Fermentation vs Pickling

When I first started pickling foods, I knew there were methods that didn’t use store bought vinegar. After all, I had fermented foods in my organic chemistry class. We made alcohol, sauerkraut, and root beer. So I knew it could be done. When I tried to look up recipes for pickles, however, all I found were vinegar “quick” pickles.

I then realized that I was using the wrong terminology. What I was really looking for were fermented pickles. Sauerkraut was a fermented food, not necessarily a pickled food.

So what is the difference between fermented food and pickled food?


noun: Also called organized ferment. Any of a group of living organisms, as yeasts, molds, and certain bacteria, that cause fermentation.

verb: to go through a chemical change that results in the production of lactic acid


1:  a solution or bath for preserving or cleaning: as

  1. a brine or vinegar solution in which foods are preserved

2:  an article of food that has been preserved in brine or in vinegar; specifically :  a cucumber that has been so preserved

Vegetable fermentation is more technically known as lacto-fermentation. You create a brine which allows the lactobacillus bacteria to create lactic acid which in turn “pickles” the vegetables. Lactobacillus are responsible for the tell tale flavor in all sorts of fermented foods:

The process takes time, and the end results offer more than just yummy flavors. Lactobacillus is present through the human organism and for a healthy culture of probiotics that are beneficial when ingested.

Also, the combination of lactic acid and salt create a hostile environment for other organisms that cause food spoilage and allow your foods to be stored for long periods of time depending on the temperature.

So how is pickling different?

20160716_171743-1.jpgPickling is a term used somewhat interchangeably between lacto-fermentation “pickling” and using vinegar, or acetic acid, to create what is know as a “quick pickle” to preserve your foods. The end results are similar, except that acetic acid “quick pickles” are not fermented and have no beneficial bacterial cultures.
My Zucchini Pickles are an example of a quick pickle.

Also, vinegar pickles and fermented pickles will have a slightly different flavor due to the different acids used.

So.. while a fermented food can be pickled, a pickled food isn’t necessarily fermented.

I hope that helps!



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