Thursday, July 16, 2009

Pack a Perfect Pickled Product

By David Burton
University Extension

Nearly anything can be pickled -- from cabbage to peaches to a variety of relishes – according to Tammy Roberts, nutrition and health education specialist, University of Missouri Extension.

“It is generally a fairly easy process but there are some important things to know to assure pickles are safe to eat and state fair quality,” said Roberts.

The main ingredients used for pickling are acid, salt, sugar and spices. Lime and alum are also sometimes used to make crisper pickles.

The amount of acid, or vinegar, in pickles is very important for the safety of the pickles. For this reason, it is important to use a tested recipe when making pickles to assure there is enough acidity to prevent the growth of Clostridium botulinum, the bacteria that cause botulism.

“You can use either white or cider vinegar that has five percent acidity. Never use homemade vinegar for pickling because you can’t be sure of the acidity,” said Roberts.

Only use salt that is sold for canning and pickling. Regular table salt contains an anti-caking material that can make the brine cloudy. Never alter the amount of salt in fermented pickles or sauerkraut. Salt is the ingredient that helps to assure proper fermentation.

“If a recipe calls for sugar use white sugar unless the recipe specifically calls for brown. White sugar gives the end product a lighter color. If you want to use a sugar substitute, find a tested recipe that was developed using a sugar substitute,” said Roberts.

Heat and storage can cause some sugar substitutes to become bitter or have an off flavor. It isn’t recommended that you substitute corn syrup or honey for sugar in pickle recipes as they can also produce undesirable flavors.

For the best quality of pickles use whole or fresh spices. For lighter colored pickles, tie spices loosely in a cheesecloth bag before placing them in the jar.

The calcium in lime can improve pickle firmness but must be very carefully used. Follow instructions carefully for using lime when making pickles.

“Using lime involves soaking and rinsing pickles several times. This is because lime left on the cucumbers can change the pH of the pickles increasing the risk for botulism,” said Roberts.

It is best to use only food-grade lime which can often be found with canning products at the store. Alum can be used for crisper fermented cucumbers but doesn’t work for quick process pickles.

For a safe method of firming pickles, Roberts also recommends soaking cucumbers in ice water four to five hours before making your pickles.

For more information and recipes, see University of Missouri Extension guide sheets at

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