Fermented pickles are naturally preserved, deliciously tangy and probiotic. This is a great recipe to make in the summer months when the pickling cucumbers are in season. I will show you how to make crispy crunchy fermented cucumber pickles.
The Two Kinds of Pickles
In my pickle juice salad dressing recipe, I talked about the two kinds of pickles. To recap here:
The first one is the vinegar-based pickle most people are familiar with. Vinegar pickle is made by preserving cucumbers in a vinegar solution. The acidity of vinegar prevents bacteria growth and preserves the cucumbers. The majority of the grocery store pickles are vinegar pickles.
The second kind is fermented pickles, most commonly known as the Jewish kosher pickles. Fermented pickles are made by lacto-fermentation of the cucumbers in a salt brine. Salt helps to prevent the harmful bacteria from growing while allowing the beneficial lactic bacteria to develop and produce lactic acid. Then the lactic acid will preserve the cucumbers. You see during this process, we are also getting plenty of lactic bacteria in the pickle juice. The traditionally fermented pickles are considered probiotic because lactic bacteria is a friendly kind that also populates our digestive track.
Understanding Salt Brine
Making the correct salt brine is half of the tasks for a successful fermentation.
There are many kinds of salt on the market today. I use natural sea salt. You may also use other natural salts, such as Himalayan Pink Salt. Although not my top choice, some people use pickling salt or kosher salt with fine results. Generally iodized table salts are advised against, as the iodine is believed to affect bacteria growth.
After we select the correct salt to use, we need to be sure to use the right amount. Using too little salt, you have a higher chance of growing mold. Using too much salt, it will prevent all bacteria good and bad from growing, which will halt fermentation. The right amount of salt for fermentation is somewhere in the middle, and it is also in this range that the fermented vegetables taste the best.
If you are experienced with fermenting, just like cooking, you can taste your salt brine to determine if it’s salty enough. But most people like to refer to a brine percentage table. Salt brine percentage is calculated by weight which is hard to measure in a home kitchen and quite confusing. Luckily they have been converted to easy measurements using cups and spoons.
- 2% Salt Brine = 1 TBSP Salt for every 4 cups of water
- 3% Salt Brine = 1.5 TBSP Salt for every 4 cups of water
- 4% Salt Brine = 2 TBSP salt for every 4 cups of water
- 5% Salt Brine = 2.5 TBSP salt for every 4 cups of water
These are the most commonly used salt brine percentage. Depending on what you are fermenting, you may want to use higher or lower salt content. For this fermented pickles recipe, I use 4% salt brine. I recommend a 4-5% salt brine for fermenting cucumber pickles. I will explain further in the next section.
The Crispy Pickle Secrets
In case you are wondering, when it comes to pickles, the crispier and crunchier the better. If you are new to fermenting, one of the easiest way to fail at pickle fermentation is to have the cucumbers turn mushy. There are a few factors that will affect the crunchiness of the fermented pickles.
- Generally higher percentage salt brine will keep the pickles crunchier than lower percentage salt brine. You will want to keep your salt brine at about 4-5% when fermenting pickles rather than 2-3% and lower. 4% salt brine translates to 2 tbsp of salt for every 4 cups of water; 5% salt brine translates to 2.5 tbsp of salt for every 4 cups of water. I use 4% salt brine for this recipe, as I don’t like to make my pickles too salty. Higher percentage salt brine will help preserve the crispiness even more, and you will also have saltier pickles as the result.
- Pre-soaking the cucumber in ice water is a common practice to maintain the crispiness of the cucumbers. The ice water perk up the cucumbers that may have shrivelled since picked off the vines.
- Trimming of the blossom end of the cucumbers will remove the concentration of an enzyme that will continue to ripen the cucumbers and turn them limp.
- Commercially made pickles available in grocery stores often contain an ingredient called “calcium chloride”. Calcium chloride is an additive that keeps the pickles crispy. When fermenting pickles at home, we can use natural ingredients that contain tannin to keep the pickles crispy. Some tannin-containing plants regularly used in pickle fermentation are: grape leaves, oak leaves, raspberry leaves, bay leaves, tea, etc. I use bay leaves and green tea in my fermented pickle recipe as they are readily available. You may substitute with other leaves in your recipe for tannin.
- Smaller sized pickling cucumbers often turn out crispier than the larger ones.
Re-purposing Fermented Pickle Juice
Once the pickles are finished, the fermented pickle juice doesn’t have to be thrown away. You can re-use the fermented pickle juice in following ways:
- Use a small portion of the fermented pickle juice to kick start the next batch of pickle fermentation. Note that this is a very controversial topic among the fermenters. Many fermenters believe that old brine should never be added to a new ferment, as it interferes with the natural stages of fermentation, therefore reduces the health benefits. However, in traditional practice, old brines are frequently re-used to ferment new batches of vegetables. If you do use some old brine to kick start the new fermentation, you can rest assured there is no health risk nor will it ruin your vegetables. If you are one who doesn’t like re-using old brine in new ferments, there are many other ways to use your leftover fermented pickle juice.
- Use the fermented pickle juice to make pickle juice salad dressing, which is amazing in this smoked salmon potato salad.
- Use the fermented pickle juice in marinades for meat.
- Use the fermented pickle juice in soups.
More gut-healing fermentation recipes you will love:
- Wild Fermented Salsa
- Pineapple-Turmeric-Ginger Probiotic Sauerkraut
- Homemade Fermented Sauerkraut /w Caraway Seeds
- Raspberry Kefir Cream Cheese Spread
- 11 Important Things to Know for a Successful Kombucha Brew
- Kombucha Carbonation and Flavouring Tips: The Second Fermentation
Fermented Pickles /w Green Tea and Dill Flowers
- 4-5 lb pickling cucumbers
- 12 cloves garlic
- 4 tbsp black peppercorn
- 4-5 large sprigs fresh dill flowers or dill weed
- 4 bags green tea, organic (or 8 tsp loose green tea)
- 12 bay leaves
- 4 dried red chilli pepper
- 10 cups filtered water
- 5 tbsp natural sea salt
- Soak the pickling cucumbers in ice water for a few hours.
- Trim off the blossom ends of the pickling cucumbers.
- Layer the ingredients in your fermentation jar or crock. This recipe makes about 1 gallon. You can use a gallon jar or divide up your ingredients into smaller mason jars or glass containers. It's best to layer the garlic, spices and herbs in the bottom of the jar, and then the pickling cucumbers on top. This will prevent your spices and herbs from floating on top of the brine once salt brine is added.
- Mix 5 tbsp of salt with 10 cups of filtered water at room temperature. This ratio makes a 4% brine.
- Pour the brine over the ingredients in your fermentation jar. Make sure the brine completely covers the pickling cucumbers. If not, make a little more brine with the same salt to water ratio.
- Use a weight to keep all the ingredients under the brine, especially the tea and herbs. I use a bag of marbles to weigh down my pickles.
- Close the fermentation jar with a lid. Leave as little air as possible above the brine.
- Let it ferment in a cool dark place in the house for 10-14 days, until the fermented pickles reach the sourness you like. After the first day, you should be seeing bubbles forming. If you aren't using a fermentation crock or airlock, make sure to either close the jar lid loosely to allow air to escape, or burp the jar regularly to prevent explosion.
- Once fermented, remove the weight from the fermentation jar or crock. Store the fermented pickles with brine in the fridge for up to a year until the next pickling cucumber season.
- It's ok to mix up different sizes of the pickling cucumbers for this recipe. Pack in the larger pickling cucumbers first, and then use the smaller ones to fill in the gaps.
- If you need more or less brine for the amount of pickles you are fermenting, be sure to maintain the same salt-to-water ratio.
- See "understanding salt brine" section for salt selection and amount to use.
- You may replace green tea and bay leaves with other tannin containing leaves. See "the crispy pickle secrets" sections for more tips.
- Prep and cooking time only include time actively spent on making this recipe, do not include time while the pickling cucumbers are being soaked or time waiting for the fermentation to progress.
- Calorie calculation is based on the whole recipe.
Can you use dried bay leaves.
Yes, that’s what I have used.
James McNulty says
While I have never reused a pickle brine, what I have done is to keep adding cucumbers to a new brine. Lets sat you just have a “patio garden” and in season, you only get a few cucumbers every few days. Make up yous Salt Brine and add all you spices to your jar. and add the freshest cucumbers you just picked and place in jar with your weight over them Several days later, you have a few more cucumbers that you just picked. Cut 1/16 of an inch off the flower end, remove your jar weight, and immerse under brine, and return weight. Keep on fermenting. As the jar fills with cucumbers, place jar in sink as brine solution will overflow the pickling jar.
Maybe not the best way to do do it, but it worked OK for me with my little container garden.
Signed up for Yang’s email as she includes many fine but important details in making things, often left out by others. Thank You for all your efforts and information.
Dixie Floyd says
Great recipe! Can you keep adding pickles as they are eaten?
I wouldn’t… it won’t turn out as well. The salt content is lowered after fermenting, and re-using the brine will make your future batches too soft. I have also heard argument about the probiotic bacteria already gone through it’s process, so it’s best to start with new brine – I don’t have a strong opinion on that, but I have tried adding new cucumbers into the old brine before, and it came out mushy.
Dixie Floyd says
Will same recipe be good with other things such as green tomatoes and eggplant added?
I have received a large cucumber grown by a friend can I slice it to ferment it.
The biggest challenge of fermenting cucumber pickles is to keep them firm and not mushy. By slicing the cucumbers, I am concerned there is a higher chance that your pickled cucumber slices will be too soft in the end. If you want to give it a try, I would say start a small jar sliced, and save the rest unsliced.
Thank you for this excellent post. This pretty much sums up all the bits of information I’ve read elsewhere on the internet, all in one.
Thank you so much!
Randy Weingart says
Love fermented pickles .only thing I do different is put a lid on my jars after 4 days after fermenting . I tighten them hard , let the presume build in the jar . You don’t won’t to do it to early or stand a chance of blowing up jar . The jars then have gas from fermenting and no oxygen. Throw them in closet never had a jar go bad , even after a year . They usually don’t last that long but have found a jar lost in the way back .
Thank you for sharing, Randy!
Dixie Floyd says
Do you mean you only ferment for four days before tightening lids? And do you also remove weights at that time?
Thank you for this Yang, it is very informative. I have a lot of whey from draining yoghurt, Could I add some of this, or is the rumour true that whey causes it to be less crisp?
Hi Glenice! Thank you for visiting my blog. 🙂 I haven”t used whey in my vegetable ferments, because I wanted diversified bacteria in my diet. I explained it here in this post: https://yangsnourishingkitchen.com/wild-fermented-salsa/
For that reason, I don’t know if the rumour is true that whey causes pickles to be less crispy. 🙂 If you try, I love to hear your findings. If you just want to use up a lot of whey, try making whey soda – I use whey, lime juice, honey, some water if you want to dilute a bit, cap in a flip top bottle and ferment for 4-7 days, it gets nice and fizzy. Since summer is coming, another good way to use the whey is to blend with any fruits/juice you like then freeze into popsicles. Freezing doesn’t kill all the good bacteria and you have a healthy treat.
Sauerkraut Billy says
Thank you so much for all the very informative details! I didn’t know so much went into keeping a pickle crispy during the process. I always had trouble keeping my pickles crunchy, but now with your wealth of knowledge I don’t think it’ll be a problem anymore! Can’t wait to share this with my friends. Thanks for sharing!
Hi, Billy! You are so very welcome 🙂 I too had learned things along the way from other bloggers, friends, the fermentation community, my own experiences and trying, etc. I hope to provide as thorough an instruction as I could, so that someone else doing it the first time has an easier start. Thank you for your kind words, supports and for being here! 🙂