One of the questions we often encounter is whether pickles and ferments are one and the same. The short answer is that pickling and fermentation are two techniques that are often confused with one another, mostly because of the sour bite each can produce. But they are actually different.
Pickling is a method of preserving food, usually vegetables, in an acidic brine solution. This can extend the shelf life of food significantly and even enhance the flavor. Pickling is a quicker process and may sometimes require the addition of vinegar or other acids. During the pickling process, too, the food is usually heated, killing off bacteria and preserving it for a longer period of time.
Fermentation, meanwhile, is the process of breaking down sugars in food with the help of bacteria or yeast. This process can be used to impart flavor, texture and added nutritional benefits to food or to create alcoholic beverages. Unlike pickling which is quick, fermentation takes longer.
So while pickling and fermentation may both be used to preserve and enhance food, they are quite different. Here’s a quick go-to guide to help you understand their distinctions.