Measuring and Using Salt in Fermenting — 60 Comments

  1. HI Ted, This post was very informative. If you have an opportunity, I would love to hear you weigh in about using liquid from older ferments to boost new ones. I’ve read in a lot of places on line that people use that old liquid similarly to how whey is used, but I can’t find any definitive information about how much, and whether that changes the amount of salt you use. Any thoughts? Thanks. Sam

    • If I might be of assistance…you can use actively fermenting brine to inoculate other types of ferments, but there is no need to inoculate a new lacto ferment with active brine, because you don’t need to add anything to induce fermentation in a lacto project. However, if you wanted to do something a little weird, like ferment in a spice paste or something that isn’t likely to start fermenting without a little help, you can use active lacto brine to get the fermentation going. Hope this helps!

  2. Hi, I don’t have access to sea salt…However plenty of natural black rock salt available…Will that work for fermenting?

    Thank you…

  3. Thanks Viviek for your question. I haven’t tried fermenting with black rock salt, but I imagine it would work fine. My understanding is that it has a little less sodium than other salts so perhaps a little extra might help. It can have a bit of a sulfuric smell to it, so that will simply be a choice for you to make. Might be a nice flavour enhancement in the Shivakraut, Indian Spiced Cauliflower or Dosa recipes.

    If you try it, please let us know how it goes.

  4. Hi Ted, I have a batch of cucumbers that have been fermenting now for three weeks in a 5% brine using sea salt at room temperature. The issue I am having is that they are very salty but don’t seem to fermenting or souring. Do you have any ideas why they aren’t souring and what I can do to correct it? Thanks

  5. Great page! I’m very much look forward to future emails from you. Is there a quantity error above? 960 grams of salt per 4 cups of water?

    In wellness

  6. Hi Ted. I was just wondering if you’ve ever tried using sterilized seawater as a brine. I keep buying salt and purified water (our tap water has chloramine) but I live on an island. I think seawater salinity level are around 3.5 percent, so it should work, right?

    • Hi Cassie. Great idea! Sterilized seawater should work fine for a brine. Depending on where you are, it may add a subtle flavor as well. You are right, the salt weight in sea water is in the 3.5% range which should be a sweet spot for some brining recipes. I’ll give that a try later this year just to have my own experience of it, but I’m sure it’s fine. Good luck!

  7. Hi,

    Thank you for this info, very useful. I wanted to verify what you said about Bouyancy Brining – so basically after it’s done, I can remove the excess salt from say fermented cabbage by washing it in water and I still don’t have to put in the fridge? How long can I keep it outside?


    • Hi Eli, I don’t do “bouyancy” brining except sometimes with pickles. As to refrigerating, that simply slows down the fermentation process. If you’ll discarded all liquid, then effectively you are opening your ferment up to mold spores and thus you’ll want to jar it up and refrigerate it for sure.

  8. Hi Ted, I’m just about to start fermenting for the very first time. I have just taken delivery of 2 x 10 litre Gartopf crockpots. I would like to start with a traditional sauerkraut and a red cabbage one. Roughly how much cabbage do I need to fill each one?
    I am a vegan and I have seen some recipes calling for whey or vegetable broth. Are there any vegetables I won’t be able to ferment without adding whey.
    We grow a lot of our own organic veg and by October/November we will have a lot of pumpkin. Can that be fermented using just salt?
    We started making Kombucha a few weeks ago which is delicious so we are very excited about fermenting the veg.
    Thank you

    • Sorry, I’m not sure how much cababge to use to fill your container. I’d start with a smaller batch, maybe with 3-4 lbs (1.5-2kg) of cababge for your first attempt and then calibrate from there to see what works in your new crocks. Sounds like you are gearing up for a great fermenting future! good luck and keep us posted on how things go.

      • As to whey, I have never found the need to use whey. I’m a firm believer in the power of the bacteria which is naturally found on the specific vegetables you are fermenting.

  9. Hi Ted,

    I have made several of your recipes with an airlock and they have turned out brilliantly! The only problem is that I have been on a low-sodium diet for a long time and now anything with any salt tastes too salty. What is the lowest salinity for your ferments that will insure safety, or should I switch to using whey for my concoctions?


    • I’m not certain of the answer to your question. In general, the less salt, the less stable the fermentation and the more likely you’ll run into potential problems. If you use less salt, definitely err on the side of greater cleanliness during your preparation process. I’d suggest simply experimenting with less salt and seeing how it goes. Let us know please!

    • Yes. Salt-fermented vegetables are high-salt foods, and if you’re supposed to be on a low-salt or low-sodium diet, they’re probably not ideal for you. For anyone else, consume them in moderation, like any other salty condiments.

      Ted helpfully puts estimates of sodium content on lots of the recipes here, so it should be easy to keep an eye on your intake.

  10. Help, Help the last two patches of fermented dill pickles have had mush cucumbers. The first batch I did were crunchy and pleasant. I used the same amount of salt for both. Both had jalapenos, onions, and carrots in with the cucumbers. I used cabbage leaf on both batches. The first batch I did not use bay, oak or any leaves to add tannin. The really mushy batch had an oak leaf. Anyone know where I can look for a problem area?

    • Cut off the blossom end of the cucumbers. There’s an enzyme in it that can cause the cucumber to become mushy.

  11. Hi, Ted – First, thanks for writing this up. I have one small quibble, though: All salts have a different weight for a given volume, so standard measurements like 2 Tbl. per quart is not entirely useful. Kosher salt weighs about half of what standard salt — like sea salt — weighs, so you would need something like 4 Tbl per quart. And even then, a tablespoon of Diamond Crystal kosher salt doesn’t weigh the same as a tablespoon of Morton kosher salt.
    Because of this, the weight tables you give for the various brine solutions is a lot more useful, and it’s actually what I came here to find. (Thanks!) I just want more people to be aware that different salts have different densities, so you should always measure by weight -unless- you’re using the exact same salt as the recipe writer used.

  12. just starting to ferment. Cabbage turned out awesome, both green and the red, but I’m having trouble with the carrots. I use Himalania pink sea salt from the health food store. Is the brine on the carrots suppose to be kind of cloudy? I didn’t peel the carrots and they are not organic. Everyday I have to clean off white scum like stuff. Should I pitch them and start over? Should I peel the carrots? It’s been 4 days and I tried one today and they’re still crunchy but smell different.

    • I honestly haven’t worked too much with carrots in my fermentations. I had a couple of failed attempts early on just trying to ferment carrots (got mushy and just not tasty) and haven’t tried too hard since. I do add carrots to my kimchi often. Sorry I can’t be of much help on this topic. You might try posting on the forum here. Thanks.

    • Carrots have a LOT of sugar. It is very hard to ferment them alone and not grow yeast. Yeast is NOT what you want. Many kinds of yeast are not a problem and are edible but do not give the flavor profile that you are seeking. If you wish to include carrot then add it to your other product (cabbage) in proportions used for KimChee. That should handle the cloudiness issue and reduce the yeast in the ferment (you probably have Kam yeast). The same is true for adding apple or any other sweet fruit or veggie. Be careful of grapes/raisins. grapes have a LOT of sugar, and raisins are usually sulfated. Dates and figs are wonderful but extremely sweet and can cause yeast blooms in any real quantity.
      Also 2-3% un-iodized salt by weight is the usual amount to use. Weigh your container, then weigh the product and container. Subtract the container weight and multiply by .02. This tells you the weight of salt to add. The container can be veggies only or veggies and water. IF you are adding brine, again add salt at .02-.03 per weight of brine before adding to the product.
      There are recipes that will go as low as 1.5% salt, however the lower the salt the softer the finished product (less crisp). Too high of salt and fermentation will slow or not happen.

  13. Hi Ted

    Have you ever considered using plain sea water as a brining solution as opposed to making up a solution with salt? Sea water contains about 3.5% salt which you could always dilute with freash water if you want a lower salt concentration.

    Any thoughts?

    Thanks foravery informative and intersting site


    • I tried it once, but it was a peculiar local ferment – I was trying to ferment some seed pods of a coastal plant – and the feremnt failed. I haven’t tried it for kimchi yet, but perhaps I’ll try. You’d have to boil the water first here to kill any microorganisms which might be floating around in the sea!

  14. The buoyancy brine sounds a bit like the one my grandfather used. It was enough salt to float a fresh egg.

    That’s fresh, like just out from under the hen, not store bought. The ones in the store are at least two weeks old, because they peel when boiled. (An egg doesn’t peel well until it’s 1.5 to 2 weeks old. The white sticks to the shell.) The older an egg is, the easier it floats (internal gases), so it wouldn’t yield as strong a brine.

    This got to be long, hopefully it keeps folks that try this out of trouble.

    • Hi Tony,

      Two primary health benefits in my opinion:

      1) There is a probiotic benefit of consuming foods that have pro-biotic content, which help to keep your digestive system populated with beneficial bacteria.
      2) By eating fermented foods, we ingest uncooked foods which contain fiber, nutrients and enzymes that have not been destroyed by cooking.
      3) Maintaining a healthy digestive system and eating healthy foods is the best path to overall health.

      I’m slowly working on a more detailed past on this topic. Much research continues to be done in this area since we have discovered that the microorganisms in our guts contribute much more to our overall health and wellbeing than we had preciously knowon or understood.

  15. MANY years ago, there was a sea where part of the Himalaya now lies. Sea fossils are also very common there as a result, as well as sea salt. That’s what I saw and what I seem to remember being told when I was there some years ago.

  16. Regarding your description above for Kimchi, please clarify 1) how long to soak the cabbage in the brine 2) what you “cover” the cabbage with (fresh water?) after draining the brine.

    • Vege Sal I believe is simply salt with added vegetable flakes/spices. I imagine it’s fine but you’d likely need to use more to make sure your salt content was sufficiently high.

  17. I use pink himalayan salt only now for the fermentation. I know one can use kosher or sea salt but I’ve read articles about sea salt having micro-plastics which would obviously affect the health benefits off lacto-fermentation.

  18. my goodness reading all the comments and it seems so hard all of what you all do ! well i am on my first fermentation today i hope i do ok, i am trying to feed myself and about 10 to 15 other people on a disability check so i got enough free cabbage waste from local market maybe some 250 pounds 120 kilo have a food grade blue barrel 50 gallon or 200 liter- had to make a simple airlock and followed what you say here as to make a brine with sea salt trying for 4 percent as i am in tropics and this will not be refrigerated just fed to pigs in a couple of weeks

    • Hi Dennis, that sounds brilliant! I’d love to hear how it comes out. I’ve never tried such large batches, but I know it’s quite possible. It should keep fine most likely non-refrigerated. I’n many ways, fermentation is about preserving so don’t feel it needs to be tossed too quickly. I personally feel that with many sauerkrauts, a 5-6 week ferment can be kind of ideal , but it can keep going beyond that. It’ll just keep getting more tart/acidic over time. Good luck!

  19. Hi, I am from the UK and I am just about to try my hand at fermenting. My question is, I live in a hard water area (i.e. high deposits of Calcium Carbonate) Should I use bottled water for making brine as opposed to tap water?

    • Though I’m not a chemist, my gut says your water will be fine to use. If you’re comfortable drinking it and there isn’t bacteria or an antibacterial in the water it should work fine.

      • Hi Ted. This is a very useful page. One question on using tap water. Wouldn’t you have to boil and cool it first to remove as much chlorine & fluorine as possible? I understand they inhibit fermentation. (Using a filter, such as Brita, would probably work too.)

  20. I like the approximate table conversion to volume! I don’t have a scale to get exact % of weight. But my question is is the sweet spot of about 2-3% by weight of just the water or water +weight of veggies?

  21. This is helpful. Today was my first day fermenting anything ever. I pre-pared a batch both of sauerkraut and kimchi, so reading this makes sense of the different methods I did. For kimchi and pre-brining, is there any information on how much salt is left after draining and rinsing the vegetables of the brine? I’m trying to eat a lot more fermented foods for health reasons and want to watch my sodium consumption at the same time. Thanks.

  22. Cool post, but really, the best way to measure salt when fermenting foods is just to weigh your container in grams, empty, fill it up with veggies and water, then weigh it again, and subtract the empty weight. Multiply that by 0.03 or so and add that much salt. All these % brine stuff, blah blah, it’s irrelevant. What matters is the total % salt content of everything in the jar.

  23. I have both fine and extra-fine Himalayan pink salt. Do I need to adjust measurements depending on which one I use or does the stated 3% by weight of water apply regardless?

  24. Hello Ted!

    I have leftover salt solution that I have kept sealed on the counter for about a month. Is there any reason I couldn’t use it now? The garden is having a second wind!

    Thanks so much for all the ways you share with the world (fermentation, writing, music, photography…)! I love it all!

  25. I have read that cucumbers can be packed in tightly into a jar to keep them below the level of the brine. But as you use them and there is more space for them to move about, how best can you keep them submerged ? The few glass objects I could use as weights are not wide enough to do the job.

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