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The Lacto-Fermentation Process
& Frequently Asked Questions

Real Pickles ginger sampler

We use lactic acid fermentation to make our Real Pickles products. It is the original pickling method and has been an essential part of healthy human diets throughout the world for thousands of years. In Asia, consumption of fermented vegetables dates back at least to the 3rd Century B.C.E., when the Great Wall of China was being constructed. In Europe, sauerkraut is known to have been an important food among the ancient Romans.

Today, Real Pickles is one of a small handful of businesses in the United States producing raw, lactic acid fermented pickles (also known as lacto-fermented or naturally fermented). This traditional pickling process went out of favor with the advent of industrial food production. Modern pickling methods, including use of vinegar (usually in place of fermentation) and pasteurization, produce a uniform, shelf stable product suitable to the needs of the large food corporations. Unfortunately, modern pickles do not offer the authentic flavor or health-promoting qualities of traditional pickles.

Real Pickles slicing cabbage

How it works

Lactic acid fermentation relies on beneficial cultures - similar to those used to make yogurt or sourdough bread - to break down natural sugars in the vegetables and produce a variety of healthful substances, primarily lactic acid.

The process begins with fresh, nutrient-rich vegetables, naturally bearing lactic acid cultures on their surfaces (making starters or innoculants unnecessary). The produce is well-washed, chopped or sliced as needed, and mixed with a small amount of sea salt. The salt acts to draw out juices, preserve the vegetables while the fermentation gets started, and regulate the fermentation process itself. The mixture is packed into air-tight fermentation vessels (jars, crocks, or barrels) and placed in a warm spot (65-80 deg F).

Cucumbers undergo a relatively short fermentation (about 1 week), while cabbages may take several months to yield finished sauerkraut. During this time, cultures transform the fresh vegetables into pickles by converting sugars to lactic acid, acetic acid, carbon dioxide, and other beneficial substances. It is the lactic acid that is primarily responsible for preserving the vegetables, as well as creating the wonderful flavor and aroma of traditional pickles.

Once finished, the pickles are stored under refrigeration to slow the fermentation, where they will remain preserved for two years or more.

mason jars

Fermentation FAQs

Can I eat Real Pickles products if I don't eat dairy or lactose?

Yes. Lactic acid fermentation, despite its misleading name, actually bears no relation to dairy products. Our products are lactose-free.

What happens if a jar of Real Pickles is left out of refrigeration?

The fermentation process will resume. After a few hours at warm temperatures, some carbonation may develop in the jar, leading to a fizzy or tingling sensation on the tongue. If you find the carbonation undesirable, you can eliminate it by leaving the jar in the refrigerator for several days with the lid on loosely (giving the carbon dioxide a chance to escape). Left out of refrigeration for a few days, the product may become softer and more sour, but it will not spoil.

Once I open a jar of Real Pickles product, how long will it last?

Once opened, the jar should last at least 1 to 2 months under refrigeration. After this time, the top portion (exposed to air) may begin to darken in color and change in flavor, while the product below will remain unaffected for a longer period of time. At this stage, the discolored portion may be discarded and you can continue to enjoy the remainder of the jar.

Why have I noticed differences in the taste or texture between two jars of the same product?

The fermentation process can be affected by subtle factors such as the moisture content of a particular batch of cabbage or the soil type in a cucumber field. As a result, batches frequently vary in taste, texture, and color. Also, as raw products, they will continue to ferment at a very slow rate under refrigeration, leading to continued changes over time.

Why do the Organic Dill Pickles have a cloudy brine and a white sediment at the bottom of the jar?

The white sediment is a natural and healthy by-product of the lactic acid fermentation. When disturbed, the sediment becomes distributed throughout the jar and gives a cloudy appearance to the brine.

Are Real Pickles products gluten-free?

Our products are not currently certified gluten-free and we have not had them tested for gluten. However, our facility is dedicated to the production of Real Pickles products and none of the ingredients in any of our products contain gluten.

"As a great believer in fermented foods, I ate a regular and yummy diet of Real Pickles products during my pregnancy. I hoped that the baby would come to enjoy them as well, but I had no idea they would become one of his favorite foods!" --Eveline, Greenfield MA
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Thanks to Kristin Nicholas for her fine photography.