As the notion of reducing food waste gains momentum among consumers, the importance of food preservation is taking the spotlight. This is in line with the macro trend for clean label.
“Consumers are increasingly demanding the use of naturally derived preservatives in foods as concerns over the safety of chemical additives has arisen in recent years. Clean label preservatives being used in the market include, but are not limited to, essential oils from natural extracts and biopreservatives (fermentates, bioprotective cultures, bacteriocins, bacteriophages, etc.),” said Dr. Andrew Lee, Lead Scientist – Microbiology, Kalsec.
Fermented flavors are at the top of many trend lists for 2019. However, the earliest record of fermentation dates back as far as 6000 B.C. in the area of the Middle East referred to as the Fertile Crescent. Nearly every civilization since has included at least one fermented food in its culinary heritage.1 Fermented foods from Korean kimchi and Indian chutneys to yogurt, cheese and sauerkraut have created unique flavors and traditions around the world.
Fermentation is defined as the chemical breakdown of a substance by bacteria, yeasts, or other microorganisms and bring desirable change to a food or beverage. Usually, this means that the sugars and carbohydrates present in the food have been eaten by the good bacteria (often lactic acid bacteria). The bacteria then convert that sugar into other substances, like acids, carbon dioxide and alcohol. Those substances then preserve the food.2
The history of pickling dates back to 2500 B.C., when cucumbers from India were brought to Mesopotamia for cultivation. A method of preservation was developed using salted water in combination with herbs, spices and aromatic vegetables like onion and garlic. Today, this process is known as pickling.
In the sixteenth century, Dutch fine food fanciers considered cucumbers, seasoned and preserved in a spiced brine solution, to be a delicacy. Now, pickling expands beyond cucumbers to include other vegetables such as peppers and asparagus, for example.
Pickling Versus Fermenting
Not all fermented foods are pickles, and not all pickles are fermented. For example, it is unlikely to think of fermented foods such as sourdough bread, beer or yogurt as a pickle. Similarly, you can make pickles simply by pouring hot vinegar over vegetables, which means there is not fermentation involved.
“Pickling is a general term of preserving food in an acidic medium. One could simply use an acidic solution (such as vinegar) to immerse food, or brine the food and undergo the fermentation process. Fermentation can be used as a pickling method, but it specifically involves live microorganisms such as acetic acid bacteria or lactic acid bacteria to produce acids,” said Dr. Lee.
How Are They Similar?
While pickling and fermenting hold key differences, there are also several similarities that lead to confusion in identifying foods that have been pickled or fermented. When using a brine and acid producing bacteria are involved, the product can either be considered fermented or pickled.
Innovation is not limited to the type of vegetable. Kalsec naturally-sourced spice and herb extracts and natural colors equip pickle packers with quality and function that traditional methods cannot match. Learn more about Kalsec pickling solutions or ask our experts to learn more.
1. Foroutan, R. (2017, May 17). The History and Health Benefits of Fermented Food. Retrieved from https://foodandnutrition.org/winter-2012/history-health-benefits-fermented-food/
2. Digregorio, S. (2016, December 30). What’s the Difference Between Fermenting and Pickling? Retrieved from https://www.cookinglight.com/cooking-101/techniques/difference-between-fermenting-and-pickling