how to make lacto-fermented pickles

Making Lacto-Fermented Pickles

Back in May, I attended the National Association of Nutrition Professionals Conference.  One of the sessions that I attended dealt with naturally fermented foods.

Preserving Food

I’ve been canning and preserving for over 20 years. First as a way to preserve excess food for later or to control the flavors of jams, pickles, and chutneys that our family ate.  Later I began to see it more as a way to control the preservatives and other chemicals that frequently appear in these kinds of foods.  Quite frankly I’ve never understood why pickle manufacturers felt it necessary to add yellow #2 to pickles.  It doesn’t add anything to the flavor. If you want your pickles to be yellow just add turmeric.


As I learned more about preserving I began to wonder about lacto-fermented foods.  Through this process lactobacilli, an anaerobic beneficial microbe converts starches and sugars in the food into lactic acid.  This lactic acid helps not only to preserve the food for an extended period of time, but it also helps to promote a healthy bacterial balance in your gut.

There are many traditionally fermented foods such as sauerkraut, kimchi, relishes, and chutneys.  Many of these foods are now made commercially, a process that frequently does not allow for lacto-fermentation.  Part of the reason commercially processed foods are not lacto-fermented is that it takes longer, requires more interaction with the food, and does not last as long on the shelf.

I see lacto-fermented foods as an addition to my pickled vegetables.  Let’s face it, confronted with an abundance of zucchini, there is only so much lacto-fermentation I can do.  I’ll make my favorite bread and butter pickles and zucchini relish with the rest. (Or zoodle them or make zucchini bread – let’s face it you can grow a LOT of zucchini in the summer) The canned foods will last for a longer time and the lacto-fermented ones will support digestive health.


Using pickle weights

Back to the conference…I took a class with Sandy Der and Nishanga Bliss where they demonstrated making kimchi and lacto-fermented soda.  I had always thought that lacto-fermentation required a fermentation crock.  Mostly because the books I have seem to call for one.  Both Sandy and Nishanga demonstrated using 1-gallon glass jars.  When Sandy demonstrated the kimchi she showed off her beautiful pickle weights which she makes in her ceramics studio.  I was amazed at how easy the whole process was and as soon as the lecture was over I rushed for the door to purchase a set of pickle weights.

Making lacto-ferments

Shortly after arriving home I dug out a 1-gallon jar, went to the grocery store and bought the ingredients for my first batch of kimchi.  It turned out amazingly well and having a little bit every day with a meal turned out to be a most delicious way to add probiotics to my diet.  I finished it very quickly and made some more; a gallon seems like a lot but when you are eating it every day it doesn’t last long.

I then moved on to lacto-fermented pickles.  The first batch smelled fabulous and pickled really well.  Unfortunately, I didn’t particularly care for the flavor.  The recipe called for pickling spice.  Now I have used pickling spice before when making vinegar preserved pickles and the flavor didn’t bother me then.  I’m not sure if the lacto-fermentation process intensifies the flavor or if it simply is stronger since there is no pickling and no boiling.  I wound up giving them to a friend who is from India and thought their flavor was great.  Trying another batch this time I branched out and following the basic tenets of lacto-fermentation I made a brine but modified the flavorings.  I’m waiting for this next batch to be done, frequently stopping by to enjoy the aroma of my fizzing jar of lacto-fermented pickles.

 The most important parts are that the brine is a suitable strength to preserve the cucumbers until the lactobacilli take over the preserving process and that the cucumbers be fully submerged in the brine (hence the need for pickle weights).

I made this recipe in a two-quart jar as there are not that many people living in my house and a whole gallon of pickles plus a whole gallon of kimchi seemed like a lot.  If you decide to make this in a gallon jar you will need to double the recipe.

Lacto-fermented Pickles
  1. 4 large pickling cucumbers (only because this is what fit - if using baby cukes you may need more)
  2. 3 cloves of garlic, crushed, not peeled
  3. 2 bay leaves
  4. 1/2 t. celery seed
  5. 1/2 t. dill seed
  6. 1 quart of water
  7. 1 1/2 T. kosher salt
  1. Sterilize the jar
  2. Wash the cucumbers
  3. Add spices to the jar
  4. Mix together water and salt until salt is completely dissolved (this is your brine)
  5. Pour brine over cucumbers and herbs
  6. Use pickle weights to hold down the cucumbers
  7. Loosely cover jar with wax paper and a ring or rubber band
  8. Let sit in a warm (not hot) dark place
  9. After 4 days you can cut off small pieces of pickle to taste
  10. When it tastes pickle-y enough you can put it in the refrigerator
  11. This will slow down but not completely stop the fermentation process
The Ingredient Guru, Mira Dessy

Other lacto-fermented recipes

There are a number of delicious, easy recipes that you can make at home to get the benefits of these fabulous fermented foods.  Here are a few of my favorites:
Real Food Real Deals has a simple homemade sauerkraut recipe
Attainable Sustainable also has some great info on how to delve into fermentation
If you’re going to be making lots of sauerkraut here are some great ways to use it
You can also lacto-ferment condiments for a nourishing, tasty addition to your table

About Mira

Mira Dessy is The Ingredient Guru. A holistic nutrition professional, author, and a popular public speaker, she knows that it's not just what you eat, but what's in what you eat. She is the author of The Pantry Principle: how to read the label and understand what’s really in their food. Dessy is a Board Certified Holistic Health Practitioner whose mission is to educate and empower consumers. She curates the Lean Clean Green Subscription box, the premier, organic, earth-friendly, healthy, sustainable subscription box which can be found online at