The Harbinger Online

Culinary Chemistry: Experimenting With Pickles


Screen Shot 2016-02-03 at 3.57.05 PM One of my earliest memories of doing science experiments as a child was my elementary school’s fourth grade science project presentation week. I recall watching my classmates go up in front of the class one by one to present their projects which we had labored over for the past couple weeks. I made an electromagnet with my best friend and we were proud to use our magnet to pick up everything from paperclips, white board magnets and nails. The project that stuck out to me the most however was a classmate who had made her own pickles. At the time my initial thought was “Pickles? How is that scientific at all?”. She went on to explain that pickles were traditionally made by the process of fermentation. Over the course of this writing process I’ve come to learn that fermentation is nothing but scientific.

Fermentation is the process by which a substance is broken down by bacteria, yeast and other microorganisms. It is responsible for the creation the alcohol. But fermentation can also be used to yield other substances such as acetic acid from the subsequent oxidation of ethanol.

Pickles are turned sour by the lacto-fermentation process, meaning that they are the result of the decomposition of natural components of cucumbers into lactic acid, acetic acid and carbon dioxide. Virtually every single vegetable has to capacity to be fermented by this same process. For my recipe, I chose to ferment cucumbers, red peppers, yellow peppers and green peppers. I’ve always loved fresh peppers so I thought pickled peppers were worth a shot. I also thought it provided Peter Piper with a bit of poetic justice and had a sufficient amount of alliteration to give my parents a laugh. For this recipe you will need:

Most people tend to eat their pickles with spices in the brine but these are entirely optional and your reaction will still work without them:

  1. First start by dissolving two and a half tablespoons of sea salt in a quart of lukewarm water. Stir to dissolve completely and set aside.Screen Shot 2016-02-03 at 3.56.16 PM
  2. Chop veggies however you like them. I chose to cut my cucumbers the traditional way into quartered spears and my peppers into uniform slices.
  3. Add spices into your jar. Although there is no hard and fast rule for spicing, I chose to add about enough to cover the bottom of each jar keeping in mind that many will float to the top when the brine is added.
  4. Add veggies to the jar. These should be pretty tightly packed to maximize the amount of pickles you made. After all the space seems to be filled, stuff fresh dill wherever you can.
  5. Pour in salt water filling up all leftover empty spaces.

It’s as simple as that! Leave pickles to ferment uncovered for the next week or so. Though you may have the inclination to cover them, the fermentation process needs to be left open to the air so that the carbon dioxide can escape. Enjoy your pickles!

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