Infused with aromatic garlic and fragrant dill, these naturally fermented sour pickles have a striking sour flavor that'll remind you of the classic, old-fashioned pickles you'll find at a New York deli. Unlike pickles made with vinegar, these slowly ferment in a saltwater brine that's spiked with spices, and that gives them an extraordinary, complex flavor that's both sour and salty all at once.
What are sour pickles?
Sour pickles are pickles that you ferment in saltwater brine. The slow process of fermentation gives them a deeply sour flavor with a salty edge that many people find irresistible. Cooks also typically add garlic, dill, horseradish, and pickling spices to the brine which gives the pickles an even deeper flavor.
While both regular pickles and sour pickles are preserved cucumbers, there are some key differences. Regular pickles are packed in jars with hot vinegar. By contrast, sour pickles are fermented. As a result, sour pickles are rich in probiotics like sauerkraut, kimchi, and other fermented foods.
Are sour pickles good for you?
Like all fermented foods, sour pickles are rich in probiotics. Those are beneficial bacteria that help support gut health, immune system function, and metabolic health (1).
They also contain B vitamins, trace minerals and are a very good source of vitamin K which helps support bone and heart health (2).
Tips for Making Sour Pickles
To make sour pickles, you'll need to prepare a saltwater brine by warming water and salt together, and then cooling it to room temperature. After that, you'll pack a jar with fresh cucumbers, garlic, dill, and other spices. Next, pour the brine over the cucumbers and seal the jar. After that, all you need to do is wait. And within a week or so, you'll have naturally fermented pickles.
But, as you make your pickles and ready them for fermentation, there are a few things you should keep in mind.
- Use a fermentation seal and a weight. Glass weights will help keep your cucumbers submerged while they ferment. While a seal will allow carbon dioxide to escape without letting oxygen in. And they both help prevent mold formation.
- If you don't use a seal, burp your pickles every two or three days to allow carbon dioxide to escape.
- Use horseradish leaves. Horseradish leaf will help keep your pickles firm and prevent them from becoming mushy. You can also use grape leaf, cherry leaf, or even black tea.
How long should I let them ferment?
While fermentation is steeped in science, it's also an art. And your pickles are ready when they taste pleasantly sour to you. That could be as little as a week, or as long as several months.
- Temperature matters. Sour pickles will ferment quickly in a warm kitchen, and slowly in a cool one.
- Volume matters, too. A quart of pickles will ferment more quickly than a 5-gallon crock of pickles.
- Taste your pickles. They're done when they taste good to you.
How do I store fermented pickles?
When the pickles taste right to you, transfer them to the fridge. Or, you can store them in another cool spot, like your basement or root cellar. Cold temperatures slow down the fermentation process. Sour pickles should keep about a year in cold temperatures.
Sour Pickles Recipe
- Pour a quart of water into saucepan. Set it on the stove, and then turn up the heat to medium-high. Stir in the sea salt until it dissolves fully, and then allow the water to cool to room temperature.
- Trim the cucumbers of any tough stems and flower ends, and then place them in bowl. Cover them with cold water to refresh them, at least 20 minutes and up to 1 hour.
- Drain the cucumbers, and then place them into your jar. Drop in the garlic and spices, and then slide the horseradish leaf and dill into the jar. Cover the cucumbers with the saltwater brine. Place a weight over the pickles, and then seal the jar.
- Allow the pickles to ferment at room temperature until they turn from vivid green to a dull green, and smell pleasantly sour - at least 1 week and up to 2 months, depending on how sour you like them.
- Eat the pickles right away, or store them in the fridge up to 1 year.
Troubleshooting Your Pickles
Unlike homemade yogurt, which is easy to make, sour pickles can be finicky. Sometimes it's a totally normal aspect of fermentation. But other times it's a sign that you may need to make some adjustments.
- You might see a white film develop. Kahm yeast is common in fermented pickles. Don't worry. It's benign and your pickles will turn out fine. Just gently lift it off, and discard it.
- Your pickles will get cloudy. It's a sign that all those beneficial bacteria are working!
- Your garlic might turn blue. Fermented garlic often takes on a blue color. It's normal! Antioxidants in garlic can react to the acidity created during fermentation by turning blue.
- Your pickles may become hollow. Large cucumbers and fermenting in a hot kitchen may make your pickles hollow, but they're still safe to eat.
- Your pickles might turn mushy. Mushy pickles are usually a result of using old cucumbers, fermenting at high temperatures or forgetting to add horseradish leaf (or another ingredient rich in tannins).
More fermentation recipes you'll love
- Chakraborty, R., & Roy, S. (2018). Exploration of the diversity and associated health benefits of traditional pickles from the Himalayan and adjacent hilly regions of Indian subcontinent. Journal of food science and technology, 55(5), 1599–1613
- 2019. Vitamin K Fact Sheet. National Institutes of Health.