How to pickle vegetables

”Pickling” refers to foods that have been denatured (not a very nice-sounding scientific word, but only means something like “altered to a non-original state”) by being subjected to acidic liquids such as vinegar and lemon juice. Although no heat is involved, it still counts as cooking.

Pickling fresh vegetables is a great way of trapping summery flavors in a jar.

All acids (in the kitchen) work

The basic idea is always the same and you can pickle vegetables with any liquid that is sufficiently acidic (and edible, of course) to get you a result. Vinegar (acetic acid) of all kinds and citrus juice (citric acid) are most commonly used.

(Almost) any flavor you want

A pickling solution can be sweetor salty. And it can be spiced up in almost any way you see fit. It is all a matter of chemistry and balance and taste buds, and as long as the latter enjoy the result, you have succeeded.

Salt pickle (pickled gherkins):

Pickled gherkins (the smaller, drier kind) is a classic, but you can conserve almost any vegetable you want in a salty pickling solution.


1kg gherkins
3/4 dl vinegar (12%)
1 l water
1 dl kosher salt

The gherkins must be scrubbed clean. Some boil them hastily first, but for a crispy result it is usually enough to pour the pickling solution over the gherkins while it is still hot. Seal the clean jars immediately and you will have pickles free from contamination.

To boil or not to boil

Just mixing the ingredients in the solution together is usually enough. However, if you want to draw out the flavors from a certain ingredient or just make sure that your choice of sugar dissolves, then it’s a good idea to boil.

Sweet pickle (pickled cucumber):

The recipe for cucumbers (the bigger, watery kind) is amazingly simple: Slice the cucumber as thinly as you can and put the slices in a bowl. Then add a “1-2-3 solution”, that is one part vinegar (12%), two parts sugar, and three parts water.

Leave for a while, then serve with almost anything. If adding it to ”dry” food like a hamburger, make sure to let most of the liquid run off first.

Pickled red onion and more

You can apply the above recipe to, for example, mild onion, fennel, radish, black radish, and more. The red onion variety is commonly used to add a little acidic freshness to street food. It has a mild flavor, a pretty color, and develops a wonderful texture from pickling.


One part vinegar, two parts sugar, and three parts water is all you have to remember for this sweet pickling recipe. And you can apply it in two ways:

In the short run: Mix the ingredients together and pour over clean, chopped vegetables in a bowl and serve after – at least – 30 minutes of pickling.

In the long run: Boil the ingredients first to dissolve all sugar. Pour the liquid – while it is still hot – over clean, chopped vegetables in a clean jar. Seal immediately. Leave the vegetables to pickle for at least a couple of days. The pickles will keep for months as long as you don’t open the jar.


If you find the pickles turn out too mild, then you can use less water in the recipe – or leave it out all together. The vegetables will release plenty of water as liquid is drawn out by the sugar.

To balance this very sweet pickle, add a generous pinch of salt. This will also help texture by drawing water out of the vegetables.

For a very freah and healthy take on "instant" pickling without boiling, use lemon or lime juice. You probably won't need any water.

Pickle mushrooms

Chantarelles and other firm mushrooms make great pickles. You need mushrooms that can be eaten raw and they need to be clean. Pickled mushrooms bring a taste of forest and umami to, for example, dishes with game meat.

Pickle with honey

Honey makes a great sweetener, but you can expect the texture of the vegetables to turn out a little more leathery, and the liquid will be cloudy and more viscous.

Pickle asian style

The freshness of pickled vegetables is an ingredient in all kitchens. It’s easy to come up with flavor combinations that elicit the taste of other kitchen cultures just by adding spices from a certain region, for example asia: Rice vinegar, fresh ginger, chili, star anis, and more.

Pickled vs fermented

It’s easy to mix up “pickled” vegetables and “fermented” vegetables, but these are two different denaturation (cooking… but without cooking) processes involving different kinds of acids:

  • Pickling vegetables is a quick process (see above): Fermenting them takes time because the natural bacteria involved need time to multiply and to produce the right acidity.
  • Lactic acid occurs when lactobacteria multiply and ”breathe” in an atmosphere where there is a lack of oxygen. (Yes, it is the same kind of acid that builds up in your muscles when you exercise hard and your lungs and your blood can’t supply new oxygen fast enough.)
  • Fermented vegetables contain lots of bacteria that are good for your gut. You don’t get them when you ”pickle” food with vinegar or lemon juice.
  • Lactic acid has E-number 270.
Pickled gherkins PS
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