Whether it’s a flavourful side dish or a zesty garnish to accompany your meal, pickling is an excellent way to enjoy your favourite fruits and vegetables. Learn which ingredients are best to pickle, what you need, and how to do it with our guide.
What is pickling?
Pickling is a food preservation technique that involves soaking raw ingredients in a brine or vinegar to enhance their taste and texture, and extend their shelf life. Salt, sweetener, and spices can also be added to infuse the food with a different flavour.
Submerging veggies in a special pickling liquid destroys any bad bacteria and keeps them from forming — which is why pickled foods last a lot longer compared to when they’re fresh.
Pickling is excellent for cutting down on food waste and can help with digestive health, too. You can pretty much pickle any fresh ingredients, so it’s a brilliant way to reuse any leftover vegetables or fruit that you have. Pickle your in-season favourites to enjoy them later, and for longer!
Take a look at our guide on how to reduce food waste in the kitchen for more ideas on how to go green at home.
What pickling methods are there?
There are a few different ways that you can pickle ingredients, but the most popular two are by using vinegar or natural fermentation.
Pickling with vinegar
Using vinegar to preserve fresh fruits and vegetables is also known as a “quick pickle” or “fresh pickle”. Salt, spices, and sometimes sugar are mixed with vinegar before submerging your ingredients.
Veggies with a high water content can also be pickled with a salt brine first. Salt is used to draw out any water from the food so that it can take on more vinegar later. After being submerged in salt or a salt brine, the ingredients are washed and drained before soaking in vinegar.
Whether quick pickling or salt-brine pickling, the concoction is usually stored in an airtight glass jar and left to marinate for a few days. Over time, the food that’s being pickled will lose some of its nutrients as the vinegar changes its flavour profile.
Using vinegar is the most basic and beginner-friendly version of pickling and is also a much quicker process than the fermentation method.
Natural fermentation pickling
Pickling by natural fermentation — or known by its scientific name: anaerobic fermentation — is a more advanced method than using vinegar.
Fresh produce is kept in a traditional pickling crock or fermentation kit and pickling weights are used to keep everything fully submerged in a salt-water brine. This is essential for keeping any oxygen or bad bacteria out of the mixture.
Fermentation like this can take weeks or months, depending on what veggies you add to the mix. The magic happens when the salt-brine draws out the water from the ingredients and naturally occurring microbes break down the sugars into lactic acid and good bacteria.
Pickling by fermentation doesn’t use any vinegar or sugar, so it lends a sour taste compared to the sharp bite of quick and fresh pickles. Sauerkraut and kimchi are some of the most popular fermented vegetables and are known for their health benefits as they contain lots of good live bacteria and probiotics.
We’re going to be focusing on the vinegar method as it only needs a handful of tools, can be done in just a few days, and is a great entry into the work of pickling!
What vegetables can be pickled?
The most obvious vegetables are the ones that you can find in a jar in your local supermarket: cucumbers, onions, and beetroot.
But trust us, making your own is much more satisfying and you can pretty much pickle any vegetable you like.
Some vegetables to try are:
- Green beans
Picking fruits is also a great way to experiment with flavours:
What ingredients do I need to pickle vegetables?
- Vinegar — You can buy and use a pre-made pickling vinegar, but it’s super easy (and more rewarding) to make your own and customise it with your favourite spices. The vinegar you choose comes down to what taste you prefer: malt vinegar is commonly used for English pickles, while rice vinegar is usually used in Asian cuisine. You can also opt for distilled white vinegar, apple cider vinegar, and white wine vinegar.
- Salt — Salt will draw out the water from your pickling vegetables and enhance their finished flavour. The best type of salt to use is pickling or canning salt, sea salt, or kosher salt. These are pure and free from additives or anti-caking agents, which can turn your pickling liquid cloudy.
- Sugar — To add sweetness, you can add white sugar to your pickling liquid. While white sugar is the most popular, you can try variations like brown sugar, honey, or agave.
- Water — Water helps your salt and sugar to dissolve into your pickling liquid. It can also help to dilute the acidity of the vinegar. Always try to use distilled or purified water; tap water can affect the colour of your pickling ingredients if left for a while.
- Spices and herbs — You can choose any combination of herbs and spices, and similarly, you don’t have to use any pickling spices at all — but we recommend not skipping this step as it can really bring out the flavour from your ingredients! Some classic options are peppercorns, coriander seeds, mustard seeds, bay leaves, chilli flakes, cinnamon sticks, cloves, basil chives, rosemary, thyme, and garlic. If you do choose to add herbs, the fresh kind works best as they keep their flavour better and don’t break down as much as dried herbs.
- Vegetables — Vegetables are the star of the show, so invest in the best-quality produce that you can get your hands on. Another tip is to use fresh vegetables, so try to get them in the pickling liquid as soon as you can. If they’re not at their best, that’s still fine, but try to avoid any that are starting to go off; you won’t get their maximum flavour otherwise.
What tools do I need to pickle vegetables?
- A saucepan — To help your salt and sugar dissolve into your pickling liquid, you’ll want to heat everything in a saucepan on the stove. A saucepan with a spout will make it a breeze to pour your mixture into jars.
- Airtight jars — Secure, airtight jars, like mason or terrine jars, are the perfect place to keep your ingredients while the vinegar works its magic. As well as keeping everything trapped inside, they’ll also stop your kitchen from smelling like vinegar. Whether you’re reusing an old jam jar or have a fresh pickling jar, you should always sterilise them before adding your vegetables. This will eliminate any bad bacteria that would otherwise spoil all your hard work.
- Measuring cups — While what you choose to use in your pickling liquid is completely up to you, it’s important to stick to the right vinegar and water ratios for the best result. Use a measuring cup to get equal amounts of both — eyeballing them won’t cut the mustard this time!
How to pickle vegetables
1. Sterilise your jars
Before you even start with your ingredients, you need to thoroughly clean your jars to kill any bad bacteria from contaminating your precious pickled vegetables. This tends to involve heating them to high temperatures where no bacteria can survive. It’s also recommended to do this right before you start pickling.
To sterilise your jars, you can:
- Heat them in the oven – Preheat your oven to a maximum of 140°C and give your jars a good wash with hot soapy water. Rinse but don’t dry them and remove any metal parts or rubber seals before placing them in the oven on a baking tray. Heat your jars for 15 minutes. While the jars are baking, soak the lids, seals, and any other parts in boiling water for 10 minutes. Once the jars and lids have been sterilised, leave them to cool to room temperature before adding your pickling produce. If your jars are microwave-friendly, they should be safe to sterilise in the oven at a low temperature. Jars that aren’t microwave-friendly may crack, so it’s best to use the dishwasher method with them.
- Wash them in the dishwasher – Since dishwashers can reach super high temperatures, they’re an effective way of sterilising your cookware. Check that your jars are dishwasher safe before popping them in on the hottest setting. Make sure you don’t have any other dirty dishes in there while it runs.
- Microwave them – Short on time? Microwaving your jars is the fastest way to sterilise them. Give them a rinse with hot water first and place the wet jars in your microwave, removing any rubber seals or metal parts. Heat on high for 45 seconds.
2. Prep your vegetables
Always start by giving your vegetables a thorough clean to remove as much dirt and bacteria as possible – a vegetable cleaning brush will make short work of this. You might also want to peel and chop bigger veggies so that they fit nicely into your jar.
Some tougher foods may also need to be cooked or blanched to preserve their colour and shape before pickling.
3. Season vegetables
Layer your produce into your jars, but don’t fill them full to the brim. Around three-quarters full should do it, as you want to leave enough space for your pickling liquid and for making sure everything is fully submerged.
Once they’re packed in, add in your spices and herbs. Since vinegar will be the dominant flavour, you can afford to be generous with your seasonings. Try starting with ½ to 1 teaspoon of spice and a few sprigs of herbs; you can always adjust to your liking next time.
4. Prepare the vinegar
The rule of thumb for a basic pickling liquid is to use equal parts vinegar and water. So if you’re using 2 cups of vinegar, make up the rest of the mixture with 2 cups of water.
The amount of salt and sugar is up to your personal preference and can depend on what you’re pickling: add more sugar for fruits or more salt for savoury vegetables.
For a universal pickling brine that’ll work well with all produce, use 1 ¼ teaspoons of salt with 1 ½ teaspoons of sugar. This is a good ratio to use with 2 cups of vinegar and water, but you can adjust depending on whether you’re using more or less.
Boiling your vinegar and water mixture with salt and sugar helps the granules to fully dissolve in the pickling liquid, letting the flavours meld better. Add them to your saucepan along with the vinegar and water. Place over a medium-high heat and let it boil for 2 minutes, stirring to make sure everything is well combined.
Remove from the heat and pour your hot pickling brine over your ingredients, filling your jars up until all the vegetables are covered. Leave a small 1cm gap from the top of the jar.
Gently tap the jar against a hard surface, like a countertop, to dislodge any air bubbles. Fill with more of your vinegar brine if needed.
Securely place the lids on the jars. Leave them to cool to room temperature before storing them in the fridge to work their magic.
The longer you leave them, the more flavourful they will be. Wait at least 48 hours before opening them, but they will last refrigerated for up to two months.
A few tips for how to pickle:
- Beetroot – Before pickling, simmer for one hour, peel the skin off, and thinly slice.
- Onions – Use a super sharp knife or mandolin to slice these as thin as you can so that they soften and absorb the pickling liquid.
- Red cabbage – Shred into fine pieces with a mandolin or food processor.
- Cucumbers – Use a mandolin or peeler to form ribbons.
- Chillies – Cut these into rings if they’re chunky, or pickle them whole and piece each one with a knife so they can absorb the pickling liquid.
- Carrots – Peel and cut these into spears.
- Gherkins – Wash, pat try, and cover them in salt to dry out overnight before pickling.
What are the best tools for pickling vegetables?
Best for pickling beginners: Home Made 454ml Round Jam Jar with Twist-off Lid
We don’t know about you, but this glass jar brings back memories of grandma’s homemade treats. The copper-coloured metal lid screws on tightly to create an airtight seal, simply fill with your favourite veggies and vinegar – pickling has never been so easy!
Best for experimenting: Set of 6 Home Made Glass 350ml Terrine Jars
If you’ve got a selection of homegrown produce that you want to enjoy later in the season, this set of six terrine jars is perfect for pickling lots of separate batches of veggies. Each jar is made from high-quality glass and comes with a durable silicone ring and lever-arm stainless steel locking mechanism for creating a super secure seal.
Best for tasting your delicious pickled veggies: KitchenCraft Telescopic Pickle Fork
Pickle connoisseurs, rejoice! This handy tool was made for easily retrieving your pickled produce without spilling a drop of vinegar. The clever trigger-activated mechanism means you can scoop out your veggies and serve them in seconds. It’s a must for entertaining at your next dinner party.
Best for prepping your vegetables: KitchenCraft Vegetable Cleaning Brush
Get your veggies squeaky clean and ready for pickling with this cleaning brush. The scrubbing bristles are hard-wearing, making light work of removing dirt and bacteria without the worry of shedding. For spuds that need a little extra TLC, flip this gadget over to use the built-in scraper for removing skins or the potato eye remover for getting rid of those pesky blemishes.
Pickle your favourite produce with CookServeEnjoy
Here at CookServeEnjoy, we’re all about enjoying nature’s finest produce. Whether it’s in-season and fresh or pickled to save for a later date, we’ve got the tools to help make your food go further.