Probably the most asked question to me about making kimchi or sauerkraut is about salt levels. How much salt should one add to their ferment? My experience tells me that there isn’t a single perfect ratio. It depends upon a few factors, with the most important variable being personal taste. If you like or dislike salt, adjust your levels to whatever pleases you. Salt is not even necessary to make vegetable ferments, because the cultures are already on the vegetables. Sandor Katz covers this in his Fermentation Workshop DVD.
1/2 Tablespoon Salt Per Pound of Vegetables
I met someone who attended a fermentation competition. While he was there he chatted up a lot of the competitors and tasted their recipes. He shared with me that the most common salt ratio used today is 1/2 tablespoon per pound of vegetables. This is lower than what it was just years ago. I like this ratio as a starting point and I never go lower, because the result lacks the flavor and texture I enjoy. If you are salt sensitive, by all means, go lower.
There are a few cases where I will increase this salt ratio.
- Spicier – I’ve made kimchi over 100 times. When I was trying to increase the heat, I kept adding more Korean red pepper flakes but it didn’t seem to stay on my tongue. The spiciness of the kimchi was disappearing too fast. When I increased the salt level from 1/2 to 3/4 Tablespoon per pound, I found I could use less Korean red pepper flakes for the spicy level that was more consistent. If you want your ferment to hold the heat better, my advice is to slightly increase the salt level.
- Warm Kitchen – Once summer hits and our fermenting environment gets warm, I like to increase the salt level. This will slow down the ferment and allow more flavor to develop. It never gets too hot in Seattle, so my upper limit in August is 3/4 Tablespoon per pound. Play with this ratio and dial in what works best for you.
- More Crunchy – Increase your salt ratio if you are making ferments that aren’t crunchy enough for your taste. More salt = more crunchy.
- Long Storage – If you are storing your ferments inside the refrigerator this won’t apply. However, if you keep your ferments in a cellar or basement and you wish to keep them longer, add more salt. The role of salt is to preserve the food and slow the ferment. If you are keeping the food for months, striving for a longer ferment should be your goal. That means more salt. How much will depend upon how long you are keeping the ferment, what is in the ferment, and the storage temperature. Taste as you go and take notes.
If you want the benefits of higher salt levels, but are impatient and want to speed up your ferments, the trick is to add anti-microbial ingredients. Garlic, ginger, peppers, and especially dill will increase the speed of the ferment. At the same salt level, I’ve taken 4 weeks to make sauerkraut using juniper berries and only 6 days using dill.
Making some ferments.