How to Preserve Healthy Cucumbers

A couple of months ago I wrote about cucumber water as being one of the most refreshing (and healthy ) summer beverages. Now that cooler weather has started to breeze our way (well, somewhat cooler. We’ve still got some summer left!) my mind has started to drift to another good use of the cucumber – pickles.

Fall is pickling season, which you might have noticed as many of the supermarkets are starting to display mason jars. You can do preserving all year long, mind you, but fall is the traditional season. Don’t hate me because I’m talking about fall in August – you don’t have to start your canning, jarring and pickling yet if you don’t want to, but it’s good to start thinking about this stuff now.

Now, there are many methods to making pickles, but the one I prefer and will talk about in this post is lacto-fermentation. Lacto fermentation is a process of preserving that involves introducing a friendly bacterial culture (like the ones found in yogurt), which ferments the food, gives it a sour, pickled flavor and adds nutritional value.

There are many reasons for this being my preference and first off is because it doesn’t involve heating or pasteurizing, so all the natural enzymes and vitamins remain intact, which makes for a healthier pickle. Also, because the method introduces a bacterial culture into the mix, you get all the benefits associated with probiotic bacteria such as: extra vitamins and enzymes, help with digestion, improved immunity, added beneficial ecology of the gut and as well as they fact they prevent harmful bacteria from taking hold and spoiling your pickles.

And, this method contains lactic acid, the source of the pleasant sour flavor that store-bought pickles imitate with vinegar.

While generally thought of as the bad guy that makes our muscles burn during a workout (although modern science is challenging this assertion), lactic acid actually functions as a dietary antiseptic and makes minerals more absorbable in addition to helping to break down foods during digestion.

Lactic acid is also helpful in preventing cramps. I’m not sure what the mechanism is, since excess lactic acid in the muscles is what is thought to cause cramping in the first place, but many athletes swear by taking periodic shots of pickle juice throughout their games and workouts to prevent possible cramps.

Since cucumbers are in season now, you can grab some fresh local ones from the farmers’ market to do your pickling with. You can use pickling cucumbers, which are just cucumbers picked young, or you can use regular sized cucumbers cut up. The last time I made pickles I actually cut the cucumbers into a large dice and ended up with a nice chunky relish type condiment. that is quite tasty in wraps or on salads.

Macrobiotic diets place a high value on pickled vegetables. In The Complete Guide To Macrobiotic Cooking by Aveline Kushi, an entire chapter is devoted to fermented pickles. Kushi says: “Pickles increase the appetite, aid digestion, and strengthen the intestines… In Japan, almost every family made their own pickles and enjoyed them daily at each meal. We customarily ate pickles at tea time in the mid-afternoon, as well as for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Here’s a page that gives a pretty good recipe for lacto fermented pickle making. It’s pretty easy to do and they don’t take too long. You can also do a dairy-free version, replacing the whey, either by simply allowing the bacteria naturally present on the surface of the cukes to ferment the mixture (although Sally Fallon in Nourishing Traditions recommends the addition of more salt in this case to stave off any spoiling bacteria) or you can introduce a bacterial culture from a probiotic supplement added to the liquid mixture. This is my preferred method. You don’t need much – about an eighth to a quarter of a capsule.

Remember that mass-produced pickles bought at the store are vastly inferior to lacto-fermented pickles because they have been pasteurized. There is no live bacteria, no added vitamins or enzymes from their functioning and the lactic acid has most often been replaced by vinegar.

The Healthy Foodie is Doug DiPasquale