Dill.. bread and butter… spicy.. sweet.. pickles come in what seems like endless varieties. Pickles are often used as a garnish on salads or sandwiches, but they are also the main star in many recipes or even just eaten as a snack by themselves. Whatever your pickle preference, many people wonder how they’re made and whether they fit into certain dietary requirements.
Pickles are in fact vegan. They are made from cucumbers and eiter brine or vinegar, along with a few preservative additives or flavor additions. These ingredients are all sourced from non-animal sources, so pickles inherently fit into the vegan diet. For a healthier alternative to store-bought pickles, we recommend trying our quick, flavorful, at-home recipe.
In this article we explore the nutritional profile of pickles, different pickling methods, health benefits, and how to make your own. Let’s get started!
- Are Pickles Healthy?
- What are Pickles Made Of?
- Nutritional Information for Pickles
- Methods to Make Pickles
- Store-Bought Alternative: Making Pickles at Home
- Related Questions
Are Pickles Healthy?
Pickles provide many health benefits, but there are health drawbacks as well. It’s important to be aware of the health information to make the appropriate decisions for you.
Because of the high salt content in pickles, they are a great source of electrolytes. Electrolytes are salts that are necessary for the body to perform daily functions.
Electrolytes are primarily lost when a person doesn’t have the necessary number of fluids, such as when they sweat a lot from exercise or being in the heat, are sick, or become dehydrated throughout the day.
2. Beneficial Bacteria
Pickles that are created from lacto-fermentation are full of probiotics from the bacteria cultures present in the brine.
This provides the gut with healthy bacteria and can improve digestive health, as well increased vitamin and enzyme content in the pickles.
Antioxidants are found in most fruits and vegetables, and pickling preserves these properties. These help the body fight free radicals and prevent cell damage, as well as strengthen the immune system so the body can resist getting sick.
High in Sodium
Even though they provide electrolytes which are beneficial, consuming too much sodium can be harmful. In fact, 2 pickles spears contain around 600mg of sodium, which is over 25% of the recommended daily value.
Too much salt can lead your body to bloat from water retention, and increase the likelihood of strokes, heart disease, and kidney stones. If you are already susceptible to these things, you may way to limit your pickle consumption or seek out low-sodium pickles.
What are Pickles Made Of?
Pickles are made from cucumbers, brine or vinegar, and additives such as calcium salts and baking soda. Flavor additions such as dill, mustard, fennel, anise, garlic, and sugar are common.
Cucumbers are the shining star of pickle creation and are available at your local farmers market or grocery store. When possible, you should try to source cucumbers from your local farmers market as they will be fresher and are less likely to be coated in wax or pesticides.
Cucumbers are a primarily water-based vegetable, so they are incredibly low in calories. This also makes them perfect for pickling.
One medium cucumber (200 grams) typically contains:
- 30 calories
- Total Fat: 0.2 grams (0% DV)
- Sodium: 4 mg (0% DV)
- Total Carbohydrates: 7.3g (2% DV)
- Dietary Fiber: 1g (4% DV)
- Protein: 1.3g
- Potassium: 295 mg (8% DV)
- Vitamin A: 4.2% DV
- Vitamin C: 9.4% DV
- Calcium: 2.5% DV
- Iron: 3.1% DV
Nutritional Information for Pickles
Here are two of the most common pickle types, savory dill pickles and sweet bread and butter pickles:
Organic Dill Pickles
Nutritional Information (per 1/4 cup, 30g):
- Calories: 5
- Total Fat: 0g (0% DV)
- Cholesterol: 0mg (0% DV)
- Sodium: 260mg (11% DV)
- Total Carbohydrate: 1g (1% DV)
- Protein: 0.4g
- Calcium chloride
- Red pepper
Bread and Butter Pickle Chips
Nutritional Information (per 10 oz, 28g):
- Calories: 20
- Total Fat: 0g (0% DV)
- Cholesterol: 0mg (0% DV)
- Sodium: 170mg (7% DV)
- Total Carbohydrate: 5g (2% DV)
- Protein: 0g
- High fructose corn syrup
- Distilled vinegar
- Calcium chloride
- Yellow 5
Methods to Make Pickles
Pickles are typically made in one of two ways—either “quick pickling” in vinegar or through lacto-fermentation in brine.
Brine is basically very salty water. The high concentration of salt in brine pulls out the water from cucumbers and minimizes growth of bacteria during the fermentation process.
Brine is typically made of water, salt, and seasonings of choice in to get the desired flavor. Because of the acidic flavor of vinegar, sweeteners such as maple syrup, sugar, and high fructose corn syrup are often added to balance the taste.
When using brine, bacteria eat the sugars in the cucumbers, which releases lactic acid and makes the saltwater acidic. Lacto-fermented pickles contain bacteria cultures and are chock-full of healthy probiotics.
These types of pickles don’t keep well in warm temperatures and are much more susceptible to flavor changes and inconsistent results from recipes. Fermentation often happens over long periods of time, taking weeks to even months for certain recipes.
Vinegar pickles, on the other hand, are made by soaking the cucumbers in a vinegar and seasoning solution. This doesn’t foster healthy bacteria, but it creates pickles quickly. Just pour the vinegar and seasoning over the cucumber slices and refrigerate until the desired flavor is created!
Pickles made from this method sometimes involve cooking the pickles in the vinegar solution either by heating together or boiling the vinegar solution before adding to the jar with cucumbers. This is known as “waterbath canning.” These pickles can be stored at room temperature.
Vinegar pickles are often have much more consistent results from recipes and can be ready in as little as 12-24 hours (although flavors deepen over time!).
Commonly Added Preservatives
During the pickling process, cucumbers can often lose their shape and firmness. To counteract this, calcium salts such as calcium chloride or calcium disodium EDTA are commonly added to help preserve the cucumber crispness.
Baking soda can be added as a leavening agent and to help control for pH during the pickling process.
Store-Bought Alternative: Making Pickles at Home
As with most things, making at home is generally healthier than store-bought alternatives. This is because you can modify the ingredients to include less salt and less preservatives or added sugars as large manufacturers.
However, because some types of pickles can take months to make and involve complex recipes and ingredients, store-bought pickles make sense in many scenarios. Make sure you read the ingredient label to choose the cleanest options and seek out organic when possible.
If you’d like to create your own pickles and try out different flavor combinations, here is a good go-to base recipe:
- 1-1/4 cups distilled white vinegar (5% acidity)
- 5 tablespoons kosher salt
- 1 tablespoons sugar
- 1 cups cold water
- 3 Kirby cucumbers (about 1 pound)
- Seasoning additives of choice (try throwing in dill springs, coriander, garlic cloves, and mustard seed!)
- Slice your cucumbers. If you prefer spears, slice your cucumbers lengthwise twice, until you have “quarters” of the cucumber in the form of long spears. If you prefer sandwich slices, slice the cucumber lengthwise into 1/8-1/4 inch slices.
- Combine vinegar, salt, and sugar in a stainless steel, glass, ceramic, or Teflon saucepan (or any non-reactive saucepan will do).
- Heat over high heat until the sugar is dissolved and then transfer to a bowl with the cold water.
- Place brine in the refrigerator until ready to use.
- Place the cucumbers in a 1-quart jar.
- Add the seasonings and then pour in the brine.
- Add additional cold water until the brine mixture covers the cucumbers.
- Cover and refrigerate for at least 24 hours, up to 1 month.
For thinly sliced pickles, we recommend using English, Kirby, garden, or Persian cucumbers. For spears, we recommend using Kirby or small garden cucumbers.
To create a sweeter pickle, we recommend adding maple syrup. Try out different combinations and amounts of flavors to find what you like best!
Can you pickle other vegetables and fruits?
Yes! You can pickle any vegetable or fruit you like. Different brines and length of pickling time will work better for different produce. Some common produce that are great for pickling include: strawberries, beets, cabbage, broccoli stem, asparagus, carrots, and green beans.
Are pickles gluten-free?
Not every brand of pickles in the United States is gluten-free, and many more manufacture gluten products in the same facility. If you are gluten-free, be sure to choose brands carefully or make you own pickles at home. Some certified gluten-free pickle brands include: McClure’s, Olive, Tillen Farms, Boar’s Head, Best Maid, Wickles Pickles, B&G Pickles Polish dill spears, and Famous Dave’s spicy pickle chips and devil’s spit pickle chips.
Are pickles keto?
Pickles are generally keto, as long as they don’t contain high levels of added sugar. In general, it’s safest to check the label or make your own at home. If you are making pickles at home, be sure to add minimal amounts of maple syrup, sugar, or other added sweeteners. If you are going for the store-bought method, dill or sour pickles are your best bet to avoid high sugar content. In general, savory pickles have less sugar will help you stay in ketosis.