Medically Reviewed by Michael W. Smith, MD on September 20, 2021

What Is Pickling?

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Pickling is a method for preserving foods by packing them in vinegar, water, salt, and sometimes sugar. When you pickle a food, you lower its pH before processing it with boiling water or steam canning.

Pros of Pickling

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Along with the flavor punch they pack, pickled foods come with a host of health benefits, too. The vinegar in the brine can help stop blood sugar spikes. Pickle juice is full of probiotics and electrolytes, and pickling keeps foods good on the shelf for a long time. 

Pickling Prep

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For fermented foods, you’ll need jars with lids, wooden or plastic utensils (metal can mess with the pickling process), and a large container. You’ll also use water, salt, vinegar, and flavorings of your choice.

Picking Good Produce

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You want to choose super fresh fruits and veggies within 24 hours of picking. Get an accurate weight of what you’ll be pickling so you use the correct ingredient measurements.

Salt Fermentation

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Salt fermentation is a slightly different type of food preservation that doesn’t use acid. Any old salt won’t do -- you need canning or pickling salt to get it right. It’s possible to reduce the amount of salt you use, but the texture and flavor of your food will change as you lower your salt content. Be sure you’re using the correct amount for the food you’re pickling.

Pickling Steps

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Wash your jars well with soap and warm water. Prep your fruits or veggies by trimming, slicing, or peeling. Add your flavors to the jar. Pack your produce in tight, leaving half an inch at the top of the jar. Make your brine by boiling salt, vinegar, and optional sugar, then pour over produce. Tap out bubbles, tighten lid, and let sit for at least 48 hours.

Pears

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Yep, pickled pears are a thing. You can eat them alone as an appetizer, toss them into a salad, or pair them with a roasted or braised meat dish. Halve them before pickling and add sugar, cinnamon sticks, cloves, and allspice to your brine. Slightly under-ripe pears will keep their shape best.

Peaches

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You can make your pickled peaches sweeter and more syrupy than other pickled fruits and spoon them over ice cream or serve them with cookies for a tasty dessert. You can add cinnamon, cloves, ginger, citric acid, and sugar to your vinegar and water mix.

Sweet Green Tomatoes

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Add onions in with your green tomato pickling jar to make a tasty treat to eat on toast, mix in a potato salad, or slide into a sandwich. Make a spice bag with mustard seed, allspice, celery seed, and cloves to put in your brine before pickling in a boiling water bath.

Hot Peppers

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The key to this feisty fare is to “blister” or broil the peppers before pickling. Keep small peppers whole and half or quarter larger ones. After broiling, peel each pepper. Try it with Hungarian, banana, chili, or jalapeno peppers, and pickle with sugar and garlic added.

Beets

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Pickled beets are great for spicing up salads or coleslaw. Put cinnamon sticks and whole cloves in cheesecloth bags and plop them in the jar along with sliced onions for pickling your beets. Trim off the tops, but leave an inch of stem and root to keep the color from bleeding.

Brussels Sprouts

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You can give your salads a kick by topping them with pickled Brussels sprouts flavored with hot red pepper flakes, mustard seed, celery seed, and turmeric. Add some sliced onion and diced red pepper to the jar before pickling.

Watermelon Rind

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Yep, you can eat -- and pickle -- watermelon rind! You’ll need whole cloves, cinnamon sticks, and thinly sliced lemon for your brine, along with a good amount of sugar. You can use pickled watermelon rinds much like cucumbers: Give sandwiches a crunch, toss in salads, or just pair with your favorite cheese and enjoy as a snack.

Classic Cucumbers

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Pickles are the ultimate side for many a meal. To make dill pickles, use cucumbers grown specifically for pickling. Cut into spears or leave whole. For that traditional dill flavor, you’ll want to add whole mustard seed and either fresh dill or dill seed.

Safety Tips

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Check for spoilage on foods you intend to pickle. Use tried-and-true recipes from solid sources, and follow the directions exactly. Make sure you use the correct amount of vinegar and water in your pickling process, and check your finished product for any problems before eating.

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SOURCES:

Cleveland Clinic: “6 Health Benefits of Drinking Pickle Juice.”

OSU Extension: “Pickling Vegetables.”

North Dakota State University: “Food Preservation: Making Pickled Products.”

Virginia Cooperative Extension: “Vegetable Fermentation.”

MSU Extension: “Pucker up for a different kind of pickle.”

NC State Extension: “The Perfect Pickled Peaches.”

Colorado State University Extension: “Making Pickles.”

New Mexico State University: “Preparing and Canning Pickled and Fermented Foods at Home.”

Oregon State University Extension: “Fruit Pickles and Chutney.”