Dill pickles, sauerkraut, kimchi—we all love to eat them! But what makes pickled food different from fermented ones? It is quite interesting to learn how both processes are done and what sets them apart. In a nutshell, pickled foods get their sourness from the addition of an acidic liquid. Fermentation, on the other hand, makes food sour through bacterial reaction. Read this simple pickling vs fermenting guide and learn the key characteristics of these two preservation techniques.

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What is pickling?

  • Process starts with the preparation of a pickling solution usually composed of vinegar, water, salt, sugar, and a choice of herbs and spices.
  • Cooked solution is then poured into sliced fruits or vegetables in jars to start pickling.
  • Flavour intensifies the longer the items remain soaked in the solution.
  • Pickling preserves food by increasing its acidity level, mainly through the acetic acid content of vinegar, to keep harmful microbes away.
  • Vinegar-based pickles may not have the probiotic benefit of fermented foods but they do contain natural vitamins, minerals, and fiber. They take less time to make, too.
  • Get inspired with these pickle and food pairings and start pickling at home!
What to pickle Pair it with
Blueberry Goat cheese toast
Carrot and radish Banh mi sandwiches
Cucumber and beetroot Salads and poke bowls
Ginger Sushi and sashimi
Peach Cheesecake or grilled pork and chicken
Pineapple Ham and barbecued meats

What is Fermenting?

  • Fermentation needs three main ingredients: salt, the natural lactobacillus bacteria present in food, and air deprivation.
  • Fermenting your food with salt and enclosing it in an airtight container makes it hard for harmful bacteria to thrive and survive, leaving the good bacteria (lactobacillus) to start eating the sugar present in food.
  • This process produces lactic acid as a by-product which in turn preserves the fermented food and gives it its characteristic sour flavour.
  • Because of their sourness, fermented foods at home can be considered both pickled and fermented.
  • Aside from its vitamin, mineral, and fibre contents, the lactic acid produced in fermented foods make them rich in probiotics.
  • Probiotics are beneficial bacteria that contribute mainly to good digestion and improved immunity.
  • Here’s a table summarising the most common fermented foods and how you can best enjoy them.
Combine Makes Tastes best with
Cabbage + salt Sauerkraut Sandwiches, soup, and casserole
Milk + kefir grains Kefir Smoothies and blended drinks
Milk + lactic acid bacteria Yoghurt Fruit, baked goods, and sauces
Napa cabbage + gochugaru Kimchi Rice, soup, and sandwiches
Soybeans + salt + fungi Miso Soups, dressings, and marinades
Soybeans + bacteria Natto Rice
Soybeans + fungi Tempeh Sandwiches and stir fries
Tea + SCOBY Kombucha Fruit, herbs, and spices
Pickling vs Fermenting

Compared to pickling, fermented food needs more time to develop its flavour. Moreover, food texture and colour also changes significantly after the fermentation process. Despite that, both pickles and fermented food add wonders to our home-cooked meals. They may differ in health value but both are packed with important nutrients. With their ability to extend the shelf life of every season’s bounty, we get to enjoy fruits and vegetables all year round without wasting any. And with basic ingredients and simple tools, we can be creative in the kitchen and end up with these flavourful food in jars!

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Aimee Arcega

Aimee is a content writer for Kitchen Warehouse and a foodie at heart. Also a trained pastry chef, she bakes in her spare time to make people happy.

3 Replies to “Pickling vs Fermenting: What’s the Difference?”

    1. Hi Robyn,
      You’re welcome! Hope the article inspired you to try fermenting or pickling at home 🙂

  1. Aimee, is it possible to pickle food without sugar? I don’t eat any sugar but I would love to be able to eat pickled foods.

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