What is the best way to ferment food – salt, culture starter, whey?

How to improve gut health

Ever wondered what the difference was between using a starter culture, salt, whey or pro-biotic for your ferment?

Cultured or fermented vegetable or fruit recipes may include salt, whey, probiotics, or even a freeze-dried culture.

How to know what is best to use?

Let me take you through a run down of each and then share with you my personal preferences…


Salt promotes the fermenting process by killing off the bad bacteria, and allowing the good bacteria naturally present in the vegetables or fruit to take over, promoting the growth of desired Lactobacilli. 

Back in the good ‘ol days, salt was used to preserve foods before refrigeration. I prefer salt-only fermented vegetables, here’s why:

  • Salt pulls out the moisture in food, denying bacteria the aqueous solution they need to live and grow.
  • Salt allows the natural bacteria that exist on the vegetables to do the fermenting. Only the desired salt-tolerant Lactobacilli strains will live and propagate.
  • By suppressing the growth of other bacteria and mold, salt provides a slower fermentation process that is perfect for cultured vegetables that are to be stored for longer periods of time.
  • Salt provides a better flavour medium for the ferment

Starter Cultures:

To get things going more quickly for the culturing process, you can add good bacteria through starter cultures such as

  • whey
  • brine from a previous ferment
  • freeze-dried starter cultures
  • pro-biotics

The combination used is a personal choice. Some people like to work with starter cultures particularly packaged ones so they know exactly what strains of good bacteria are going in to the ferment.

Handy if you have existing gut issues such as systemic candida or SIBO or other diagnosed gut issue that needs consideration.

Personally for me I am not a fan of using Whey if it is derived from dairy as I don’t tolerate it well, but using a little left over brine / juice from a previous ferment works well and is so economical – as long as it’s not dairy! Ha..

Packet starter cultures serve a purpose but I am not a huge fan, I have found they create a slightly different flavour to the ferment, however super handy for when I was healing from system candida as this ensured I had a ferment that was safe for me to eat (with the right cultures).

Probiotics are my go to particularly where the salt method is not idea, ie. in yoghurts or dips.


No matter what fermentation starter the recipe calls for, you can substitute!

  • Any of the starter culture liquids, whey, water kefir, kombucha, or brine from a previous ferment can be used interchangeably in a recipe.
  • In recipes that ask for a pre-packaged starter culture, substitute salt only or salt plus a liquid starter culture. As a guide, each litre or quart of fermented food requires 1-3 tablespoons of salt and if desired, ¼ cup liquid starter.
  • Fruit, and sweeter ferments tend to be more salt-sensitive, so use less salt than you normally would for vege ferments. Or my choice – a pro-biotic capsule.

And if you get our Complete Fermentation Starter Kit available on Amazon, you get the unique airlock vacuum seal lids, that are so easy to use and create fail safe ferments! No need to fill up messy water airlock canisters, simply create your ferment and screw on the lid, set the date timer and wait your desired time!

And if you need to check your ferment there’s a handy pump included in the kit so you can extract the oxygen again and feel safe knowing that your ferment can continue to create gut loving goodness without the risk of unwelcome bacteria strains or fungus.

Ready to put fermented foods into practise for your own health gains?

I have lots more fermented food tips, and the chance for you to meet your fermentation tribe, as when you purchase The Complete Fermentation Starter Kit you also get the chance to join our exclusive Culture Hub Club for ongoing support, extra ferment recipes and more!

Need to dive deeper and want a guided program as well to help upgrade your health? Check out the 4 Week Gut Makeover Program or the Every Day Healthy Course. 

Happy Fermenting! <3

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