The series Portlandia coined the phrase “we can pickle that”, poking fun at how pickling has become a wellness fad, and obsession for some. This age-old process of food preservation extends shelf life, adds flavor and texture, and offers healthy bacteria for better digestion. Learn about the health benefits of pickling, what foods are best to pickle, and how to get pickling today.
Fermenting and pickling are both ways to preserve food, resulting in additional health benefits and tangy flavors. It can get a bit confusing, but all fermented foods are pickled but not all pickled foods are fermented.
The difference is that pickling involves soaking food in an acidic liquid such as vinegar, to preserve it and give it a sour flavor. Pickling preserves food by soaking it in a brine (salty water), or in an acidic liquid (vinegar or lemon juice). These foods usually also have seasonings such as garlic and dill added for extra flavor.
For fermented foods, the sour flavor happens as a result of healthy bacteria digesting the natural sugars, so no acid is required. Fermentation preserves food by natural bacteria digesting sugars and carbohydrates present in the food. It does so in an anaerobic (without oxygen) process (1). This doesn’t require an acidic liquid.
Fruits and vegetables are naturally low in calories with a lot of vitamins and minerals. They contain nutrients such as fiber, which helps improve digestion, and vitamin C and A which help maintain healthy skin and boost the immune system (2).
When fruits and vegetables are pickled, the brine pulls out water from them, so they’re left with high concentrations of vitamins and minerals. Pickled foods that are also fermented, like kimchi and miso, can also help keep your digestive system healthy.
The process of fermentation involves microorganisms, such as yeast and bacteria. Also called probiotics, these healthy bacteria assist with metabolism, digesting fiber, boosting the immune system, and creating vitamins such as vitamin K and some B vitamins. They’ve even been suggested to help improve mood (3). They have been shown to reduce the risk of heart disease, diabetes, obesity, and inflammation (1).
Prebiotics are the foods that feed these healthy bacteria probiotics. Prebiotics include asparagus, garlic, onions, and Jerusalem artichokes. So when you pickle these foods, you’ll be getting double the benefits!
Making your own pickled fruits and vegetables is an easy way to extend the shelf life of produce and reduce food waste. This is particularly helpful during the winter months, when local produce may not be available. It can also help you save money. When you buy produce at its peak, it will be cheaper. The practice of pickling only requires a few ingredients and is quite simple and affordable.
Pickling can seem intimidating, but it's a pretty simple method. Just think about how it's one of the oldest preservation methods around (4). If our ancestors could do it, so can we!
Making foods at home is usually the healthiest option. Since pickling foods can increase your chance of bacteria that increase the risk of illness, make sure to use proper food handling techniques and carefully sterilize your jars.
If you have a compromised immune system, consider getting these foods from reputable sources. And if you’re buying your pickles and pickled foods at the store, aim for the versions that say “naturally pickled” and have minimal to no added preservatives for better health.
Want to put your pickling progress to the recipe test? Check this Sesame Salmon with Brussels Sprout- & Spinach Salad and a Spicy Kimchi Yogurt
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