Pickling versus Fermenting

When I was in high school I frequently rode the bus home with my best friend after school. After we did her chores, we would get a jar of her mom’s pickles out of the pantry, a big slab of cheddar out of the fridge, and a box of crackers. We would take our snack to the living room and devour it while watching General Hospital on television.

I grew up on those pickles. We called them wicked—they were so sour and spicy. To this day, my own kids ask me to make Mrs. Hiner’s Wicked Pickles. (Of course, that’s not what she calls them. To her they are kosher dills.)

My own mother would make bread and butter pickles. But her favorite to make was pickled beets and eggs. We always had a gallon jar in the back of the fridge with those things floating around in a pink vinegar solution.

See More Amazing Sauerkraut Recipes

Growing up, pickled items always involved vinegar. When I started making my own pickled items, the family would go running; complaining that the boiling vinegar and spice or sugar mixture burned their eyes and throats. I didn’t blame them. I still don’t. The process is rather caustic.

What is the difference between pickling versus fermenting?

According to Colorado State University’s Extension website, “Pickling means increasing the acidity of a product so that food poisoning organisms, such as Clostridium botulinum, do not grow and produce toxin. This may be done through a fermentation process and/or by the direct addition of an acid ingredient, such as vinegar or lemon juice.”

Typically, when someone talks about pickling, they mean with vinegar. But you can make pickles by fermenting, without vinegar. While vinegar works to preserve foods, it does not enhance the nutritional value of the food. On the contrary, the lacto-fermentation process actually increases the nutrients in some foods. So if that’s the case, then why don’t more folks do it?

That’s a good question.

While our great-grandmothers had the time to tend a crock in the cellar, our grandmothers or mothers probably found it liberating to cover their cucumbers or watermelon rinds with a vinegar solution and call it done.

As our culture becomes more safety conscious, the question of food poisoning is always at the forefront of some homemakers’ minds. Fact is, we have been trained to think that all bacteria is a bad thing and cannot wrap our minds around the fact that “good” bacteria exist.

Pickling with vinegar is predictable. Fermenting has a lot of variables. Folks today like predictable.

The Benefits of Lacto-Fermentation

• Increased nutritional value

• Gut-loving, probiotics

• Crunch (Who likes a mushy pickle?)

• Preservation without heat processing

•Improved immune system

• Regular bowel habits

With all these facts in mind, I challenge you to try naturally fermenting your vegetables. Start with sauerkraut. It’s easy peasy. And if you are running over with cucumbers and zucchini from your garden, try fermenting them as well. Then come back and tell me how you liked it.


Did you say you were over run with cucumbers and zucchini? Don’t get caught without enough fermenting lids for Mason jars. Hop over to the Fermentools store and stock up on a 12-pack today.


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