Fermenting tomatoes is so so easy. It’s a great, healthy way to preserve tomatoes without cooking a sauce and it takes minutes to prepare a huge jar. I’ll show you step by step how to ferment tomatoes and you can find the printable card at the end of the tutorial.
My vegetable garden always consists of tomato plants. The garden just doesn’t feel complete without tomatoes in it.
I usually plant a few different varieties, some are especially for canning and some for eating fresh in salads or sandwiches.
There are a million uses for tomatoes, and we always anxiously wait for the plants to produce but there are times during the growing season when tomatoes are coming faster than we can consume them or handle them.
You probably know that tomatoes don’t last too long. I always pick my tomatoes at the green mature stage and let them ripen indoors, but once they are ripe, I know that I have to do something with them or I’ll lose them (and I worked way too hard to lose them).
Canning tomatoes is a great way to preserve them, of course. But to be honest, sometimes, in the middle of the growing season, when I have two million other things to do, I just don’t have time to can tomatoes.
To help with that problem, I’ve started freezing my whole tomatoes. I simply throw them in the freezer and they stay there (piling up) until I have time to can them.
But I was looking for another way to preserve them that would be easy and quick and didn’t involve cooking and came across this fermenting tomatoes recipe in an old Israeli preserving book that I have.
I decided to give it a try and even though I have to admit that I still prefer eating fresh tomatoes or canning a sauce, this was a great way to keep tomatoes “fresh” for a little longer.
Why Ferment Tomatoes?
It takes minutes – literally, it took me less than 10 minutes to prepare a gallon of fermented tomatoes. Yes, they have to be left for a couple of weeks to a month to ferment but to actually put it together was super easy and did not involve any type of cooking.
They can store well – at the right temperature (we’ll go over this later), fermented tomatoes can last in the jar for a few months. If you have a root cellar or a fridge that you can store the jar in, it can be a great way to keep tomatoes for the early months of winter and enjoy them fresh and not cooked.
It’s a nice change – it gives me a bigger variety and another simple thing to do with my tomatoes. So I can enjoy them fresh, fermented, cooked…
They are so healthy – lacto-fermentation (which is what we are going to do here) means preserving food by using a brine mixture (salt dissolved in water). The brine creates an anaerobic, acidic environment in which bad bacteria can not grow, therefore, we are able to keep the food longer.
During the fermentation process, the nutrition level of the food actually increases.
Not only does lacto-fermented food keep its nutrition value but also, in the process of fermentation, bacteria, probiotics, and enzymes that are beneficial to our digestive system are created.
So it’s easy, takes minutes to put together, and super healthy. I say, let’s do it!
What Kinds of Tomatoes to Ferment…
Any kind. Fermented tomatoes are a very popular dish in many European countries and as far as I know, they use all types of tomatoes for fermenting.
Variety – if possible, I choose to ferment the slicing varieties and keep the canning varieties for canning. You’ll see below that I used a mix of whatever came from the garden, but they were all slicing varieties.
Size – choose medium to small tomatoes. They are easier to pack into the jar and they take less time to ferment. They also seem to hold better and it’s easier to handle them after they ferment.
Ripeness – for some reason, when I was doing a little bit of research before I fermented my tomatoes, I found a few places that said that you should use tomatoes that are not completely ripe because the ripe tomatoes have more sugar in them and the sugar wants to break down into alcohol in the fermentation process.
These were all American sources. When I looked up recipes from Israel or Russia or other European countries (where this dish is popular), there was no mention of alcohol anywhere and plenty of recipes listed ripe tomatoes.
I chose to ferment my ripe tomatoes and I didn’t taste a hint of alcohol in my fermented tomatoes.
So, if you ask me, you can ferment tomatoes in any stage of ripeness. I’ll have a separate post about fermenting green tomatoes, but just so you know, you can even ferment them green.
I believe that the noticeable difference is in their consistency after they are already fermented. The ripe tomatoes fall apart a little bit and the under-ripe tomatoes hold their shape and texture better.
Makes sense since ripe tomatoes are softer to begin with. Anyway, you can experiment and decide what you like better.
Before we begin this fermenting tomatoes tutorial, let’s gather our kitchen tools…
Kitchen Tools We Are Going to Need…
Cutting board – we don’t have too much to cut but I always like to work on a cutting board anyway. We’ll use it to cut the jalapeno, crush the garlic and so on.
Kitchen knife – to cut the pepper and the celery.
Bamboo Skewers – I am going to use these to poke holes in the tomatoes so the brine can get in there.
Measuring spoon – to measure the salt and peppercorns.
Measuring cup – to measure cups of water for the brine.
Fermentation weights – please don’t be like me and promise yourself every season that you are going to get fermentation weights and never get them. Just get fermentation weights, they’ll make your life much easier.
If you don’t have fermentation weights or you don’t want to get them, I’ll show you what I use and give you a couple of other ideas but really, just get fermentation weights.
I’m gonna get fermentation weights.
All right, we have everything we need, let’s learn how to ferment tomatoes!
How to Ferment Tomatoes…
So again, I started with a variety of small and medium slicing tomatoes from my garden. I make sure to wash them well.
There are many things you can add to your fermented tomatoes… I went with celery (the center of the celery cause I wanted the young celery and the leaves), one jalapeno pepper, eight garlic cloves, and a tablespoon of peppercorns.
You can add dill, basil, oregano, mustard seed… There are many options here.
I started by crushing the garlic cloves. I leave the peel on the clove, set the knife on the clove and press on the knife with the base of my palm to crush the clove.
I leave it crushed like that. There is no need to peel it.
Next, I remove the stem from the jalapeno and slice it in half…
Then, I remove the seeds and the white membrane and slice each half in half again.
A note here… If you want your fermented tomatoes to be spicy, you can leave the seeds and the white membrane, that is where all the heat is.
I am not a huge fan of spicy food so I remove it. The jalapeno still adds great taste with a tiny bit of heat but not so much that I can’t handle it.
Also, I wear kitchen gloves for this task. Not necessarily because it hurts my skin (it sometimes does though…) but mostly because I don’t want to rub my eye by mistake after I’ve touched a hot pepper.
That is a recipe for disaster. Don’t ask me how I know this! I use my gloves and then remove them.
To make it easier for the brine to reach the inside of the tomato, I use a bamboo skewer to poke holes in the tomato.
No specific instructions here… Just a few holes in each tomato.
I pack a few tomatoes into a clean gallon size jar (I wash the jar with warm water and dish soap)…
Then I add some of the celery, garlic, and jalapeno.
I keep adding tomatoes and garlic and celery, and jalapeno until the jar is full.
It’s kind of a work of art! It’s fun to organize it and pack as much as possible into the jar. Kind of like a game to both make it pretty and fit as much as possible.
Don’t pack your jar too full though, we don’t want to crush any tomatoes and we need some room for the brine. We also need some room on the top for the brine to cover the tomatoes and for the fermentation weight, so keep that in mind.
After the jar is packed with all the vegetables, I add the peppercorn and just let them fall in between the other vegetables.
All right! I’m ready for the brine here. Isn’t this beautiful??
I like a very salty brine. I use a ratio of one tablespoon of salt to one cup of water. You can use a little less if you want, but no less than a teaspoon of salt to a cup of water.
It’s important to note here that we need to use non-iodized salt. So kosher salt, sea salt, or pickling salt. Iodized table salt won’t work.
I use a 2 cup measuring cup, add water (room-temperature tap water is fine), add the salt, mix until the salt dissolves and add the brine to the jar.
If you like the taste of vinegar, you can go ahead and add one tablespoon of vinegar per cup of water as well. I do this in my preserved peppers and you can do the same here.
I keep adding water until the jar is full. I make sure to leave about an inch of headspace on the top…
If you have a fermentation weight, you’ll place it on top of the tomatoes and make sure the brine is covering the tomatoes.
I don’t have one yet, so I used a wide mouth freezer lid and flipped it so the brine can fill it and create a weight that will keep the tomatoes submerged.
There are a few different tricks here but none of them works as well as a fermentation weight. In my fermenting radish post, I show you how I used an apple as a fermentation weight and the horrible result.
I’ve heard of people using a ziplock bag full of water, a rock, a cabbage core… I guess some of it can work, but if you ferment regularly I think it’s a good idea to purchase weights (which is what I’m gonna do this year!).
That’s it. All I had left to do is cover the jar and set it on a large plate. I then leave it on my kitchen counter at room temperature to go through the fermentation process.
After a few days, the brine will start bubbling and create gas (I show how those bubbles look in my fermenting cucumbers post). At this point, I make sure to “burp” the jar once a day. This simply means lifting the cover for a couple of minutes to let the gas escape.
Then I close the jar again until the next day.
If you want to save yourself this work you can purchase fermentation lids that let the gas out without you needing to do anything.
The brine becomes cloudy during the fermentation process and some of the liquid might spill out of the jar (which is why I have a plate under it).
Once the liquid in the jar is clear again the fermentation process is done and the tomatoes are ready to eat.
This is a huge jar. So take into consideration that it might take some time for this process to complete.
Usually, I start seeing bubbles at about the 5 to 7 days mark and the brine will start clearing around the 15 or 20 days mark.
If you are using a smaller jar these times will change and it probably won’t take that long.
How to Store Fermented Tomatoes…
The best thing to do is to store these fermented tomatoes in a refrigerator or a root cellar. 30-40 degrees Fahrenheit is best if we want them to last longer.
If you store your fermented tomatoes this way, they should last for a few months (3 or 4 but maybe longer).
I stored this jar in the fridge and we used it within a month. It’s important to make sure that the tomatoes are still under the brine even after the fermentation process is done and you transfer it to the fridge.
Also, it’s important to use a clean fork or a clean spoon every time that you want to fish out a tomato.
Sometimes I get this thin white film on the top of the brine. I want to let you know that I never throw away my fermented goodness. I scoop the film out and keep eating my food.
I’m still alive so I guess it’s ok to do.
How to Use Fermented Tomatoes…
Fermented tomatoes are soft, tangy, sour, yet still hold the tomato taste… It’s an interesting combination of tastes, I have to admit.
You can eat them by themselves as a healthy snack. You can add them to sandwiches or salads, or as a side for an egg salad or a tuna salad or a chicken salad (or any other dish, really).
I’ve also heard that they are great to make salsa with but I haven’t tried this yet.
They are a special and interesting thing to eat, for sure! I hope that this tutorial was helpful and that you’ll give them a try.
If you do, come back and let me know what you think in the comments below.
Here is the handy printable card…
- Enough small to medium tomatoes to fill a gallon jar
- 5 celery stalks (use the center of the celery. The young stalks with leaves on them)
- 1 jalapeno pepper
- 8 cloves of garlic
- 1 tablespoon of peppercorns
- Non-iodized salt (sea salt, kosher salt, or pickling salt)
- Vinegar (optional)
- Wash your tomatoes. Use a bamboo skewer to poke a few holes in each tomato.
- Cut the stem off of the jalapeno pepper and half it. Remove the seeds and the white membrane and half each half again. If you want your fermented tomatoes spicy you don't have to clean the membrane and seeds from the pepper.
- Crush each garlic clove but leave the peel on.
- Wash a gallon jar well with warm water and dish soap.
- Add a few tomatoes into the jar, then a few garlic cloves, a couple of celery stalks, and a piece of jalapeno pepper. Repeat until the jar is full and you have used all of your vegetables.
- Add the peppercorns on top of the tomatoes.
- Mix a tablespoon of salt in a cup of water and add it to the jar. If you'd like, you can also add a tablespoon of vinegar per cup of water. Keep adding brine until the jar is full. Make sure to leave about an inch of headspace.
- Place a fermentation weight on top of the tomatoes and make sure that all of the vegetables are submerged in the brine.
- Close the jar and place it on a dinner plate on the counter to ferment.
- After a few days, when the fermentation process starts (the water will become cloudy and there will be some bubbles on the top), remember to open the jar once a day and let the gas out. Then close it back again (this is called "burping" the jar).
- After about 2 weeks the brine will clear again. This is a sign that the fermentation process is done. Store your jar of fermented tomatoes in the fridge or in a root cellar.
Please read the post for more information on the kinds of tomatoes you can ferment and other important information.
You can use less salt if you'd like but no less than 1 teaspoon per cup of water.
Make sure that the tomatoes stay under the brine even after you store the jar in the fridge.
Make sure to always use a clean fork or spoon when you take a tomato out of the jar.
Your fermented tomatoes should last for a few months if stored correctly.
Nutrition Information:Yield: 1 Serving Size: 1 gallon
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 436 Total Fat: 6g Saturated Fat: 1g Trans Fat: 0g Unsaturated Fat: 3g Cholesterol: 0mg Sodium: 312mg Carbohydrates: 96g Net Carbohydrates: 0g Fiber: 33g Sugar: 54g Sugar Alcohols: 0g Protein: 20g
Lady Lee is a single mother of four, she was born in Israel and raised in an agricultural commune called a Kibbutz. From a very young age, she was very interested in agriculture and farming.
She is a former IDF fitness trainer and is passionate about simple, natural living. She now lives in NC with her four kids, dog, cat, goats, ducks, and chickens.