Lacto-fermented Zucchini Sticks

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Why ferment cucumbers and squash, rather than just pickle them? Lacto-fermented vegetables are more nutritious and, I think, much more tasty. Pickles, to me, have always been one of those “take it or leave it” foods. But I love fermented vegetables. Up until a hundred years ago, or so, much food was preserved through fermentation. But canning and vinegar pickling are more shelf stable and more suited to the modern grocery store. But we have lost so much in the area of nutrition. In The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Fermenting FoodsWardeh Harmon says:

Traditional fermentation yields extremely nutritious foods. In contrast, modern pickled foods are essentially dead. No time or organisms are allowed to work on the food to yield beneficial acids, to create more nutrients, or to break down hard-to-digest food substances. When subjected to high-heat canning or pasteurization, vitamins, enzymes, and beneficial organisms are lost. White vinegar, used in modern pickling, is an overly acidic food with no nutritional benefits. By contrast, the acids produced by traditional fermentation are nutritious.

Bubbling caused by the fermentation process

The other benefit is that fermenting is so much easier than canning. And on a hot summer day when I’ve spent the morning in the garden harvesting, I do not want to spend the afternoon in a hot kitchen. Fermented vegetables are not cooked and enzymes are not destroyed. And I do not break a sweat preserving food this way.

So, here is how I ferment summer squash: I cut the squash into sticks or rounds that will easily fit into a wide mouth canning jar leaving about 2″ at the top. I fill the jar pushing down on the vegetables as necessary. Then I make a brine by mixing 3 T sea salt with 4 cups of filtered water. Do not use chlorinated water, which will hinder the fermentation process. I thoroughly mix the brine and pour over the squash in the canning jar leaving at least an inch at the top. I sometimes add a few cloves of garlic, or chunks of onion. A few red pepper flakes are also a nice addition. To keep the squash crisp, a grape or oak leaf may be added. I then use a glass canning lid to weigh down the vegetables to be sure they are kept under the brine. A well scrubbed stone or a small bag filled with brine may also be used. I cover with my DIY airlock and put in a dark spot (ie. a kitchen cabinet) for 3 – 5 days. If you don’t have an airlock system you can cover loosely so that gases can escape. Yes, this process can cause an explosion. After 3 -5 days, I then refrigerate. The fermented vegetables will keep for months in the refrigerator.

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  1. says

    As a recovering alcoholic, I have been researching the fermented foods process and products to examine whether they have alcohol content after the fermenting process. Since I nor my husband do not consume alcohol in any form, I do not want to pursue this food preservation process if alcohol is present after the process. My alcoholism is caused by an allergy to alcohol that creates a physical craving for more alcohol once any amount of alcohol is consumed, eventually ending in an inability to stop drinking until after that craving has been satisfied ending either in a blackout, or passing out. I have successfully stayed sober one day at a time for years by abstaining completely from alcohol consuption, by God’s grace & other spiritual support. Have you encountered any information as you are pursuing fermentation regarding the alcohol content of fermented foods? Also, while researching, I came across this file I thought you might find interesting. Such an interesting post and it is a fascinating process: I also wondered what people did to store the fermented food before there was refrigeration?

    • says

      ooops……..I guess that link just takes you to my search results: This is the result I clicked on you will hopefully find on that page:

      (Download) · PPT file

      Fermented Foods Foods that have been … Increase its vitamin content or its digestibility compared to the raw materials. Fermented Foods … production Acid and alcohol …

      • susanv says

        This is a great question, Lois. I am, of course, no expert in this area. Here is my understanding. Yeast is generally necessary to convert sugars to alcohol. According to Sally Fallon (Nourishing Traditions), the main by-product of lacto fermentation is lactic acid. “Lactic acid not only keeps vegetables and fruits in a state of perfect preservation but also promotes the growth of healthy flora throughout the intestine. Other alchemical by-products include hydrogen peroxide and small amounts of benzoic acid.” I suppose that alcohol could be formed under certain circumstances and I would stick with fermenting vegetables and stay away from fruit. Is there a way you could test afterwards to see if any alcohol was present?

        If I’m not mistaken, the benefits of lacto fermentation, like added B vitamins and beneficial bacteria are exactly what an alcoholic’s body needs. Keep researching Lois, and let me know what you find.

        Oh, “back in the day”, people stored their fermented veggies, etc. in root cellars.

        • says

          Thanks, Susan. The link I posted was very informative about the lacto process, but it didn’t really address the alcohol question, except that it listed beer and wine as fermented food. I had looked at the Nourshed Kitchen blog a few months ago, and wasn’t real sure about the answer there, either. I thought about that, a way to test it, but I think what you said about yeast makes sense (I hadn’t remebered that as an ingredient), also the absence of sugar in the vegetable process should prevent it from turning to alcohol. I just thought you might have come across the topic during your research. Thanks for getting back to me. I want to try fermenting! lol This post demonstrated it to be so much easier than canning!! And now I find out, after all these years, healthier. Oh well, you live – you learn :) Have a good week.

      • David says

        I did some research for you and it is possible that Lacto-fermented foods could contain some alcohol as a byproduct of fermentation, even without yeast present. Here is some information and the sources are at the end:

        From Wikipedia article on Picking:
        “When both salt concentration and temperature are low, Leuconostoc mesenteroides dominates, producing a mix of acids, alcohol, and aroma compounds.”
        “At higher temperatures Lactobacillus plantarum dominates, which produces primarily lactic acid. Many pickles start with Leuconostoc, and change to Lactobacillus with higher acidity.”

        From MicrobeWiki, the student-edited microbiology resource:
        Leuconostocs, like other LAB, do not contain a tricarboxylic acid cycle or a cytochrome system and so cannot derive energy from oxidative phosphorylation. Instead, they obtain energy through substrate level phosphorylation, during the fermentation of sugars to lactic acid, ethanol or acetate, and C02.

        “Leuconostoc mesenteroides is described as a heterofermenter, because it produces many products during fermentation. These products include lactic acid, carbon dioxide, acetate and ethanol.”

        “The lactic acid bacteria belong to two main groups – the homofermenters and the heterofermenters. The pathways of lactic acid production differ for the two. Homofermenters produce mainly lactic acid, via the glycolytic (Embden–Meyerhof) pathway). Heterofermenters produce lactic acid plus appreciable amounts of ethanol, acetate and carbon dioxide, via the 6-phosphoglucanate/phosphoketolase pathway. ”

        I believe that if the pickling process is allowed to continue, the Lactobacillus bacteria may consume ethanol produced by Leuconostoc, converting it into acids, however I haven’t found anything to substantiate this, and so if you absolutely must avoid all traces of alcohol, it appears that brine fermented foods may not be safe for you. Unfortunately the only way to find out for sure would be to eat some Lacto-fermented pickles. Best wishes, David

  2. Lisa C says

    I’m making this tonight! Was trying to figure out what to do with all this zucchini I have. Fermenting is so great for when you have a little extra veggies that you know you aren’t going to eat before they go bad.

    • susanv says

      Let me know what you think. I haven’t fermented grated zucchini although I do grated cabbage and grated carrots. Love them all!

  3. says

    Hi, I found this post through Frugally Sustainable. I’ve never attempted fermentation before, but I’ve been hearing lots about it and want to give it a try. I have city water, which probably has chlorine in it, and I was wondering if you could make a recommendation for me on what kind of water to use. I do have a filter in the fridge – not sure if that gets the chlorine out or not. I’ve also read that you can let water set out for 10 hours and the chlorine will evaporate out. What do you think?

    • susanv says

      Hi Jeannine, thanks for visiting! I think it’s great that you are considering fermentation. It’s really easy and the health benefits are fantastic. At minimum, I would consider something like a Brita water pitcher or faucet filter to get the chlorine out of your water, but be sure to change the filter regularly. The filter in your frig probably removes chorine, but when was the last time you changed it? The other option would be to purchase spring water. Letting the water sit uncovered would allow the chlorine to evaporate, although I would probably go with 24 hours. As you are able, I would invest in a better filter system since it would remove even more than just the chlorine. If you have been drinking water with chlorine you have been killing good bacteria in your gut, and fermentation would help to repopulate it, as long as you don’t continue with the chlorinated water. Thanks again for the great question!

  4. says

    Susan, Have you ever had an explosion with mason jars? I never have. I’m still not sold on the air-lock stuff although I am open to it in the future (should I have an issue). My ferments seem to come out fine. Just curious.

    • susanv says

      Hi Jen. Before I made my airlock system, I did not use mason jars. I used an old crock. The ferments were great, but they sometimes had a scum on the top, or even mold, and I had to toss a layer of my good veggies. But I’ve heard a number of bloggers say that they have had explosions with the glass jars. Do you put a lid on the jars and tighten them, or keep them loose? There seems to be disagreement about that.

      • Rochie says

        Hi Jen, I use ordinary jars with metal lids with the pop-up centres. I keep my ferments on the counter top and vary the tightness of the lid depending on how fast the vegies are fermenting. If the lid looks like it is starting to bulge, I loosen the lid just a little. I like to have it so there’s a quiet hissing of gas escaping if I put the jar to my ear.

        Thanks for the recipe, Susan, just getting our main zucchini glut here in Australia now.

  5. Cheryl says

    I have wanted to try fermenting vegetables. Can well water be used for this and can you ferment other veggies the same way, like peppers and carrots?

    • susanv says

      Hi Cheryl, well water would be just fine. I’ve fermented snow peas and green beans this way. I haven’t tried peppers or carrots, but yes, you could use this method. I have fermented grated carrots and cabbage, but the method is just slightly different. You don’t use a brine, but rather you salt the grated vegetables and then mash them with your hands (it’s a bit of work), or a kraut masher until enough liquid is formed to keep the veggies covered in the jar.

    • susanv says

      Haha, I like that – “not on purpose”. Adding grape, oak, or raspberry leaves helps to keep the ferments crisp, although I don’t generally use them. We eat ours up so fast they don’t have time to get soggy!

  6. Robert says

    Do you have to put them in the fridge? Or can I just leave them at room temperature, its usually 70 degrees where I live (san jose) is there a danger if i leave it out?

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  8. says

    It is a really good read for me, Must say that that you’re among the best bloggers I ever saw.Thank you for publishing this informative article. Cheers!

  9. patti says


    a newbie with lacto-fermentation…i made the zucchini spears and dilly beans with this process. the dilly beans look great! the zucchini however has an ivory sediment that looks like it’s growing by the day….i am guessing it failed? if so, why?


    • Susan says

      Hi Patti, First you need to determine if what you see is mold. Mold generally will grow on the top of the veggies. In general, even mold may be skimmed off and the vegetables may still be good. Most ferments do get a milky film on them and this is perfectly fine. Smell the zucchini and take a very small bite. You will know if it is bad, I assure you.

  10. J says

    Thanks for the article. Will store-bought regular vegetables have sufficient good bacteria on them after thoroughly washing to ferment properly, or should one add a starter like apple cider vinegar with the mother to get the process moving along?

    • Susan says

      Hi J! Yes, I’ve had success using organic, store-bought vegetables for my ferments. Vinegar is never used for fermentation. Some people use whey (the liquid strained from yogurt or milk kefir). I’m not a fan of the taste when whey is used, although you would then use less salt and some people prefer that.

  11. Alice says

    Hi there,

    Can fermentation still occur in cold temperatures? Or does it have to be around 25 degrees C ?

    If so, any recommendations to how I can get the temperation higher and maintain at this temperature for the whole duration of the ferment?


    • Susan says

      Alice, so sorry I missed getting back to you on your question. Vegetables generally need a cool room temperature – between 10 – 25 C.. Mold often forms in warmer weather. Even after refrigerating, fermentation will continue, but at a much slower rate.

  12. Wendy Packan says

    When you add the oak, grape or raspberry leaf, do they need to be rinsed or other preparation? I am assuming you would not used a pickled grape leaf.

    • Susan Vinskofski says

      Hi Wendy, I don’t really think it’s necessary to rinse the leaves as long as they haven’t been on the ground, etc. But if you prefer to, that’s fine as well. Just be sure not to use chlorinated water. If by pickled, you mean lacto-fermented, that would be fine. Otherwise, no.

  13. Jaslyn says

    Not sure if this thread is still active,… but,..
    I was wondering why it has to be kept in the fridge?
    I know cabbage does not need to be kept in the fridge, just in a barrel or crock etc.
    Is it because of the water addition used, compared to the cabbage making its’ own juice?

    • Susan Vinskofski says

      Hi Jaslyn, Well our ancestors would have kept that crock of cabbage in their root cellar. For us, that cold storage is the refrigerator. If you have another cool area, that would work, too. But in the heat of summer, I know my ferments would mold in my kitchen after a while.


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