Oh how I LOVE lacto-fermented pickles in the summer time. There’s just something about a cool, salty pickle spear on a blistering hot summer day that is oh-so-satisfying.
But you know what I love even more than lacto-fermented pickles?
The juice of lacto-fermented pickles.
I know that makes most people squirm, but a salty swig of pickle juice quenches my thirst on a hot day more than water. Not only will that salty brine replace salt that is lost through sweating but lacto-fermented pickle juice is also a good source of electrolytes. I’d take it any day over those nasty chemical-filled sports drinks (yeah I’m talking about you, Gatorade).
Now I’m not saying to down a quart of pickle juice at one time (that would probably have the opposite effect and make you more thirsty). But try a little swig here and there. You might be surprised how re-energizing it can be.
And of course, because it’s lacto-fermented both the pickles and juice are full of gut-health promoting probiotics.
And this is why homemade versions are so much better than conventional store-bought versions (yeah I’m talking about you, Vlasic) which are not lacto-fermented and thus lack the probiotic and nutritional value.
Conventional pickles are preserved in hot vinegar which sterilizes everything and defeats the purpose of fermentation. This keeps them shelf-stable for years upon years. This may be great for business but not so great for you. They then add colorings and “natural flavors” (which means lab-created chemicals) to mimic the taste of real pickling spices like garlic, dill and mustard seeds.
And while you can purchase good quality lacto-fermented pickles in health food stores, they’re not exactly cheap. My favorite store-bought pickle is around $8/ jar. I can make the same thing myself for maybe $2/jar.
And of course, it’s fun! I love experimenting with different spice and herb combinations. The lacto-fermented pickles recipe below is a fairly standard dill, garlic and mustard seed combination.
Also, one last tip (I know, I know, we’re almost to the recipe). Because pickles absorb water easily they can easily turn to mush in the fermentation process. To avoid this, look for small, dark green, firm and slightly under-ripe cucumbers. Trim off the ends as they harbor an enzyme that can make the pickles too soft.
Finally, adding some tannin-rich leaves (see ingredients for a list) can help to insure a good crunch as well. If you don’t have these, don’t worry about it. But if you’re fermenting in warm weather, make sure to check them every day. They will ferment faster in the summer compared to the winter. Move them to the fridge as soon as they turn sour and salty.
Here's an easy homemade lacto-fermented pickles recipe, a much healthier alternative to conventional store-bought versions.
If you can’t find a pre-prepared pickling spice in your health food store, you can make your own.
Mix a ¼ to ½ tsp of the following spices: black peppercorns, mustard seeds, coriander seeds, red pepper flakes, allspice berries, juniper berries, whole cloves, ground ginger.
If you don’t have one of the above, don’t sweat it. Don’t be afraid to experiment and add other spices too like a cinnamon stick or other dried hot peppers.
Craig Fear is the creator of Fearless Eating and the author of three books, The 30-Day Heartburn Solution, Fearless Broths and Soups and The Thai Soup Secret. After years helping clients with digestive issues, Craig decided to pursue writing full-time. He intends to write many more books on broths and soups from around the world! Click here to learn more about Craig.