Preserving the Harvest Fermenting and Pickling for Gut Health
One of the latest food trends is eating fermented and pickled foods. According to researchers at the Stanford School of Medicine, a diet rich in fermented foods enhances the diversity of gut microbes and decreases molecular signs of inflammation. The only drawback is watching sodium levels as pickles and fermented foods are high in sodium.
There are a variety of fruits and vegetables that can be fermented. Cauliflower can be cut it into bite-sized pieces and pickled. So can baby carrots fresh from the garden or produce aisle. Choose fresh, firm vegetables or fruits free from spoilage. Canning or pickling salts are best because other salts can contain a non-caking element which will make the brine cloudy. If making sweet pickles, use white granulated and brown sugars. Other sweeteners may produce undesirable flavors. The main ingredient for fermentation is white distilled and cider vinegars of five percent acidity (50 grain).
The level of acidity in a pickled product is as important to its safety as it is to taste and texture. Do not alter vinegar, food or water proportions in a recipe or use a vinegar with unknown acidity. Use only recipes with tested proportions of ingredients. Remember, there must be a minimum, uniform level of acid throughout the mixed product to prevent the growth of toxic botulinum bacteria.
Regular dill pickles and sauerkraut are fermented and cured for about three weeks. Refrigerator dills are fermented for about one week. During curing, colors and flavors change and acidity increases. Fresh-pack or quick-process pickles are not fermented; some are brined several hours or overnight, and then drained and covered with vinegar and seasonings. Fruit pickles usually are prepared by heating fruit in a seasoned syrup acidified with either lemon juice or vinegar. Relishes are made from chopped fruits and vegetables that are cooked with seasonings and vinegar.
If a refrigerator is the method of storage, “quick pickling” may be the right method. A cucumber salad with a simple vinegar, sugar and water mixture is refreshing. Pickled red onions, using thinly sliced onions, white vinegar, water, sugar and salt, are great as a garnish on like burgers, wraps or salads. Both are best if soaked overnight to absorb the ingredients to create that wonderful tartness.
If looking for a shelf stable product, find a modern, up-to-date, kitchen-tested recipe. All pickled products to be stored out of the refrigerator must be processed in a boiling water canner for the recommended length of time according to the recipe. Talent in the kitchen is not a requirement for pickling. Just follow several simple rules for delicious, pickled products. Remember that time is what makes a great pickle.
Katie Sotzing is a health educator for Texas A&M AgriLife Extension in Kaufman County.