Lacto-Fermented Vegetables with Dill

lacto-fermented vegetables with whey

It’s fair to say that on hearing about Miss Muffett’s troubles, most people don’t give much thought to the whey that’s mentioned. (Or indeed the curds; I think most of us are thinking about the prospect of a great hairy arachnid landing on us.) But when you realise that to produce one kilo of cheese it takes about ten litres of milk and you’re therefore left with nine litres of whey, you can start to ponder about what happens to it all.

Back in history, when cheese was made on farms, the whey was fed back to the animals – it’s no coincidence that dairy farms also tended to produce bacon. It was also a popular drink, especially in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries when ‘whey-houses’ sprang up all over London. It was considered healthier than milk and sometimes herbs or fruit juices were added. The diarist Pepys, never one to miss an opportunity to go out on the razz, wrote one night: ‘To the Royal Theatre.‥Thence to the Whay-house and drank a great deal of Whay.’

As cheese-making grew in scale, so too did the amount of whey produced. It became a waste product, to be thrown away. But where there’s muck, there’s brass and whey is now used in a myriad of ways; from protein shakes and bars for body-builders to baby food, alcoholic drinks and road-clearing. Here is what whey looks like, by the whey (Ha! see what I did there?)

leftover whey

When I made paneer last week, I was left with a litre of whey and figured that this was probably not quite enough to start my own food empire. It seemed a waste to just throw it away though so I looked into what I could do with it and came across lacto-fermentation. Essentially a cousin of pickling, lacto-fermentation uses water, salt and a little liquid whey to preserve food. People were using this method long before we were able to refrigerate or can our food; apparently some Norsk cultures even used it to preserve fish. These ingredients trigger the production of Lactobacillus (probiotics) bacteria cultures which help to preserve food through releasing lactic acid.

So, in for a pickle, in for a pound. I consulted several websites, including Girl Meets Nourishment and Pickle Me Too and off I went, lacto-fermenting.

First of all, some herbs went into my jar: a bay leaf and some dill, as well as a few peppercorns.


I chose some vegetables; a chunky peeled carrot, a few peeled garlic cloves and some cucumber sticks.


Into the jar they went, packed fairly tightly. I then made my fermenting solution, mixing 235ml cooled boiled water with 65ml of whey and a tablespoon of sea salt. I poured it into the jar, ensuring it covered all the vegetables. I then left it in a warm corner of the kitchen for four days. It was starting to look a bit murky by then and I didn’t hold out much hope; I’d read that you can tell if it’s gone off as soon as you open the jar by the stench, so I prepared myself for the worst.

Surprisingly it opened with a satisfying ‘pop’ of gas and lots of little bubbles rose to the surface. There was no stench, other than the dill and so I braved a try. The cucumbers were slightly soggy (apparently adding a vine leaf can help to keep things crispy but it’s not really that time of year) so I took a bite of a carrot. It tasted…well…different. Not putrid or horrible or even pickly but it put me in mind of a hospital smell for some reason; sterile but with ominous undertones. It’s possibly an acquired taste or it could be because I used acid whey (i.e. from a fresh cheese that used acid – lemon juice in this case – to coagulate the curd). So the lid went back on the jar to see if it improved with age. I opened it the following day and the ‘pop’ nearly took my eyebrows off, so there’s definitely some fermenting going on. Next time I make a cheese with a culture, I’m going to have a bash at lacto-fermented ginger beer, although apparently you have to use the right bottles unless you want a hole in your ceiling…

By the way, for the last five days, the song ‘Picklin’ Time’ from Going Live’s Trevor and Simon has been running round my head on a loop. Is there anyone out there at all that remembers this comedy gold (alas, YouTube is no help)?

I am adding this to the Cooking with Herbs Challenge, hosted by Karen at Lavender and Lovage.

Herbs on Saturday for June: Cooking with Herbs Challenge - Win a Pot of Culinary Lavender Grains

Lacto-Fermenting Vegetables With Whey on Punk   Domestics


Filed under home cheese-making

27 responses to “Lacto-Fermented Vegetables with Dill

  1. I also remember googling uses for whey, when I tried making cottage/paneer cheese. Didn’t end up using it to preserve veges, but did try drinking it. Was surprisingly good, in an old fashioned mildly strange kind of way. (hmm, describing it as mildly strange is probably not the best way to ‘sell’ whey, or support your fledgeling whey empire)

    • Yes, I did have a sip of it, although for some reason I was a bit apprehensive even though I’ve drank weirder milk than this. Yes, mildly strange is a good way to put it – not sure the ‘whey bar’ will be making a comeback anytime soon.

  2. Very excited to see you were writing about whey – my cheesey experiments keep leaving me with lots of the stuff. I’ve been wishing we still had pigs in the back garden. Have tried it in American pancakes (good, taste a bit like sourdough pancakes) and smoothies (not so good) and in ricotta but lacto-fermentation is a great idea. Not sure I fancy soggy cucumber though. I haver lots of beetroot, do you think this would work?

    • Yes – I saw recipes for beetroot. I nearly added some in but thought it would turn everything pink (pickling aesthetics!) I think you can try it with anything you would normally pickle. I wasn’t hugely impressed with the results. I think I would leave out the bay leaf in future.

  3. This is a fabulous post and your jar of pickles looks very pretty. Poor old whey doesn’t get much of a press. We’ve been lacto-fermenting for years now, though it is mostly only sauerkraut. Whenever we make any kind of cheese or strained yogurt, we bottle up the whey and keep it in the fridge – seems to keep for ages. As well as giving a good start to ferments, I also use it in baking.

    • Thank you. A few days later and they’re looking a bit murkier but apparently that’s okay. I wish I knew it kept for so long – I was going to bake with it too but ran out of time. I definitely have plans for a new batch, including baking.

  4. Your pickles look lovely. Good on you for giving it a go. Isn’t ricotta made from whey or is yours the wrong sort of whey? I did see one suggestion online for using it as a hair gel … whey not ricotta … sounds a bit whiffy to me.

  5. Whey can also be taken to the point of boiling, but don’t let it boil, just on the roll; when you scoop the sludge off, you get requeijão or cream cheese. On the farm I used this instead of butter on my bread for breakfast. The idea of pickling with it, is new to me, interesting.


    • I guess that’s a bit like the ricotta you can get? I had never heard of pickling with it before but it definitely does something – it’s getting very fizzy. I’m trying to establish whether, if it ferments, you can make something alcoholic with it 🙂

      • Ricotta is made by adding 10% whole milk at 70 degrees C then an acid like vinegar or lemon juice at 80C. Scoop off the sludge and into weighted moulds.

        Forgot to mention above that 30 litres of whey renders 800 grams of cream cheese, that’s a good yield.


  6. OMG Trevor and Simon! I loved them! “We don’t do duvets!” Sadly I can’t remember the pickling song though 😦

  7. I was also thinking of that song the other day when I pickled some fennel the other day (definitely recommended – mmmmm). I was thinking it was from the Fast Show. Funny how these little ditties get stuck in your head, though.
    I have used whey in soups as well. It works for some soups better than others, I make a celery and blue cheese soup that is great with some whey added. It also makes pretty good bread.

  8. Vegetables pickled in whey, whey hey, what a great idea too! I LOVE this recipe and I am so pleased you added it to Cooking with Herbs! Karen

  9. I love the fact your not wasting anything….isn’t it amazing the different things we can do with food!

  10. They’re a funny thing lacto-fermented vegetables. I’ve got a few batches of kimchi in my fridge and it is definitely a flavour that grows on you over time, at first I really didn’t know what to think of them. I’ve got a few jars of little cucumbers on the go for The Cheese Truck atm.

    • The taste seems to have improved a bit but I can’t face the cucumber chunks as they’ve gone all floppy. I wonder if putting a vine leaf in does keep them crisp – tannin works too apparently. I keep hearing about kimchi but have yet to try it…

  11. Adding whey to lacto-fermented veggies can actually contribute to poor texture. It messes with the oxygen and the ph of the fermentation. I’ve heard some people have good luck with it, but I’m not personally sold on the idea I haven’t tried the oak/grape/etc leaf method, but they contain tannin, hence why some recipes call for them. I use black tea & no whey and mine come out crisp and slightly crunchy.

    Love the jar you used!

    • I agree, I’m not very convinced. The cukes have gone so soggy I can’t bear to try them although the carrots have fared better. I guess in days gone by when the most important consideration was laying down food for the winter it would have been okay but these days – I’d rather not!

      • That’s fair. I think adding whey to fermenting veggies was only traditional to a few dairy heavy cultures and/or if they were running low on salt. I like the idea of adding good micro flora to things, but not at any cost.

        I’m sure if you keep experimenting you’ll get a batch you love and fabulous recipe 😉 and I love seeing idea how to use whey!

  12. Pingback: Under the Milky Whey | ediblethings

  13. Pingback: buttermilk & fermented pickles – february in my kitchen | shabby chick

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