Fermenting Pickles: Investigating the Process and Impact on Taste

  • Thread starter russ_watters
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In summary: Interesting subject Russ. Sounds like your jar got infected with something that could grow there in an un-pickle-like manner. Possibly due to a difference in handling (something to change the pH like a water change), or maybe a re-introduction of a removed pickle? If the jar top was loose, could some of the vinegar volitolize away?The other difference between the two cases is the spicing of them. Spicy things (like ginger) can have anti-bacteria effects.This is the part that confused me the most: it was the spicier pickles that went bad. They have habaneros and
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russ_watters

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I have a jar of spicy, garlicy pickles that I bought 2 weeks ago and have 3 weeks left to their expiration date, but have started fermenting. I noticed the jar (plastic, but with a tight lid) pressurized and it bubbled when I opened it. I took a bite of one anyway, but it is mushy and tastes rancid...so trash for that.

Meanwhile, I have a jar of the same brand, bought at the same time, of mild ones. They're fine.

What's going on? Is this a common thing? I've recently started branching out with my pickle tastes and never had this issue with Claussen's, which seem to last forever.

I've started this in the biology forum because I'm interested in the process that is occurring, but if it transitions to pickle tastes we can move it...
 
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  • #2
Interesting subject Russ.
My kid just started trying to make pickles, which I only recently learned is a fermentation process.

I think I may have had something like this happen once or twice.

Sounds like your jar got infected with something that could grow there in an un-pickle-like manner.
Possibly due to a difference in handling (something to change the pH like a water change),
or maybe a re-introduction of a removed pickle?
If the jar top was loose, could some of the vinegar volitolize away?

The other difference between the two cases is the spicing of them.
Spicy things (like ginger) can have anti-bacteria effects.
 
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  • #3
BillTre said:
The other difference between the two cases is the spicing of them.
Spicy things (like ginger) can have anti-bacteria effects.
This is the part that confused me the most: it was the spicier pickles that went bad. They have habaneros and jalapenos. I would have expected the acid to prevent fermentation, but apparently not...now that I think about it, fresh salsa I get at the supermarket also sometimes ferments.

...and wiki tells me that jalapenos are subject to botulism. Probably should not have swallowed that bite...
 
  • #4
Peppers (Capsicum spp.) and green beans are particularly bad for botulism, pH is the primary driver, and the amount of simple carbohydrates are the another minor factor.

The USDA has classes in canning and pickling. You may want to take one of them at the agricultural extension service office in your county (assuming you are US). They also have ton of more technical white papers and less technical brochures. The reason they do this: it was mandated because of the rate of food poisoning in the US in the first half of the 20th century. I worked in the USDA seed lab for two years - about 50 years ago. We were required to keep all of those papers and brochures in a massive set of file cabinets, just in case someone wandered into the office.

CDC rides herd on botulism now.
https://www.cdc.gov/botulism/surveillance.html
 
  • #5
jim mcnamara said:
Peppers (Capsicum spp.) and green beans are particularly bad for botulism, pH is the primary driver
Green beans are high pH, and peppers are low; so how does pH have anything to do with botulism?
 
  • #6
@Bystander Good question - it is the pH of the final solution. Primarily. This discusses tomato sauce
The main limiting factors for growth of C. botulinum in foods are:
(1) temperature, (2) pH, (3) water activity, (4) redox potential, (5) food preservatives, and (6)competing microorganisms." from CDC. This being said, Temp, redox (oxygen availability), food preservatives, and competing microganisms are a moot point for pasta sauce. Water activity = High salt and sugar can limit botulism too, but would not be appropriate in this sauce. But PH, if properly measured would be perfect. Some salt also helps as PH and salt content work together to prevent spore growth.
Referencing the CDC article here is this article:
https://www.chowhound.com/post/botulism-canning-ph-585213

But I bet you already knew this :)
 
  • #7
jim mcnamara said:
already knew this :)
"Uh-huh. Suurrrreeee." I've noticed beans/chili etching glass/ceramic crock pots (high pH), and seen rust/oxidation in salsa (low pH), but never really stopped to think about it as far as the chemistry/chemical implications.
 
  • #8
russ_watters said:
I have a jar of spicy, garlicy pickles that I bought 2 weeks ago and have 3 weeks left to their expiration date, but have started fermenting. I noticed the jar (plastic, but with a tight lid) pressurized and it bubbled when I opened it. I took a bite of one anyway, but it is mushy and tastes rancid...so trash for that.

Meanwhile, I have a jar of the same brand, bought at the same time, of mild ones. They're fine.

What's going on? Is this a common thing? I've recently started branching out with my pickle tastes and never had this issue with Claussen's, which seem to last forever.

I've started this in the biology forum because I'm interested in the process that is occurring, but if it transitions to pickle tastes we can move it...
Ahh, fermentation - near and dear to my heart (as I sip some home-brewed beer - and yesterday, I sipped a home-brew Berlinerweiss style, which is lacto-fermented).

As was posted, I would be concerned about botulism, I would not take a taste from a pressurized jar.

Were these refrigerated? Claussen pickles (based near me, and near where I grew up), are 'fresh' refrigerated pickles. The more traditional pickles are lacto-fermented (like sauerkraut, kimchee, etc), and the lacto-acid keep them preserved at room temperature. I'm not sure if Claussen are lacto-fermented or not, maybe they just are not cooked. Maybe not cooking them preserves crispness (they advertise their crispness), but does not kill off other bacteria, so that is why they need to be refrigerated?

Here's something I found interesting. You know how most people get all worked up over the idea of mayonnaise sitting out at room temperature? Well I read a study from a University that home-made mayonnaise, when prepared with sufficient vinegar and/or lemon juice and/or citric acid for the proper low pH actually benefited from 24~48 hours at room temperature! The thought was that the acid did a better job of killing off bacteria at room temperature - it wasn't as effective at refrigerator temps. MAkes a lot od sense, higher temperatures speed many processes.

I've made some small batches of sauerkraut and pickles. They were OK, but not as good as the best I could buy, so I chalked it up to a fun experiment, but have not repeated it more than a couple times. And even kimchee, which I have not made, but have had in Korea, and have had home-made from Korean friends, didn't seem that different from the stuff I can buy at the market. Beer, that's a different story - I keep fermenting that stuff!
 
  • #9
It is also my understanding that the toxin itself breaks down rapidly with heat. So if you are canning somthing that will be cooked later, there is little/no botulism risk?

Ahh, OK, wiki confirms this (though that is far longer/higher than most 'pasteurization' techniques I'm familiar with - milk is 71.5 °C for 15 seconds):

The toxin, though not the organism, is destroyed by heating it to more than 85 °C (185 °F) for longer than 5 minutes.
 
  • #11
Folks, Claussen pickles last forever because they have preservatives. (Check the label.) I switched brands years ago because of that—but it has its upsides...
 

What is fermentation and how does it impact the taste of pickles?

Fermentation is a natural process in which microorganisms, such as bacteria, break down carbohydrates in food to produce acids, alcohol, and other compounds. When it comes to pickles, fermentation is responsible for the tangy, sour flavor that many people love. During fermentation, lactic acid bacteria convert sugars in the cucumbers into lactic acid, which gives pickles their distinctive taste.

What ingredients are needed for fermenting pickles?

The basic ingredients for fermenting pickles include cucumbers, salt, water, and spices. Some recipes may also call for vinegar, which can help lower the pH and create a more acidic environment for the fermentation process. Some common spices used in pickling include dill, garlic, and mustard seeds.

How long does it take to ferment pickles?

The fermentation process for pickles can take anywhere from a few days to several weeks, depending on factors such as the temperature, salt concentration, and the type of cucumbers used. Warmer temperatures can speed up the fermentation process, while colder temperatures can slow it down. It is important to regularly check on the pickles during the fermentation process to ensure they are not over or under-fermented.

Is it safe to eat fermented pickles?

As long as proper food safety guidelines are followed, fermented pickles are generally safe to eat. The acidity created during fermentation helps prevent the growth of harmful bacteria. However, it is important to use clean equipment and follow a trusted recipe to avoid any potential foodborne illnesses.

What are some potential variations in the taste of fermented pickles?

The taste of fermented pickles can vary depending on the ingredients used, the length of fermentation, and personal preferences. Some factors that can impact the taste include the type of cucumbers, the amount of salt and spices used, and the types of bacteria present during fermentation. Additionally, the longer pickles are fermented, the more tangy and sour they will become.

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