Pickling is a traditional method of food preservation and storage that has been known in the world for thousands of years. However, it is becoming more and more popular every year as people want to expand their knowledge of effective and tasty fermented foods. You could even say that pickling has been experiencing its renaissance in the last few years. That’s great! During pickling, chemical changes occur in food products. This only changes the taste of vegetables and fruits but also improves their nutritional and health properties. So, what do lactic acid bacteria do? What is ensiling? Does it have any health benefits? Which pickles have the most health benefits? You will find answers to these and many more questions in the article below. Enjoy!

What is pickling?

The pickling of vegetables and fruits is the oldest and most effective method of their preservation. In fact, before humanity invented refrigerators, fermentation was one of the most popular forms of preserving and storing food. Lactic fermentation is the main process during the pickling. Lactic acid bacteria grow, as a result of which lactic acid appears in a concentration of 0.8 – 1.7%. This acid is in turn responsible for the durability of pickles. The presence of lactic acid in pickled products contributes to the reduction of the product’s pH to 4.0-3.5 pH. The acidic environment then destroys potentially harmful microorganisms that could spoil or rot the prepared product.

The appropriate ambient temperature is also important when pickling. And so, the most favorable range of fermentation temperatures is 18 – 20 degrees Celsius. It is important not to start pickling vegetables and fruits at lower temperatures, though. That’s because lactic acid bacteria are not active enough when the temperature drops below 15 degrees.

A jar of pickled tomatoes.

The simple sugar contained in pickled vegetables and fruits turns into lactic acid over time, thanks to which, at appropriately low temperatures, the product can be stored for many, many months. You can then safely store it at a temperature of 4-8 degrees. This temperature ensures the longest durability. Refrigerators, cool cellars, or barrels with water placed outside in winter will work well for storing pickled products.

Why are lactic acid bacteria so important?

Thanks to them, the process of lactic acid fermentation, which is crucial in the preparation of pickles, can take place. This process is based on the enzymatic decomposition of energy-richer substances into simple compounds that are less energy-rich. And so, different species of bacteria carry the process and it must take place under anaerobic conditions. Creating an anaerobic environment during pickling requires careful pressing of the pickled vegetables or fruits in jars or barrels. This helps to get rid of excessive amounts of air from pickles, which could harm the proper course of the anaerobic fermentation process. Simple sugars and disaccharides contained in vegetables and fruits metabolize into lactic acid and carbon dioxide, which fix the products. The enzymes accompanying the reaction play a key role in the course of this transformation.

Are pickles a source of probiotics?

Probiotics are selected bacterial strains with scientifically proven effects, confirmed by randomized trials. Lactic acid contains bacteria most commonly used as probiotics, which is formed during fermentation. Acetylcholine formed as a result of fermentation accelerates intestinal peristalsis, regulates their work, supports digestion and absorption of metabolic products. That’s why we should reach for pickles not only in constipation and digestive problems but also during antibiotic therapy, as they will help to rebuild the specific microbiota of the body.

Why is salt so important in pickling?

It turns out that a properly salty environment is favorable for pickling and gives the pickles a characteristic salty taste. However, lactic acid bacteria necessary for the lactic fermentation process are resistant to high salt concentrations. Safe and effective pickling of vegetables and fruits requires an appropriate salt concentration, it should be between 0.8 – 3%. The amount of salt may vary depending on the effect we want to achieve. However, it should not be less than 0.5%.

Pickled and fermented products

More and more often, we can find fermented products in our stores, not pickled ones. 

Sounds like nothing to sweat over? And yet! 

Don’t be fooled by the similarity of names. Unfortunately, producers of fermented foods add acetic acid and often potassium sorbate (E202), sodium benzoate (E211), and sugars. Low-calorie, probiotic sauerkraut becomes an artificially fermented product with increased calories. That’s why it’s so important to choose good-quality pickled products instead.

Pickles, a natural dietary supplement

Both fresh vegetables, fruits, and pickles are a valuable source of vitamins and minerals. The process of pickling itself enriches the final product with these beneficial compounds, mainly B vitamins. The acidic environment also promotes the stability of vitamins C and A.

VitaminsMinerals
Vit. E – antioxidantCalcium – bone structure, prevention of osteopenia and osteoporosis
Vit. A and Wit. C – strengthening the immune system, increasing Fe absorptionMagnesium – maintaining the proper functioning of the nervous system, supporting the hormonal balance
Vit. B1, B2, B3 – protection of the nervous systemPotassium – endocrine support, one of the main electrolytes
Vit. PP (niacin) – maintaining the proper functioning of the brain and peripheral nervous system and Vit. K – normal blood clottingIron – a component of hemoglobin, works against anemia

Vitamin K (about 170 mg per 100 grams of pickles) has a positive effect on the circulatory system, improving blood clotting, and indirectly regulating the body’s calcium balance. Vitamin A, the rich source of which is especially pickled cucumbers (125 IU compared to 18 IU in sauerkraut), has an excellent effect on eyesight, thyroid function, along with iron, significantly supports the body’s immunity. The said iron (about 1.5 mg / 100 g of the product) is an important component that builds hemoglobin and myoglobin. It’s also responsible for the function of enzymes – peroxidase or catalase. Magnesium and zinc, in addition to their health properties, are also great for hair loss problems and improve skin elasticity.

Pickled product is not the only valuable part. During fermentation, valuable ingredients also absorb into the juice, so let’s not be afraid to reach for it for lunch or dinner.

How can you pickle vegetables and fruits?

Bowl with sauerkraut. Fermented food.

1. Pickling in a solution of water with salt

It’s the most popular and the best method of pickling. Its simplicity provides us with the guarantee of preparing wholesome pickles. Brine, i.e. a solution of salt and water, effectively prevents the development of unfavorable bacterial flora in the final product.

2. Pickling in salt without the addition of water

This is a pickling method used for juicy vegetables and fruits. Plants with a high water content release their own juices under the influence of salt. Cabbage is often pickled that way.

3. Pickling in water, without the addition of salt

An ideal form of pickling for people who, for health reasons, should limit the amount of salt in their diet. In this case, it is worth adding a lot of garlic or other vegetables with antibacterial properties to the water in order to eliminate unfavorable bacteria.

4. “Pickling in honey”

This is not the most popular method of pickling. It’s a modification of the pickling method in brine and perfect for pickling fruits. Thanks to this method the pickled fruit has a delicate, sweet aftertaste.

When consuming any form of pickles, remember that the healthiest ones are those that we prepare ourselves. It’s also worth noting that pickles should be eaten raw. That’s because when you subject pickles to thermal treatment – boiling, stewing, or baking. they lose some of their nutritional value. High temperature destroys most of the biologically active ingredients responsible for their beneficial effects. It is worth delving into the topic of self-preparation of pickles as it will provide us with the best quality products and a lot of satisfaction.

What effect does fermented food have on the body?

Regular consumption of fermented foods has many health benefits. It’s worth getting to know what positive values ​​they bring to the diet.

Pickles are a valuable source of vitamins and minerals. Pickling has a positive effect on the content of certain vitamins in vegetables and fruits. Indeed, pickling increases the number of B vitamins and vitamin K in products. It perfectly preserves the vitamin C contained in fruits and vegetables. Before the refrigerators present in every household were invented, pickles were the main source of vitamin C in the autumn and winter season.

Another benefit of regular consumption of pickles is their beneficial effect on the work of our intestines. Live cultures of lactic bacteria contained in fermented products are necessary for the proper functioning of the digestive system. In the gastrointestinal tract, lactic acid bacteria compete with pathogens, the excessive growth of which may lead to disturbances in the balance of the intestinal microflora. The presence of the right amount of lactic acid bacteria in the body helps to improve the digestive process. It also increases the absorption of valuable vitamins and minerals, seals the intestinal barrier, regulates blood cholesterol levels, and improves the functioning of the immune system.

Sauerkraut also increases the gut’s absorption of mood-regulating minerals, including magnesium and zinc, so it can also help maintain brain health and improve well-being.

Sauerkraut is also on par with kimchi in its anti-cancer potential.

It has been shown that isothiocyanates contained in a sauerkraut juice have a strong ability to induce phase II detoxification enzymes in colon and liver cancer cell lines, and at the same time induce DNA repair enzymes.

Pickled vegetables and fruits are a rich source of dietary fiber

Research has repeatedly proven that the amount of dietary fiber in the diet of an average person is too small and does not exceed the recommended minimum of 25 g per day. It is worth taking care of the right amount of fiber in the diet not only to regulate the motility of the gastrointestinal tract. An adequate supply of this ingredient reduces the risk of developing colorectal cancer and stimulates the growth of beneficial bacterial flora, which contributes to the maintenance of homeostasis. Eating pickles containing large amounts of dietary fiber contributes to faster satisfaction and the feeling of fullness. Pickled vegetables and fruits can therefore become an ally of people who are slimming and taking care of their figure.

When you are afraid of people, eat pickled

As of today, one in four people need the help of a psychiatrist, but not all use it. The effect of social anxiety, and thus the feeling of alienation and, as a result, depression reaps its best harvest. New research by scientists at the University of Maryland confirms that eating pickled products is one of the factors in improving the social skills of extremely shy people.

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It turns out that the shy ones who introduced pickled and fermented food into their diet had fewer problems, for example with making an important phone call or dealing with the office. It has long been believed that the intestines are permanently connected with the brain, or even are the second brain in the body. For example, the gut is responsible for the production of serotonin, which is very important in treating depression and maintaining well-being.

Researchers have found that, in the case of shyness, a healthy gut helps to produce the GABA neurotransmitters. Anti-anxiety medications have a similar effect. Also, the consumption of probiotics alleviates digestive system ailments typical of experiencing severe stress, such as abdominal pain and cramps, diarrhea, nausea, and many others.

Are pickles for everyone?

Even though pickles are widely regarded as healthy food, not everyone can benefit from them. As it turns out, pickles should be limited by many people for health issues. The reason? A large part of our society struggles with the problem of high blood pressure (hypertension). For this group, it is advisable to reduce salt intake. The salt intake recommendation for the diet is a maximum of 5 g of salt per day. In practice, it is one flat teaspoon. However, it is worth being aware that this amount applies to both the salt contained in the processed products we consume, and also when adding salt to the dishes on the plate.

Pickles consumed in excess may contribute to the deterioration of health in people on an easily digestible diet. Excessive amounts of pickled products may cause the intestinal peristalsis to accelerate too much. Such people can consume them regularly but in small amounts. Their bodies take time to get used to the presence of pickles in their meals. Combining pickles with fresh or cooked vegetables on one plate is great for their situation. 

The most popular forms of pickles

Fermented preserved vegetarian foods. Sour sauerkraut, pickled carrots, pickled cucumbers, pickled celery in glass jars.

Below is an overview of pickles that deserve special attention due to their unique health properties.

Sauerkraut

Sauerkraut is easily the most popular pickled product out there. It is eaten almost all year round, although it is most often eaten in the winter. It’s so popular not only because of its characteristic taste, but it is also a source of vitamins, minerals, and probiotic bacteria that are valuable for our health. Sauerkraut is a low-energy product, 100 g of the finished product contains only 18 kcal, it contains 4.3 g / 100 g of total carbohydrates, including as much as 2.9 g of dietary fiber.

It’s also is a source of vitamin A, vitamin C, and B vitamins, it also contains calcium, magnesium, and iron. Regular consumption of sauerkraut in small amounts may contribute to lowering blood cholesterol levels, and thus lower the risk of vascular and cardiac diseases, including atherosclerosis and heart attack. Cabbage, thanks to the content of antioxidant vitamins, counteracts the harmful effects of free radicals and helps fight inflammation in the body. Vitamin C contained in sauerkraut supports the good condition of the mouth and gums. The addition of sauerkraut to dishes containing products with a large amount of iron increases its bioavailability.

Pickled cucumbers

Pickled cucumbers are prepared from fresh, greenfield cucumbers subjected to pickling processes. In traditional cuisine, pickled cucumbers are an addition to main dishes, salads, and the basis of cucumber soup or a healthy, crunchy snack between meals. The process of pickling gives them new nutritional value, thanks to which they are more valuable than fresh ones. You can safely call pickled cucumbers dietary product – 100 g of silage contains only 11 kcal. Thanks to such a low energy value, they are a great vegetable for slimming diets. We can find many valuable vitamins and nutrients in pickled cucumbers, including vitamin C, B vitamins (B2, B6, B13), as well as vitamins K and E. Regular consumption of small amounts of cucumbers has a beneficial effect on the digestive system, improves the digestive processes and enriches the bacterial microflora with probiotic strains useful for our body.

Kimchi

Kimchi is a traditional Korean cuisine silage, which due to its unique method of preparation has been added to the UNESCO Intangible Heritage List. Statistics show that the average Korean consumes as much as 22 kilograms of kimchi each year. Traditional kimchi is a mix of Chinese cabbage, onion, carrot, chives, and many aromatic spices, including soy sauce, ginger, chili peppers, and garlic. Kimchi, like other pickles, is low-calorie 21 kcal / 100 g of the product and extremely rich in biologically active substances.

We can find in it not only B vitamins but also minerals and fiber. Kimchi owes most of its health properties to the lactic acid bacteria contained in it, and more specifically to the Lactobacillus strains. Their beneficial effect on the digestive system has been documented many times during numerous studies and scientific observations. These strains support the beneficial intestinal microflora while inhibiting the growth of pathogenic bacteria strains. Regular use of kimchi promotes the work of the immune system and strengthens the body. Kimchi is not for everyone, however, due to the high content of intense spices. People suffering from acid reflux, intestinal ulcer disease, or irritable bowel syndrome should avoid it

Pickled beets

Pickled beets are another must-have for lovers of healthy pickles. They have a delicate, sour, but extremely pleasant taste. During the fermentation process in beetroot, numerous changes of nutrients take place, which increases the bioavailability of the benefits contained in them. During beet pickling, the amount of simple sugars contained in them is significantly reduced, these changes make pickled beets not only less caloric but also better tolerated by people with carbohydrate disorders. Like all other pickles, they have a positive effect on the digestive system and improve the body’s immunity. The introduction of pickled beetroot into the diet may contribute to lowering the level of cholesterol in the blood serum and regulating the metabolic rate. Regular consumption of pickled beets can provide large amounts of iron, which, in combination with the vitamin C contained in beets, is better absorbed by the body.

The type of packaging matters

Let’s pay attention to how pickles are packed and what their color is. For sure, the ideal would be to prepare them yourself, in glass jars or a wooden barrel. However, nowadays, as we reach for finished products more often, let’s pay attention to the pickled products sold at fairs or “eco” stores. “Barrel” pickles retain the most properties. The lid should be slightly open, however, so that “the pickle can breathe”.

Storing them in the sun, in high room temperatures, or completely open (talking about products in barrels) may cause the growth of pathogenic bacteria. The packaging of the pickles should not be made of foil – often in such conditions the cabbage is overheated and loses its nutritional value and flavor.

Pickle juices not only for hangovers

Supporting immunity, counteracting anemia, increasing endurance and training possibilities in sport, taking care of healthy body weight. Sounds like the properties of a miracle supplement for many problems. However, this is just a brief description of beetroot juice, which possesses many other health-promoting functions.

The richness of vitamin C, magnesium, B vitamins has an antibacterial and antiviral effect, betaine contained in it has anti-cancer properties, regulates blood pressure, may have a protective effect on the liver and kidneys. Pectin contained in beetroot juice reduces the level of LDL cholesterol and reduces putrefactive processes in the intestines. There is also a lot of talk about fresh beet juice and a fermented product in terms of athletes’ performance.

People with diabetes should be careful with beetroot juice, though. Juicing, cooking and pasteurization can significantly increase the Glycemic Index of this product.

Bottom line

There are many facts in favor of eating sauerkraut or other pickled products. They function as probiotics and are a source of many vitamins and minerals. Remember, however, that it is safest and healthiest for us to pickle on our own because when buying in the store, we can’t always be sure about the preparation and nutritional value of purchased pickles. I hope that ideas for dishes with the addition of pickled vegetables and fruit are already swarming in your heads. It’s definitely worth it!

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Author

I'm Lucas, a 30-year-old guy from Poland who's passionate about natural ways to fight aging and staying healthy for as long as possible.