- Why ferment cucumber pickles versus quick pickling?
- How to ferment cucumber pickles at home
- Fermenting cucumber FAQs and tips
- Salt % percentage brine for cucumber pickles
- DIY tools for fermenting cucumber pickles
- Fermenting homegrown cucumbers as they ripen
- Kahm yeast versus unwanted bacterial growth
Why Ferment Cucumber Pickles Versus Quick Pickling?
Fermented cucumber pickles are intensely flavoured and more complex compared to quick pickles. While they take longer, fermented cucumber pickles are much more interesting and enjoyable to eat. Fermentation allows new depths of flavours to develop. Quick pickles just taste like vinegar, salt and sugar. They are exactly what they sound like, which is fine, but they are not very fun to make. Fermented foods also have probiotic benefits similar to kimchi, sauerkraut and other fermented foods.
How to Ferment Cucumber Pickles at Home
I learned to ferment cucumber pickles by researching techniques, tannins, salt brine percentages and fermentation temperatures online. The most comprehensive source I found was Make Sauerkraut’s detailed cucumber pickling guide (it’s great, you should read it, there’s much more info in their post), but I distilled this how-to from many sources, like fermentation forums, and asked W. questions, too. I’ve made cucumber pickles for a few years from both homegrown and farmers market pickling cucumbers. These fermented cucumber pickles reliably consistently crunchy, complexly flavoured and delicious.
- Pickling cucumbers
- Pickling salt
- Water (tap is fine)
- Tannins (ex: bay leaves, grated horseradish)
- Optional flavours (ex: garlic cloves, dill, peppercorns, chilis)
- Food-safe container (ex: jar, bucket, fermentation crock)
- Lid (ex: plate, mason jar lid, etc.)
- Scale to measure weight
- Fermentation weight (DIY or purchased)
Follow these steps to ferment cucumber pickles at home:
- Wash all tools in hot soapy water. Wash and cut ends off cucumber pickles (blossoms contain enzyme that soften pickles). For optimal crunchiness, leave cucumbers whole if small or medium sized. If overgrown, cut into spears and remove excess seeds and inner flesh.
- Calculate and prep 5% salt brine. 5% salt brine is ideal for encouraging lactobacillus fermentation in water-rich cucumbers. Estimate amount of brine needed for fermentation container and weigh appropriate water. Multiple water by 0.05 to determine amount of salt. Stir salt into water to dissolve.
- Add tannin and flavours to container. I usually add crumpled bay leaves, peeled garlic cloves and dill. Add cucumbers and immerse in brine.
- Weigh down ingredients under brine to prevent unwanted bacterial growth with fermentation weight. Exposed ingredients can spoil fermentation.
- Cover container with lid lightly to allow for “burping“. Ferment in undisturbed place at 12-17 degrees Celsius for approximately 5-12 days. Check cucumbers every few after 5 days for desired flavour, texture and saltiness. If making multiple batches, I recommend dating the containers.
Fermenting Cucumber FAQs and Tips
What is the Ideal Salt % Percentage Brine For Cucumber Pickles?
The best salt brine % percentage for fermented cucumber pickles is 5% salt to encourage growth of desired lactobacillus bacteria and to discourage growth of unwanted bacterias and molds. Cucumbers are rich with water, which is why the salt brine may be different than other fermentation brines.
Best DIY Fermentation Tools
These are the best DIY tools for fermentation:
- Fermentation containers and crocks. Any food-safe container can be used for fermentation. I prefer to use repurposed glass jars, mason jars and my Chinese fermentation crock (bought for less than $35 in Chinatown, Vancouver), but you can use any appropriately sized food-safe container, like this food-safe garbage can.
- Fermentation weights. You can buy fermentation weights, but you don’t need to. I upcycle food-safe takeout lids by cutting them to the approx. size of my container, and then slice half-way through the middle to allow me to fit it into the narrow container mouth. Some people use clean non-porous rocks to weigh down ferments. I’ve successfully used plates, bowls, smaller jars and ziploc bags filled with brine to weigh down ferments before.
- Fermentation chamber (optional). You don’t need to DIY a fermentation chamber to ferment successfully, but you can make one if you like projects like that, or if the temperature isn’t right for fermentation (between 12-17 degrees). I successfully used a cooler filled with ice to ferment cucumbers in the height of summer. Right now I use W.’s unused spore propagation chamber that he made to grow edible mushrooms at home last spring.
Fermenting Homegrown Cucumbers As They Ripen
This year was the first year I’ve grown pickling cucumbers from seed. Growing pickling cucumbers myself was satisfying, but I had to figure out how to pick and ferment cucumbers in a convenient way, as homegrown cucumbers ripened at different times. This was unlike buying pounds of pickling cucumbers at the farmers market. I definitely didn’t want to have to pickle each ripe cucumber in an individual jar all growing season.
I checked the cucumber plants every day when I watered them this summer and early fall. I tried to picked and fermented batches of cucumbers in batches. But sometimes only one or two cucumbers would be ready to harvest. When there were only a few, I’d either add them to a batch of ferments prepped in the last 1-4 days and add additional salt to the brine based on how long ago the original brine was made. Or, I’d start a new ferment if it had been too many days, leaving room for more cucumbers to be added later that week. The trick is adjusting the salt percentage, as fresh cucumbers added to later ferments without adjusting the salt percentage risks unwanted non-lactobacillus bacterias and a spoiled brine.
What is Kahm Yeast Versus Unwanted Bacterial Growth?
Kahm yeast is a safe and common growth that can occur on ferments. New fermenters are often concerned about seeing it, but finding kahm yeast is not a cause for concern, though too much can affect the flavour of your pickles. Simply skim the yeast off if you see it. I wrote about kahm yeast in this kombucha FAQ.
I have never had a cucumber pickle batch go wrong or bad. However, if you find non-kahm yeast growth in your cucumber pickles, they may not be safe to eat. Some growths are harmless, while others can cause your ferment to be inedible. If you’re not sure how to identify various growths, I encourage you to post it to r/fermentation or a reliable Facebook group. Always err on the side of caution when it comes to food safety.