Pickled vs Fermented Foods: How to Choose (Plus Recipes!) (2022)

Pickled vs Fermented Foods: How to Choose (Plus Recipes!) (1)

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Pickled vs Fermented Foods – Basic Differences

More About Pickled Foods

More About Fermented Foods

Pickled vs Fermented – The Nitty Gritty

Health Differences

Final Thoughts

Want to Improve Your Health?

Pickling and fermenting are both popular ways to preserve foods. The techniques make food last much longer and produce a delicious result. But, comparing pickled vs fermented foods can sometimes be confusing.

What exactly is the difference? And, is one type better than the other?

(Video) The Complete Guide to Fermenting Every Single Vegetable

In this post, we’re taking a look at the two areas, along with some powerful recipes for each. After all, healthy food should taste good too.

Pickled vs Fermented Foods – Basic Differences

The main difference between pickled and fermented foods is how they’re made.

  • With pickling, you’re immersing the ingredients in something acidic – like vinegar. The process alters the texture and the taste of food, creating a sour flavor.
  • Fermenting doesn’t involve any extra acid. Instead, the sour taste comes from the reaction between compounds in the food and bacteria that are naturally present.

Basically, pickled foods are preserved through the acidity, while fermented foods are preserved through the bacteria and the fermentation processes.

Pickling is a general term, simply referring to preserving foods with an acidic medium. Fermentation is a specific type of pickling, where the acidic aspect comes from a chemical reaction, rather than being added.

More About Pickled Foods

Pickled vs Fermented Foods: How to Choose (Plus Recipes!) (2)

There are various ways to pickle foods. But, you’ll always be using some type of acidic solution. Most pickling approaches rely on heat too. That heat helps destroy any dangerous microbes and helps the food last longer.

When you think of pickling – you might imagine a long process, involving large amounts of vegetables, along with canning. Pickling that way is great if you have plenty of produce to preserve. But, there are faster approaches too.

For example, The Kitchen provides details about how to quick pickle vegetables.

  • The process involves a solution of vinegar, salt and water. Vegetables are pickled in it and can be stored in the fridge as-is (no need for canning).
  • It only takes a few days before your pickled vegetables can be enjoyed.
  • You can choose the type and shape of vegetable to focus on.
  • Most types of vinegar will work well, includingapple cider vinegar.
  • You can also add in whatever herbs and spices you like to adjust the flavor.Ginger,garlic,black pepper,turmeric and oregano are all examples.

You can also check out Epicurious. They offer a great guide that teaches you how to pickle pretty much anything. The piece includes details about ways to play around with flavors and create your own unique recipes.

Regardless of the approach you take, pickling should always focus on fresh vegetables. The goal is to preserve the freshness and flavor of the food when it is at its best. If the food is old, the finished product won’t be very good.

Pickling Recipes

Once you get familiar with pickling, you may not need a recipe at all. But, the three examples here are all great places to begin. They might also offer you some inspiration.

1. Quick Pickled Vegetables

Feasting at Homedeveloped thisQuick Pickled Vegetables recipe, which is most powerful for its versatility. You can use the recipe with any vegetable or combination of vegetables. There are also various links to individual recipes, likeMoroccan Eggplant Pickles, if you want something more specific.

2. Quick 10 Minute Pickled Jalapenos

Pickled vs Fermented Foods: How to Choose (Plus Recipes!) (3)

Image from Gimme Delicious

These Quick 10 Minute Pickled Jalapenos come from Gimme Delicious and they do look both fast and delicious. The recipe describes them as tangy, sweet and crunchy, which seems like a perfect combination. As Layla mentions, you can use the same principles with other vegetables as well, like sliced pickles or bell peppers.

(Video) The Complete Beginner's Guide to Fermenting Foods at Home

3. Best Pickled Asparagus

This Best Pickled Asparagus recipe is from The Elliott Homestead and it’s perfect for any asparagus fans. The recipe is a great way to make asparagus taste better and last longer. Unlike the other examples, the emphasis here is canning, so it may not suit everyone. But, the recipe is still worth checking out.

More About Fermented Foods

Pickled vs Fermented Foods: How to Choose (Plus Recipes!) (4)

In fermentation, the sour flavor is produced by the action of bacteria, like the species lactobacilli. This organism converts starches and sugars into other components, such as lactic acid.

When you consume a fermented food, you’re eating the transformed food, along with the colonies of bacteria. The process doesn’t sound appealing, but fermented foods are safe and a common part of our diets. Plus, the bacteria are all good for you. They can help support the healthy bacteria that live in your gut.

Fermented foods can be broken down into a few general types:

  • Fermented fruits and vegetables – like fermented apples or sauerkraut
  • Fermented liquids – likekefir (fermented milk) or kombucha (fermented tea)
  • Fermented alcohol products – like beer

Each type has a different style and taste profile. For this discussion, fermented fruits and vegetables are the most interesting, as these have the same sour flavor that you find with pickled foods.

Another important aspect is that fermentation takes time. You can pickle something within a few days. But, fermented foods often take 10 days or more, depending on the recipe.

Fermenting Recipes

Fermenting is a versatile process and there are many great recipes to try. Each type of fermented food will have its own advantages – and some are easier than others to make.

These recipes are some of our favorites. They’re also a good way to begin your fermented foods journey.

1. Easy Vegan Kimchi

Pickled vs Fermented Foods: How to Choose (Plus Recipes!) (5)


Image from Minimalist Baker

ThisEasy Vegan Kimchirecipe comes from Dana atMinimalist Baker and it is surprisingly simple to make. Kimchi often seems difficult or confusing, especially if you’ve never tried it before. The dish is certainly unusual but it is well worth the effort. As Dana points out, you can add kimchi to many different meals, like veggie bowls or a stir-fry.

2. Fermented Carrots

ThisFermented Carrotsrecipe is fromRaising Generation Nourished and was developed with kids in mind. The recipe is very easy to prepare, requiring only a few ingredients. The finished carrots also taste appealing enough that kids should eat them without much hesitation. This is also a nice and simple way to get started with fermentation.

3. Vegan Coconut Milk Yogurt

Pickled vs Fermented Foods: How to Choose (Plus Recipes!) (6)

(Video) How to Eat Fermented Vegetables for Gut Health Daily (Recipes and Ideas)

Image from Detoxinista

Detoxinista hosts this Vegan Coconut Milk Yogurt recipe, but you don’t need to be a vegan to try it. The recipe is simply an alternative to regular yogurt and has an interesting flavor profile. The recipe focuses on making the yogurt in an Instant Pot, which simplifies the process considerably. There are also instructions for people who don’t have an Instant Pot.

Related Article: Why Are Fermented Foods Good for You?

Pickled vs Fermented – The Nitty Gritty

Pickled vs Fermented Foods: How to Choose (Plus Recipes!) (7)

The distinction between pickled and fermented sounds like it should be simple. But, that’s not entirely true.

Pickling is basically just preserving food in brine. Still, many fermented food recipes have the same starting point.

  • For example, sauerkraut involves pickling cabbages and letting the resulting mixture ferment. That makes sauerkraut both pickled and fermented.
  • A similar pattern is true for dill pickles, where cucumbers are fermented in a salty solution. You’ll also find that some dill pickles have only been pickled, not fermented.

On the other hand, many other fermented foods aren’t pickled, like sourdough.

Buying Fermented Foods

If that wasn’t confusing enough – try shopping for the products. Companies often don’t use the term fermented, making it hard to figure out which products are fermented and which ones aren’t.

In some cases, foods may be fermented and heat treated. The heat treatment kills any bacteria (good or bad), so you don’t get probiotic benefits.

One key guide is the product labels. Look for terms like ‘live cultures’ or ‘source of probiotics’. Some brands will even list the species of bacteria that they use. These are key indications that the product is fermented.

Product labels are particularly important foryogurt. Many yogurt brands will contain live bacteria but not all of them. The species included also vary. Checking the labels gives you a good indication of what you’ll be eating.

You can also look for common fermented food, such as sauerkraut, kombucha and kefir. But remember, some of these will be heat treated – so check the labels carefully.

Health Differences

Pickled vs Fermented Foods: How to Choose (Plus Recipes!) (8)

Fermentation and pickling are both healthy. They’re ways to preserve food without the use of concerning chemicals. You also end up with something that tastes really good and relies on whole foods.

But, the two approaches have different health implications.

(Video) Fermentation vs. Pickling-- What's the Difference?

With pickled foods, any health benefits simply come from the ingredients that are included. For example, eating pickled cabbage means you’re consuming various nutrients and healthy compounds from cabbage.

Fermented foods have something extra – the bacteria. As a result, the foods act as a source of probiotics. Probiotics help to promote a healthy balance of bacteria in our gut, a practice that has many important outcomes.

  • Research suggests a connection betweenmental health and gut health. Probiotics may even play a role in decreasing depression risk or in treating the condition.
  • Probiotics can help improve glycemic control and HbA1c levels for diabetics (1,2,3).
  • They could be relevant for conditions like inflammatory bowel disease (4,5). Fermented foods are also important for overall digestive health.
  • There may be many more advantages as well, including anti-inflammatory impacts and the potential to lower the risk of disease (6,7).

Overall, fermented foods are much more relevant for health than pickled foods. Fermented foods should be a part of your diet for this reason alone.

Related Article: Why are Probiotics Good for You?

Final Thoughts

In the comparison of pickling vs fermenting, fermenting is the clear winner. There are many more potential health benefits and fermented foods also taste good.

Fermented foods are also becoming easier to find as their popularity increases. You’ll often find products like these at grocery stores and health food stores. Some cafés and restaurants are even beginning to offer fermented foods.

So, even if you don’t want to do fermentation yourself, there are plenty of options for eating fermented foods regularly.

Pickled vs Fermented Foods: How to Choose (Plus Recipes!) (9)

Want to Improve Your Health?

Pickled vs Fermented Foods: How to Choose (Plus Recipes!) (10)

Better health starts in the kitchen, with the food that you eat and the meals you prepare. Getting the best outcomes involves making good choices about the food and the ingredients that you use.

Check out my recommended products to see where you can get started.

(Video) The UNHEALTHY TRUTH about fermented foods


What is the difference between pickled foods and fermented foods? ›

An easy way to remember the difference between the two despite their overlap is that pickling involves putting food into an acidic brine to produce a sour flavor, whereas fermenting gives food a sour flavor without any added acid.

Which is better for you pickled or fermented? ›

Fermented pickles offer more health benefits than other pickles. Even unfermented pickles, however, are rich in vitamins such as vitamin K and vitamin A. Read on to learn more about the health benefits of pickles, as well as how to make them at home.

Is pickled a fermented food? ›

Are Pickles Fermented? Quick pickles are not fermented, but lacto-fermented pickles are fermented. Quick pickles, the most common type of pickle found in grocery stores, are not fermented because they use an acid, such as vinegar, in their pickling brine.

What is the relationship between fermentation and pickling? ›

Here's what you need to remember: Pickling involves soaking foods in an acidic liquid to achieve a sour flavor; when foods are fermented, the sour flavor is a result of a chemical reaction between a food's sugars and naturally present bacteria — no added acid required.


1. The Guide to Lacto-Fermentation: How To Ferment Nearly Anything
(Joshua Weissman)
2. The Single GREATEST Fermented Foods for Gut Health Recipes | Learn How to Pickle Your Own Vegetables
(That Weird Cook)
3. How to Ferment ANY Vegetable | LACTO FERMENTATION GUIDE
(Farmhouse on Boone)
4. Every way of making pink pickled onions, the greatest condiment
(Adam Ragusea)
5. VIRAL RECIPE TEST: Quick Pickled vs. Fermented Red Onions (3 Recipes!)
(The Fermentation Adventure)
6. Fermented Tomatoes Recipe - Fermented Cherry Tomatoes with Basil
(Mary's Nest)

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