cabbage Kimchi Recipe

The following recipe is an altered version of a Maangchi Easy Kimchi made with napa cabbage. Before you begin, I suggest you watch some instructional videos, particularly by Maangchi.


  • 2 lbs napa cabbage 
  • 5 ½ tsp sweet rice flour
  • 3 Tbs salt 
  • 1/2 cup water 
  • 1 ½ tsp sugar 
  • 1 tsp ginger 
  • Four garlic cloves (large)
  • 4 ½ tbsp onion 
  • 3 tbsp fish sauce 
  • 4 tbsp Korean hot pepper flakes (for tasting)
  • 2 Green onions 

Instructions to Make Kimchi

Firstly, trim any undesirable leaves off the cabbage. Then remove the cores and cut the cabbage into quarters lengthwise. Chop the quarters into bite-size pieces. 

Rinse and drain the cut pieces of the cabbage thoroughly. Use a colander (sold on Amazon) to drain the cabbage and place it in a large bowl. Sprinkle it with salt, and let it rest for 30 minutes. 

Next, mix the cabbage, salt it again, and let it rest for another thirty minutes. Repeat this step one more time, for a total of three times with thirty minutes in between. It should take about one and a half hours

During the thirty-minute intervals, prepare the rice porridge. Mix the sweet rice flour with water in a small saucepan. Keep mixing until it boils and continue until the porridge begins to bubble, which should happen after about five minutes

Pour the sugar into the pan and continue cooking until the mixture seems translucent. Now, let it sit and cool. Make the kimchi paste while the porridge cools. In a food processor, mix these ingredients until smooth:

  • garlic
  • onion
  • ginger
  • fish sauce

Pour the mix into a large bowl, and add the cooled rice porridge and hot pepper flakes to the bowl. Mix it thoroughly until it is a consistent paste and combine the cabbage and other vegetables in the mix. Everything should be well coated by the time you finish mixing. 

Gloved hands mixing orange spices into cabbage to make kimchi.
Mix the paste with cabbage and vegetables

Fill the jar up to 3/4 of the way full with the kimchi mix and store it in the fridge for a month to let it slowly ferment, and check it regularly. 

Korean Radish Kimchi 

This is a simple kimchi to make. It’s called Kkakdugi in Korean, which means cubed radish kimchi. Typically, people enjoy this dish in chilly winter weather. It’s firm and crisp and tastes slightly sweet and peppery

The main steps are:

  1. Cut the radish into cubes.
  2. Salt it.
  3. Mix the seasonings.


  • 3 large Korean radish 
  • 1/3cup coarse sea salt
  • 3 to 4 scallions 
  • 2/3 cup Korean red chili flakes 
  • ¼ cup salted finely minced shrimp 
  • 2 tbsp fish sauce 
  • 1 tsp grated ginger 
  • 2 tablespoon sugar 

Radish Kimchi Instructions 

First, clean the radishes using a scrub brush like this one, or scratch the stubborn impurities off with a knife. If necessary, peel the skin. If the skin is smooth and clean, use them with the skin on. 

Next, cut the radish into an inch-thick disc and further chop them into one-inch cubes. Place the cubes into a large bowl. Don’t worry if the discs are large, they will shrink when you salt and ferment them. 

Sprinkle the salt over the radish and make sure that the salt coats the radishes evenly. Let it rest for about thirty to forty minutes until the radish cubes have expelled some liquid and softened. 

While it sits, prepare the seasoning. Use the rest of the ingredients mentioned above and mix well. Set the mixture aside so that the chili peppers become pasty and dissolve

Drain the radishes in a colander without rinsing. In a large bowl, mix the seasoning and scallions with the radishes by hand until the seasonings have evenly coated the radishes.

You can taste the seasoning to see if you need to make any changes. It should taste too salty, and the radishes should be dry by now. Next, add the salted shrimp or fish sauce

Like the previous recipe, repeat the storing process and remove air pockets from the jar. You can keep it at room temperature for a day, depending on how fast you want the kimchi to ripen. Then, put it in the refrigerator and eat it after a week. It will keep its excellent flavor and texture for several weeks! 

Top view of kimchi in a white bowl, on a wood surface.
Kimchi can be eaten daily in many ways

Tips On Eating Kimchi 

Kimchi is a special dish because it’s packed with flavor and rich in nutrients. However you cook your kimchi, the process and basics are the same. 

Here are some bonus tips that will make kimchi taste even better and make your kimchi-making skills more mature. 

Tip #1: Kimchi is Seasonal

Kimchi is a seasonal dish, and its recipes vary from one region to another. Basic napa cabbage kimchi is a fall dish. You can experiment with other vegetables according to the seasons. For example, in spring, try fresh greens, and during summer try radishes and cucumbers

Tip #2: Experiment with Flavors

The second tip I have for you is to experiment with flavors and different ingredients. Embrace the seasonings because it’s one of the most fundamental properties of a kimchi dish. Broaden your range with seasonings and add-ins. Also, kimchi is typically spicy, so you can dabble with that too! 

Tip #3: Use Salt Wisely

As I’ve mentioned before, too much salt can ruin kimchi, so use salt wisely. A saline environment will also speed up the fermentation process. Don’t use iodized table salt as iodine can block fermentation. Your best bet is to use coarse sea salt. I recommend salting in a couple of steps: 

  1. Rub the vegetables with salt to open and break them.
  2. Soak them in a brine solution for more enhanced flavors.

Tip #4: Pack and Store Kimchi Carefully

Make sure not to disturb your kimchi often, and store it very carefully, as I’ve directed above. Pack the kimchi in and always use an airtight container to store it.

Tip #5: How to Serve Kimchi

In Korea, kimchi is served with almost every meal and used as an ingredient to prepare dishes like jjigae, a traditional stew. Additionally, it’s also used to flavor pizza and noodles. The recipes above are two of the most basic recipes for kimchi. You can experiment with other vegetables and keep the process the same. 

Kimchi in a white bowl with a dark background top view.
Kimchi is delicious and good for you!


Kimchi has become a regular guest on the menus of restaurants and home dining. It’s delicious and ample with vitamins and minerals. During fermentation, it will develop complex flavors and nutrition. It will last a long time and is easy to prepare

So to answer the question: Does kimchi go bad? I would say it ripens rather than spoils. It’s naturally a sour and pungent-smelling dish, so unless you see visible molds and it smells weird, it’s safe to consume. Kimchi is quite beneficial for health and has survived the test of time. In essence, kimchi is living history!

You might also be interested in:

Can You Pickle Without Vinegar? 3 Myths Debunked

A pickling jar with cucumbers in brine surrounded by dill and cucumbers and a garlic.

Salt, water, and vinegar are known to be the key ingredients to pickling. There are other ways of pickling, like pickling without vinegar. How can you pickle without vinegar? 

You can pickle without vinegar with a process called Lacto-fermentation. It is easy to do and gives the signature sour taste that pickle lovers are after. Some people even like the taste of fermented pickles better!

Learn everything you need to know about pickling basics and how to pickle without vinegar. To top it all off, I will also debunk some pickling myths once and for all. So, let’s get started!

What is Pickling?

In essence, pickling is a process that extends the life of the food. You can pickle almost anything. One of the most common things that are pickled is cucumbers. You can also pickle:

  • meat
  • fish
  • eggs
  • fruits
  • dairy
  • vegetables

During the pickling process, the food’s color, taste, and texture will be affected. It is a very effective form of preservation.  

There are two popular methods of pickling:

  • using vinegar
  • fermentation in brine

#1: Vinegar Immersion Pickling

The basics of vinegar immersion pickling are simple. Heat up:

  • salt
  • water
  • vinegar
  • sometimes sugar

Then add vegetables and completely immerse in the solution. 

There are many variations of this process as well. One of the key distinctions of vinegar pickling is it does not include any fermentation. Also, over time the nutritional value of the food is lost as well. It is often preferred since it is the faster of the two processes

#2: Lacto-Fermentation Pickling

Another pickling process (and also the way to pickle without vinegar) is Lacto-fermentation. All you need for this method is salt and water. This process does not require canning or fancy equipment

Lacto-fermentation works well because harmful bacteria are not tolerant of salt, while good bacteria are. This process works in two stages:

  1. The first stage wipes out the bad bacteria. 
  2. In the second stage, the good bacteria take over and that is when the pickling starts.

NOTE: This process of pickling does not extend the shelf life of the food as much as the vinegar immersion process. 

Pickles in jars with brine surrounded by cucumbers and dill.
Lacto-fermentation is a way to make pickles without vinegar

How to Pickle Without Vinegar 

You will need to apply the second process of pickling I mentioned above. Lacto-fermentation is actually the traditional form of pickling. What surprises most people is that soaking pickles in vinegar is not pickling at all. 

When pickling without vinegar it allows the vegetable to be naturally fermented. This is a simple process with easy-to-follow steps. Here is what to do:

Step #1: Sanitize All Equipment

First, clean and sanitize all of the equipment. Let boiling water sit inside the fermentation jar to kill off any bacteria that might be in there. 

Step #2: Clean The Vegetables

Next, clean the vegetables and make sure they are free of dirt. Then prepare and put them inside the jar. Preparation tips:

  • use whole vegetables
  • cut or slice vegetables
  • peel root vegetables
  • leave the skin on cucumbers

Step #3: Make Salt Brine  

Salt is used in pickling for many reasons. For example, salt:

  • helps draw out water and sugar from the vegetables
  • adds to the beloved pickle taste
  • prevents bacteria from spreading

Make brine that is 5% salt. The ideal measure is 3 tablespoons of salt per quart of water. For a saltier taste, use 4 tablespoons of salt. Give the brine a good mix and pour it inside the jar to cover the vegetables.

NOTE: Read my article about the 5 best and worst salts to use for brine.

Step #4: Make The Vegetables Are Submerged

The brine should completely cover the vegetables. If needed, set a plate on top of the vegetables to keep them submerged. 

Cover the jar with a towel to keep bugs and dust out, and secure it with a rubber band.

Step #5: Leave The Jar to Ferment 

Set the jar in a cool dry place away from direct sunlight to ferment. The absolute minimum time is 1 week, but not more than 4 weeks. It is a good idea to give the pickles a taste now and then to see if you like the taste. If not, let it continue to ferment.

Lacto Fermentation Vs. Vinegar Pickling: Which Is Better?

Both are excellent methods of pickling. It all boils down to which you prefer. Let’s look at their benefits and drawbacks. 

Vinegar pickling is the easier of the two and has very consistent results. It can be kept at room temperature without going bad. The taste is simple and has fewer nutrients than fermented pickles. It is also hard to indicate spoiled pickles in the case of vinegar pickling. 

For Lacto-fermentation the taste is far more complex. It keeps the vitamins intact and supplies the gut with beneficial bacteria. It also doesn’t take as many jars as it would take to create the same number of vinegar-based pickles.

If fermented pickles go bad it’s easy to tell due to the pungent smell and bad taste. But, Lacto-fermentation is a far more complex process of pickling and has a much shorter shelf life.  

A jar of fermented pickles with a pickle sitting on top of it, top view.
Don’t believe these pickle myths!

3 Pickling Myths Busted

Here are 3 of the most common myths about pickling, and some facts.

Myth #1: The Salt Used in Pickling Increases Blood Pressure

The amount of salt used in pickling alone will have no adverse effects on your health or blood pressure. If you maintain a healthy lifestyle and follow a proper diet and exercise, your blood pressure will be at optimum levels even if you eat pickles.

Myth #2: Pickling Is Unhealthy

This cannot be further from the truth. Pickling is not unhealthy, it actually stores minerals and vitamins. You can even add two spoonfuls of pickle every day to tackle problems like bloating, and vitamin B12 or vitamin D deficiencies

Myth #3: You Cannot Pickle Without Vinegar

Well, after reading this article, there is nothing left there to say is there? You most definitely can pickle without vinegar! The Lacto-fermentation process is easy, although you will not get the long shelf life of foods compared to vinegar immersion pickling.


There you have it. A complete guide on how to pickle without vinegar. With Lacto-fermentation you can easily pickle without vinegar. While vinegar acts as a natural anti-bacterial solution, in lacto-fermentation you grow good bacteria in your food to protect it from the harmful ones.

You might also be interested in:

Can You Pickle Without Salt? Step-by-Step Guide

A jar of pickles top view surrounded by other pickles, spices, and garlic on a worn white wooden surface.

It’s hard to imagine pickles without salt. Salt, water, and spices are known to be key ingredients of pickling. For pickle lovers who need a low-salt diet, doing away with the salt would be a great thing. But is it even possible? Can you really pickle without salt? That is what I will be discussing here in this article. 

It is possible to pickle vegetables without salt with a 1:1 ratio of water and vinegar. This is the only way it is safe to consume and store the pickles for a length of time.

Even though it is possible, that doesn’t mean the pickles will taste the same. The quality and taste of the pickles will not be the best, so keep that in mind before following this guide.

Why Is Salt Used in Pickling?

It is widely known and accepted that to preserve any form of vegetables, we need salt. Salt is considered to be the core ingredient when it comes to preserving and pickling vegetables. But the question nevertheless remains: Why is salt needed for pickling in the first place?

Water, in any form, has the ability to damage or spoil fruits, vegetables, and many other types of food. In the presence of water, food has a significantly shortened lifespan.

The microorganism can grow and breed substantially in the presence of water. As a result, fruits and vegetables containing high levels of moisture will surely get infected by these microorganisms. In this circumstance, they will:

  • spoil
  • rot
  • have a very short lifespan

To prevent this, salt is introduced in the preservation and pickling of a wide range of fruits, vegetables, and other preserved foods.

Sodium chloride removes or sucks out excess water present in fruits and vegetables due to a natural phenomenon known as osmosis. When we put salt in pieces of vegetables in order to pickle them, the sodium chloride consumes the moisture until the pieces are dried out. Basically, it removes the excess moisture.

In the absence of water, bacteria will not be able to grow. It will no longer be able to breed and multiply and the pickles will be preserved for safe consumption. Thus, the salt acts as a preservative in the pickling of vegetables.

You may be wondering: What if microorganisms were already present before we even added the salt?

Not to frighten you, but this situation is very likely. However, it isn’t anything to worry about. Due to osmosis, the bacteria will lose water from their cytoplasm and die. This is exactly why we use salt for pickling in the first place!

What Happens When You Don’t Use Salt for Pickling?

As previously mentioned, salt is a core component in the act of preservation, thus a lack of it may result in negative or harmful outcomes in some cases. Even though there are a few alternative methods of picking which don’t require salt, there are a few things you should know before you begin a journey of no-salt pickling.

Not using salt will lower the shelf life of your pickle. We already covered how salt prevents bacteria and other microorganisms from breeding and potentially rotting the vegetables. In such cases, it should be a concern that once you lower the salt content, you will also be inviting the chances of harmful bacteria growing.

On that note, lowering the salt will also cause a fall in the acid content which will render the product unsafe to eat and the veggies will now be quick to spoil.

Also, I’m sure you can imagine that not using salt will drastically reduce the taste of your pickles. The addition of salt adds flavor to vegetables and raises the quality of pickles. Thus a lack of salt might result in pickles tasting not quite up to the mark.

Alternatives such as potassium chloride and acetic acid like vinegar can be used instead (find both on Amazon). Keep in mind that even though these partial replacements might be possible, they are not of very much effect. For them to reach the level of effectiveness that salt provides, they will need to be used in large quantities and in high concentrations.

Why Is It Important to Have a Low-Sodium Diet?

Consumption of salt is necessary but in low amounts. A high sodium intake can lead to severe health complications and future health problems. In order to prevent this, it is advised to have a low-sodium diet as a daily routine.

It is important to control the amount of fluid that we drink on a daily basis. Carrying extra fluid means that your heart is being forced to work harder. Later in life, consuming too much salt can lead to high blood pressure and hypertension.

For patients with previous heart complications or congestive heart failure, adding more salt to their diet will cause fluid to be retained in their bodies. As a result, they can experience shortness of breath and chest pains.

Such a cause may even lead to hospitalization if not taken care of properly. So it is always highly advised to reduce salt intake.

NOTE: Even if it plays only a small part, salt-free pickling will reduce your daily intake of sodium chloride; decreasing the chances of complications from too much salt.

A jar of small pickles with peppercorns surrounding along with fresh dill.
With vinegar, it is possible to pickle without salt

When Is It Absolutely Necessary to Use Salt for Pickling?

According to research done by The USDA (2015), it is stated that even though adding salt is a necessity when it comes to pickling vegetables, salt can be avoided with means of vinegar. So following a vinegar-based recipe will produce better quality salt-free pickles which will be closer to the real thing.

HOT TIP: Make a smaller batch of salt-free pickles first to make sure you like them before moving on to larger quantities.

Start by submerging the vegetables in vinegar in order to acidify them. Make sure to follow a tested recipe or the step-by-step guide will be provided for you in this article. Even though the texture and quality might not be quite the same, it will be safe to eat.

It’s important to be very cautious even when fermenting vegetables without salt. The use of salt is crucial here as it prevents the spread of harmful microbes while favoring the desired bacteria. This is why salt is a must when fermenting vegetables.

 For example, The National Center for Home Food Preservation states that not only does salt add flavor to the pickles, but it is also an important component that adds to the pickles’ texture and the safety concerns of its consumers. Salt is extremely important in the safe preservation of these food items.

Researchers at the University of Wisconsin have also provided evidence and cautioned the public that it is highly dangerous to alter or make any changes in the amount of salt in fermented pickles. The concentration is vital as any fluctuations will result in harmful bacteria which will spoil the vegetable.

To prevent such spoilage from occurring, it is crucial to make sure that the amount of sodium chloride is up to the required level when making fermented vegetables. In such cases, the omission of salt is not even in question. 

As we also mentioned, the use of potassium chloride or vinegar as alternatives to salt should not be used when dealing with fermented pickles. If you’re still bent on lowering the sodium content of fermented pickles, one way to do so would be to wash and rinse the pickle before consumption.

This way, you will be getting rid of the excess salt in the pickle just before you eat them. Make sure to do this before eating and not before canning, otherwise, the acid content will fall and thus it will result in a higher pH level which means that the pickles will be unsafe to eat and quick to spoil.

What’s the point of reducing your salt intake if it results in your demise? So be mindful before you move on to the pickling process.

NOTE: Is pickling and fermenting the same thing? Read my article to learn all you need to know!

There have been a few breakthroughs and some researchers have observed that it may be possible to bring in a substitute when dealing with fermented vegetables. 

But the risks remain the same as several tests would be required to determine the quantities of the ingredients needed. These tests are to be carried out by certified professionals, so it is impossible for an amateur home pickle maker.

There is no funding for research so the chances are slim that such alternatives will make their way to our kitchens in the right quantities.

The alternatives will need to be in higher amounts to have the same functionality as salt. It is highly advised that you don’t reduce the salt quantity of your fermented or brined veggies until there has been proper:

  • funding
  • research
  • testing
Top view pickled radishes in a jar, with whole fresh radishes surrounding.
Radishes can be pickled with vinegar instead of salt

Step-by-Step Guide on A Salt-free Method of Pickling

Now that you know that pickling can be done without salt, let’s learn how to actually do it. Below shows a step-by-step guide on how to pickle your vegetables:

Ingredients for No-Salt Pickles

Most of these ingredients can easily be purchased on Amazon.

Food You Can Pickle: 

  • cucumbers
  • whole bananas
  • cauliflower 
  • onions 
  • sliced cucumbers
  • radish
  • carrots 

Almost every type of vegetable can be pickled if you have the recipe for it. 

The Pickling Process 

  1. Invest in a mason jar as you’ll be putting all your ingredients there. Make sure it’s quart-sized with a wide mouth, like this one on Amazon. 
  2. Once you’ve finished washing the vegetables, cut and put them inside the mason jar.
  3. In a saucepan, warm all the ingredients above. Stir the mixture until it comes to a simmer, then turn the stove to low heat.
  4. Once the mixture is ready, carefully pour it into the mason jar over the vegetables to submerge them in the hot liquid.
  5. Refrigerate the pickles for at least 4-5 hours so that they can properly marinate.
  6. Or, tighten the lid and keep it in the fridge for a month so it will taste more like the real thing.

NOTE: To make dill pickles add garlic, herbs, and some peppers to the jar.

This is just one method, any recipe that requires more vinegar than water will be helpful in preparing pickles without the need for adding any salt to the mixture. As a rule, always remember that a no-salt pickle will only be safe to consume if it contains at least the same amounts of vinegar and water.

If a recipe calls for ¼ cup of water, make sure that the amount of vinegar is ¼ cup or more. In some cases, vinegar might be the only ingredient required in your recipe.

A jar of pickled cauliflower next to a whole head of cauliflower.
To reduce salt in your diet, try pickling veggies with vinegar!


Pickling without salt might be a challenge for some but when done properly, it can help reduce added salt in your diet.

Make sure to follow the instructions carefully, and don’t take any risks with fermented vegetables as it will lead to health complications. So can you pickle without salt? The answer is yes!

You might also be interested in:

No Salt? Ferment Your Food Anyway!

Lemons fermenting in salt.

Preserving food using salt has been in practice for centuries now, and it plays a central role in fermenting foods. If you’ve been browsing the internet and looking for fermentation recipes, you’ll see how often the core ingredient is salt. However, using salt is not a necessity. How do you ferment foods without salt?

Some alternatives to salt are:

  • celery
  • whey
  • seaweed
  • probiotic capsules

Salt is mainly used for flavor and inhibiting harmful bacterial growth. If you ferment foods without salt, they might be sour-tasting and have unsafe bacteria, so caution is advised when fermenting without salt. 

NOTE: If you’re on a doctor’s mandated low-sodium diet, consult with them before adding sodium-rich or fermented foods to your diet.

Learn how to ferment foods without salt in a step-by-step process, along with:

  • alternatives
  • useful tips
  • why you might need to add a little bit of salt even if you want to skip it 

Is Salt Necessary for Fermentation? 

Salt is needed to ferment vegetables as it slows down the fermentation process and enzyme activities. In lacto-fermentation, the lactobacillus bacteria (a beneficial preservative), convert lactose and other glucose into lactic acid. 

This organism creates an acidic environment that gives the good bacteria an upper hand and overwhelms the bad bacteria. Additionally, pectins make vegetables crispy, and salt will harden them

Slowing the fermentation process down is especially advantageous in a hot climate, or if you can’t refrigerate the fermented food. As salt is a flavor enhancer, it will also make the fermented food taste much better!

Using a brine solution, which is simply a saltwater solution, will preserve food for a prolonged period. Salt inhibits undesirable fungi and other microorganisms that are naturally present in foods. During fermentation, it will also draw out water from the vegetable’s plant tissues. 

TIP: Read my article about the 5 best salts to use in a brine solution here!

Salt also preserves the vitamin content and makes the food rich in nutrients.

For safe fermentation, salt is essential. 

Can You Ferment Food Without Salt?

Adding salt is not always essential when it comes to fermenting food. Some foods need less salt naturally, depending on the nature of the vegetable and culture type. Foods containing high doses of moisture will need less salt, comparatively than food that doesn’t retain much water

Cucumbers in jars with a lemon slice, garlic, dill, and liquid.
There are alternatives to fermenting without salt

Although salt inhibits bacteria, another option is to inoculate the vat with good bacteria and decide not to add salt. The good bacteria function in the same way as salt as it multiplies rapidly and crowds the bacteria out by decreasing the pH

In most cases, fermented food will be safe to consume if you don’t add salt, but the flavoring will be a little off and it will taste kind of sour. However, you might have to use a pinch of salt even if you feel like leaving it out altogether. 

There are plenty of alternatives and ways to ferment food without salt, and here are some necessary prerequisites to do so. 

#1: Fermenting in a Cold Environment

As I’ve mentioned before, salt inhibits the rate of fermentation and slows it down. To skip adding salt, you’ll have to consider fermenting in cooler weather to slow the fermentation process. 

An unheated room or a cold basement works best to ferment food at a slow rate and gives the tissue of the vegetable time to colonize with the good bacteria

#2: Using Starter Cultures

The natural rotting process is slowed by using salt so mold and other harmful bacteria won’t feed on the vegetables. The sodium will also absorb moisture and juices from it. If you add a starter culture, the good bacteria will multiply rapidly and perform the same function as salt

Liquid from a previous batch of fermented vegetables can function as the starter culture. Another option could also be whey from yogurt or cheese. Aside from enhancing the rapid crowding of the bacteria, the starter culture will also shift the pH in the ferment to an acidic level. 

NOTE: This step does not have an alternative if you’re using reduced salt or not using salt at all. Make sure to add a good starter culture.

#3: Using Vegetables with High Sodium

Some vegetables have higher amounts of sodium than others. For salt-reduced fermentation, use vegetables that have the necessary sodium levels to ensure a safe fermentation. 

Sea vegetables are rich in sodium and other minerals like:

  • magnesium
  • iron
  • iodine
  • phosphorus

Use these vegetables sparingly during fermentation. The sodium present in these vegetables is more straightforward to utilize than the ones that are typically fermented. 

Some examples of sodium-rich vegetables are:

  • celery
  • kelp
  • dulse
  • spinach
  • beets
  • carrots
  • Chinese cabbage
  • red and green cabbage
  • parsley
  • coriander

#4: Chop the Vegetables in Small Pieces

Chopping the vegetables into smaller pieces will expose more surface area to the bacteria. You can also use a kraut pounder (sold on Amazon) to make the leaves release more juice. 

Sometimes, adding salt can cause the ferment to fail because it is necessary to use just the right amount. You can’t use too much or too little, and the amount depends on several factors. 

The process of making a fermented dish without salt is not so different from the ones that do use salt. You’ll need to add these four steps to have a successful batch of the fermented dish and reduce salt. 

How to Make Kimchi Without Salt

Here’s a delicious traditional kimchi recipe without salt for you to have a basic understanding of how to ferment foods without salt. 

This dish uses celery and a starter culture instead of salt in regular kraut. It’s a spicy, sour, lemony, and fresh version of the conventional Korean cabbage kimchi. Going salt-free may be a bit riskier, so I recommend attempting this recipe in winter. Also, it’s best if you monitor the whole process

A half of a cabbage next to a bowl of kimchi on a wood cutting board.
Kimchi can be made without salt

No Salt Kimchi Ingredients

  1. Two cups of Chinese cabbage, sliced finely 
  2. Five peeled garlic cloves 
  3. One peeled and chopped onion 
  4. Five finely chopped celery stalks 
  5. Five peeled and coarsely grated carrots 
  6. Raw ginger, peeled and grated (2-inches) 
  7. Two finely chopped and seeded hot peppers 
  8. Daikon radish, peeled, and grated (4-inch)
  9. A bunch of finely chopped parsley 
  10. 11 grams of dried dulse 
  11. Half a cup of juice from a previously fermented batch 

No Salt Kimchi Recipe 

  1. First, wash and finely slice the cabbage and place it in a large non-metallic bowl. Add the other prepared vegetables and combine them in the bowl and mix until combined. 
  1. Put the vegetables inside a sanitized mason jar and press them with a kraut pounder to release all the juice. Once the juice rises to the top, place a cabbage leaf over the mixture to ensure that it’s not exposed to air. Then, secure and lock the lid. 
  1. The bacterial cultures will ensure the shift towards an acidic environment without the salt. The contents of the ferment should become more acidic and ready within five days. 
  1. After five to seven days, refrigerate the kimchi, which should have a more tangy flavor and be free of active bubbles. Kimchi will keep in the refrigerator for about a year without losing quality. 

Pros And Cons Of Fermenting Without Salt 

There are several pros of fermenting without salt. Fermented food adds depth to your diet, even without added salt. Too much salt can cause a risk of:

  • high blood pressure
  • stroke
  • heart disease
  • headaches

Here are a few benefits of eating fermented foods without added salt:

Pros of Fermenting Without Salt

  1. Fermented foods boost the immune system and digestive systems. 
  2. Fermented food is an excellent addition to your diet. They are rich in probiotics and nutrients.
  3. Fermented foods taste great

Some experts don’t recommend eliminating salt in a ferment because many things can go wrong if it’s not done properly. Too little salt or no salt at all in a ferment has risks.

Here are the issues you might face if you don’t add any salt:

Cons of Fermenting Without Salt

  1. Harmful fungi, bad bacteria, and yeast that produces alcohol can breed.
  2. The probiotic effect can be lost, which is what protects the vegetables and makes the dish rich in nutrients. 
  3. It’s difficult to determine if the fermented dish is safe to consume.

HOT TIP: Avoid these outcomes by using alternatives to salt. The other options will provide a similar, if not identical, environment for developing lactic acid bacteria and still ensure the protective probiotics in the ferment. 

Alternatives to Salt for Fermenting Food 

If you don’t have salt in your home or avoid using it, fermenting is still an option with some of the alternatives mentioned in this section. While it’s difficult to guarantee success with salt alternatives, these three should work to make a ferment that is safe to consume

Chopped up celery on a wood plate, some full celery stalks, and a cup of green celery juice.
Use celery or celery juice as a salt alternative

#1: Celery for Fermenting

Celery is an excellent alternative to salt. It’s naturally rich in sodium, with 80 mg of sodium per 100 grams. 

Finely chop the celery and add five stalks to every quart of other vegetables. If you are more comfortable with using celery juice, use five stalks to make it and add to the fermenting vegetables

#2: Seaweed as a Salt Alternative

Seaweed is the second alternative to salt with high sodium doses. Some types of seaweed to use are:

  • dulse
  • kelp
  • bladderwrack

Dry the seaweed before using it to ferment. Dried kelp and dulse contain 4,457 mg and 1,743 mg of sodium per 100 grams. 

Add a half cup of dried seaweed to the fermenting vegetables. These ingredients will contribute sodium and other minerals necessary for nourishing good bacteria and reducing the growth of undesirable ones. You can get seaweed at your local herb store

#3: Whey Instead of Salt to Ferment

As whey is a dairy-based product, it may not work for everyone, but it is undoubtedly an excellent salt alternative. Add half a cup of whey from cheese, or strain yogurt to make yogurt cheese and reserve the whey.

The whey will crowd out the harmful bacteria and inoculate the vegetables in your fermented dish with beneficial Lacto bacteria. Make sure that the whey is fresh and properly strained.

#4: Probiotic Capsules for Fermenting

I’ve already mentioned how salt ensures the presence of protective probiotics in fermented food which has health benefits. You can also ensure this effect with the use of probiotic capsules

To use this alternative, you will have to add three probiotic supplement capsule contents to every quart of vegetables in the preparation stage. The tablets will inoculate the vat.

#5: Dried Yogurt Culture as a Salt Alternative

If you’re familiar with making yogurt at home, you know already that you’ll need to begin with a starter culture. You can use this very culture to protect the fermented vegetables

You’ll need to mix half a teaspoon of culture with half a cup of water and mix this solution in every quart of fragmented veggies. Another option is to use a half cup of liquid from a successful batch of fermented vegetables. 

#6: Other Fermented Liquids

You can use water kefir or kombucha as a starter culture for fermenting foods. Make sure that these ingredients are unflavored and finished. About ¼ cup of liquid should do a good job inoculating the vegetables for fermenting.   

#7: Freeze-Dried Culture

Some freeze-dried cultures are appropriate to use without the addition of salt. For the best results using this alternative, make sure to follow the instructions thoroughly. Also, make sure to choose the best quality freeze-dried culture (I like this one from Amazon). 

Some Useful Tips On Using Salt Alternatives 

There’s almost always room for substitution in a recipe, no matter what the fermentation recipe demands. Here are a few pointers to successfully make these substitutions:

  1. Use a starter culture from a previous ferment. Whey, water kefir, or brine can be used interchangeably in a new ferment.  
  2. To use pre-packaged culture, substitute the salt. Every quart of fermented vegetables needs about a couple of teaspoons of salt or ¼ a cup of liquid starter
  3. Fruit, salsa, condiments, and chutney don’t require as much salt as some vegetables, so they can be made without salt or with an alternative to salt
Kefir in a glass on a wood surface, a wooden spoon is resting on top of the glass with kefir grains in it.
Use kefir as a starter culture for a new ferment

Is It Safe to Ferment Without Salt? 

If you’re not using salt, you’ll need to use a starter culture to ferment food. It is possible to ferment without salt, but experts don’t recommend it as there’s a chance that harmful bacteria may not die without the salt

Foods fermented without salt might not taste as delicious either. The cultures and other salt alternatives may successfully eliminate the harmful bacteria but can’t compensate for the taste of the ferment

If you try fermenting food without salt, don’t skip any of the prerequisites as each method is important for food safety.  


If you want to prepare a fermented dish without salt, start small. Experiment with the flavors and see what you like about the salt-free fermented dish. Fermented food without salt is excellent for those on a low-sodium diet but still want probiotic benefits

You might also be interested in: