Whey Fermentation | Chioggia Beets & Brussels Greens with port wine salt

Whey fermentation is the anaerobic process of pickling and preserving fresh food with whey, the liquid byproduct for many dairy products, or a combination of whey and salt.  I'm fond of whey fermentation for a few reasons:

  • I'm a total sucker for ways to use food products often discarded by most, 
  • I use less salt during the whey fermentation process, and that can't be a bad thing, and...
  • It boosts fermentation and shortens the time it takes to develop the fermented "tang" so sought after.

It's pretty darned simple to make whey, but if you are short on time and/or dairy and happen to live in the Austin area, my friends with Mother Culture offer whey, often complimentary with the purchase of yogurt. I took advantage of this generous favor last weekend upon my visit to the Texas Farmers Markets. (Of course don't stop short of just grabbing complimentary whey, if and when they have some. Mother Culture offers savory and sweet whole milk yogurts that are to die live for.) You can also purchase their products, including whey, online.

In addition to Mother Culture whey, I make things particularly interesting by using another favorite product sold at Texas Farmers Markets-- one of the creative combinations of seasoning and salt sold by Hill Country Provisions, Texas Pork Wine Salt. I'll be sharing more ways to use their various salts in my seasonal ferments in upcoming recipes so keep and eye open for these seasoning salts. They make super sought after gifts for the cooks in your life (hint, hint), and I've taken to bringing them along as host gifts instead of the ubiquitous bottle of wine these days. You'll find them at the Texas Farmers' Markets each Saturday and Sunday, but you can buy these online, too! (If you're in the super DIY mode and want to make your own, I found this recipe. Haven't made it but it comes from a reliable source, and I think it would make a fun weekend project. Like maybe this weekend.)
What the heck is a Chioggia beet anyway, you ask?
While it's tempting to use up the produce that's perhaps a day past it's best, resist the urge to let it languish, and use fresh, crisp properly stored and/or recently harvested fruits and vegetables for optimal results. I choose organic-- I can't see the benefit in preserving pesticides, and I encourage you to find the best quality available to you. These Chioggia beets and Brussels greens hail from Johnson's Backyard Garden and I use pretty and pristine vegetables from Gray Gardens in upcoming ferment recipes, too.


3 small Chioggia beets
1 small head Brussels greens
Whey (about 1 cup)
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon port wine salt
1 teaspoon whole peppercorns (optional)


Wash and sterilize a pint jar. Any pint jar will do. Doesn't even have to be a canning jar. Drain upside down on toweling while you collect and prepare ingredients.

Scrub beets with a vegetable brush. (I retain the skins, where so much fiber is found. Peel at your nutritional peril!) Thinly slice and set aside. Hint: While Chioggia beets don't "bleed" like conventional beets, it's still a good idea to protect your clothing while handling them.

Wash Brussels greens well, and separate leaves. Stack 4-5 leaves, and tightly roll them into a cigar-like cylinder. With a sharp knife, cut crosswise into thin ribbons. Separate ribbons by "fluffing" with fingertips. Set aside. Note: What even ARE Brussels greens you ask? Well, they are the pretty little bloom on top of a Brussels sprouts stalks that would have eventually formed into individual sprouts if left to grow. If you have access to them, by all means do not let them go to waste, however if you can't find them, all is not lost. Collard greens are a great substitute, similar in texture, but any sturdy greens (even cabbage, though a bit bland) will do. Or leave them out altogether and use all beets if you choose.
What the heck are Brussels greens anyway, you ask?
In a separate container, combine whey with kosher salt, port wine salt, and peppercorns, if using.

In sterilized jar, layer beets with shredded greens, packing firmly to fill. Pour in whey, using a small utensil (I use a clean chopstick) to carefully pull the stack of vegetable away from the sides of the jar to allow whey to penetrate to the bottom and release air bubbles. I spend a little time doing this-- let the whey settle and the vegetables adjust and repeat the process until adding as much whey as the jar will accommodate and releasing all air bubbles.

Keep vegetables weighted down under the surface of the whey brine. There are a few ways to accomplish this. I use

  • glass weights like these (This is not an affiliate link and I do not profit from its purchase. Just a suggestion.)
  • but you could also utilize a commercial airlock system
  • or experiment with other DIY systems (and learn which popular choices you shouldn't use.)

Cover your jar with your chosen lid.

Leave jar in dark corner of your kitchen counter, pantry, or cabinets, perhaps on a saucer or small coaster of folded towels. Fermentation will begin after a day or two. With a plain jar, I leave it alone for 2 days, then open the jar daily after to release fermenting gas and taste for developing "tang". Follow the directions for your chosen method if using a commercial system.

Allow your lacto-fermented vegetables to process this way until they reach the level of fermentation that you prefer. This might take anywhere from 4 days to 8 weeks, dependent upon your preference, the season, and the temperature in your home. 
Hint: The optimal home temperatures for active fermentation are between 60 and 75 degrees. Cooler than this, and vegetables simply won't ferment, and warmer than 75, your vegetables will become soft.
When your vegetables have fully fermented, transfer them to the refrigerator where they will last for months, or as long as it takes to devour them, likely. I keep several small jars going at different intervals so I always have a variety of fresh ferments on hand. There is a point where they will lose freshness and quality in storage, but I always finish each jar within 3-6 months, well within the safe to consume threshold.
Learn more about the food safety and science behind experimentation from industry experts, here
There's a lot of discussion, and much of it heated, about the benefits of fermented foods and the differences in lacto-fermentation, wild fermentation, and cultured foods. I am not a scientist, a doctor, or even a registered dietician. I like the flavor of fermented foods, primarily, and I have 'sensitive digestion' that seems to benefit from its consumption. While I can't provide any expert endorsement, I did find some intriguing reading/listening while researching the subject. In addition to the links found above, you might find the following interesting, and perhaps useful, too. 

Mayo Clinic Minute: Figuring out fermented foods

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