I’ve heard and read about the importance of probiotic-rich foods countless times over the years, but just recently, I was reminded both of the benefit of lacto-fermented vegetables and of how easy they can be to make at home.
I’ve made all sorts of excuses to myself over the years for not making my own lacto-fermented vegetables, my favorite being “I don’t have time for that!” As a result, I would add “fermented vegetables” to my shopping list and dutifully spend a small fortune on them at my local health food store.
But as I said, I was recently reminded of how easy it is to make lacto-fermented vegetables at home, so I dove into a Pinterest hole and began researching. After researching, I started fermenting, and let’s just say that I’m thrilled with the results! These Lacto-Fermented Dill Pickles have great flavor and crunch, and they’re friendly to just about every special diet out there, such as vegan, low-carb, keto, Paleo, Whole30 and AIP. These Lacto Fermented Dill Pickles could easily be used in place of store bought pickles on a sandwich or as part of a charcuterrie plate, or you could just eat them out of the jar, like I do. However you use them, these Lacto Fermented Dill pickles are so easy to make that there is really no reason not to use them in place of store bought pickles!
Health Benefits & Nutrition Information
Lacto-fermentation & Probiotics
The mention of probiotics inspires me to get on my soapbox, because the research on this colony of gut-dwelling critters has piled up. Twenty years ago, researchers were just beginning to understand the importance of probiotics. In the infancy of that understanding, it was thought that probiotics were only important for digestion. I mean, they do live in the digestive system, right?
The research of the past twenty years has revealed that probiotics are important for far more than just digestion, they play a huge role in the immune system, weight management, detoxification, and perhaps even effect neurotransmitter levels in the brain. This colony of critters that lives in our gut, called our “microbiome”, does a great many things to keep us healthy!
So what do we do in return? We starve them with poor dietary choices that leave them no prebiotics to eat, or annihilate all of them with dose after dose of antibiotics. Often we don’t even try to replace them after a dose of antibiotics, leaving our bodies deprived of the microbiome it needs to be healthy.
Lacto-fermented foods to the rescue! Lacto-fermented foods are a great way to get a daily dose of probiotics, which is important for a healthy microbiome. They’re super easy to make and far less expensive than buying lacto-fermented (and unpasteurized) pickles. Trust me. I’ve been there, done that and have the t-shirt.
Health Benefits of the Ingredients
Okay, so I’ve said a lot about the benefits of probiotics, but what about the actual ingredients in these Lacto Fermented Dill Pickles? The ingredients are simple but nutritious: cucumber, garlic and dill.
- Cucumbers are a good source of both vitamin K and molybdenum as well as the phytonutrients curcurbitacins, lignans and flavonoids which may have antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and cancer-fighting properties (source).
- While there is probably not enough garlic in this recipe to provide some of the most amazing benefits attributed to it, garlic does play a very important role due to its antimicrobial properties. That’s right, research has shown that garlic can inhibit the growth of some bacteria, fungus/yeast and viruses, making it a pretty helpful ingredient in these pickles (source).
- Besides imparting an amazing flavor, dill also inhibits the growth of some bacteria (source). No wonder traditional cultures have used dill and garlic in lacto-fermentation for years!
Now that you know just how nourishing these Lacto Fermented Dill Pickles are for your body, let’s talk about how to make them.
Helpful Hints, Tips & Extra Information
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Aerobic vs Anaerobic Environment for Lacto-fermentation
While researching, I discovered that there are drastically different opinions out there on how to lacto-ferment. Some insist that the fermentation container must be sealed up like a coffin, while others claim that air flow is fine, simply scrape off the mold. What, mold?! Mold is aerobic and needs oxygen to form. As a result, if any of your ingredients are above the brine and your fermentation container allows air to flow, mold may grow on the ingredients showing above the brine.
Some opinions say that this is bad, so bad that you have to throw out the whole batch and start over. Other opinions claim that if you simply remove the mold, the pickles left in the brine will be fine.
Those differing opinions go more in depth. The “seal your container as tight as a coffin” camp claims that the lactobacillus species of probiotics primarily grow in anerobic conditions, and if you provide aerobic conditions (oxygen) instead, your pickles will not be dominated by lactobacillus strain probiotics, as you intended.
The “scrape the mold off, you’ll be fine” camp claims that the brine is what ferments the vegetables under the surface and sealing the container is unnecessary to create lactic acid bacteria.
I’d just like to remind you that our ancestors have been lacto-fermenting vegetables for a long, long time, and they didn’t have any of the special gadgets that now exist to keep oxygen out (as seen in the Amazon ad below). Sometimes they buried fermentation vessels under ground, which I imagine would keep the oxygen out and create an anaerobic environment, but other times they fermented vegetables in an open crock.
Perhaps our ancestors did it both ways, depending on the type of vegetable and how long it was left to ferment? That sure is a thought to ponder, and I am going to let you ponder (and do your own research) instead of taking a side. The articles I read on the differing opionions are listed below.
- If you are interested in learning more about lacto-fermentation, check out this article by Sally Fallon and Mary Enig and this article by Cultures for Health. The latter includes links to additional information and recipes, and both give some brief information on aerobic vs anaerobic fermentation.
- This article by FermentaCap argues that it’s the brine, not an anaerobic environment, that produces lactic acid bacteria. I found it very informative and persuasive, especially considering that it was written by a company that sells AirLock caps (which most people associate with creating an anaerobic fermentation environment). Wild Fermentation also authored an article that argues the same. Both are good reads.
- This article by Intentionally Domestic argues passionately that anaerobic is essential. It’s also a good one to read.
Which makes more sense to you? Share your thoughts in the comments below!
A Summary of What I learned About Lacto-fermentation
Now that we’ve tackled that discussion, here are the main points I gleaned from both my experience and this recipe by Debra at Worth Cooking, which I found to be extremely helpful and inspired me to post this recipe.
- Debra at Worth Cooking says that fermented pickles taste a lot better when whey is not used. I tried to make my own pickles years ago using whey and I did not care for them, so I didn’t need any convincing. No way I’ll be using whey!
- Use a jar that is plenty big enough so room can be left at the top for both whatever you use to weight the pickles down and the brine to expand and release gas, which will happen as the pickles ferment. You should have an inch above your brine, after your pickles are weighed down.
- I only let my pickles ferment for 5 days because I didn’t want them to be too funky. Longer ferment times are recommended by some recipes, but I found 5 days to be plenty.
- I was worried that they wouldn’t be crunchy because I cut them into such small pieces, but they turned out perfectly crunchy and flavorful!
- I prefer to use sliced English cucumbers because they have thinner, less bitter skin than standard cucumbers. I find that English cucumbers make pickle slices that are crunchy and have a consistent texture throughout, but Debra at Worth Cooking recommends whole pickling cucumbers. Take your pick.
- Lacto-fermented vegetables are not pretty. There, I said it. The brine is cloudy and has what looks like white sediment floating at the bottom, but don’t worry, that’s perfectly normal. It’s actually just the lactic acid bacteria that have grown in the brine, so I suppose you could consider it a sign that you fermentation is going well!
- Weigh your pickles down (to keep all of the ingredients submerged in the brine) using a bag of marbles or a glass jar that is just small enough to fit in the mouth of the fermentation jar. You can also purchase weights (see below).
I provided a lot of information, but hopefully I’ve empowered you. As you now know, there are many ways to lacto-ferment your own vegetables. Humans all over the world have been doing it for years! It both preserves the food and creates probiotics that are critical to our health. Whether you choose to ferment in a tightly sealed container or not, these Lacto Fermented Dill Pickles are easy, delicious, nourishing to your body and friendly to almost every special diet out there. I hope that your enjoy them!
Easy Probiotic Rich Lacto Fermented Dill Pickles
Gluten-free | Grain-free | Nut-free | Dairy-free | Egg-free | Vegan | Paleo | Primal | AIP | Low-carb | Keto
- 1 large cucumber (I used an English cucumber)
- 2 large sprigs fresh dill weed (or 3-4 smaller sprigs)
- 2 cloves garlic, smashed
- 2 cups purified water
- 1 Tbsp coarse or Kosher salt (2 1/2 tsp for fine salt)
Dissolve the salt into 1 cup hot water. Once dissolved, add 1 cup cold water to cool the brine.
Slice the cucumber. Place in a clean glass jar, layering with the fresh dill and garlic. Ensure that none of the pickles, dill or garlic are sticking out of the water by either packing them tightly in the jar or weighing them down. Pour the brine over the top.
Cover with the jar's lid, a burping lid, or a coffee filter secured with a rubber band. Let sit at room temperature for 5 days. If you are using the lid that goes with the jar, remove it to let any gas escape ("burp it") 1-2 times per day.
After 5 days, do a taste test. If you are satisfied, move the pickles to your refrigerator to stop the fermentation process.
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