Fermented or pickled? Pickled but not fermented? The distinction between what’s pickled and what’s fermented can be confusing.
Broadly speaking, fermentation involves the transformation of microorganisms. More narrowly defined, it refers to anaerobic metabolism, or the production of energy without oxygen.
Fermentation helps preserve food by converting natural sugars into lactic acid bacteria that prevent the growth of harmful microorganisms. These bacteria also have been shown to support digestive health, immune function, and general well being.
Pickling refers to the process of preserving foods in an acidic medium. Given this definition, fermentation can be considered a pickling method in which the acidic medium is created through lactic acid fermentation.
However, most contemporary pickles are not fermented, as they rely upon vinegar (a product of fermentation) and heat treatment to make them shelf stable.
Pickles produced in a vinegar brine can be ready to eat within an hour. These pickles do not contain live probiotics or enzymes.
On the other hand, salt-brined vegetables, such as cabbage in sauerkraut, are pickled by lactic acid bacteria. Get our recipe for simple sauerkraut.
So, just generally: If it’s been salted and left to make its own culture, it’s lacto-fermented. If it’s been brined in vinegar, it’s pickled.
In either event, it’s delicious!