Brine pickles, like these fermented carrots, are among the easiest fermented vegetables for beginners to make. That's because you only need to pack your vegetables in a jar, prepare a brine by mixing salt with water, and pour the brine over the vegetables. Super simple.
What is it?
Fermented carrots are a naturally fermented food that is rich in beneficial bacteria. Unlike pickled carrots which are preserved with vinegar, fermented carrots undergo a transformative process in which beneficial bacteria transform their naturally occurring sugars into acids, which then preserve the carrots just as vinegar would.
The result is a sour-tart preserved vegetable that's rich in beneficial bacteria. You can use them to bring a little brightness to your salads, to serve alongside a sandwich, to bring to a picnic, or to use anywhere you might serve a pickle.
What's in it?
At its simplest, fermented carrots only need three ingredients: carrots, salt, and water. Salt and water, when combined, form a brine. You pour this over the carrots. This brine facilitates fermentation, and in no time your carrots will be naturally pickled.
In addition to salt, carrots, and water, this recipe also uses thyme, garlic, black peppercorns, and jalapeño peppers. These additions permeate the carrots, resulting in big flavor.
While fermentation can seem complex, it's a simple process. You begin by slicing your carrots and jalepeños before dropping them in a jar, along with any herbs and spices you plan to use. From there, you mix salt with water, pour it over the vegetables, seal the jar, and wait.
But while it's simple to make, there are a few tips to keep in mind.
- Use the right equipment. Glass weights and a fermentation seal are two helpful tools that help prevent contamination of your ferments.
- Keep the carrots completely submerged in the brine. When your fermenting vegetables are exposed to air, they're vulnerable to mold. So, make sure your carrots remain completely submerged in brine as they ferment.
- Temperature matters. Carrots will ferment faster in a warm kitchen and more slowly in a cool one. I've found that cool room temperature (about 68 F) is the optimal temperature for my preferences.
- They're done when they taste right to you. Your carrots will become increasingly sour the longer you let them ferment. So, if you prefer a milder version, you might try them around week 2 or 3. If you prefer sourer flavors, you might let them continue fermenting for another 2-4 weeks before transferring them to the fridge.
- Save any extra carrot tops to make this carrot top pesto recipe.
Try ginger and coriander. Carrots natural sweetness finds balance with the citrusy notes of coriander and the heat of fresh ginger. Leave out the lemongrass, but swap the peppercorns in this recipe for coriander seed, and add 2 tablespoons of thinly sliced ginger in place of the garlic and jalapeño.
Make a mild version by leaving out the jalapeño.
Make it extra spicy by swapping in jalapeños for half the carrots.
Make dilly carrots. Dill has a natural affinity for many fermented vegetables (especially sour pickles and sauerkraut), and the herb works well in this recipe, too. Swap the thyme for a few sprigs of flowering dill, and then leave out the jalapeño.
Add some daikon or burdock root. Both daikon radish and burdock root are a nice addition to this ferment, you can add them in place of carrots or use a mix of all three root vegetables.
Add ginger, garlic, and chili flakes. Taking inspiration from kimchi, you can add ginger, garlic, and gochugaru (Korean-style chili flakes) which will give the carrots a gorgeous flavor with just the right amount of heat.
My brine has turned cloudy. Are my carrots still okay? Yes. As the bacteria begin to proliferate, your brine will become cloudy. This is a good sign.
My brine is thick and viscous. Is that a problem? High-sugar vegetables, such as carrots and beets, often produce a thick and viscous brine. This is understandably unappealing. Fermenting at the right temperature (around 65-70 F) and for a longer period of time can reduce the viscosity. If your brine is viscous and your ferment smells putrid, it's time to throw that batch away.
I see mold on my fermented carrots. What should I do? Using the proper equipment, such as fermentation weights and a seal, will help prevent the development of mold on your ferments. If you see a small speck of mold, you can gently lift it off your ferment and reseal your jar. If the mold is thick or has heavily penetrated your ferment, you should throw your carrots away.
Do I need to use whey or a starter culture? No. Read more about the use of whey and other starters in fermentation.