The Nutritional Benefits of Fermented Pickles

Pickling is one of the oldest historical methods for preserving various foods, such as fruits, veggies, meat, and fish.

It was a way for our ancestors to prolong the shelf life of the food they worked and fought hard to obtain.

Pickling is a very clever method that enables pickled foods to last as long as two years without refrigeration.

Is gives unique characteristics to the pickled foods and it changes their original texture and flavor.

How Is It Done?

Pickling involves submerging the chosen foods in a highly concentrated acid solution, either vinegar or brine (water saturated with salt).

Pickled products can be either unfermented or fermented.

Unfermented pickles are preserved because of the acid solution and usually, heat is used to pasteurize them.

With fermented pickles, on the other hand, there is a chemical reaction between the sugars present in the foods and naturally occurring bacteria, producing probiotics and enzymes.

Over the years, some fermented pickles have been shown to be a source of proteins, carbs, vitamins, minerals, and fiber.

A recent review of the literature on pickled foods, published in the Journal of Functional Foods examines the nutritional and health benefits of pickles.

What’s Important

There are many different types of foods that are commonly pickled around the world, the most well-known being:

  • Cucumber - the most famous pickled vegetable, and the most universal;
  • Olives - produced from the fruits of the olive tree and enjoyed by many worldwide;
  • Kimchi - mainly produced from cabbage and radish, but there are other varieties. It’s a traditional staple in Korean cuisine;
  • Capers - made from the unripened flower buds of the Capparis species bush; most often linked to Mediterranean cuisines;
  • Herring - the most commonly pickled fish.

Only a select few classes of bacteria, fungi, and yeasts are involved in the fermentation of pickled foods, and this process gives them various nutritional benefits.

Most notably, probiotic lactic acid bacteria (Lactobacillus) are essential in the fermentation of several different pickles.

The Details

In the last few decades, the positive effects of pickles on human health have been increasingly recognized.

In particular, several Lactobacillus strains have been most frequently studied.

  • Fermented pickles are abundant in antioxidants and other nutrients, like vitamins B1, B2, B9, B12, and vitamin K2, as well as fiber, proteins, and amino acids;
  • Lactic acid bacteria have an already established role in the regulation of the diversity in the gut flora and the immune defense of the gastrointestinal tract. They enrich the gut with friendly bacteria, indirectly affecting many processes in the body.
  • Some fermented pickles may also protect from diabetes, hypertension, and high cholesterol due to their fiber content, as well as anti-inflammatory properties.
  • Bottom Line

    Fermenting pickled products not only prolongs their shelf life, but it also fortifies them with valuable nutrients.

    Hate them or love them, fermented pickles are here to stay.


    Resource: Behera, S.; El Sheikha, A.; Hammami, R.; Kumar, A. Traditionally fermented pickles: How the microbial diversity associated with their nutritional and health benefits?. Journal of Functional Foods 2020, 70, 103971. doi:https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jff.2020.103971 

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