Salt Vs. Vinegar: An Ultimate Guide to Pickling and Fermenting Foods
Every time I sit down to write one of my Ultimate Guides, I try to research the topic to find you some interesting or funny food facts. Today we have salt vs. vinegar and everything pickled. Pickles are one of America’s favorite foods. But when I did my fun fact research, I found it surprising that only 64% of Americans ate pickles in 2019.
This figure felt a little low to me.
So I did some digging. It turns out this number DOESN’T include any other pickled fruits or vegetables other than cucumbers. The 64% also does not include pickled flavored commodities such as pickled flavor chips, popsicles, candy canes, and more. (P.S. Have you tried pickled flavored sunflower seeds? They’re amazing!)
Pickles have become a trending food in the last ten years as health fanatics use the low carb, salty, crunchy pickle as a replacement for bread in sandwiches or a go-to crunchy snack.
Pickles foods aren’t just an American thing. Globally, people consume an astonishing amount of pickled foods. But what is the best way to pickle. Today we will explore salt vs. vinegar and what these two ingredients do to our favorite fresh foods.
Which Country Consumes the Most Pickles?
In India, they turn virtually any food into a pickled condiment called Achar.
Nearly every country around the world has a history of pickling or fermenting foods.
In Fiji, people pickle foods in pits lined with banana leaves in their back yards. Showing your potential partner your “pickle pits” was part of the courting process.
In Korea, kimchi, made of spiced fermented vegetables, is their national dish.
The top consumers of pickles and pickled vegetables are:
Humans have perfected pickling over the last 4,000 years. It’s no wonder we’ve figured out how to pickle virtually any food. The pickled tofu in my fridge right now is AMAZING in homemade ramen (it stinks so good!).
Salt vs. Vinegar… why did we decide to take perfectly delicious foods and turn them sour?
What is Pickling or Fermenting?
Before the invention of modern refrigeration, pickling and fermenting foods were necessary (and delicious). Figuring out how to pickle and ferment foods meant that families could feed themselves through the winter.
Remember those pickle pits I mentioned earlier? Fijians learned that digging pickle pits and fermenting foods in the ground kept food safe from dangerous Pacific Storms. Those pickle pits became so valuable to the people of Fiji that they become proof that men could support and feed their families, thus part of the courting process.
Pickles and pickled vegetables kept modern explorers and their sailors safe from scurvy on long voyages. Ships often stopped for long periods to grow cucumbers to make more pickles to continue their journeys.
Fermented foods were a way of survival for the human race. Fresh fruits and vegetables wouldn’t last through the long winter months unless they were preserved somehow.
Did you know that a fermented beverage similar to mead was one of the most popular drinks in ancient times and was even safer to drink than water, which was often contaminated?
It’s true that pickling saw a decline around the world after the introduction of modern refrigeration. But luckily for us, Millenials (myself included) are total foodies, and we’ve seen a steady resurgence of pickle consumption globally because we are so extra. Your welcome.
Cultures around the world have developed versions of pickles based on regionally and seasonally available fruits and vegetables. Join me while I explore all things pickled and show you the difference between a quick pickle and a slow pickle. It’s a thing. Together we will try and explore the battle of salt vs. vinegar.
Salt Vs. Vinegar: Fermenting Vs. Pickling:
Our ancestors’ method of food preservation dates back 4,000 years, involved using salt to ferment foods.
Covering foods in a salt brine prevents the growth of harmful bacteria while the natural yeasts in the air and in these foods act on the sugar in these foods. The yeasts convert these sugars into lactic acids. The salt kills the harmful bacteria while the good guys get to work preserving your food.
The resulting food is a tangy, sour, fermented product that is shelf-stable for many months because of the salt. The lactic acid acts as a preservative while the salt suppresses bacterial growth. Ironically these foods often don’t taste overly salty. The lactic acid creates a sour tang that we’ve grow to love.
We love that sour flavor so much from naturally fermented foods that when we invented refrigeration, we searched for ways to mimic fermented foods’ taste and texture in a much more efficient process. Instead of waiting weeks on end for our sauerkraut or tangy pickles, we can buy them at the store or make them right at home minutes. Salt vs. vinegar, which one tastes better?
Vinegar makes quick pickling and store-bought pickles possible.
Vinegar is an acidic condiment and ingredient made by, in short, fermenting alcohol. That wine you leave out for way too long gradually becomes too sour to drink, and voila, red wine vinegar!
While most pickles on the market today are not fermented anymore, you can still find traditionally fermented pickles in specialty shops.
Today, modern pickles companies make pickles by brining them in vinegar, sugar, spices, and special additives that preserve the famous cucumber crunch. These jars are heat-treated, canned, and sealed for commercial use and often don’t have as long of a shelf life as ferments once opened. The unopened jars, however, can stay in your pantry for years.
Benefits of Fermented foods:
The battle of salt vs. vinegar continues. Despite easier methods of food preservation, we’ve seen a resurgence of fermented foods for many reasons. Fermented foods come with many health benefits:
- Probiotics: Fermented foods pack a health punch of probiotics that will keep you regular and boost your immune system.
- Bioavailable Nutrients: Fermentation makes it easier for your body to digest and benefit from the nutrients in food, especially B vitamins and vitamin K.
- Improved mood: Your gut health has a lot of consequences for your overall health. Anecdotally, people report a mood boost when incorporating fermented foods into their diets.
Salt vs. Vinegar: Pros and Cons
Each method of food preservation has its benefits and drawbacks. Commercial food producers can’t risk customers contracting foodborne illnesses from their foods. The heat and pressure used in producing commercial pickled foods leave you with a sterile food item. Fermentation, when done correctly, kills off harmful bacteria while leaving beneficial bacteria. So you end up with a clean environment, but a not sterile one since the good guys are still swimming around in your brine.
Fermented foods tend to be slightly more nutritious because of the probiotics and how fermentation makes it easier for your body to digest vitamins and minerals.
Canned or pickled foods are much quicker to make. Canned/pickled foods are done in a matter of days rather than the weeks or months it can take to ferment foods.
Salt Vs. Vinegar: Supplies Needed for Home Pickling and Canning
Whether you are canning foods or fermenting foods, much of the equipment you need overlap.
- Mason Jars
- Salt or Vinegar: We recommend sea salt for fermenting.
- Spices and other flavorings
- Pickle Crisp: If you are quick pickling and pressure canning.
- Pressure canner for canning
- Fermentation weights for fermenting
For a detailed discussion on making Homemade Pickles check out this post here!
What can be pickled or fermented?
Just like you can find virtually any fruit or vegetable in canned or pickled form, you can also ferment or pickle virtually most foods at home. Even meats and seafood! Pickled pigs feet, anyone?
- Cabbage: Sauerkraut or Kimchi
- Green beans (dilly beans)
- Lemon rind
- Soy Sauce
- Worcestershire Sauce
- Beets (pickles or fermented beets are both AMAZING)
- Citrus Fruits
- Blueberries (The best jam I’ve ever made was fermented blueberry jam)
- Ketchup (fermented ketchup is bubbly and DELICIOUS!)
- Cucumbers (Obviously)
- Garlic (fermented garlic is a powerful immune booster)
- Fruit juices
- And More!
Salt Vs. Vinegar: Which Method is Best?
Which method you choose depends on a few variables including what type of food you’re preserving, how you want it to taste, how long you want it to last, and if you’re doing it for health reasons or not. While consuming more fruits and veggies is healthier for everyone, fermented foods come with a particularly powerful health benefit.
Personally, when canning and fermenting, I work from experience. When I make vinegar pickles and try and pressure can them, they almost always turn out mushy on me. Quick pickles are an easy and quick way to make half sour pickles. Disolve sugar into vinegar and water, add some garlic and dill, and mix with sliced cucumbers. Refrigerate those pickles for 2-3 days and you have some delicious half-sour refrigerator pickles. You can quick pickle a lot of foods for a tangy condiment.
I love the salty tangy flavor of fermented pickles and my kids prefer fermented pickles to canned pickles as well.
Tomatoes on the other hand, unless I’m making ketchup, which I love fermented, I prefer to pressure can tomatoes. Even though tomatoes are acidic, they still need a bit of acid from vinegar to have a long shelf life.
Certain things lend themselves to vinegar over salt, like eggs. Pickled eggs in vinegar are surprisingly delicious. Green beans, asparagus, beets, and other vegetables could really go either way, they taste great both ways.
What are your favorite types of pickles?
Check Out These Posts on How to Pickle and Can with www.Makersmakestuff.com
- How to Make Relish
- Homemade Mead
- How to Make Yogurt
- Introduction to Canning
- How to Make Homemade Jam
- Homemade Kombucha
- How to Make Pickles