What is the difference between fermenting and pickling? It is a common question. In a way, it is just as much a semantics question as it is a process question.
WHAT IS PICKLING?
Let’s start with the definition of a pickle, or the verb to pickle. The simplest definition is “to preserve or flavor (food) in a solution of brine or vinegar.” Any food can be “pickled” but for the sake of this post we are going to stick to vegetables. Therefore, the first misconception is that all pickles are cucumbers, which is not true—cucumbers just happen to be ubiquitous enough to have earned the title.
Now that we have that out of the way let’s think about the second part of this idea of pickling, which is that the food, or vegetables in our case, are brought to a pH of 4.6 or lower which is necessary to kill most bacteria. In other words, for something to be a pickle it must be acidic—that distinguishing sour pucker. This acidic and anaerobic setting is the environment that we are looking for when we want to preserve our vegetables for later use.
VINEGAR PICKLING AND QUICK PICKLING
We can preserve vegetables a few ways, but we are going to concentrate on the two ways you might be drawn to in your kitchen: vinegar pickling and quick pickling. With both of these methods you add vinegar to the vegetable to acidify it; often these pickles are packed in a jar and water-bath canned to remove the oxygen and seal the jar.
A true quick pickle, or refrigerator pickle, is generally made for flavor instead of preservation and stored in the fridge for quick consumption. Recipes for canned vinegar pickles are very specific because, for them to be safe, it is important that the added acidity brings the pH of everything in the jar to below that 4.6 mark.