What’s the Difference Between Pickling and Fermenting?

Jars of fermented foods sit in front of vegetables on a white kitchen counter.

Kimchi is fermented but pickles are, well, pickled. But they’re undeniably similar. So, have you ever wondered what the difference is between pickling and fermenting?

Both pickling and fermenting add a tangy flavor to foods and beverages, but they involve slightly unique processes.

Simply put, the pickling process tends to involve drenching foods in an acidic substance (usually vinegar) to develop a sour flavor. The fermentation process uses a natural chemical reaction between sugar and bacteria to develop a sour flavor and change nutritional value.

There are a lot of products great for pickling—cucumbers, onions, cabbage, peppers, tomatoes, eggs, and more. For pickling, simply chop your preferred ingredients and place them in a jar with a mixture of vinegar, water, sugar, and salt. You can also add your preferred spices, such as dill, garlic, red pepper flakes, or mustard seeds for extra flavor.

Ideally, you should allow your jar to sit in an airtight container completely undisturbed in the fridge for several days before enjoying your pickled vegetables.

Fermenting is a bit different. This process is used to create kombucha, yogurt, sourdough bread, wine, beer, and vinegar. Naturally occurring bacteria break down the sugars in foods to create a new flavor and alter the nutritional value. Proper fermentation methods change depending on your end goal or recipe.

While pickling and fermenting foods may seem similar, they create vastly different flavors and foods with unique nutritional value.

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