The Difference Between Pickled and Fermented

There is much confusion between fermented “pickles” and picked foods bought in a shop. 

Sauerkraut is a fermented food or a fermented pickle.  Home-made pickled cabbage is different to that which is bought in the store.

To quote Alex Lewin, author of Real Food Fermentation “not all fermented foods are pickled and not all pickles are fermented…”

Here is the difference:

Foods that are pickled are those that have been preserved in an acidic medium.  In the case of various types of supermarket pickles on the shelf, the pickling comes from vinegar.  These vegetables, however, are not fermented (even though vinegar itself is the product of fermentation) and hence do not offer the probiotic and enzymatic value of homemade fermented vegetables.

Vegetables that you ferment in your kitchen using a starter, salt, and some filtered water create their own self preserving, acidic liquid that is a by-product of the fermentation process.  This lactic acid is incredibly beneficial to digestion when consumed along with the fermented vegetables or even when sipped alone as anyone on the GAPS Intro Diet has discovered (cabbage juice anyone?). In other words, homemade fermented veggies are both fermented and pickled.

Home fermentation of vegetables preserves without the use of any pressure or heat unlike supermarket versions of the same foods. It allows the ubiquitous and beneficial lactobacilli present on the surface of all living things – yes, even your own skin – to proliferate creating lactic acid which not only pickles and preserves the vegetables, but also promotes the health of those that consume it in the following ways:

  • Enhances the vitamin content of the food.
  • Preserves and sometimes enhances the enzyme content of the food.
  • Improves nutrient bio-availability in the body.
  • Improves the digestibility of the food and even cooked foods that are consumed along with it!

So don’t be fooled by unhealthy supermarket pickled versions of homemade fermented foods. These modern foods are the product of high heat and pressure which destroys nutrients and do not in any way enhance health. The one exception to this rule are the various fermented foods in the refrigerator section of many healthfood stores. These products are actually fermented and pickled. The only drawback is that these gourmet items are rather expensive compared to the pennies per ounce it costs to make them yourself.

Article adapted from “The Healthy Home Economist.com”