Popular worldwide, everyone knows what cucumbers are. But what if they are pickled in a brine, vinegar, or other solution and left to ferment for a period of time? What do you think it would turn into? That’s right – fermented pickles! Pickles are incredibly easy to make using just a few ingredients, and then you will be left with a great fermented food choice.
However, choosing what type of pickle you want to make is your first step. Fermented pickles require a pickling or curing process that usually takes a few days to a few weeks. This is when fermentation takes place, creating a good environment for good bacteria to thrive, normally known as probiotics. We all know pickles are a good condiment for your hamburgers, but how good are they to your body? Before we find out what benefits fermented pickles have, let’s go through a brief summary of what pickles are!
What Are Fermented Pickles
Fermented pickles are usually cucumbers that have been pickled in a brine or vinegar over a period of time and left to ferment by immersing the cucumbers in the acidic solution. Native to India, pickles have been around for thousands of years, dating as far back as 2030 BC! The word “pickle” comes from the Dutch pekel, meaning “salt” , a very important component in the pickling process. Pickles are so popular that people all over the world have come up with different recipes and styles based on their methodology and ingredients available! There are many types of pickles on the market but to make it easy for everyone, here is a summary of 3 of the most popular pickles:
- Dill Pickles
Out of the 3 pickles, dill pickles are the more popular one. you’ll find plenty of dill options in the aisle: sliced, whole, chipped pickles – just to name a few. These pickles are cucumbers brined heavily with dill. Recipes for dill pickles vary, some include garlic, black peppers or even dried chilli flakes. Regardless, if you love the flavor of dill, this is the version you’d want to go for!
- Bread and Butter Pickles
From the name itself, you might think this type of pickles taste like bread and butter but let me tell you – they are far from that! These pickles are actually a type of sweet pickle thanks to the sugar used in the brine. Although sweet, their taste actually differ much from sweet pickles in that they are spiced with other spices such as cloves!
- Gherkin Pickles
A gherkin is a variety of small cucumber, typically those with bumpier skin than usual traditional cucumbers and are pickled whole instead of sliced or cut. They are so small – under 2 inches long – that they are often advertised as baby dills!
How to Choose Pickles
Eating pickles is one easy way to get the benefits of probiotics. But there are some hidden ingredients or process that could suppress the probitotics. That’s why it’s important to avoid these things:
- Added Sugar: Fermentation is what happens when a bacteria called Lactobacillus converts sugar and starches into lactic acid. Added sugars that are used to brighten the recipe are not needed! Not only are they bad, they also counteract the positive effects that probiotics bring to us!
- Vinegar: I understand that for some types of pickles, vinegar is used during the cooking process. But due to the presence of acidity of vinegar, it suppresses all those beneficial bacteria A.K.A probiotics. If you have no choice, choose brands where vinegar is further down in the ingredient list on the label as the further down it is, the less of it there is!
- Pasteurization: Avoid products that have been pasteurized (heat treated) as this process destroys good bacteria and enzymes that could be present in the ingredients. Instead, look for products that are labelled “fermented” or “raw”.
How Do Fermented Pickles Taste Like In Recipes
As pickles are cucumbers preserved by placing in a brine, much of the flavors are imparted from the brine. The brine in which the pickles are pickled can have different taste profile, from very sour to very sweet depending on the herbs and spices that went into the cooking process. For dill pickles, they strike a balance between sweet and sour, yet salty and garlic-y at the same time due to the presence of brine. As for Bread & Butter pickles, they are a mix of sweet and salty, with a distinctive flavor imparted from mustard seeds and celery seeds, they are way more unique than other types of pickles!
Favorite Pickles Recipe
Because of pickles’ taste profile – crunchy, sour, sweet and tangy – they can be added to so many recipes or dishes for vibrancy! From putting on sandwiches to being part of sauces, here are some favorite recipes of mine which I hope you’d like!
- Dill Pickle Dip
- Tuna Salad with Pickles
- Pickle Grilled Cheese
The 7 Health Benefits of Fermented Pickles
Knowing that fermenting cucumbers in a pickling brine creates a favourable environment for good bacteria to thrive in, it must have been exciting to learn more about the health benefits of fermented pickles! Below are some of the health benefits that fermented pickles provide for you to take advantage of!
- Aid Weight Loss
- Support the Central Nervous System
- May Treat Leaky Gut Syndrome
- May Help Reduce the Risks of Parkinson’s
- May Reduce Blood Clotting
- Can Help Reduce Anxiety & Depression
- Good Source of Cancer-Fighting Antioxidants
1. Aid Weight Loss
According to a study published in the british Journal of Nutrition, good bacteria in the gut may assist you with your weight loss journey, and since pickles contain probiotics, they can aid in weight loss as well.
In addition, pickles are packed with dietary fibers which have a bulking effect in your digestive system. What this means is that pickles slow the emptying of your stomach, increase digestion and absorption times due to a gel-like substance that they form in your system. This increases fullness, reduces appetite and bolster weight loss.
2. Support the Central Nervous System
Research has been showing that the microbiome in our gut has a great effect on our neurodevelopment, such as the formation of blood-brain barrier and neurogenesis, which affects mental behaviour. But the microbiome needs to be in a healthy state to be effective. To do that, it needs the right amount of probiotics. Thank goodness fermented pickles are a good source of probiotics, enough to supply the microbiomes to maintain a strong digestive system.
3. May Treat Leaky Gut
Fermented pickles contain gut-beneficial probiotics, the ‘good’ bacteria that aid in digestion, nutrients absorption and creation of enzyme that destroy harmful bacteria. These gut-friendly bacteria could even encourage improvements in leaky gut by enhancing production of tight junction proteins that defend against intestinal permeability.
4. May Help Reduce the Risk of Parkinson’s
Studies have shown that there is an association between a healthy gut and parkinson’s disease. A comparison done between patients who have parkinson’s and healthy patients showed that people with parkinson’s disease have way more gut bacteria that was disrupting normal microbiome than the normal healthy individuals.
Additionally, a healthy gut helps provide important neurotransmitters such as dopamine and serotonin, which when they are low, can increase the risk of parkinson’s. This could cause the deterioration of motor movement and coordination.
5. May Reduce Blood Clotting
Vitamin K is mostly known for preventing blood clotting and strengthening bones. It does even more by promoting healthy metabolism and fighting cancer. Having a pickle or two can help ensure that vitamin K stays at healthy levels in your body.
6. Can Help Reduce Anxiety and Depression
Studies indicate that healthy probiotics found in fermented foods such as fermented pickles can help reduce anxiety and depression. These probiotics have a protective effect against anxiety symptoms for those at higher genetic risk.
7. Good Source of Cancer-Fighting Antioxidants
We all know pickles are cucumbers soaked in a brine for fermentation that takes days. But did you know cucumbers are excellent when it comes to boosting your immune system? It is known that several compounds of cucumbers have been isolated, including cucurbitacins, lignans and apigenin for example.
Additionally, it is reported that within these pickles, the presence of flavonoids and tannins are responsible for their free radical scavenging effects. These compounds work together to defend against cancer due to their ability to protect DNA and cells from damages due to oxidative stress.
How to Store Pickles
Now that you have successfully made your first pickles from the recipe, now what? The big question would be: where and how should I store them? You’d only need two basic tools to store these pickles: a sterilized container and a lid! When choosing the material, go with ones which are nonreactive to the acids from the brine – in other words, ones made of glass, stainless steel, food grade plastic or silicone.
For Containers: Go with stainless steel or glass such as the typical Mason jars or larger, wider-mouth gallon jars. They’re easy to clean and reuse, but most importantly they keep the pickles fresh, crisp and clean. Take note: Before use, sterilize the containers thoroughly to avoid contamination!
For Lids: Go with stainless-steel rings (those that look like standard canning rings but fit wide-mouth Mason jars), plastic lids (those with leakproof silicone seal), or stainless-steel lids (those that come in narrow-mouth and wide-mouth sizes.
Never can your pickles if you were to ferment your own pickles as this could result in a loss of probiotic goodness and some of the crispness. Always store your fermented pickles in the fridge to preserve its shelf life, keeping them at your preferred flavor and cripsness.
Risks and Side Effects
It’s hard to think that fermented pickles would have any side effects, but too much of a good thing usually does. In this case, overconsumption of pickles could lead to an increase in sodium level in your bloodstream given the salt amount that they contain.
Fermented pickles require a curing process that creates a good environment for the good bacteria to thrive in. This is commonly sought after for the probiotic it contains. Presence of probiotics also brought about the numerous health benefits that are commonly discussed in the nutrition industry.
Fermented pickles can aid weight loss, support central nervous system, help prevent colorectal cancer and most importantly aid in a healthy digestive system and prevent diseases.
Just take note that whenever you are preparing any fermented foods at home, be sure that all apparatus, ingredients and equipment involved are clean before proceeding on. It is important to sanitize as failure to do so could lead to spoilage and alteration of ‘good’ bacteria activity.