Probiotic Pickles: A Fermented Year-Round Recipe

Posted on Jul 28, 2013 in Blog, Fermentation, Recipes | 38 comments

Probiotic Pickles: A Fermented Year-Round Recipe

There’s nothing quite like a lacto-fermented half sour pickle! They are crisp, crunchy, and refreshing with just the right amount of tang! Plus they pack a hefty probiotic punch! It’s a win-win.

Having moved away from the NYC metro area it’s hard to find good quality fermented pickles. Kosher delis like Zabar’s in NYC just aren’t as common out here in “these parts” (quoted text to be read with country-western twang). And while vinegar pickles are always available at the supermarket, they are made using a heat-process and then packed in vinegar–both of which eliminates their probiotic potential, turning out a sterile albeit long-lasting food.

With the help of Sandor Katz’s recipe and a bit of my own fermentation experimentation (that’s right) I’ve come up with a super-satisfying recipe for crunchy lacto-fermented half sour pickles (or full sours if that’s your thing)! The best thing about this recipe is that it can be made year round, not just in the summer when pickling cucumbers are available. You can use full-size cukes for this recipe in the absence of pickling cukes. Simply cut them in half or into thirds for easy packing into your jar. Choose the smallest full-size cucumbers that you can find as these tend to be crispiest!

Probiotic Pickles

Tips & Tricks:

The below recipe uses a 3.5% saltwater brine to make half sour pickles. If you prefer full sour pickles, add an extra tablespoon of salt to make a 5.4% brine.

Ideally, you want to pack the cucumbers tight enough so that they stay below the brine for the duration of the pickling (i.e. fermentation) time. This prevents airborne molds and fungi from growing on your pickles.

I’ve recommended adding oak, horseradish or grape leaves to the pickling brine as they impart tannins, which help to keep the pickles extra crunchy. I’ve made pickles with and without this special addition and have always found them to be delicious, so this step is truly optional.

A word on pickling spice: Choose a good quality pickling spice and check the ingredients for funky preservatives. I LOVE the pickling spice available at Savory Spice Shop. It has just the right balance of cinnamon (surprise, surprise) and spice. Some pickling spices can be heavy on the chile pepper, so if you don’t like spicy food look for a blend where chiles are low on the ingredient list or absent altogether.

You can begin tasting your pickles anytime after fermentation has begun, but I recommend waiting until at least day 3. Feel free to taste them daily after that by cutting off a slice. Refrigerate the pickles once they are fermented to your liking!

homemade pickles

Pickling spices float to the top of saltwater brine

Probiotic Pickles: Half Sour or Full Sour
  • 5-8 Pickling Cucumbers OR 4-5 Regular Cucumbers (the smaller the better)
  • 1 Quart Purified Water
  • 2 Tablespoon Sea Salt for Half Sours (Use 3 T for Full Sours)
  • 1 Tablespoon Pickling Spice
  • 3-5 Oak, Horseradish, or Grape Leaves (optional)
  1. Soak the cucumber in ice water for an hour to perk them up. Trim the flower end by ⅛ inch to prevent bitterness.
  2. Place leaves (if using) and pickling spice in the bottom of a half gallon mason jar.
  3. Pack the cucumbers in strategically to get as tight a fit as possible.
  4. Dissolve the salt in a quart of purified water and pour it over the cucumbers. This should be just enough to cover them. If not, mix a bit more brine using the same ratio.
  5. Cover loosely with a plastic lid or a kitchen towel and set on the counter for 3 to 7 days. When the cucumbers are pickled to your liking, refrigerate and enjoy!
Probiotic Pickles: A Year-Round Recipe - Creative Simple Life

Oak leaves are added to the bottom of the jar to introduce tannins and create a crunchy pickle!

Homemade pickles are a wonderful introduction into the world of lacto-fermentation. They are very simple to prepare and are ready in only a few days. They taste so much more fresh, alive, and nourishing than store-bought vinegar pickles. I guarantee you will be able to taste the difference and bet you’ll be hard pressed to eat them any other way after making them yourself! Enjoy!

Get Started:


  1. I recently tried making pickles with a pickling spice mix that had too much chili pepper in it. I’m so glad you included that warning in your recipe!

    Also, I would love to try my next batch with oak, horseradish, or grape leaves. Do you know where I can purchase them? Are they fresh or dried?

    Thanks for another wonderful recipe!

    • Hi Barbara!!

      I found Grape leaves by posting it on my facebook status – a friend replied back that she had grapes growing in her backyard. She gave me all the grape leaves I wanted!! I also have asked a local CSA farm in my neighborhood. They went out of their way and found me some. Maybe even check out your local Farmers market. Ask them and maybe they will know where too! Hope this helps you out. The leaves really do make a difference in your pickles!! :)

  2. This is exactly what My bride and I have been waiting for. “Thank you”. Don and I CAN! :-))

  3. Can’t I just pick leaves off of my oak tree in the back yard? I am not sure if I am thinking it is more difficult than it is.

    • That’s what I did! Give ’em a rinse and then you should be good to go!

  4. This is a great recipe, and thank you so much for sharing all the valuable information about their nutrition and possible variations, too! I hope you don’t mind that I’ve linked to this post over on our blog–it is National Pickle Day, after all! I think our readers will love this recipe! Of course, if you do not want me to link please just let me know and I will remove it. Thanks! Keep the awesome posts coming!

    • Thanks so much for the link! You are always welcome to do so :)

  5. It’s winter in Minnesota so no fresh leaves. Can preserved grape leaves be used?

    • I’ve never tried it, but it could work. My question would be: What are they preserved in? If the brine contains any sort of preservatives, I’d leave them out.

  6. How long do you think the pickles will last once they have been refrigerated?

    • Mine would last at least a month if I didn’t get to them before that. But probably much longer otherwise.

  7. Is this a cold pickle or is the brine solution hot as I add it to the jar?

  8. Can I reuse the brine or do I make fresh for each quart?

    • You can reuse some of the brine but I like to make fresh brine every couple of batches.

  9. I don’t have grape or oak leaves, you think Kefir lime leaves or bay leaves would be okay?

    • You want to choose a leaf that is high in tannins in order to keep the cukes crunchy. I’m not sure how those would work as far as maintaining crispness, but they would definitely give a nice flavor to the pickles.

      • I always use black tea instead of oak or grape leaves

        • do you just use a teabag?

          • I use black tea bags, as well. In fact, I have had far better results with maintaining crispiness using tea bags than when I used wild grape leaves.

  10. Russians use leaves from the cherry tree, too. I have used them successfully!

    • Be very careful not to use leaves from a BLACK cherry tree. they are poisonous….so I have read.

  11. Do I need to sterilize the jar or will a run through the dishwasher do?

    • The dishwasher should take care of it!

  12. Hi,
    Is there any way to preserve these half sours for several months, and not reach full sour? I was thinking if I removed them from the brine it would halt the process, but then what?

    • I refrigerate mine in the brine and they keep for a while. Start by trying that!

  13. Made these pickles yesterday morning.Tonight they have a foam like substance on the top of the brine,,is that normal?

    • It can be normal. I have had that from time to time. Scoop it off and keep an eye on it! Should subside in a day or two.

  14. I’m on day 2 of fermenting and the brine has turned cloudy. Is this typical? What might be the cause…and do I need to throw them out?
    Also…can the oak leaves be added at this point? I was finally able to find some!

    • Yes! The brine will become cloudy as the fermentation process progresses. Good job! And it couldn’t hurt to add the oak leaves now. The pickles just may not be as crisp as they would have been if you’d added them at the beginning, but crispier than if you don’t add them at all. Enjoy!

  15. I tried this recipe with homegrown cukes, grapes leaves and store bought pickling spice. I followed each step carefully though I used filtered water (reverse triple osmosis). The pickles sat on my countertop for three days at room temperature with cheese cloth over them. Fruit flies assembled on the cheesecloth and the brine seemed to evaporate a bit leaving the tips of the pickles exposed. The result–mold. I wound up giving three mason jars full of pickles to my chickens. What did I do wrong?

    • When the cucumbers get exposed to air you risk mold growth. Make sure the cucumbers are completely covered with brine–you can even try weighing them down with a clean glass jar filled with water. If you notice evaporation, make and add a little more brine. Try covering the lid with a plate instead of cheesecloth. Wishing you better luck next time!

    • You have to use a glass jar with a tight steel airtight top. Salt distilled water and crush down the cucumber into it, then crush down into the jar until it is just near the top of the jar. Then fill more of the salted water to cover all cucumbers inside so none appear out of the water which will cause the mold. All must be under the water. Every 2 days slightly release a bit of air from jar. Eat after 7 days or more. Don’t use cloth top, that makes no sense as bacteria can enter from the air though such material as well as larva of flies.

  16. This was my first adventure in fermented pickles, thanks so much for the recipe and tips! I loved the smell and taste of the fermented cukes and used the lesser amount of salt. I did not have any leaves, but used a little bit of black tea and think the leaves would be better (or more tea) since they could have been crisper. For people used to a low sodium diet, even the lesser amount of salt may taste salty. I am so happy with my first batch, love your site.

  17. Hello. I’m wondering if instead of oak, grape, or horseradish leaves, if peelings from a hachiya persimmon would work ? Or else the leaves ? That fruit is full of tannins. I’ve never read anywhere of anyone trying it. Have you ? Thanks.

  18. What is pickle crisp?

  19. Can I use Live Oak leaves to add to my brine?


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