The Wild World of Fermentation with Chef Melissa Shaffer

Melissa Shaffer Holistic Chef Instructor
Chef Melissa Shaffer

Holistic Chef Instructor Melissa Shaffer loves sharing her passion for fermentation and empowering others to try fermenting for themselves.

What happens when we combine vegetables and salt in a jar, and then simply wait and observe?

They transform into something greater than the sum of their parts, with bright mouthwatering flavors, vibrant colors, and satisfyingly crisp textures.

This transformative process is known as fermentation. In other words, pure magic! 

What is fermentation? 

  • Fermenting is an ancient practice used around the world to preserve foods. 
  • Lactobacilli bacteria on the surface of vegetables are responsible for their transformation, helping create complex flavor profiles. 
  • In addition to providing probiotics that support a healthy gut microbiome, fermenting vegetables helps preserve and enhance their C and B vitamins, and make other nutrients more bioavailable. 
  • It’s environmentally friendly! You can preserve excess in-season vegetables before they go bad to avoid food waste and for the best flavor and nutrition! 

If you’ve never fermented before, don’t be scared! Using simple ingredients and collaborating with nature to nourish ourselves is empowering – give it a try!  

It is important to note that fermentation requires curiosity and a growth mindset. There are many factors that affect a ferment, some of which are out of our control, and some failures are inevitable along the way. In our Holistic Chef program, we value these failures as much as the successes for what they teach us. The kitchen is like a laboratory and part of being a great chef is experimenting, failing, learning, trying again, and loving each step along the way. 

To quote the leading expert in the world of fermentation, Sandor Katz, “If you are willing to collaborate with tiny beings with somewhat capricious habits and vast transformative powers, read on.” 

The following recipe by Chef Melissa Shaffer is adapted from Katz’s preeminent book “Wild Fermentation”.  

Check out the recipe below or learn more about Chef Melissa and the rest of the Holistic Chef Team by visiting our faculty page.

Ginger Beet Sauerkraut

Yields 1 quart

Ginger Beet Sauerkraut
Ginger Beet Sauerkraut


  • 1 small green cabbage (about 1.5 pounds) 
  • 1 medium beet, grated (about ½ pound) 
  • 2″ piece ginger, grated  
  • 1 Tbs unrefined sea salt (start with less, add more to taste, DO NOT used iodized salt) 
  • 1 clean wide-mouth quart mason jar 


  1. Remove an outer leaf of cabbage and reserve for later, along with a large chunk of cabbage core to use as a weight if desired.  
  2. Shred cabbage thinly with a chef’s knife and place into a large bowl with the grated beets and ginger.   
  3. Massage in salt with clean hands, and optionally let sit for 30 minutes to allow the salt time to draw out moisture from the vegetables. 
  4. Massage the vegetables with your hands until a generous amount of juice is released when squeezed. Taste kraut and add more salt if needed; it should taste slightly but not overly salty.  
  5. Pack the vegetables into a jar, pressing down firmly to remove air pockets. Leave 2-3 inches for expansion. 
  6. Place reserved cabbage leaf on top of mixture as a barrier to keep bits of vegetable under the brine. Weigh down with a fermentation weight, a chunk of cabbage core, or jam jar filled with water. 
  7. If using cabbage core or weight, screw lid onto jar and “burp” daily by briefly opening lid to release any gasses. It is important to release this pressure, so set a reminder if needed! Alternatively, a special fermentation lid can be used. (See Method 1, below) If using jam jar (See Method 2, below), loosely cover with a clean cloth. 

    Ginger Beet Sauerkraut Fermentation Method 2
    Method 1

    Ginger Beet Sauerkraut Fermentation Method 1
    Method 2
  8. Allow kraut to ferment on a rimmed plate in a cool spot out of direct sunlight for a few days or up to a month or longer. Check daily to ensure the vegetables are below the brine level. Speed of fermentation will vary based on temperature of environment and amount of salt used. It will be most bubbly and active in the first few days.  
  9. Kraut is ready when it has reached your desired level of sourness and crunch. Taste at regular intervals to determine what you prefer. A longer fermentation time will yield a more sour flavor and a softer texture. 
  10. Move kraut to refrigeration to slow fermentation process.  


  • In the summer or in a warm home, use more salt and aim for a shorter ferment. In the winter or in a cold home use slightly less salt or let kraut ferment longer. 
  • If you see foam, a thin white film, or small amounts of white mold on the surface of your brine, remove it carefully and discard any discolored bits of vegetable. The vegetables below the brine level should be fine. If colored mold is present the kraut should be discarded. 
  • If your brine level gets too low you can add additional brine by mixing 1/4 cup filtered water with 1/4 tsp sea salt 

See Sandor Ellix Katz’s full instructions for making sauerkraut.

Fermentation Troubleshooting Chart
Issues with your fermentation? Check out this fermentation troubleshooting chart.

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