Fermented Cucumbers: Healthy Pickles (Recipe plus Video How-to)

by Sarah TheHealthyHomeEconomist

fermented cucumbersFermented cucumbers are a healthy, probiotic and enzyme rich alternative to store pickles packed in vinegar.

When my Australian husband first moved to the United States some years ago after we first got engaged, he commented that Americans must really love pickles because no matter where you go in the US, deli sandwiches are almost invariably served with some sort of pickle on the side.

It’s true.  Americans do love pickles.  Sweet pickles, sour pickles, dill pickles, it doesn’t seem to really matter what type – Americans consider them an essential condiment, and the wide variety of pickles at the supermarket is a strong testament to this fact.

The problem with store pickles is that they are for the most part a nutritionless addition to a meal.

The heat required to can pickles or seal and sterilize them in jars that can sit for months or even years on the supermarket shelf or in your pantry without going bad clinches that deal.   In short, they are pickled but not fermented.  Fermentation is the process whereby cucumbers are pickled without heat which adds beneficial enzymes, probiotics, and sometimes additional nutrients.

The traditional principles of fermentation can be applied to cucumbers just the same as it can to other foods like beets, apricots, tomatoes, and cabbage all of which have been the subject of previous video lessons demonstrating the health building wonders of fermentation.

Why has it taken me so long to do a video lesson on fermented cucumbers, aka real pickles, you might ask?  Given their tremendous popularity as a condiment, you would think pickles would have been one of the very first fermentation videos I would have filmed.

True all around, with one very big problem.  I’ve never been very good at fermented cucumbers.  They always turned out soggy when I’ve made them in the past and who wants to eat soggy pickles?

Not me!

But then, my friend Alex Lewin sent me a copy of his awesome new book Real Food Fermentation, and at last I learned the secret for keeping my fermented cucumbers nice and crisp as they transform into enzyme and probiotic packed pickles that easily beat any store versions in both taste and nutrition.

I asked Alex if I could film his fermented cucumbers, aka REAL pickes recipe as a video, and he graciously said yes, so at long last, The Healthy Home Economist does pickles!

Fermented Cucumbers Video How-to

Fermented Cucumbers (REAL Pickles)

fermented cucumbersIngredients

2 lbs organic cucumbers sliced across into 1/4″ pieces (cut off and discard the blossom end)
1 quart filtered water or 1 pint filtered water and 1 pint organic apple cider vinegar that has been boiled and cooled
1/2 cup liquid whey or raw sauerkraut juice (sources)
Several fresh oak leaves, bay leaves, or grape leaves
2 Tbl sea salt (sources)
3-5 organic garlic cloves, peeled (optional)
3-5 dried bay leaves, optional (sources)


Slice cucumbers and set aside. Be sure to discard the slice with the blossom end as this is where enzymes are located that can contribute to soggy pickles.

Place garlic cloves, dried bay leaves, and fresh oak, bay or grape leaves at the bottom of a clean 1/2 gallon mason jar.

Place sliced cucumbers on top of seasonings. Mix sea salt, liquid whey or sauerkraut juice with the quart of water (or a water/vinegar mixture if you prefer a more vinegar flavor to your pickles) into the fermentation brine water and carefully pour over the top of the cucumbers.

Leave about an inch at the top of the jar and screw on the lid.

Leave fermented cucumbers on the counter for 2 days. After 2 days, remove one cucumber slice with a clean fork and taste. If it is crunchy and pleasantly sour, then refrigerate. Your pickles are done. If not, leave on the counter for another day, tasting each additional day to determine when the pickles taste pleasantly sour and are yet are still crunchy.

If a small bit of of mold is on top of the brine water, it’s not a problem.  Just remove it and refrigerate. If there is a lot of mold with long tendrils down into the water, the batch has not taken properly. Discard and try again using more starter and/or vinegar with your  next batch of fermented cucumbers.

Fermented cucumbers, aka real pickles, will last several months in the refrigerator.


More Fermentation Recipes and Videos

How to Make Fermented Lemonade

How to Make Probiotic Sauerkraut

How to Make Beet Kvass

How to Make Orangina

How to Make Mango Chutney

How to Make Probiotic Apricot Butter

How to Make Fermented Cilantro Salsa 


Sarah, The Healthy Home Economist

Source:  Real Food Fermentation by Alex Lewin


Comments (61)

  1. Hi – I’ve tried these twice now and each time I ended up with fuzz or some kind of mold on the top of the water/top of the pickles. I don’t think I should eat it. Right? What am I doing wrong? Thanks for any advice…

  2. Christal Brock via Facebook March 28, 2014 at 11:34 am

    Is there a particular oak that is used? Bc I live in MD & I’ve never seen an oak leaf look like the one you used.

  3. Sarah, I’m definitely going to try this with a fresh leaf. That must be the trick, because I have yet to make a good fermented cucumber. Also, have you ever used fresh dill?

  4. ok I would have a few questions about this way of pickling. I was planning on pickling cucs so I have them for my family throughout the winter, but the way your talking it doesn’t seem like these fermented pickles would last through the winter. I thought fermented vegetables were as good as preserved? Also with pickling cucs I have used pickling spices and dill. I planted dill and I have quite a bit of healthy dill growing in my garden, but I see you didn’t even use any of those. If I add them would they be for a different tasting pickle that what you made on the video?

  5. Thank you so much for your fantastic information. This is such a lost art and you are so generous to endow us with your knowledge. I was wondering how we can ferment these foods in order to be able to leave them out? You mentioned that peoples of the past kept these foods for many months or years. I don’t have a lot of refrigerator space and want to have a jar of everything at all times. :) But it won’t fit. Could I just leave them out after the 2-3 days on the counter or must they be refrigerated? Thank you again!

  6. I am going to try this today. I planted cucumbers for the first time this year, and they grew in abundance. I wonder; do you know if I can use home brewed kombucha in place of the sauerkraut juice?

  7. I made these. But only used a small amount to fill a spaghetti jar. I used several muscadine leaves (wild southern grape). These turned out great!! Making more tonight.

  8. Pingback: Crunchy Fermented Pickle Slices « Girl Meets Nourishment Girl Meets Nourishment

  9. I am making my pickles today. I am using Bubbie’s saurkraut juice as a starter and the apple cider vinegar. I wonder why the vinegar needs to be boiled? I use Bragg’s, but I boiled it and it is currently cooling.

    Can you reuse the brine? Or do you need to start over each time you make a batch?

  10. Thanks for the recipe! Gonna have to try this out myself. It’s ironic that I found this article after trying out a friend’s pickled watermelon rine. I was a bit skeptical, but was really delicious!

  11. I had the same problem of soggy pickles, until I read that cherry leaves make crunchy pickles. We happen to have a bush cherry in our yard, and it worked! I think I read it in Wild Fermentation.

  12. Ok, I just tried these. I don’t have oak leaves since it’s winter, but I did find fresh bay leaves. I used about 6 fresh bay leaves and the pickles were totally soggy. The flavor was delicious, though! I wonder if the ratio needs to be different with fresh bay leaves – obviously something needs to be different. If anyone has any tips let me know! I ordered the Real Food Fermentation book you mentioned and look forward to doing some more experimenting. I’ve heard that fermenting is not an exact science, so guess I’ll keep plugging away.

  13. Last summer I dried the last of the fresh grape leaves and dill in my dehydrator, since fresh cucumbers are still coming in later than grape leaves. I keep them sealed in a vacuum sealed jar. The dried leaves worked fine in my last few batches of pickles when cucumbers were still abundant but dill was hard to find and grape leaves were done.

    I can’t wait for “pickle season” to begin again.

  14. This looks awesome. And I also had no idea that pickles were a predominantly American thing. I really hadn’t given it much thought, but that’s interesting.

  15. Very informative. Thank you so much for presenting the procedures on how to pickle cucumbers. Pickles are my favorite. By the way I would love to try this at home.

  16. Hello,
    Very informative blog, with so much info out there its hard to know whats healthy, as a college student trying to eat healthy I was reading that oatmeal and grains are not totally healthy. Do you have any suggestions for healthy filler foods?

  17. Does anyone know if all oak leaves are safe to use? I have several California Oak trees in our yard but they are so different from the oak trees I grew up with in the midwest. The leaves are very hard with sharp points like a Holly leaf. I know the Native Americans used to use the acorns from them for flour so I’m guessing the leaves would be safe too but if anyone knows anything about them I’d appreciate your insight!

  18. I really appreciate your other anti-soggy pickle ideas! Just yesterday I told my husband that I’ve been craving pickled cucumbers and felt sad because I live in sub-tropical Australia, so no oaks or currants grow here. Haven’t had any luck with grape leaves, do they need to be fresh? I might be able to find them brined. But apple cider vinegar is very doable.

  19. Can I use the same process to make whole pickles? Or do they have to be sliced to ferment properly? I love your site!

  20. Hi Sarah.

    A few years ago when I started down the road of reading labels in the grocery store and changing my pantry over to more healthy foods, ti was a bit of a tug of war with my husband and sons. Now everyone is on board and everyone reads labels.

    The one item that my youngest son has missed a lot is sweet salad pickles. I have not been able to find an affordable alternative that does not have high fructose corn syrup in it.

    What would I have to add to your recipe that you demonstrated in the video in order to change it from a dill (sour) pickle to a sweet pickle?

    Vivian Maddox

  21. Can’t wait to try these! I usually make ‘sunshine pickles’–just cucumbers, salt, water, garlic/dill, and a some vinegar (not a lot). Put them in the sun on my porch for 2-3 days, and the result is crunchy, yummy pickles. I’m excited to try a non-vinegar pickle. You can also use currant leaves in lieu of the grape/oak leaves. The currant leaves supposedly give a slightly smoky flavor to the pickles in addition to helping them to stay crunchy.

  22. What a great video! :) just wanted to say thank you! Without your blog, I would have never heard about WAPF/GAPS and all the great stuff that goes along with it. It has really helped my family so much, especially my husband’s health and his crohn’s (which is incredibly wonderful since medication has never helped him and it is such a dangerous disease!).

    So thank you a million times!

  23. Sarah Couture Pope via Facebook January 3, 2013 at 12:26 pm

    @Marie Wow .. that is so cool that my blog is helping you stay healthy in Indonesia of all places .. a place I’ve never even visited (at least not YET) :))

  24. A few pinches of organic black tea leaves works as well, if the other leaves are not available. I ferment in the Pickl-It system, and found that my pickles are super crunchy with the addition of a couple pinches of loose black tea leaves.

    • Thanks for mentioning that Pickl-It. I’ll have to take a closer look at the website when I have time. I’m new to pickling / fermenting, but am trying to have more options for our harvest this year.

      • Pickl-it jars are fine, but regular mason jars work just as well. Remember that traditional cultures didn’t have fancy fermentation vessels so no need to break the bank to get started with home fermenting. A $10 case of 6 glass 1/2 gallon mason jars is all you have to spring for to bring this healthy practice into your home.

  25. Sarah Couture Pope via Facebook January 3, 2013 at 12:25 pm

    Cheryl Ann Floystrop-Borne A combination actually :) I started to research and self educate myself on nutrition to help heal my husband’s severe GERD (which has been in remission for 10+ years now ) and also to properly feed and nourish my children. We Moms don’t do it for ourselves do we? But we really should!!

  26. oh my gosh, this post is for me! After 34 years of avoiding pickles (I’ve never liked them) I just discovered that I DO like real, fermented dill pickles. I’m just getting into the whole home fermentation thing and right now am concentrating my efforts on yogurt. In the mean time I’ve been purchasing Bubbies brand sauerkraut to start getting some fermented veggies on my plate. My toddler is so-so on the kraut but the other day when we were out to eat he was eating the pickle that came with my husband’s sandwhich. I thought, if he likes pickles I’ll buy some Bubbies fermented pickles. Since we had them I thought I may as well sample them and, wow, I like them!! I’m definately bookmarking this post for later! I’ve never wished for cucumbers in my CSA box but I hope I get tons next summer :)

  27. Cheryl Ann Floystrop-Borne via Facebook January 3, 2013 at 12:11 pm

    This is fantastic, Sarah! Saving to Pinterest! BTW, did you educate yourself about nutrition solely for your children (as it states on your blog) or did someone have a health challenge in your family that could be addressed by improved nutrition?

  28. I just have to tell you! you have been so inspiring to me. I would love to have a personal dialogue with you if any possibility. We live in Indonesia full time and i am SO challenged when it comes to health over here. I have felt time and time again that i have to sacrifice my health to stay committed to living here long term, but though your blog i have had a breath of fresh air. Blessings, Marie


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