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What’s the Dill with Home-Made Pickles?

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In ancient Mesopotamia (like… 4,000 years-kind-of-ancient), denizens of the land between the Persian Gulf and the Mediterranean Sea figured out how to pickle cucumbers. 

Now, they didn’t crack some kind of code. Lots of ancient cultures pickled food to preserve it, either in vinegar, brine, or some other solution. 

Cleopatra thought they made her beautiful… Julius Caesar thought they made his soldiers strong… and Amerigo Vespucci, the famous explorer, thought (correctly) that pickles would help prevent scurvy at sea. 

Many moons later, when H. J. Heinz brought his pickle recipe to the momentous Chicago World’s Fair of 1893, and tricked patrons into visiting his inconveniently located booth by offering them a free gift (a pickle pin), he ended up with more than one million visitors by the end of the fair.

Even as recently as 2020, pickles have been heralded as athlete’s miracle juice. The “Pickle Juice Game” between the Philadelphia Eagles and Dallas Cowboys, played in 109º weather, was eventually won by the Eagles. 

They attributed their success to drinking pickle juice, which a study conducted later confirmed that the high acid content in pickle juice disrupted the muscle reflex that led to cramping.

However…

There’s something important we need to understand.

While pickles have many health benefits, there are some big differences between home-made pickles and commercial pickles. 

Namely? Fermentation.

Vinegar vs Brine

So first, we need to realize that vinegar is created through a fermentation process… but it’s only considered fermented when it’s raw and pure.

There are two ways to pickle: in a salty water brine, or in an acid (vinegar or lemon juice, usually.)

Fermenting happens by brining and allowing the transformative mineral salt to change something’s composition from the inside out. What happens is the salt helps start the process of creating good bacteria that eat the sugars and carbohydrates in a food and convert them into substances like acids, alcohol, and carbon dioxide. 

Those are the substances that preserve food, which made the original fermentation method of pickling really valuable for armies, sailors, and people living in harsh climes with difficult growing conditions.

Because acid is a byproduct of fermentation, fermented foods often taste tart and acidic. 

That’s why most commercial pickle manufacturers simply pickle their cucumbers with vinegar, water, and salt – it achieves a similar enough taste without the longer and more delicate process of fermentation.

But… cutting out the fermentation process to produce vinegar-pickled products robs you of many of the good bacteria benefits of fermentation.

Some manufacturers certainly still pickle cucumbers the old-fashioned way… but most of them, for the sake of volume and output quantity, just don’t. 

Fortunately, pickling cucumbers at home is easy!

Here’s a quick way to do it that nets you the benefits.

Pickling Cukes at Home with Fermentation

First step: gather your materials. You’ll need: 

  • 2 lbs Cucumbers (pickling variety preferred!)
  • Dill sprigs
  • Garlic
  • 3-4 bay leaves
  • Coriander seed/black peppercorn/mustard seeds/fennel seeds or whatever other spices you want
  • 6 cups of water
  • 3 tbsps of sea salt

Heat one of the cups of water on the stove and stir in all of the salt until the salt dissolves, and let it cool. 

In your jar, alternate layering the garlic, cucumbers, bay leaves, dill sprigs, and whatever spices you chose.

Fill the jar with the brine mixture and the rest of the water. Make sure the cucumbers are fully submerged by the brine.

Close the lid and keep your concoction in a cool, dark place (maybe where your potatoes are) and check on it every three days. It needs to be out of the fridge to start the fermentation process. You should start to see the mixture bubbling with life and the water getting cloudy! 

Once that happens, put the jar in the fridge. It’ll keep fermenting from here on!

Remember, only fermented pickles contain the benefits of probiotics and immunity-boosting properties. 

Although, all pickles have benefits like the ability to replenish electrolytes, a rich antioxidant population, and inflammation reduction. 

Eating store bought pickles is fine – and vinegar consumption has its own health benefits.

But don’t be fooled into thinking your grocery store garden-variety pickles have probiotics… you may just have to make your own!

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