Food preservation is a hot topic these days. Everywhere I look, I find articles on canned, dehydrated, and pickled vegetables and fruits. As world events impact our economy and food supply, learning about old-fashioned food preservation has become a popular activity for people interested in securing their food supply and safely storing food for the long term.
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Although it’s a great way to store food and an ancient preservation method, pickling also has several other benefits in addition to long-term food storage. Learn six good reasons to make pickled vegetables and grab a few tips on pickling versus brining and fermenting before you begin.
Why Pickle Vegetables Anyways?
Depending on who you ask, you’ll find several good reasons to make pickled vegetables. Here are six:
- Pickling extends your summer vegetable harvest (or supermarket purchase) through the winter. That’s what the pioneers did when a quick trip into town for groceries wasn’t possible. And pickling helps preserve your vegetable garden harvest without a root cellar.
- Pickled vegetables don’t need to get refrigerated or frozen. Fridges and freezers use a lot of power. And for families like mine, who live off the grid, this means we don’t have to worry about keeping our food preserved on the days when our solar panels bring in little power.
- Pickling your vegetables prevents harmful bacteria from growing. When you’re pickling with vinegar, the high acidity of the vinegar prevents most bacteria from thriving. By submerging your produce in the vinegar solution, you restrict the ability of bad bacteria to grow on the fruit or vegetable, thereby preserving it. Learn more about pickling for beginners right here.
- Pickled vegetables promote good health. According to several recent studies, pickling vegetables and fruits creates naturally-occurring probiotics, which promote good gut health. True, the Vitamin C benefits in the veggies and fruit gets lost during heating. However, fiber and fat-soluble vitamins (think Vitamin A - in carrots) don’t get affected. Even better, Vitamin B gets “amplified.”
- Pickling is also one of the more cost-effective ways to preserve food. You don't need many items to successfully pickle a large harvest. The essentials include a clean jar, water, vineger, salt, pickling spices, and vegetables. You likely have most of these items in your kitchen already. So there won't be much you need to purchase to get started.
- And the same type of food can be pickled in a few different ways. By changing up your pickling spice recipes, you can create many different tastes so your family doesn’t get bored of eating the same pickles for months.
Where to Find Pickled Vegetables
You'll find pickles everywhere! For example, pickled cucumbers, one of the most popular pickled foods in North America, pop up at supermarkets, farmer's markets, convenience stores, and even some gas stations.
When you pickle at home, make sure you have the right supplies, including good quality jars such as Ball Mason Jars.
How Pickling Works
Preserving food by pickling has been around since ancient times. It involves submerging the food in either vinegar or salt brine to keep it from spoiling. These processes involve bacteria, both good and bad. However, no matter which pickling method you choose, the idea is to keep out the bad bacteria.
As mentioned above, a vinegar-based solution will slow down the growth of bad bacteria due to its acidic levels. On the other hand, a salt-based brine will help foster the growth of good bacteria. This leaves less room (or no room) for bad bacteria to grow.
Kosher pickles are the perfect example of cucumbers getting preserved in a vinegar solution. Most dill pickles, on the other hand, get preserved in a brine. While that mixture may include vinegar, it also includes dill and other pickling spices and pickling salt.
And while I’m on the topic, choosing different pickling spices can really change the taste of the vegetables or fruit you’re pickling.
Brine pickling encourages controlled fermentation. Brined pickled vegetables include sauerkraut and kimchi. Brining vegetables allows beneficial bacteria to grow, which then crowd out any harmful bacteria that could cause the food to spoil. Find a good saltwater brine pickle recipe to make your first pickled vegetables.
Brining changes the look, texture, and flavor of the food. The same thing happens with cheese, by the way, which results from fermented milk.
Basic 4-Ingredient Pickling Brine Recipe
Ready to give brining vegetables or fruit a try? Use this basic four-ingredient pickling brine recipe to start.
Combine 1 cup of any kind of vinegar (but not balsamic), 1 cup of water, ½ cup sugar, and 1 tablespoon of kosher salt. This makes enough brine for 1 cup of vegetables or fruit. Want to add a little kick to your brine? Add some herbs and spices! Try these:
- Fresh herbs from your indoor garden or outdoor garden
- Mustard seeds
- Cumin seeds
- OR any of your favorite pickling spice combos!
Fermented foods make a great addition to your diet. The beneficial bacteria in these foods help improve the bacteria living in your gut. And improving your gut bacteria benefits everything from your digestion to your immune system.
If you’ve ever eaten sauerkraut or kimchi, you were eating fermented food. Fermented pickled vegetables appear all across the globe. Cooks in a variety of cultures have used this ancient food preservation method used for thousands of years.
The Simplest Pickled Vegetables
Fermenting might be your simplest pickling method. After all, you won’t need power, cold temperatures, or special equipment. As long as your supplies include some salt, you have what you need to ferment your veggies and preserve your harvest in one form or another.
Have you tried your hand at making pickled vegetables yet? Have any questions about this article? Let me know in the comments below!