Ever wanted to recreate that special sandwich’s sauerkraut, but didn’t know where to start?
If it’s preserved in a salt and/or vinegar solution, it’s probably a pickle.
And if you’ve never pickled anything before — you’re in the right place.
Helping us out is Clare Collins, a professor of nutrition and dietetics at the University of Newcastle.
She says pickling can be fun and delicious, so if you’re keen to give it a go, read on to learn how to do it without poisoning yourself along the way.
1. Stick to the instructions
As a beginner, it’s best to follow your chosen recipe to the letter, so if your recipe instructs you to sterilise a jar, do it.
“Don’t skip any steps, you might be saving time in the process, but creating a doozy of a bacterial stew that’s going to come back and make you sick,” Professor Collins says.
She says there may also be some fruit or veg prep needed to make sure the final product isn’t pickled mush.
She says it’s safe to wash your food, too, because if there’s still dirt on your vegetable, there’s a risk of bacteria like E. coli or salmonella being on it.
We want yummy pickles, not evil pickles.
2. Use correct quantities
Staying on this note, it’s important not to alter the ingredient quantities listed.
“[It’s easy to think] ‘salt’s really bad for you, so I’ll just add a pinch’ and there hasn’t been enough to kill the bugs,” says Professor Collins.
“Then, you’re making a field day for the bacteria, they will multiply, and you’ll have a food poisoning bottle of whatever you’ve bottled and you’ll get sick for sure.”
If you’re worried about the salt intake, don’t drink the pickling liquid. But Professor Collins says besides that, pickles do more good than harm to your health.
3. Avoid a crowded house
Your pickles need space, just like you.
“If you over-pack the container so that the solution can’t mix with the ingredients,” that can be dangerous.
If you’re still not convinced, Professor Collins points out that “when you see the jars of preserved food, pickled or bottled, they look nice and suspended, they don’t look all squished up”.
You want to ensure the food’s surface area is bathed in the fluid, so be ready to use an extra jar to accommodate quantities.
4. Meet the liquid requirement
Also playing an important role in making safe and delicious pickles — the pickling liquid.
Professor Collins says to “follow recommendations of where the fluid should come up to”, whether it be to the brim of the jar, or to just cover the fruit or veg. Consult your recipe if you’re not sure.
“When you boil things, all the molecules inside the food and fluid speed up and take [up] more room, and so generally, they may say fill to a certain level, as the volume may change.”
She says you also want to avoid the brine reacting with the metal of a lid, in the case of a pickle that can be kept for some time.
If you don’t leave appropriate space, the jar or lid may explode, or force liquid through — bugs might come in and start fermenting too and producing gas.
5. Store correctly
Again, this will vary from veggie to veggie and recipe to recipe.
If the recipe you’re using says it can last for two years in the cupboard, do that! If they last three months in the fridge, then do that.
It’s also a good idea to label your jars so you know when you started on them, and when they should be consumed by.
Even when you’ve followed all of the instructions, it’s still worth checking your homemade pickles before you dig in.
“You shouldn’t eat products if it looks like the lid is about to explode because that can be a sign of bacterial spoilage,” Professor Collins says.
“Because not all bacteria that causes food poisoning necessarily tastes off, the key thing will be if the lid looks like it will explode off the pickle.”
6. Ask an expert
There’s lots of info online, but when it comes to choosing a recipe and starting out, Professor Collins says it can help to find somebody who knows how to pickle.
You could also take a class, and talk to people who are doing home-pickling.
They may have secret recipe ideas, delicious tips and tricks, or inspiration to impart.
Might be a nice way to find a pickle buddy, too.
Clare Collins is a presenter on Catalyst and professor of nutrition and dietetics at the University of Newcastle. Clare returns to Catalyst on Tuesday April 14 at 8:30pm with a special on How Food Works. You can watch past episodes on iview now.
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