This is the question that I get asked the most in my cultured food workshops. People are always stumped as to how cultured vegetables will stay fresh and safe if they don’t contain salt. The short answer is that they do.
The cultured vegetables that I refer to are fairly new to our modern day culture. Yet, they’re really a long lost food that we’re bringing back to the dining room table! Everyone knows what sauerkraut is and many people eat it to get their daily dose of probiotics.
Here’s the thing…’sauerkraut’ (German for ‘sour cabbage’) didn’t originally contain salt. It was only when natives of Poland, Germany, and Russia began to travel to America by ship and added salt to preserve the kraut for the long travels. Somehow this way of doing it stuck.
Donna Gates, the founder of Body Ecology Diet (B.E.D.), is reviving and re-introducing the art of making unsalted cultured food like milk kefir, cultured vegetables, young coconut kefir, and cultured butter. This is who taught me how to make them and now years later I still do, along with teaching others how to make them. They’re absolute jewels and I don’t know how we did without them for so long ✨
Many people are rightfully concerned that consuming probiotic food made without salt will cause botulism; a rare but serious illness caused by a bacteria called Clostridium botulinum. Botulism is well known in our culture because of the popular method of canning food.
Unfortunately, Clostridium botulinum is a type of bacteria that has a high tolerance to heat. Add to that is the fact that these little guys thrive in such an anaerobic environment, which is what these botulism- causing bacteria require to grow and reproduce. This means that long after you’ve canned, these bacteria can survive and cause botulism.
The good flora in cultured food stops the growth of the botulism-producing bacteria.
On the contrary, unsalted cultured vegetables are made with potent strains of probiotic starter that multiply as they culture and take over any pathogenic activity in the jar. We also use a sterile, controlled method to prevent wild-borne and/or unknown organisms to enter.
When vegetables are cultured, we introduce a large native population of good bacteria which are cultivated to encourage their growth and high production of acids. In this circumstance botulism is not a worry because the bacteria that produce botulism are not able to live in such an acidic environment full of hearty probiotic strains.
Cultured food creates an acidic environment that will not allow botulism-producing bacteria to grow.
When you submerge cabbage, or other vegetables under liquid that has probiotics added into – acidifying bacteria have the opportunity to grow. These beneficial, acidifying bacteria are a brilliant strategy for food preservation and food safety because they create an environment that is inhospitable to botulism or other food poisoning organisms.
The things that can go wrong when you make unsalted, cultured food are typically ones that you can observe with the naked eye; such as surface mold, slimy textures and mushy texture. These things would stop you from wanting to eat the food in the first place!
Why to Hold the Salt in Sauerkraut
Recipe for Young Green Coconut Kefir
More benefits of Unsalted Probiotic Food
Beginner’s recipe for Unsalted Cultured Vegetables
Alfaro, Danilo (2012) Clostridium Botulinum (Botulism). Online and retrieved from http://culinaryarts.about.com/od/commonfoodbornepathogens/p/botulism.htm
Katz, Sandor Ellix (2008, July) Can I Get Botulism from Fermented Vegetables? Online and retrieved from http://www.wildfermentation.com/
PubMed Health (2011, July) Botulism. Online and retrieved from
Disclaimer: Content on this site in the form of opinions, ideas, recipes, and dietary advice are provided for general information only; primarily educational in nature; and should not be treated as a substitute for your doctor’s medical advice or another health professional that you, the reader, may require for any cause whatsoever, now or in future. Always consult a doctor regarding any health issue that you have and keep him or her informed as to the opinions, ideas, recipes, and dietary advice offered on this site that you find useful.
May all bellies be happy!