VINEGAR VS. LACTO-FERMENTED PICKLES
Chances are you’ve eaten pickles, or “pickled cucumbers”, before. But do you know what it means for something to be pickled? Pickling is a process that preserves foods in one of two main ways. The most common way (think store bought pickles) is to preserve the cucumbers by immersing them in a vinegar solution. An alternative way is to allow the cucumbers to ferment (or to “sour”) in a salt water brine.
Both of these forms of pickling extend the edible lifespan of the cucumbers by killing off the bad bacteria, so which one is better?
FERMENTING IS BETTER (OF COURSE!)
While it is true that both forms of pickling will safely preserve your cucumbers and impart delicious flavor on them, only fermented pickles provide you with additional nutritional value and health benefits.
When a cucumber is pickled with vinegar, the vinegar not only kills off bad bacteria but the good bacteria as well. Those good bacteria are called lactobacillus and are a probiotics that provides us with a whole host of health benefits including improved digestive health, immunity, and more. When you pickle using the fermentation process, not only do you not kill off the good bacteria, but you help it thrive. Lactobacillus feeds off the salt water brine and multiplies, making your finished pickles a veritable super food!
MIXING BOWL: You’ll want a large (4 or 5-quart) glass or stainless steel mixing bowl to dissolve the salt into the water. Stainless steel and glass are non-absorbent materials and will not impart any undesirable flavors into your brine like plastic. We like the largest bowls from this Pyrex set of bowls or this Cuisinart set of bowls. Both are great sets with lids that you will get a lot of general use out of in the kitchen for cooking, backing, and food storage!
FERMENTATION CROCK: We recommend that you use a traditional ceramic fermentation crock, like the SAUERKROCK by Humble House, instead of mason jars for all food fermentation recipes and we have documented the reasons for this in detail in this blog post. The main reason for this is that mason jars and other clear glass vessels allow light and UV rays in which can be harmful to the fermentation process cause damage to your fermenting food.
STORAGE JARS: After the fermented pickles has completed the pickling process, you will need to transfer them over to mason jars for refrigerator storage. We’ve found that wide mouth mason jars make for the easiest transition and best storage solution and recommend either the quart-size like these ones or half-gallon size like these ones. Depending on how many cucumbers you started with and how tightly you compact your pickles, you will need anywhere from 2-3 quart-size jars or 1-2 half-gallon size jars.
Makes 2-3 Quarts of Sour Garlic Dill Pickles
- Enough Unwaxed Pickling Cucumbers to Fill a SAUERKROCK halfway
- 2 Quarts of Filtered Water
- 6 Tablespoons Unrefined Mineral-Rich Salt*
- 2-3 Heads of Fresh Dill
- 1 Head of Garlic
- Spices to Taste (Red Pepper Flakes, Whole Black Peppercorns, and Mustard Seeds)
*We do not recommend using standard table salts or kosher salts because they are refined and often contain additives. The best salts we’ve used for making Sauerkraut and other fermented foods are Real Salt brand sea salt and varieties of Pink Himalayan Salt. These salts are natural and unrefined which means they contain no artificial ingredients and maintain all of their original minerals which add to the quality and flavor of your recipe.
PREPARE THE INGREDIENTS
Rinse the fresh cucumbers then cut off the “blossoms”, also known as the ends. Peel the garlic cloves and cut off the ends, leaving the cloves otherwise whole. Rinse the dill and cut off any excess stem so just the heads remain. Set the vegetables and herbs aside. Grab a glass or stainless steel mixing bowl and combine the salt in the water to make your brine. Stir until the salt is completely dissolved.
FILL THE SAUERKROCK
Place all of the vegetables inside of the fermentation crock, ensuring they are fairly level. Add in the herbs and spices. Pour the brine over all of contents until cucumbers are completely covered. Place the weights on top of the contents and lightly press down to further submerge and compact the cucumbers.
FERMENT THE CUCUMBERs
Place the lid on the fermentation crock, fill the water channel water, then tuck the crock away in a low-traffic area (like the inside corner of a kitchen countertop) in order to avoid any disturbance during the fermentation process. Let the pickles sit in the crock at room temperature until they reach your desired taste. This can take anywhere from a few days to several weeks. Don’t forget to check the water channel regularly to ensure enough water remains after evaporation to keep a seal.
CAN, REFRIGERATE, AND ENJOY
When the fermented pickles taste right to you, move them and the brine to quart-size wide mouth mason jars after skimming off any surface mold that grew during fermentation. Next? Refrigerate and enjoy! Your fermented pickles will continue to develop their flavor even during refrigeration and can last for months thanks to the preserving power of lacto-fermentation.
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