Fermenting vegetables is growing massively in popularity, not just among the paleo and traditional foods community, but across the country, with avid small-scale fermenters brewing up their concoctions of sauerkraut, kimchi, Curtido and all manner of other vegetables. One question I hear a lot and had myself at the stat was, “What is the best salt for fermenting?“
With fermented vegetables having so few ingredients, usually, only the vegetables themselves, perhaps some herbs, and then just salt and a little water (not always even needed), the requirement to use the best quality ingredients is even higher. Clean, filtered water, good quality, ideally organic vegetables, and great salt!
The role of salt in fermentation is a vital one, so choosing the best quality salt you can, should be high on your priority list, and it’s never a really high priced item, so I would recommend you get something decent. This article will look at some commonly used salts for fermentation and help you to choose the right one for you.
Types Of Salt For Fermentation
Firstly, before we jump right into the actual types of salts that are commonly used for fermenting vegetables, I decided to group them into some basic categories to make things a little clearer.
Processed Salts – this includes your basic table salts which are basically sodium chloride and not much else, sea salts, pickling salts, Kosher salts and iodized salts. Some of these contain additives which I like to avoid, but many processed salts can be used for fermenting with good results. I’ve had good success with Kosher salt and use it regularly for my sauerkraut and kimchi production.
Mineral Rich Dry Salts – This includes your pink Himalayan salt and the like. These salts contain minerals which are naturally occurring (as opposed to being added during the production process). I also use a dry mineral-rich salt for my ferments and have great success with them.
Mineral Rich Dry Salts – This category would include your grey sea salts, the ones that are rich in minerals but feel wet to the touch when you open the bag. Some people worry about the potential for lead and other heavy metal contamination. But, these types of salts are still very popular with fermenting geeks. The risk is likely small, and weighing up risk versus benefit is always essential.
Ok, that’s covered the basic categories, let us get a little more in-depth about the best salts for fermenting vegetables. We’ll stick to the general order of the categories about, although they certainly aren’t in order of preference.
A lot of people get confused by the name Kosher salt. It’s actually known as ‘koshering salt’ and is used in the production of kosher meats. It looks similar to table salt, bright and white, although the grains are slightly larger but not as large as sea salt grains. Additionally, and this is worth noting, kosher salt generally has far fewer additives than your standard table salt. Sometimes it will contain anti-caking agents, so check the ingredient label before buying. I like to avoid anti-caking agents for fermenting vegetables, I suggest you do too.
Iodized Table Salt
Technically the same as your normal table salt, iodized salt has iodine added to it during the production process. Iodine was added to table salt in the USA to prevent thyroid dysfunction leading to goiter, which was extremely prevalent in certain states in the not so distant past. The ‘goiter belt’ as it was called saw high levels of hypothyroidism leading to enlarged thyroid glands and large swellings in the neck.
The addition of iodized salt to the diet of the average American prevented goiter, but from a fermenting perspective, iodine tends to inhibit the healthy bacteria that are an essential part of the culturing process. On that basis, avoiding iodized salt for fermenting is important, it’s a pretty poor salt for our purposes, so I’d recommend giving it a miss.
Redmond Real Salt
If you are looking for a decent, relatively unrefined salt for fermenting, with no additives, the Redmond Real Salt brand it good. It’s from Utah and does have a modest mineral profile
Pickling salt is very similar to traditional table salt. It’s free of iodine and caking agents and makes an ok fermenting salt. Problem is, it is highly refined and doesn’t have any of the minerals that the mineral-rich salts do. If you are keen on using unrefined products, then some of the mineral salts are going to be more aligned with that, as well as introducing some decent minerals to your diet.
If you are looking for a clean, dry salt for fermenting your vegetables, plain sea salt is actually a pretty good option. It’s washed, so not a great source of minerals, but it has worked very well for all types of fermenting. Morton’s Natural Sea Salt is a product I’ve found to be excellent for fermenting, and it’s available at most decent grocery stores. Check to make sure it’s caking agent free.
Often red or pinkish in color, this type of salt is a rock salt as opposed to a sea salt. Himalayan salts are rich in minerals. They make an excellent salt for fermentation. They can, however, have quite large grains, I often like to use a pestle and mortar to crush them up a little if I’m just using them without water. If you are using a brine solution to soak your vegetables, then you can just allow the salt crystals to dissolve for a while.
Grey Unwashed Sea Salt
This salt is generally wet to the touch. It’s basically a product of evaporated sea water, where it is extracted from clay-lined ponds, giving the grey color to the salt. Often known as Celtic Sea Salt it is still frequently harvested using age-old traditions.
As mentioned, some people are concerned about water quality in our seas, so it’s worth giving that some thought. That said, grey sea salt is full of minerals that are health-enhancing, the choice is yours.
The best salt for fermenting vegetables is an unrefined salt product with no additives at all. A high mineral content with lots of beneficial vitamins with make for excellent fermentation and be healthy and delicious too. If I had to give a single recommendation, Himalayan mountain salt would be top of my list as the best salt for fermentation.
Good luck, and HAPPY FERMENTING!!!
PS. Check out this great video on the choices of salt for fermentation
Recommended Fermenting Accessories
Here are a few cool things that you might want to consider if you decide to start fermenting. I love my cabbage pounder and also have a shredder similar to the one below. I've used a knife for a long time, but the shredder speeds the process.
Himalayan salt is the best in my view, check out my article on the best type of salt for fermenting if you'd like to learn more.