Super-Simple Fermented Kale—Kimchi Style!

lacto-fermented-kaleKale is one of those polarizing veggies that you hear so much about. You either love it or hate it, and most folks have an opinion once they’ve tried kale. Here at our traditional Catholic homestead, we love kale! There is a lot to love about it (yes, really—even if you can’t stand the flavor, or the texture, or whatever!). Kale is one of the most nutrient-dense greens you can grow. Couple that with its cold hardiness, and the fact that it actually gets tastier once it gets hit with a little frost, and you’ll be wanting to grow some in your garden, too!

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“All Hail, Kale! Growing Kale at Home (With Recipe)”

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Once you’ve got yourself a nice little kale patch, you might start to wonder what to do with it all. Well, a guy can only eat so many sautéed greens in a week, and kale chips aren’t really for everybody. Sitting around waiting for the cabbages to head out gave me inspiration to try something new. Lacto-fermented kale is now on the menu! The leafiness of kale made me think maybe a kimchi-style ferment was in order. I searched around a little, posted some questions on my favorite forums, and then just went for it! I went with a pretty basic recipe for the first go-round, just to see how I liked it:

Lacto-fermented Kale
6 cups kale (cut into 1-inch-wide strips with stems/ribs intact)
1 cup sliced garlic
1/2 large onion
Hot peppers to taste
Sea salt to taste
1/4 cup starter culture (brine from previous ferment or whey)

I combined all the ingredients in a large bowl, mixed it all up, and stuffed it down into a 2 liter glass jar with a bale top. I added a little saltwater brine to make sure everything was covered and let ‘er rip. You can adjust the ingredients to what you like, and what you have on hand. I think some ginger or even horseradish would be good in there, too, but I didn’t have any when I whipped this up. Note: Because of the leafiness of the kale, I read that there is a tendency for it to get slimy. To counter this, I used about 1-1/2 times the amount of salt I normally would use. This seems to be helping so far.

This batch has been fermenting for about 5 days at the time of this writing, and the results to this point have been pretty good. The texture is nice, not slimy. The flavor seems like it is spot on. The ferment has a ways to go before it gets to the sourness and subtle flavor complexity that I’m looking for, but the spiciness and texture are looking good. The color isn’t as vibrant as when I started, but I think that is to be expected.

I don’t take a very scientific approach to most of my ferments, and I will kind of eyeball a lot of the ingredients or go by taste. Salt, for instance, is one that I will not usually measure out—I just sprinkle it on there in layers, and mix it until it feels right. Lacto-fermenting vegetables doesn’t need to be rocket science. For me, it’s more like making a pie. Just gather up the basic ingredients and go for it. I will hedge my bets by putting in a little starter culture on my experimental stuff, just to ensure faster results, but it isn’t necessary. You’ll know right away if your ferment didn’t come out right. It’ll be nasty, slimy, smell bad, have mold—you name it, but you’ll know right away. So don’t sweat it!

What Do You Think?

What’s your favorite way to use up kale? Let us know in the comments below!

(This is an updated version of an article that was originally published on July 30, 2015. The author, Dave Dahlsrud, may not currently be available to respond to comments. However, we encourage our Community members to chime in to share their experiences and answer questions!)

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This post was written by Anthony Tamayo


  • Mary says:

    Thanks for the post Dave. Can you give some estimated idea about the amount of salt used?

    1. Dave says:

      If I had to guess I would say about 3 Tablespoons or so, but like I said I just kind of eyeball the salt. I know, not really all that scientific but it’s worked pretty well for me so far!

  • Daryle in VT says:

    “Slimy” is not indicative of good bacterial action. The author might have more fun if he poured a simple brine over the packed kale to expel air and all but eliminate the possibility of slimy results.

    1. Michael Ford says:

      Hi Daryle – I think Dave mentioned “slimy” as being a bad thing, not a good thing.

  • clara says:

    It sounds simple enough and it is supposed to do wonders to your digestive system. I personally love kim-chi so I will definitely try the fermented kale.
    I have to add that I have also fermented red cabbage and that is also a great vegetable for your digestive health.

  • Tracy says:

    I love how you inspire us to experiment creatively, pointing out what to look for as failures, ie. learning opportunities for what not to do next time. Let’s courageously find our wins, that we want to repeat and share. Those of us who like a more measured approach can figure out how much salt gives the satisfying results.

  • ann pyle says:

    Where can you get the starter culture from?

    1. Michael Ford says:

      Hi Ann – You can get starter culture from health food stores, or you can buy it online.

  • Megan Venturella says:

    What a great idea! I’m trying this today.

  • harpiano says:

    This is what I’ve been waiting for! A fermenting nut & lover & grower of kale, I often wonder how to get more of it in our diet. After all I’m adding it raw to our lunch salad meal, and cooking a big load for about 4 dinners per week. (The other nights we eat broccoli or cabbage). Also trying to get ferments into my husband’s diet has been a challenge as he thinks he doesn’t like sauerkraut or pickles etc. I’m going to make a batch today! Thank you for this article.

  • harpiano says:

    I love ferments and am always looking for a new one!

  • Dennis Bries says:

    I’ve grown kale and use the dehydrated leaves and stems as powdered material for winter use. Lacto fermented and kimchi seem like additional alternatives. Thanks

  • Sandy says:

    My husband wanted a lot of kale last year so we planted one brow barrel entirely with sever different varieties. We got it going a little late, but it still produced well, and with stood many nights of frost quite late into our Northern Fall. We are going to do this again, and we will definitely put up some kale kim chi. SandyForest

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