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How to Pickle Vegetables
By Ethan Boldt
August 12, 2022
If you love the crisp, cool, salty taste and texture of pickles, chances are you’d enjoy lots of other types of pickled vegetables, too.
Interested in learning how to pickle vegetables at home, such as green beans, cauliflower or radishes? You’re in luck, because the process is actually pretty simple.
Not only does pickling ingredients help to bring out their flavor and add “tang” to recipes, it’s also a smart way to preserve veggies (and fruits), as it keeps them fresh for up to three weeks.
Pickled vegetables are veggies that have been preserved with help from salt and vinegar. The main point of pickling foods such as vegetables is to:
Alter and enhance their flavors (they become more acidic and tangy)
Possibly grow healthy microbes within the veggies, including probiotics (which will form after about 1–2 weeks of fermenting). Probiotic foods have loads of benefits, such as the ability to aid in digestive and gut health, but not all pickled foods contain probiotics (more on this below).
There are two basic types of pickling, which differ in terms of how long they take. The two types are: quick pickling and canning.
Quick pickling is a faster process, as it happens within hours to weeks. This type of pickling involves the use of a brine (or salt solution usually mixed with other flavors) and refrigeration for a shorter period of time. If you don’t want to use much equipment and want results quickly, then this is the process for you.
Canning vegetables takes longer, plus you need the actual cans and a way to seal them shut. Canning is a bit more involved and requires more patience. However, the advantage of canning is that it preserves foods for a very long time, even without refrigeration, sometimes for up to several years!
Of course, you’ll want to follow all food safety directions carefully for any kind of food preparation.
Is pickling the same thing as fermenting? Do pickled foods contain probiotics?
Pickling is not necessarily the same as fermenting, although things like sauerkraut and traditionally made pickles can be both pickled and fermented.
The major difference is the use of vinegar; fermented foods are made using salt and take several weeks to make. Pickled foods are made using salt plus vinegar, and can be made more quickly.
Foods that have been fermented are a great source of probiotics, as they wind up containing healthy microbes (such as live and active bacteria and yeast) that develop during the fermentation process. Like pickling, fermenting helps to preserve foods.
Pickling is a good food preservation process, but it doesn’t always wind up generating probiotics. The bottom line: a food needs to be fermented with salt, but not vinegar, to contain probiotics, and needs to ferment for a couple weeks to give probiotics time to develop.
Which veggies can you pickle? Among the most popular types of pickled vegetables are:
Cucumbers (aka pickles)
Cabbage (aka sauerkraut)
Peppers such as red peppers or jalapeños
Squash or potatoes
While the types above tend to come out the best, you can essentially pickle any veggie you have on hand. Some people even pickle fruits — such as pineapple, peaches, cherries or plums — which gives them a sweet-sour flavor.
The key is to use fresh, ripe veggies that are in good shape. You don’t want to use old, mushy, browning ingredients, which will result in a poor taste and texture.
What is the process of pickling vegetables?
The basic steps involved in quick pickling include: cutting up veggies/fruits, making a brine using vinegar and salt, then soaking your veggies in the brine. This all happens within your refrigerator, sometimes in as little as several hours.
What is brine?
A basic brine is equal parts vinegar and water. Sometimes sugar is added, but not always.
Which vinegar is best for pickling vegetables? And which type of salt?
Most people prefer the taste of veggies pickled in either apple cider vinegar, rice wine vinegar, white vinegar, or a combo of these. You don’t want to use red wine or balsamic vinegar, which would wind up having an overwhelming taste.
As far as salt goes, ideally use non-iodized salt (such as sea salt), which will help to preserve the color of the veggies best and will also provide the most minerals.
How long do homemade pickled vegetables last?
Most types will last for about 2 to 3 weeks when stored in the refrigerator. After this point they may become too tangy and mushy, so it’s best to toss them out.
Here is a recipe for making quick pickled vegetables, such as cauliflower, beets or green beans.
1 cup hot water
2 teaspoons non-iodized salt
1 cup apple cider vinegar or white vinegar
2 cups chopped veggies
Any other ingredients you’d like to add for more flavor, such as whole black peppercorns, crushed garlic, coriander, mustard seeds, turmeric, ginger, red pepper flakes, dill, bay leaves or just about any other herbs or spices.
(Optional) 1–2 teaspoons of sugar if you want the result to be sweet-sour tasting
First make your brine by heating water until it’s steaming hot, then stir in the salt and vinegar and mix well. Use a glass jar or ceramic jar for the best results. Add your brine to your jar.
Add any other ingredients such as herbs or spices to the jar, making sure they are mixed in well and covered by the brine.
Add your veggies, making sure they are covered. Leave about a half-inch of space from the rim of the jar to the tops of the vegetables.
Let the jar cool to room temperature. Close/seal the jar and move it to the refrigerator.
Allow the jar to sit for as little as 2–3 hours, or as long as about 2–3 weeks. Most chefs recommend waiting for about 48 hours/2 days if possible before eating pickled vegetables if you want the best flavor to develop.