The Superfood Secret to Making Homemade Condiments Last for Weeks

Naked Foods CookbookMargaret Floyd is a nutritional therapist, writer, and passionate real food advocate. She is a board-certified Nutritional Therapy Practitioner and Certified Healing Foods Specialist, with a thriving private practice in Los Angeles at The Body Well Wellness Centre. Margaret is the author of Eat Naked: Unprocessed, Unpolluted, and Undressed Eating for a Healthier, Sexier You and the coauthor of the follow-up cookbook, The Naked Foods Cookbook. She currently blogs at Eat Naked as well as several other health-related websites. You can connect with her on Twitter and Facebook.

Fermented Condiments

Condiments. Delicious and essential. And, often some of the biggest culprits in derailing our unprocessed intentions. The dressings, sauces, salsa. Ketchup, mustard, mayonnaise. They all have long lists of unpronounceable ‘faux’ ingredients to lengthen their shelf life or add synthetic flavor, texture, and nutrients where the originals have been processed out. Even the ‘healthy’ options like salad dressing or an innocent jar of salsa can send you reeling.  

Making these condiments is challenging for most of us – not just because it takes time to make them, but because they’re the kind of thing we want to just have on hand to use when needed. Who wants to make a batch of homemade mayonnaise every time they have a sandwich?

When you go to all the effort to make a condiment from scratch, you want it to have some legs. It should last at least a few weeks; even better a couple of months. But how to do this without all those artificial preservatives or intensive processing methods?

There is a little known and incredibly simple method that you can use to preserve any condiment, naturally extending its shelf life by weeks (if not months) and enhancing its nutritional value in the process. Let me introduce you to the art of culturing.

Culturing – or fermentation – is a natural form of food preservation that humans have been using for thousands of years. Indeed, culturing is thought to be the earliest form of food preservation and the original ‘cooking’ technique before fire was discovered.

When you culture a food, naturally occurring bacteria convert the sugars in the food into lactic acid or alcohol – both of which prevent spoilage. You can culture almost anything. We culture dairy into foods such as yogurt, kefir, buttermilk, and cheese; we culture vegetables into sauerkrauts and pickles; we culture fruits into chutneys and wine; we culture grains into sourdough bread, beer, and liquor. We can even culture fish and meats.

Today I’m going to share with you one of the easiest ways to naturally culture any kind of condiment using a simple culture starter made from plain yogurt: whey. The whey kickstarts the culturing process, inoculating the food with beneficial bacteria that convert the sugars into lactic acid, preventing spoilage and preserving the food.

It’s a lot easier than it sounds. The bacteria do 99% of the work, you just have to introduce them to the food.

Now the real bonus of this process is that it adds some significant nutritional value to your food. Quite the opposite of most forms of food preparation! In the culturing process you are adding beneficial bacteria (yes, your ketchup will have probiotics in it), increasing vitamin levels especially some B vitamins and vitamin K, and adding enzymes, which makes this condiment a digestive aid. Not bad bang for your buck, I’d say.

Here’s how it works:

Step 1: Make whey

You know that clear yellow-ish liquid that appears on your yogurt when it’s left to sit? That’s the whey. To separate it from the yogurt, you’ll need the following:

  • 1 tub of plain, organic yogurt (must contain active bacterial cultures). Don’t use Greek yogurt. It already has most of the whey strained out.
  • 1 strainer or colander
  • 1 clean fine-weave cloth dish towel or cloth napkin
  • 1 medium-sized bowl (if you have a clear bowl, that’s a bonus)

Line the strainer or colander with the dish towel or napkin, and rest them on top of the bowl. Put all of the yogurt in the lined strainer, and leave it out at room temperature for about eight hours. The whey will drain through the lined strainer and into the bowl underneath, and you’ll have a thicker Greek-style yogurt left in the strainer. Use it as-is or add some herbs and spices to it and make a nice dip.

Draining Yogurt

Step 2: Store the whey until you make a condiment

Store the whey in a glass jar and keep it in your fridge. It will last for months.

Step 3: Add the whey to any homemade condiment and let sit at room temperature for 2-4 days

Let’s say you want to make some salsa that lasts more than a week.

  • Prepare the salsa as you would normally (the recipe really doesn’t matter – any will do), and then stir in 4 tablespoons of whey.
  • Put the mixture into a glass jar, making sure to leave about an inch between the top of the condiment and the top of the jar.
  • Seal the jar tightly and leave it out on your counter at room temperature for 2-4 days (2 in the summer when its warm, 4 in the winter when it’s cooler). It’s important that you leave it at room temperature during this time. If you put it in the fridge, you stop the culturing process. During those 2-4 days, the beneficial bacteria will do their thing and your salsa will now last for several weeks, up to 3 months.
  • Once the condiment has been cultured, refrigerate, and use when needed. That’s my favorite part: use when needed. Not “Hurry up and use it all this week before it goes bad” just, use when needed.

You can use this process with any condiment. In my recent cookbook, The Naked Foods Cookbook, my co-author Chef James Barry and I have included many recipes for easy homemade condiments (ketchup, mayonnaise, mustard, several salsas, cultured vegetables, and many more) that use this exact technique. It’s simple, it works, it doesn’t affect the flavor of the food, it’s 100% natural and unprocessed, and it adds nutritional value to the meal.

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October 22, 2012 1:59 pm

Hey guys! Just thought I would share this with you: rejuvelac I’ve used it to make nut cheeses. I would venture to guess it would work here as well.

The basic is 1 cup whole grain (quinoa is my favorite) sprouted, then 4 cups water. Cover with a cheese cloth and allow to ferment 1-4 days. Just keep an eye out for the tiny bubbles and lemony smell. Strain and done. You can even reuse the grain and make another batch with it.!.html

October 24, 2012 10:10 am
Reply to  Stasha

That’s a great suggestion, Stasha. I’ve not made it myself, but I agree, I bet it would work well.

October 22, 2012 1:55 pm

Beth – see my comments above re: the Body Ecology culture starter. That should work.

October 22, 2012 1:50 pm

Hi all!
Thanks for the great feedback on the post. Meg, as Rebecca says, it doesn’t change the taste. Basically the longer you leave something to culture, the more sour it will taste. But at only a couple of days, you’re getting the health and preservation benefits without affecting the flavor. Jasmin – for a vegan alternative you can try the veggie culture starter from Body Ecology. Check out the shopping section on I have only used it for big batches of cultured veggies, though, so I’m not exactly sure about how much to use. Very likely you’ll only need a portion of one of their packets.

October 22, 2012 1:40 pm

My son is allergic to milk — is there something we can use besides whey?

October 22, 2012 11:04 am

This sounds great… but does it change the taste at all?

October 22, 2012 11:14 am
Reply to  Meg

I do this with all of my homemade condiments. I’ve never noticed a change in the taste. 🙂

October 22, 2012 9:54 am

AWESOME! I just made homemade yogurt for the first time the other night and strained it to turn it into greek yogurt, I now have 2 + cups of whey and felt bad tossing it so it’s in a jar in my fridge, now I know what to do with it! Thanks so much!!

October 22, 2012 7:55 am

Is there a vegan alternative to whey?

Sam Tresler
December 14, 2012 10:31 am
Reply to  Jasmin

Well, what you want from the whey here is the lacto bacillus that does the actual fermentation. You can get that in various ways.

You can use the brine from home fermented pickles or sauerkraut, I imagine, but that would add a lot of salt.

If I wanted to do this vegan, I’d probably use the clear liquid from a sourdough starter, although that will be yeasty, too.

Another option might be to experiment with vinegar with-the-mother, which contains the bacteria that converts alcohol to vinegar.

Note, I’ve not tried any of these, they’re just ideas.

October 22, 2012 7:42 am

Whey is one of my favorite before dinner drinks.
I make cottage cheese from a gallon of milk.
The drained liquid is whey.
Adding a little salt enhances the flavor.
Just love, love, love it!

Lacey Wilcox
Lacey Wilcox
October 22, 2012 7:41 am

Oh my gosh. I’ve been reading Nourishing Traditions in honor of going totally unprocessed this month. I literally just finished reading the section on lacto-fermented fruits, vegetables, and condiments.

I’m pumped to see the same idea somewhere else–I’m looking forward to trying it myself!

Nicki Rathert
October 22, 2012 7:05 am

This is great! Thank you so much for sharing this during the challenge. Condiments and spoilage have always been a concern of mine.

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