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Do unsalted, cultured vegetables cause botulism?

Do unsalted, cultured vegetables cause botulism?

Tara Carpenter, NC.

Originally published on October 28, 2012

This is the question I get asked most in the unsalted cultured food workshops I teach. People tend to be stumped on how cultured vegetables will stay fresh and safe if they don’t contain salt. Unsalted cultured vegetables are new to our modern day culture, yet they are a long lost food we are bringing back to the dining room table! 

The salty ‘sauerkraut’ (German for ‘sour cabbage’) many people eat to get in a daily dose of probiotics didn’t originally contain salt. When natives of Poland, Germany, and Russia began to travel to America by ship they added salt to preserve the kraut for long travels. Somehow this way has stuck over the years, likely out of convenience and out of habit.

Donna Gates, founder of Body Ecology Diet (B.E.D.),  is reviving and re-introducing the art of making unsalted cultured food like milk kefir, cultured vegetablesyoung coconut kefir, and cultured butter. She taught me how to make them and now years later I still do, along with teaching others how to make them. They’re absolute jewels and I don’t know how we did without them for so long ✨

Many people are rightfully concerned that consuming probiotic food made without salt will cause botulism; a rare but serious illness caused by a bacteria called Clostridium botulinum. Botulism is well known in our culture because of the popular method of canning food. Canning food is the opposite of culturing food. Canning is the process by which foods are sterilized so that no microorganisms live inside the jars; high heat is used to kill the bacteria.

Unfortunately, Clostridium botulinum is a type of bacteria that has a high tolerance to heat and these little guys thrive in such an anaerobic environment, which is what these botulism- causing bacteria require to grow and reproduce. This means that long after you’ve canned, these bacteria can survive and cause botulism. 

Good flora inside of unsalted cultured food is able to stop the growth of botulism-producing bacteria.

On the contrary, unsalted cultured vegetables are made with potent strains of probiotic starter that multiply as they culture and take over any pathogenic activity in the jar. We also use a sterile, controlled method to prevent wild-borne and/or unknown organisms to enter. 

When vegetables are cultured, we introduce a large native population of good bacteria which are cultivated to encourage their growth and high production of acids. In this circumstance botulism is not a worry because the bacteria that produce botulism are not able to live in such an acidic environment full of hearty probiotic strains.

Cultured food creates an acidic environment that will not allow botulism-producing bacteria to grow.

When you submerge cabbage, or other vegetables under liquid that has probiotics added into – acidifying bacteria have the opportunity to grow. These beneficial, acidifying bacteria are a brilliant strategy for food preservation and food safety because they create an environment that is inhospitable to botulism or other food poisoning organisms.

The things that can go wrong when you make unsalted, cultured food are typically ones that you can observe with the naked eye; such as surface mold, slimy textures and mushy texture. These things would stop you from wanting to eat the food in the first place!

Why Hold the Salt in Sauerkraut

Recipe for Young Green Coconut Kefir

Beginner Recipe for Unsalted Cultured Vegetables


Alfaro, Danilo (2012) Clostridium Botulinum (Botulism).  Online and retrieved from

Katz, Sandor Ellix (2008, July) Can I Get Botulism from Fermented Vegetables?  Online and retrieved from

PubMed Health (2011, July) Botulism. Online and retrieved from

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2 replies on “Do unsalted, cultured vegetables cause botulism?”

I am glad to hear of your excitement about making cultured veggies! They have truly become a mainstay in my own families diet and we rarely go a day without them 🙂 It sounds like you have found a perfect environment to “incubate” them in and that is such a relief. Just make sure temp. does not go below 70 and is consistently not more than about 72 degrees and you are good to go. I check on mine daily while they are culturing as they do become like babies once ou invest in making them!! If you find that you would like to try the starter let me know as doing so ensures you a very potent finished product. Also, if you have any digestive issues whatsoever the extra counts of good flora in the cultured starter can give you the therapeutic levels needed to replenish and maintain good probiotic levels in the digestive tract, especially the colon.
I have a “step-by-step” video on YouTube video making the cv recipe you learned in case you want to check that out…
Do keep in touch about your success or questions!

Hi, Tara. I am looking forward to trying to make some cultured vegetables. I was very glad I went to your workshop at the co-op. I was giving up my knitting group, and I am glad I did!
I am going to try to make some without the packaged culture. With your generous gift, I am noticing a difference in my “morning constitution.” I knew I needed some help in the digestive area of my life, and I am fortunate that I saw the workshop and attended.
I will keep in touch to let you know how it’s going. I am investigating spots in my basement because I have a pellet stove down there that will keep the atmosphere warmer than on the main floor. So far, it has hovered around 69 – 72 degrees. I am also thinking about just keeping it in a cooler in my kitchen and checking on it frequently (I will put a slightly microwaved item in there to keeping the temperature up). Anyway, it’s all very impressive and I am a believer that food can be medicine.
Thanks again!

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