Fermenting Revolution: The Universal Fermented Pickle Recipe – Mother Earth News (2024)

Making fermented pickles requires us get friendly with bacteria.

As discussed in my previous post, a pickle is nothing more than a vegetable preserved in an acidic brine. Acid is the silver bullet against botulism and also gives pickles their signature tangy taste. For quick pickles, often called vinegar pickles, the brine is acidified with vinegar.

In making fermented pickles, also called brined pickles or lacto-fermented pickles, the brine acidifies naturally, thanks to the activity of beneficial lactobacillus bacteria. The microbiology is fascinating and complex, but all you really need to know is that the beneficial lactobacillus bacteria occur naturally on the vegetables you’ll pickle, and the fermenter’s role is to encourage them to do their thing. In one sense, fermenting is akin to gardening. Gardening requires patience, diligence, and careful attention, but you don’t actually make the garden grow. Instead, you create the conditions for the garden to flourish as nature takes it course. Likewise, with fermenting, you don’t make the ferment bubble, but you do tend the microenvironment of your ferment in order to foster conditions favorable to the beneficial bacteria. And, just as the gardener takes steps to discourage weeds, you take steps to discourage undesirable microorganism such mold and yeast.

Some people prefer the unique, rich flavor of traditionally fermented pickles (kosher dills, for instance) to the sharper flavor of vinegar pickles, but to me the most significant difference between the two classes of pickles is that fermented pickles are a raw, live, pro-biotic food. (See Michael Pollan’s New York Times Magazine article herefor an overview of research linking our bodies’ microbiome, including gut flora, to health.) In my experience, the effectof fermented pickles on digestion is noticeable and beneficial.

Many firm vegetables–including cucumbers, summer squash, green beans, turnips, and green tomatoes–can be fermented. The only essential ingredients apart from the vegetables themselves are sea salt and bottled water.

The 6 Elements of Successful Fermenting

The six basic elements of all successful ferments are: vegetables, water, salt, aromatics, time, and care. At the bottom of this post, I’ll give you my Universal Fermenting Recipe, which is basically a simple ratio of salt to water with some added aromatics.

But the real secret to successful fermenting lies in your attention to the Six Elements, so I’ll start with each in turn.

Vegetables: As with all preserving, good results begin with good ingredients. Choose fresh, crisp, young vegetables picked at the height of the growing season. Rinse well, and trim the blossom end of cucumbers and squash to remove enzymes that can cause the pickle to soften. Vegetables can be sliced (zucchini spears), chunked (large cucumbers or squash), or left whole (green beans, small cucumbers, small green tomatoes).

As for greens: many dark leafy greens will develop an unpleasant chlorophyll taste. But when fermenting turnips I’ll sometimes add a handful of the tops, and trimmed chard stems make a good pickle.

Water: Tap water from municipal water systems has been treated with chlorine or chloramine to kill microbes. It will disrupt the beneficial bacteria you’re trying to encourage in your ferment. Always use bottled spring water instead.

Salt: Salt adds flavor, hardens the vegetables’ pectin to make pickles crunchy, and regulates bacterial growth. The brine will taste quite salty at first, but a portion of the salt is absorbed by the vegetables, and everything comes out right in the end.

Unrefined sea salt is the best choice. Salt’s weight-by-volume varies substantially with flake size, and sea salt will come closest to the recipe measurements. (Kosher salt, which is much flakier, will under-salt the brine.) Unrefined sea salt also contains trace minerals that yield a crunchier pickle.

Incidentally, there is no “right” amount of salt in a brine. The standard ratio of 5% salt by weight is a useful guideline, not a fixed rule. A less-salty brine will ferment faster, and extra salt will slow down a ferment. In summer’s heat, stick with the recipe below.

Aromatics: Be generous with aromatics, such as whole garlic cloves, sprigs of fresh dill and whole dill heads, and whole spices including black peppercorns, dill seeds, and caraway seeds. My recipe below gives suggestions, but don’t feel constrained by them. Other options include fresh horseradish, dried red chilies, and pearl onions.

Incidentally, one often sees the advice to add grape leaves or oak leaves to a ferment, the idea being that their tannins help crisp the pickle. It’s a nice touch, but not at all necessary.

Time: As mentioned, fermenting is a natural process, and it requires time to work. Warmer temperatures accelerate the process, and colder temperatures slow it down. In a comfortable room, around 70 degrees, the brine will begin to cloud in two days. Within three to four days, it will start to bubble and sour. The pickles will be half-sour in about a week, and fully sour in two weeks. At 80 degrees, the whole process might happen in a week. In a cool cellar, it might take three weeks or more. In a cold refrigerator, fermentation occurs imperceptibly over the course of months.

Care: Because of the variables inherent to each ferment (salt and temperature), the only way to judge your pickles’ process is to inspect them carefully. You can’t leave a crock or jar unattended for a week and expect good results. Instead, look at the pickles daily. Make sure they stay submerged (more on that below). Expect to find a thin film of yeast forming on the brine surface and maybe even tiny pinheads of mold. Don’t worry about these signs of life. Skim off the floaters and wipe the wall of the crock or jar if necessary. As long as you keep the micro-garden of your ferment well “weeded” by skimming daily, everything will be fine.

Once the pickles start to sour, taste daily. Once they are soured to your liking, put them in the fridge for keeping. They will last a month or longer.

Universal Fermented-Pickle Recipe

Yields about 2 quarts

2 pounds sturdy vegetables, such as Kirby cucumbers, small zucchini, green beans, baby turnips, or green tomatoes
• 6 4-inch sprigs fresh dill (including seed heads, if available)
• 6 cloves garlic, lightly crushed
• 1 tablespoon black peppercorns
• 1 tablespoon dill seed
• 6 level tablespoons sea salt (2.25-2.5 ounces)
• 2 quarts bottled spring water

1. Wash and trim the vegetables, and pack into a one-gallon jar or crock. Tuck in the dill, garlic, and other aromatics as you go.

2. Dissolve the salt in the water, and pour over the vegetables to cover. Weight the vegetables with a plate so that they remain completely submerged. Alternatively, fill a Ziploc freezer bag with brine, and use it to submerge the vegetables. (Make extra brine using the same proportions if necessary). If using a jar, loosely close the lid. (Do not seal it so because gases produced by the ferment need to escape.) If using a crock, cover it with a plate or board to keep out unwanted visitors.

3. Store the ferment in a cool, dark place, and check daily. Skim any scum or flecks of mold. Insure that the vegetables remain submerged. The pickles will begin to sour in less than a week. You can eat them at any point in the fermenting process. Once soured to your likely, transfer the pickles to the refrigerator, and keep submerged in brine. They will keep for a month or longer.

Clickherefor previous posts fromHome Canning 101.

Clickherefor more information on blogger Kevin West.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Best Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.

Fermenting Revolution: The Universal Fermented Pickle Recipe – Mother Earth News (2024)


Which pickles are good for your gut? ›

Fermented foods like pickles are basically probiotic superfoods, packed full of good bacteria that can support the health of your gastrointestinal microbiome and are good for your gut bacteria. Be sure to go for fermented pickles rather than vinegar-pickled.

Are pickled foods as healthy as fermented foods? ›

The differences in their preservation does result in several differences in their available health benefits. The main difference in the health benefits between pickled and fermented foods lies in their probiotic properties. Fermentation generates more beneficial bacteria in foods, making them probiotic.

What is the white stuff on fermented pickles? ›

The white milky substance that commonly appears on the surface of fermented vegetables is kahm yeast. It's a type of wild yeast and it's not harmful. It's not very attractive and it can cause a bad odor if left alone.

What's the difference between fermented pickles and vinegar pickles? ›

An easy way to remember the difference between the two despite their overlap is that pickling involves putting food into an acidic brine to produce a sour flavor, whereas fermenting gives food a sour flavor without any added acid. Pickling is often the least healthy choice in terms of these two foods.

Are pickles anti-inflammatory? ›

Promotes weight loss: As a low-calorie snack, pickles can be a satisfying and healthy option for those trying to lose weight. Fights inflammation: The antioxidants in pickles can help reduce inflammation in the body, which is linked to various chronic diseases.

Are pickles good for your bowels? ›

Some pickles are better than others for helping with constipation, and it all depends on the brine. Only pickles brined in salt water are constipation cures. Vinegar pickles are not a cure. This is because salt-brined pickles have been fermented, meaning that they contain probiotics that help gut health.

How many fermented pickles should I eat a day? ›

For those that are used to fermented or probiotic foods and consume a good amount of fiber, the right amount is three times a day. The amount you consume doesn't have to be a lot. Serving sizes are quite reasonable, for example, a half a pickle, or a quarter cup of sauerkraut.

Is it OK to eat a pickle every day? ›

Yes, it's OK to eat pickles every day if you stick to the recommended serving size and the pickles aren't pushing you over the limit for your daily recommended sodium intake, the experts say. "Most pickle lovers will dip into the jar more than once, which will definitely rack up the sodium.

How many pickles can I eat per day? ›

A single, medium dill pickle contains 785mg of sodium. The recommended daily allowance of sodium is 1250mg. Two pickles will put you over the daily limit.

How can you tell that your fermented pickles are not safe to eat? ›

If the pickles are soft, they are spoiled from the yeast fermentation. Don't use them.

Why are my fermented pickles fizzy? ›

What happens if a jar of Real Pickles is left out of refrigeration? The fermentation process will resume. After a few hours at warm temperatures, some carbonation may develop in the jar, leading to a fizzy or tingling sensation on the tongue.

Why did my fermented pickles mold? ›

Fill jars to the top: Leaving too much headspace in the jar can create a vacuum and allow air to enter, which can cause mold to grow. Fill the jar to within 1/2 inch of the top to minimize air exposure. Store in a cool, dark place: Pickled veg.

Can you use vinegar when fermenting pickles? ›

Vinegar—Use 5% acidity (50 grain) bottled vinegar. Do not use homemade vinegar or vinegar of unknown acidity in pickling. Spices—Use fresh, whole spices for best flavor in pickles. Water—When brining pickles, hard water may interfere with the formation of acid and prevent pickles from properly curing.

Do fermented pickles taste different than regular pickles? ›

Lacto-fermented pickles have a distinct texture and possess a sour flavor that isn't acidic like traditional pickles.

Can I add vinegar to my fermented pickles? ›

Or add either pasteurized or raw vinegar at the completion of fermentation. Add enough to round out the taste, starting with a tablespoon or so, wait several hours or a day, then taste and adjust if needed.

Are kosher dill pickles good for gut? ›

If the pickles have been fermented, they are a good source of probiotics, which are good for gut health, the experts note. "The probiotics in fermented pickles help support a good gut microbiome," says Zumpano. "Probiotics improve good bacteria in your gut and help create better diversity of the bacteria."

Do all pickles contain probiotics? ›

Quick pickles made in vinegar will not hold nearly as much beneficial bacteria potential as fermented pickles. Fermented pickles are considered a probiotic food, which means they contain beneficial strains of bacteria that, if consumed often, can contribute to the population and diversity of our gut microbiome.

Are all pickles good probiotics? ›

Eat Better Feel Better

Pickling is another food preservation process, that uses an acid such as vinegar or a brine (salty water) to preserve the food. ONLY pickles fermented with salt, not vinegar, contain probiotics.

Are store-bought pickles healthy? ›

Conventional pickles without "good" bacteria aren't nutrient powerhouses, but they do provide a decent amount of vitamin K. Enjoy them in moderation to satisfy a salt and crunch craving.

Top Articles
Latest Posts
Article information

Author: Madonna Wisozk

Last Updated:

Views: 6135

Rating: 4.8 / 5 (48 voted)

Reviews: 87% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Madonna Wisozk

Birthday: 2001-02-23

Address: 656 Gerhold Summit, Sidneyberg, FL 78179-2512

Phone: +6742282696652

Job: Customer Banking Liaison

Hobby: Flower arranging, Yo-yoing, Tai chi, Rowing, Macrame, Urban exploration, Knife making

Introduction: My name is Madonna Wisozk, I am a attractive, healthy, thoughtful, faithful, open, vivacious, zany person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.