Sichuan Style Fermented Vegetables

These homemade Sichuan style fermented vegetables are crunchy, with a bracing sour tang.  Beyond tasting good, they contain live bacteria that you won’t often find in store-bought pickled vegetables.

Sichuan Style Fermented Vegetables-These homemade Sichuan style fermented vegetables are crunchy, with a bracing sour tang. Beyond tasting good, they contain live bacteria that you won’t often find in store-bought pickled vegetables.

I can’t believe that it’s been more than a year that I’ve been wanting to share with you the Sichuan style fermented vegetables (both the how-to recipe and the vegetables themselves).

I grew up in a house where we consume these fermented vegetables on a daily basis.  We all knew how good tasting, salty, crunchy, and tangy they were.  However, we didn’t know about all the powerful healthy benefits inside this bubbling jar.

Last year, my friend, Willow,  gave me a book, Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation, by Michael Pollan.  I skimmed through the pages as everybody does with a new book.  Suddenly, the chapter he talked about fermentation caught my attention.  I didn’t get much time to read through the chapter until recently.  I can now say with confidence, fermented foods are so good for our bodies.

Sichuan Style Fermented Vegetables-side view-pink napa cabbage, carrots, celery-in a bowl

I know, this may sound like another old wives tale/home remedy with no science behind it.  But, it is so true.  I strongly recommend you to take a little bit of time to read the book; even just 10 minutes.  

Now, let’s get back to the recipe.  Unlike most of the sauerkraut making directions you’ll find on YouTube, sanitizing your jars and utensils is unnecessary.   I’ve never seen my parents, or any neighbors who have a big jar of fermented vegetable ever do this step.  My parents told me, a clean, grease-free jar is good enough to start the batch.

Sichuan Style Fermented Vegetables-top view-with sliced beet in a canning jar

However, the enemy of the vegetable fermentation is oxygen.  Most Sichuan style fermented vegetables are made in a porcelain, ceramic, or glass crock.  Typically, it has a deep circular well on the rim of the jar that can hold water, together with an upside down bowl/lid to create an airlock system preventing oxygen from getting into the jar.  You may also know this kind of vessel as German sauerkraut crock.  Well, I couldn’t find this at my local Chinese store, and they are a little bit pricey to buy online .  

The good news is glass jars, such as canning jars, work very well.  So, I started using glass jars and plastic airlocks.  After experimenting with a few batches, I found that airlocks are not necessary.  A   glass jar cleaned with soapy water and a lid are all you’ll need.

Sichuan Style Fermented Vegetables-top view-pink napa cabbage, carrots, celery-in a bowl

I like making probiotic-rich food at home.  You’ll always see on my kitchen counter, something bubbling away in jars: water kefir, milk kefir (dairy or non-dairy).  By taking   advantage of my probiotic rich water kefir that I used a starter, I began fermenting vegetables.  With the addition of some ionic sichuan style spices, such as sichuan peppercorn and red chili,  these homemade, live probiotic rich fermented vegetables can be ready in days.

Sichuan Style Fermented Vegetables-ingredients-sichuan peppercorn, red chili pepper, salt, fennel seeds, water kefir

Better yet, you can simply add more raw vegetables into the jar, batch after batch, to keep the wild bacteria going.  My mom told me, the longer you use your probiotic brine (the liquid in the jar), the better and stronger the flavors.  Not only are the flavors intensified by the spice and probiotic rich brine, but also the fermentation process itself.

Sichuan Style Fermented Vegetables-top view-in a glass canning jar

You can pretty much ferment any kind of vegetable. Vegetables that are harder or have stronger stems, such as long green beans, celery, carrots, radishes, beets, take a little bit longer time to ferment; about 1 week on average.  Leafy vegetables, such as the cabbage and Chinese napa cabbage can be ready overnight or in a couple of days.  As the vegetables ferment, you’ll be dazzled by the pigments of the red chili, red cabbages, and beets making the brine and the other vegetables in the jar more exotically beautiful.

Sichuan Style Fermented Vegetables-raw vegetables

One post isn’t enough for me to stress to you how important it is to include homemade fermented food in your diet.  However, I strongly encourage you to do so.  Most store-bought pickles, kimchi, olives, and sauerkraut, etc, are absence from live-cultures before they even hit the supermarket.  “Bacteria-free food may be making us sick”, says Michael Pollan.

Sichuan Style Fermented Vegetables-side view-in a bowl with chopsticks picking fermented napa cabbage, pink color

5 from 4 votes
Sichuan Style Fermented Vegetables
Prep Time
10 mins
Total Time
10 mins
These homemade Sichuan style fermented vegetables are crunchy, with a bracing sour tang.  Beyond tasting good, they contain live bacteria that you won’t often find in store-bought pickled vegetables.
Course: Side Dish (Vegan | GlutenFree)
Cuisine: Asian
Keyword: asian, fermented vegetables, probiotics
Author: Joyce @ Light Orange Bean
  • 1 teaspoon sichuan peppercorn
  • ½ teaspoon fennel seeds
  • 2 red chili pepper
  • 5 slices ginger root
  • 2 cups water kefir or more to cover the vegetable see note 1
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 stalk celery cut into 3-4 inches length
  • 2 napa cabbage leaves and stems
  • 3 carrots
  1. Clean a quart glass canning jar, fitting lid (plastic preferred due to the acid produced during the fermentation that can corrode a metal lid), and other utensils with soapy water and rinse with tap water. No sterilization is needed.
  2. Pack the canning jar with vegetables as tight as you can. Add the remaining ingredients. Add more water or water kefir to make sure the vegetables are totally immersed in liquid. Cover the jar tightly with a lid. Keep the jar at room temperature and let the vegetables ferment. The napa cabbage leaves can be ready in 2 days, while the celery and carrots can be ready in a 5 days.
Recipe Notes

1. If you don’t have water kefir to start with, you can dissolve salt in a pot of hot water (roughly 1 oz of salt for every 3 cups of water). Add the spices. Once the brine cools to room temperature, add it to the jar with vegetables. The fermentation will take a few extra days to start.
2. The fermented vegetable should have a nice, pleasant sour smell rather than rotten smell. They should be crunchy instead of mushy and soggy.
3. Once the vegetables are fermented, you can serve them as they are. Remember to add fresh vegetables to continue feeding the live-bacteria in the brine. Moving the jar to a cool place, such as a basement, can slow down the fermentation.
4. If there is white milky stuff floating on the surface, don’t worry. It’s kahm yeast and it’ not harmful. Simply skim it off. It happens when there is not enough salt, or the vegetables are not fresh. Adding more salt or fresh vegetables will take care of this situation.


Sichuan Style Fermented Vegetables


    • Joyce says:

      Thanks Sarah! That’s so true. So happy I finally put the recipe/post together. That was a fun learning experience for myself as well.

  1. Billy says:

    I’ve never tried sichuan style veggies before – but I love the sichuan flavor that I’ve had in many of the dishes I’ve tried! I can’t wait to try this recipe at home, thank you for sharing! Pickling and fermenting veggies is such a great way to improve their benefits for us when we eat them.

  2. Pam says:

    so, Joyce, you never put this in the refrigerator? i recently made some fermented cabbage and beets and some radishes. But i have had them stored in the frig for a few weeks now. They keep getting a bit more tangy but now i am wondering if i killed the bacteria and should start over instead of adding more vegetables to the mix. What do you think?

    • Joyce says:

      Hi Pam. Yes, I never put this in refrigerator and they last for years. I think you need to continuously feed the brine, that means take some already fermented vegetables out and enjoy (or refrigerate) and add fresh vegetables to feed the bacteria in the brine. I would suggest take your jar out from fridge, remove all the fermented vegetables, and add some fresh vegetables. The bacteria should grow at room temperature. It may take a few cycle to complete recover. Keep me posted! 🙂

    • Joyce says:

      I normally don’t because the lid doesn’t seal very tight. If yours seals very tight, you can open it to release the pressure. 🙂

  3. Diego says:

    Hi, I just made a fermented vegatable, Chinese cabbage and another batch of raddish. I wonder if I follow you method by keep on taking out the fermented vegetable and add the brine as necessary and just stay a room temperature, does it works at Philippines which is hot tropic country, sometimes the room goes up to 35 degree centigrade.

    • Joyce says:

      Yes, it should work. You may just need to take out the fermented vegetable more often since the higher temperature can accelerate the fermentation process.

  4. Diego says:

    Hi Joyce, thanks. I have successfully fermented the Chinese cabbage & raddish. Could I reuse the brine solution of a raddish with another vegatable likke carrot or cucrmber?

    • Joyce says:

      Absolutely. Cucumbers have lots of juice so you may want to add a little bit more salt so the brine won’t get too dilute. Happy fermenting!

  5. Rae says:

    Hi there,
    Thank you for this post. I am wondering if you know if I can substitute water kefir for the whey in raw milk kefir?
    Thank you!

  6. Barbara says:

    I tried fermenting using this site, I am a lucky person! I used red cabbage and beet with the water salt kefir and spice. In two days it was perfect , in three its even better. Can’t wait to try onions!

  7. Kurt says:

    I’m just starting to make fermented foods, although I have been doing half-sour pickles for a couple of years and started making fermented hot pepper mash this summer. I tried this recipe – put it together about 3 weeks ago and enjoying now. Great! Love the flavor. I saw the question/response on re-using the brine. I had put mine in the fridge after about a week. So, it appears that I can continually “recycle” the brine. So my follow-up question is – if I need to add more water, do I need to add additional salt? Thanks.

  8. Dees says:

    Hi Joyce
    Can I remove the fermented veggies from brine and store in refrigerator?
    Is this the best way to keep the fermented veggies?
    I then continue to use bribe and add more veggies and salt to existing mixture

    Thank you for your information

  9. PanAsianKid says:

    Tip: my mom used to place a double layer of waxed paper over the mouth of the jar, then screw on the lid on not-so-tightly. The paper keeps the lid from sealing completely, creating a cheap and easy fermentation lock.

    I also remember her adding a dash of vinegar to the rice before cooking so that it would not mold as quickly in hot weather.

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