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How to Make Lacto-Fermented Summer Squash and Zucchini Pickles

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How to Make Lacto-fermented Summer Squash and Zucchini©Depositphotos.com/Baloncici

You wouldn’t believe how easy it is to make lacto-fermented summer squash and zucchini.   Better yet, it’s a great way to use up all that extra summer squash and zucchini.

But first, a quick tidbit.  A lot of people ask what the difference is between summer squash and zucchini.

Zucchini is a type of green summer squash but you can use any type of summer squash in these recipes.  In the first picture below you’ll see a variety of summer squashes.

When my friend Amy told me she was fermenting summer squash, I asked her if she wouldn’t mind taking some pictures and writing up a recipe.  Here it is:

Lacto-Fermented Summer Squash with Basil and Garlic

Ingredients (makes 1 quart)

— 3 medium yellow squash, summer squash or zucchini
— 1 head garlic (can be whole, smashed cloves, minced, or a combination)
— fresh basil leaves to taste
— 2 teaspoons sea salt (find good quality sea salt here)
— 2 tablespoons whey
— 1 – 2 cups filtered water


Wash the squash and basil well.

preparing the lacto-fermented summer squash

Cut squash into 1/4 inch slices.


chopping the lacto-fermented summer squash

Peel garlic and prepare as desired; smash the whole cloves, or mince it. Layer squash, basil leaves and garlic into a quart-sized, wide-mouth mason jar.


placing lacto-fermented summer squash in jar

Combine sea salt, whey, and 1 cup of water and pour over ingredients in the mason jar.


setting the lacto-fermented summer squash

Add more water, as needed, until liquid comes to within about 1 inch of top of jar.  Cover tightly and store at room temperature for 2-3 days then transfer to refrigerator.  Ready to eat after about 7 days in the refrigerator.

I immediately gave it a shot and couldn’t believe how delicious this turned out.  I couldn’t believe how crisp and fresh the zucchini stayed under the brine.  I imagined the soft flesh of the zucchini may turn a little mushy as often happens with fermenting regular pickles.  But this didn’t happen at all.

Then, I had an idea.

I thought to myself, “What if I just cut the zucchini into spears like regular pickles and added pickling spices?”   I’d call them “zucchini pickles.”

I thought I was a genius.  I was all ready to announce to the Blogosphere the latest take on home fermentation.  It would surely spread like wildfire.  I foresaw speaking gigs and book deals with the likes of Sandor Ellix Katz and Sally Fallon.

And then I checked the almighty Lord Google.

Ah.  Not so new.

Oh well, fermenting fame will have to wait.

Still, fermented zucchini recipes are somewhat uncommon compared to other lacto-fermented vegetable recipes.  So even though I’m not the first one to do it, you may have never thought to make zucchini pickles just like regular pickles.

This recipe calls for 4-5 small zucchini which will fit a quart-sized jar.   But you can use any size, shape or color of summer squash you want.   Most will be too long to fit into the jar.  Just cut them down to size, save the extra bits and pieces and use them in Amy’s recipe above.

How to Make Zucchini Pickles

Ingredients (makes 1 quart)

— 4-5 small zucchini
— 1 bunch fresh basil or dill
— 1 clove raw garlic
— 1-2 tablespoons whey
— 1-2 tablespoons sea salt (find good quality sea salt here)
— 1-2 tablespoons pickling spices.  Note: pickling spices usually contain variations of cloves, cinnamon sticks, mustard seeds, peppercorns and other dried herbs and spices.  I usually buy my pickling spices pre-made at my local health food store.
— 1 quart filtered water


Quarter zucchini and/or slice into spears.

Put a clump of basil or dill at the bottom of the jar.

Pack zucchini tightly and add more herbs, garlic, sea salt and pickling spices.

Add filtered water and whey.

Make sure zucchini remains under the water.  If needed, add a small weight or lid to keep the zucchini under the brine.  A small bag filled with brine can also do the trick.

Be sure to leave an inch of space between the top of the jar and the top of the brine otherwise it can expand and explode the jar.  Not good!  If the brine rises near the top, loosen the lid to let the gas escape.  You may need to pour out some of the brine.

Cover and leave in a corner of your kitchen to ferment for at least 3 days.  Taste after a few days and put in the  fridge when they taste like pickles!

They will last for months in the fridge.

Have you ever tried an unusual and/or uncommon lacto-fermented vegetable recipe?

I’d love to hear it.

Please share in the comments below.


How to Make Lacto-fermented Summer Squash and Zucchini | www.fearlesseating.net

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  1. Sean Maggi says:

    Just put a batch together last nite, but used mexican grey squash since it was five lbs. for 99 cents. Thanks for the recipe.

  2. I wondered if there is anything else I can use for the whey? I can’t tolerate dairy. Otherwise, this is exactly the kind of recipe I was looking for.. without sugar.

    • Hi Georgene,

      The whey acts as a starter cutlure but is not absolutely necessary. Just exclude it and add a little more salt.

      • If you don’t want to use whey or a purchased veggie culture powder like Caldwell’s, you can also use the contents of a good lively multi-strain refrigerated probiotic capsule – I use Megaflora from Mega Foods. I substitute 1 capsule mixed with 2 Tbsp water for 2 Tbsp whey or 1/2 tsp powdered culture, although some recipes seem to be needing 1 capsule instead of 2 for 1/4C whey. My whey cultures always went slimy but the Megaflora capsules saved the day! (I get no compensation for this endorsement. Your mileage may vary.)

      • I thought about using some juice from leftover fermented vegetables. Do you think this would work?

    • Dave Johnson says:

      You can also use the liquor from sour dough starter (the liquid that settles out when it’s left in the fridge for a while), or some left-over pickle juice from other fermented stuff. It all has the lactic acid producing bacteria in it.

    • You can omit the whey entirely. I have been making lacto-fermented pickles for around 10 years and have NEVER used whey. In this case, Lacto- doesn’t refer to a dairy product per se. It’s lactobacillus, which is a probiotic beneficial bacteria produced by the product itself (that is, the vegetable) and not due to any added dairy product.

  3. Sandor Katz suggests in his newest book, I believe, that throwing in an oak leaf or grape leaf or two, or even some carrot sticks can supply some tannin to help keep the zucchini from getting soft, staying crunchy while fermenting away.

  4. Leonie Hildreth says:

    i enjoy eating fermented foods.am excited about these recipes.many thanks

  5. Is it possible that this recipe can be shelf stored in mason jars for a longer period of time?

    • Sheryl-

      If you leave fermenting items out at room temperature they ferment at a much faster rate. They will get more and more sour and CO2 continues to build up, leaving the potential for your containers to explode. So while in theory you could leave them on a shelf, it’s not recommended for both safety and flavor purposes.

    • Yes, this has been the quandry that I have had for some time. The history of fermenting says that it was a process of storing foods for longer periods of time before the age of refrigeration. But all of the info I keep reading says to put it in the fridge after about 3 days to slow the fermentation process so that it doesn’t explode or taste bad. The two explainations don’t seem to jive with me. If the old timers didn’t have refrigeration, then how did they store it for longer periods of time? My thought is that it has something to do with the crocks used which don’t build up pressure. But what about the taste? Did they just detatch their tongues for the winter? Doesn’t seem to make sense. I am always interested in why people did things and this seems to help me get it right myself. If anyone has the info that will help me understand these two seemingly opposing views, please let me know.

      • I think you’ll find that back in the day (and probably still) fermented foods were kept under ground where it is cool, like a refrigerator.

      • Tom I have been wondering the same thing! It baffles me. My theory is similar to what another poster said. They must keep the finished fermented jars somewhere cool like a root cellar.

      • This has confused me too and in asking my 71 year old father how they did it, he said after shredding and massaging the cabbage with some salt to “sweat” the cabbage, they would pack it in the sterilized canning jars and, after seeing how much water the cabbage released, they would add brine to top it off leaving 1″ head space. They would then put on the lids snugly and put them in the cellar indefinitely. I have since done this but on the counter as SW FL has very few cellars, and the kraut spits and spews and then calms down and the lid sucks in forming a vacuum and seals itself. I have several 2 yr old jars still on the refrigerator that are beautifully colored with the opaque look to it and it’s wonderfully crispy and sour. Once open, I refrigerate. On nearly every site I see on how to make kraut, the recommended ferment time is 3-10 days but it’s still raw and solid color and salty. Kraut shouldn’t be salty and it’s always opaque which takes about 3-4 months. My father said when they did the kraut in the cellar as described above, they never had over-spill or exploded jars. I’ve never had an exploded jar but in the warm kitchen have had overflows due to the heat (of the kitchen) allowing too rapid of fermentation. Evidently the cool cellar slowed the process to allow for slow, gentle fermentation. When I first was “awakened” to the idea of preserving food without refrigeration, it was on a PBS show documenting lifestyles in other countries and showed the women fermenting many different vegetables in smaller quart size jars on shelves in their kitchens. They didn’t have refrigeration and it was a tropical climate so they made it in jars that they could consume in a meal or three but not the gallon size jars I make and then must find room in the fridge for. I have started making the smaller batches, especially when I’m trying a new combo that I am unsure of. Of all the ones, pickled garlic is my family’s favorite and the most versatile. Again, all the directions say a few days but it took about 3-4 months before the salt was used up, the sourness was perfect and the fermentation action was complete. I blanched one batch which turned out perfectly but didn’t the next and just used it washed from the bag of a pre-peeled bag but it went bad and was obviously bad. We left those on the counter even after opening (breaking the seal) and ate on them for a month. Fermenting takes the heat out but leaves the garlic flavor. Even the kids loved them. I understand about the bacteria on garlic and now refrigerate after breaking the seal.

      • My 95 year old grandmother in Slovakia still ferments foods and leaves them in her cellar indefinitely. I never know how many years the things she pulls out might have been there for, but they always taste great. They are usually in smaller jars with metal screw top lids, and nowadays they are placed in the fridge after opening the seal (previous to refrigeration the contents of a jar were eaten amongst the family over a day or two). It is quite hard to open the new jars, so I assume there has been some gas buildup inside them, but obviously in the smaller size and in the cold cellar not enough to cause an explosion. In Slovakia, even in the peak of summer it is quite cold in her cellar, and during winter it is cold in there despite heating in the rest of the house. The door to the cellar is always closed.
        Since refrigeration, houses have not needed cellars so they have been phased out. I assume putting our ferments in the fridge is meant to mimic the action of putting them in the cellar, where the fermentation is slowed down, allowing the food to be kept for longer periods of time.

      • As long as you keep the pickled food under the fluid produced, these items will last indefinitely, (within reason). The go off because foreign matter gets in, not because they have a strict shelf-life. Permit air to touch the food, or cross-contaminate with something else, then you get problems.

  6. I love this idea of fermenting and pickling zucchini! I always have sooo much zucchini and try to find different ways to cook or eat it. Cheers! I’m going to try both…..I always ferment my veggies.
    So very good. My favorite combo is cabbage, carrots and leaks.

  7. I shred cabbage, carrots, leaks, 2 tablespoons of sea salt, massage well, cover. Leave for 1-2hrs, massage well, put veggies into a jar, put away under cupboard for 7 days, check everyday. Push veggies down under brine(very important to keep veggies fresh) really squish veggies down. After 7 days, refrigerate. Enjoy!

  8. Mark Kadlec says:

    Earlier this year I fermented kohlrabi using salt only and it was similar to cabbage but uniquely different.

  9. hank dearborn says:

    Can we shred zucchini to make sauerkraut and say add some grape leaves for crispness…..

  10. I don’t have whey but I really want to make these today..I have fresh ( home made) and I have dry yogurt culture..would either of those work?

    • Whey is absolutely NOT needed. No dairy products are needed. They were not used in the “olden” days. The term “lacto” in lactofermentation comes from the lactic acid that is produced from the vegetables fermenting, not from dairy products. Read Sandor Katz’s book – he explains it in there. Also, he explains that extra salt is not needed if whey is not used. In fact he includes recipes with very little salt.

  11. I want to make these today but don’t have whey, I have fresh (home made) yogurt and dry yogurt culture..would either of those work in place of the whey?

    • sorry about the repeat

      • If you have yogurt, put some in a coffee filter or cheesecloth and allow to drain. The liquid that drains out is whey. The remaining yogurt is good as a light “cream cheese” or a thick greek style yogurt.

  12. I made these a few days ago and let them ferment for almost four days before transferring to the fridge. I tasted them before putting them in the fridge, and they tasted a little funny. Do you think they are ok since I left them out too long?

    • Hi Lindsey, it’s possible you either let them ferment too long or not long enough. I taste them every day after 2 days so I know when they’re ready. They should taste pleasantly sour. They’ll ferment quicker in warm weather than cool. Also, fermented zucchini tastes similar but not exactly like cucumber pickles. Hope that helps.

  13. do you sterilize your jars before you make pickles? I have a bunch of store bought pickle jars that are taking up space in my cupboard, they come with really nice lids too, Do you think I could use those and fill them back up with homemade pickles? Should I sterilize the lids and jars first? Thanks! Cant wait to give this a try!

    • Hi Kristen,

      I often run them through the dishwasher first though not always. I’m pretty slack about it but I definitely think it’s a good idea to sterilize them. Also, if you do use the dishwasher be sure to use a non-toxic detergent. Good luck!

  14. Hello! What if you don’t want to use whey (or dairy)? Thanks!

  15. I don’t know if I missed it in the comments above but could I can/seal this? And at what stage? TIA

    • Hi Lesley, canning is a different form of preservation that uses high heat. You could can it but it loses all the health benefits of lacto-fermentation.

      • If you use high heat in sealing, it might destroy all the good bacteria that is the reason for lactofermenting. Plus, if heat is used and all those other bacteria are destroyed, botulism can dominate.

  16. Why are people still recommending to use whey in these recipes? It is clearly not needed. No dairy products are needed. They were not used in the “olden” days. The term “lacto” in lactofermentation comes from the lactic acid that is produced from the vegetables fermenting and healthy bacterial growth, not from dairy products. Beneficial bacteria proliferate just fine without the whey. Read Sandor Katz’s book – he explains it in there. Also, he explains that extra salt is not needed if whey is not used. In fact he includes recipes with very little salt.

  17. Pickled Salsa!!!

    Any salsa recipe, but omit the tomatoes. Tomatoes will ferment and go alcoholic (my first batch resulted in salsa that was so boozy I had to put it in a saute pan and cook it for 10 minutes to get the tiddly out of it).

    Add extra red peppers to compensate for the lack of tomatoes. Ferment until it is nicely pickled. Wonderful with eggs or breakfast burritos!

  18. Hi!
    Would kefir whey work for the lactofermented zucchini pickles recipe?

    I make my own kefir and am always looking for uses for the whey!
    Thanks for youfeedback

  19. Just opened my two jars of fermented Zucchini and it was complete mush. Not sure what to do to keep them crisp, I added grape leaves like one commenter said. Any help would be appreciated

    • Hey Dan, this can easily happen with different types of pickles. It’s happened to me many times. You might have let them sit at room temp for too long and/or it might have been too warm. Things will ferment faster in summer weather. Or the zucchini might have been just past the ripe stage. Firm, slightly underripe zucchini, similar to cucumbers, are best. Hope that helps!

  20. Cabbage leaves, or horseradish leaves provide the necessary starter bacteria for lacto-fermentation. Place a few cabbage leaves in the bottom of the jar, then spices, garlic, dill. Next fill jar with Zucchini, pack down hard, place a few cabbage leaves at the very top, add brined water. Always works.


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