lacto-fermentation and elderberry capers

I wrote about lacto-fermentation and these elderberry capers on Diaforlife a couple months ago (after fiddleheads and dulse), but they are ready now and therefore deserve some new attention.






After three weeks packed in 5% salt, then six weeks in raw apple vinegar, the raw elderberries have gone from green, shiny, and poisonous to soft, dark, and edible.


They taste rich and full from the fermentation, and though a little soapy have retained much of their elder fragrance.

Also towards the end of the summer we obtained some sea buckthorn (from the table arrangements for the Gastrophysics Symposium) – after lacto-fermenting them in the same style, we passed them through a tamis and made a leather, which we served with pheasant leg rillettes on a toasted mini english muffin as one of five tastes for our workshop at a conference on Danish game in November.


The wood is also highly fragrant, so we got a tincture going with the wood to use for bitters.


The endless possibilities of raw materials.


The elderberries and their transformation inspired me to make a dish for our Julefrokost at the Lab. The Julefrokost is a Danish tradition in the weeks leading up to Christmas, long parties that begin in the afternoon and often go into the night. Every company, college, and organisation has one. Ours was born of necessity – to clear the fridges and freezer of odds and ends and old experiments before closing down for the holiday – but also became a chance to spend our last day together, cooking, creating, and enjoying each other’s company.

It was an ode to the salt-cure: brined wild apples with elderberry capers and tarragon oil.

brined apples

My friend Chris took this photo and all the rest. He’s a talented photographer and agreed to come hang out while we cooked and photograph the process and the meal. I think he made some incredible pictures.

The satisfaction of the long process – the labour is very light; the main ingredient is time.

This entry was published on Wednesday, January 2, 2013 at 4:58 pm. It’s filed under experiments, food, general, recipes, work and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

22 thoughts on “lacto-fermentation and elderberry capers

  1. Pingback: apple day « hearthstrung

  2. This is SO cool. My family has been farming elderberries for years… but I never thought to use the unripe berries. Thanks so much for sharing! This is a definite must-try.

  3. Do you have any water with the berries and 5% salt? Or did the moisture come from the curing process? Are you saying the berries posess their own bacteria for the fermintation? If not I could always add some cabbage. Because I’d like to try to pickle them without using vinegar. Thank you for any input you can offer.

    • Nope, no extra water – the salt draws the moisture out of the berries, same with cabbage in sauerkraut.
      As for the bacteria, almost every plant has loads of different bacteria, yeasts and fungal spores on their surface; by adding some salt (5% is a bit high, the most common ratio is 2% for lacto-fermentation) we lower water activity and create the perfect conditions for lactic acid bacteria to become the dominant culture.
      good luck!

  4. This is awesome! Do you rinse the vinegar after or something, or just eat them like that?

  5. Pingback: nordisk mad | hearthstrung

  6. what latin name to these elderberries, please? we’ve got Sambucus racemosa (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sambucus_racemosa) native here

  7. This is so inspiring. I will defenitely give it a try. Do you think it’s necessary to put the berries in vinegar after the fermentation ?

    • not strictly ‘necessary’, but it does balance the taste (lactic acid + acetic acid, rounding out with a bit of sweetness and mellowing the salt) and complexify the flavour, and, I would say, stabilise the system for a longer fermentation. Depends if you want to lacto-ferment them and eat them right away, or add vinegar and be able to age them for a longer time (months) without deterioration. happy fermenting!

  8. it’s mostly a matter of taste I’d say – some people like them just after the lactic fermentation! The vinegar will help soften them and round out the taste and flavour – six weeks is a good estimate, but the most important thing is to keep tasting as you go.

  9. Can I ask how you know these are no longer toxic? Can you point to any studies or toxicology reports or other science-based evidence for this?

    Reason I ask is because unripe elderberries are notoriously toxic, and while it seems you have managed to find a way to not feel the effects of this toxicity in the limited amounts you serve to people of the “capers,” that does not mean they are no longer toxic, only less so… probably. It could just be that the ferment masks the bitter flavor of the unripe berries.

    Not challenging you here, only want to know if this is anecdotal evidence of de-toxing the berries or is there known science behind it?



    • Hi hank,

      It’s a good question for sure. We’ve done a lot of work on cyanide in elder at Nordic Food Lab where I work – you can read more here:
      The short answer is that hydrogen cyanide vaporises at around 26˚c, so the exothermic metabolism of many fermentative microbes at room temperature would take care of it over time, or a rather warm day.
      We can also test for the presence of hydrogen cyanide using picric acid. More detail in the linked post.
      Hope that helps

  10. How do you figure out the 5%? Weight of elderberries vs amount of salt?

  11. Gunnar Rundblad on said:

    Just wondering at what level of un-ripeness you harvest theese berries so to avoid the hard seeds – how many days/weeks after flowering?

    • Hi Gunnar,
      I think they are nice when they are a bit bigger, but while still firm and before they take on any purple colour. As for time, it really depends on the local weather conditions – I’ve seen a pretty big variance in development rates for elder. That said, even when a bit bigger they will still have seeds. But the processing can soften them a bit.
      Hope that helps.

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