Pickling: Preserving vegetables by pickling and preserving them

 Pickling - Pickled onions

Pickling vegetables – or pickling as it's called in the USA – is a way to preserve and season the vegetables. But pickling isn't just about making vegetables last longer and giving them a special flavor – it can even help save food.

In the USA, pickling is highly popular, and the trend is catching on here as well (in the truest sense of the word)! The trend is clearly moving towards do-it-yourself – reminiscent of a romantic country lifestyle. Just imagine the abundance of colorful, crisp vegetables that have been freshly harvested. To give vegetables a distinctive flavor and make them last longer, all you need to do is pickle them. Curious about how to properly pickle vegetables so you can enjoy them later? We'll show you how pickling works!


The History of Pickling

Before we delve into the details of vegetable pickling, let's briefly journey into the past to understand the origins of pickling. The word "pickle" actually comes from the Dutch word "pekel" or the Low German word "pókel," which both mean "salt" or "brine." Both of these are important components in pickling. During pickling, vegetables are soaked in a salty brine or a sour solution (usually vinegar) along with various spices. In the salty or sour environment, harmful bacteria cannot survive, which results in the pickled vegetables staying preserved for longer. Historically, pickling was a necessity to preserve food for seafarers and travelers. Additionally, pickled vegetables provided sustenance for families during colder months. The practice of pickling cucumbers began around 4,000 years ago in India. This method allowed food to be preserved, a significant advantage during long sea voyages. Today, pickled foods are mainly produced for their zesty taste, which can be customized by adding various herbs and spices.


Pickling – How Does Vegetable Pickling Work?

Food can be preserved for longer periods because the acidity of vinegar acts as a preservative. Particularly sturdy vegetables (more information in the next section) are well-suited for this process. The acid in vinegar prevents bacteria and microorganisms from thriving, resulting in the pickled vegetables lasting longer. According to the Federal Centre for Nutrition, harmful bacteria are killed at an acid concentration of 2% to 9%. However, such high acidity is too sour for our taste. For this reason, salt and sugar (alternatively, a bit of honey) are typically added. These ingredients help balance out the high acid content and also act as preservatives. Prior to pickling, the vegetables to be pickled should be cooked or dried – this also extends their shelf life. It's best to store the pickled vegetables in a dark, dry place. This way, they can be preserved for about two weeks. You can also store pickled foods in the refrigerator – this can extend their shelf life (assuming they were pre-cooked and depending on the vinegar content) by several months. Once opened, the jars should be consumed within a few days.

Before you begin pickling, it's advisable to ensure that the vegetables are fresh and in good condition. Peel the vegetables you intend to pickle if necessary and wash them thoroughly. Then, depending on the recipe, blanch, cook, or sprinkle the vegetables with salt to draw out excess water. In the next step, place the vegetables in an airtight glass jar. We use the Ball Mason Jars – a classic American choice. Please do not use metal containers, as the acidity in vinegar can react with the metal, potentially introducing harmful substances into the pickled food.

For the brine, bring vinegar and optionally water (to reduce acidity) to a boil along with various spices. Classic pickling spices include pepper, cloves, coriander, or mustard seeds. If you prefer a bit more heat or spice, you can also add garlic or chili peppers. Pour the hot brine over the vegetables in the glass jar. Ensure that the vegetables to be pickled are completely covered by the brine. Allow the jar to cool, then seal it airtight and store it in the refrigerator.


Which Vegetables Can You Pickle?

When it comes to the question of which vegetables can be pickled particularly well, there is actually no definitive answer. In principle, nearly any type of vegetable can be pickled. However, it works especially well with sturdy vegetables. This category includes vegetables like zucchini, bell peppers, carrots, cucumbers, garlic, beets, pumpkin, or radishes. But even tomatoes, peppers, jalapenos, and even mushrooms – which don't fall under the vegetable category – can be pickled excellently. Take a look at lecker.de or eat-this.org for some recipes and inspirations for your own creations. Onions can also be wonderfully pickled. Further down in the article, you'll find Sabine Ryan's personal favorite recipe, which you should definitely try!


Preserving Vegetables – How Long Does Pickled Vegetables Last?

How long pickled vegetables last depends on several factors. Firstly, the acidity level of the vinegar used plays an important role. The higher it is, the longer the pickled vegetables will last. Another critical point is the jars and lids used for pickling. These should be completely clean. Ideally, thoroughly clean them with dish soap and rinse with hot water. Alternatively, you can also clean the canning jars or Ball Mason Jars in the dishwasher. If washing by hand, it's best to let the cleaned jars dry upside down on a clean dish towel. Ingredients like honey, salt, sugar, vinegar, or alcohol used in pickling also contribute to making the vegetables last longer and preserve. Another key factor that can significantly extend the shelf life is pressure cooking the vegetables. Pressure-cooked vegetables can last for several months – provided you used impeccable vegetables and clean jars that can be sealed airtight. Finally, we'd like to share a few "don'ts" regarding pickling, things that should be avoided:

  • Using too little sugar: Sugar is a natural preservative and should be used in pickling
  • Using damaged vegetables: The vegetables to be pickled should be fresh and ripe – if you notice any damage or signs of decay, it's best to avoid pickling them
  • Dirty jars: Ensure that the canning jars are clean and free from food residue or other contaminants – these can significantly affect shelf life
  • Too low pickling temperature: As you know, heat kills germs and bacteria. For this reason, the filling temperature should be at least 80°C (176°F). At lower temperatures, germs can enter the jar and spread and multiply despite the vacuum
  • Defective seals & lids: Ensure that the seals of the canning jar or Ball Mason Jars are intact. If the gasket, which is stressed with each use, is porous, the canning jar won't be able to create a vacuum after pressure cooking
  • Improper storage: Pickled vegetables should be stored in a dry, cool, dark place (preferably at a consistent temperature). A pantry, cellar, or alternatively the refrigerator is recommended


Pickled Vegetables - Advantages of Pickling

The practice of pickling not only preserves vegetables and makes them last longer, but it also imparts a zesty flavor to them. Additionally, pickling vegetables is relatively easy and doesn't require a lot of time, making it accessible for everyone to try. What's great is that you can customize what goes into the jar. You decide the vegetables and all the spices that will be pickled with them. This leads us directly to the next point – flavor. Pickled vegetables are simply delicious! Furthermore, you can significantly influence how your pickles will taste in the end. Do you prefer them classic, or do you like them a bit spicier? Experiment with different spices until you find your preferred taste. One of the most important advantages – at least for us – is that you can rescue vegetable leftovers and thereby reduce food waste to some extent.


Recipe Idea: Red Pickled Onions by Sabine Ryan

Speaking of onions – Sabine Ryan, CEO of American Heritage, who has a great passion for pickled vegetables, shares her closely guarded recipe for Red Pickled Onions with us. Curious? For the recipe, you'll need the following ingredients:

  • One large red onion
  • 2 cups of apple cider vinegar
  • 1 generous teaspoon of honey
  • 1 teaspoon of salt
  • 3 garlic cloves
  • Colorful peppercorns

In the first step, peel the fresh red onion and remove any potential dirt. Cut the onion into rings or pieces, and place the other ingredients in a small saucepan. Let the mixture simmer for about 10 minutes. Afterward, place the sliced onion in a glass jar or a Ball Mason Jar (if you love the American touch as much as we do). Now, pour the heated mixture over the onions, ensuring they are completely covered. The jar just needs to be sealed airtight to create a vacuum inside. Once the jar has completely cooled down, you can store it. Sabine Ryan recommends refrigerating the jar and consuming the pickles within two weeks.

The pickled onions taste fantastic in salads, sandwiches, with cheese, and of course, on homemade burgers. They can also be added to various skillet dishes. Enjoy!


Buying Pickles Instead of Pickling Vegetables Yourself

The undisputed classic, often mistakenly equated with the term pickles, is pickled cucumbers. If you'd prefer not to pickle vegetables yourself but still want to savor the wonderful taste of pickles or seek new inspiration for pickling, we're happy to recommend the various flavors of our pickles by SuckerPunch. The company lovingly crafts pickled cucumbers that are sure to suit your taste. Give them a try: