Fermenting and pickling are food preservation techniques that have been used for centuries to boost the flavors and shelf life of certain foods. They are often mistaken as the same, while both methods preserve food, they are significantly different in terms of the process, ingredients, and taste. If you want to know more about the differences between fermenting and pickling, keep reading.

An Explanation of FermentationFermenting vs Pickling

Fermentation is a natural process involving transforming a product into organic acids or alcohol through the breakdown of sugars by yeast and bacteria. Lactic acid fermentation is the most common form of food preservation. Lactic acid fermentation is generally used for preserving fruits, vegetables, and dairy products.

One of the main distinctions of fermentation is the role that microorganisms play, especially lactic acid bacteria. The bacteria convert the sugar in the food into lactic acid, creating an acidic environment that prevents harmful bacteria from growing. The natural acids preserve the food and give it a unique texture and flavor.

The most popular fermented foods are pickles, kimchi, sauerkraut, and yogurt. These foods have a tangy taste and a specific smell. The magic of fermentation lies in its ability to turn raw ingredients into gut-friendly, probiotic-rich foods. The live cultures present in fermented foods have several health benefits including:

Improves Gut-Health

Fermented foods help restore the balance of gut bacteria which assists in problems associated with digestive health.

Improves Behavior and Mood

Studies have found that there is a close relationship between gut health, behavior, and mood. It appears that fermented foods play an important role in this. Strains of probiotic bacteria such as Bifidobacteria longum and Lactobacillus helveticus found in fermented foods may assist in reducing depression and anxiety.

Supports Heart Health

As well as a healthy balanced diet, consuming fermented foods is linked to a lower risk of heart disease. This could be because it helps improve blood pressure and cholesterol balance.

Supports Immune Function

Research suggests that good bacteria in the form of probiotics help support immune function.  One study found that it helped heal upper respiratory infections.

An Explanation of PicklingFermenting vs Pickling

Pickling creates an acidic environment by adding vinegar, brine, or sugar to the food. Before the pickling process begins, the food’s pH level is lowered before it is steamed or added to boiling water. Pickling is used for a variety of foods including eggs, meat, fruits, and vegetables.

The acid creates a barrier and protects the food from pathogenic bacteria and rotting. Pickled foods are crisp in texture, with a tangy, sharp flavor. The pickling process doesn’t require much work. Once the mixture is ready and poured over the food, it’s ready within 2-3 days. According to the USDA, pickled foods stored in the fridge can last up to  3 months. There are several benefits associated with pickled foods, here are some of them:

Reduces Inflammation

The antioxidants present in pickled foods, in particular, fruits and vegetables help reduce inflammation in the body. Inflammation contributes to chronic diseases such as heart disease, lung disease, and gastrointestinal disorders.

Increases Nutrient Absorption

The probiotics present in pickled foods help to break food down in the digestive system which makes it easier for the body to absorb nutrients.

Controls Blood Sugar

The acetic acid in vinegar does not cause a spike in blood sugar levels. Instead, it slowly releases energy into the body.

Fights Obesity

Studies indicate that the gut microbiome of slim people is significantly different than those who are severely overweight. A healthy microbiome will help prevent or manage obesity. Pickled foods, as well as fermented dairy products such as yogurt, kimchi, and chungkookjang (a type of fermented soy bean), will help keep your weight under control.  

Lowers Risk of High Blood Pressure

The risk of high blood pressure decreases by eating pickled foods. The best choices are natto, miso, soy foods, and fermented dairy with multiple strains of bacteria and yeast. They help block the enzyme responsible for raising blood pressure. For those suffering from high blood pressure, eating pickled foods will knock some points off the diastolic and systolic readings.

Explaining the OverlapFermenting vs Pickling

Fermented foods start out as a brine which means they are also pickled. For example, sauerkraut is made by adding salt to cabbage and leaving it to ferment. Traditional dill pickles are cucumbers fermented in salty water.

Kimchi can be made with several delicious ingredients such as cabbage, garlic, radish, chili, and anchovy, but salt is the main ingredient. Despite the difference in process between fermented and pickled foods, some fermented foods taste very acidic which is similar to pickled food. This is because bacteria produce acid during the fermentation process.

The Main Differences Between Fermenting and Pickling

There are several differences between fermenting and pickling, these include the following:

Acidity vs Microorganisms

The most important distinction between fermenting and pickling is the method in which the food is preserved. Fermentation relies on beneficial microorganisms while pickling relies on the acidic environment created by vinegar or brine.


Fermented foods contain live cultures making them rich in probiotics. While pickled foods have many health benefits, they do not contain these beneficial organisms.


Pickling is more versatile than fermenting and can be used to pickle more than fruits and vegetables. Additionally, there are no pickled drinks apart from the juice from the pickling process. There are several fermented drinks including ginger beer, kombucha, wine, cider, and beer.

Process and Time

Fermentation takes a lot longer because of the time required for the microorganisms to work on the raw ingredients. Pickling relies on acid and the process is faster.


Pickled foods all have a similar taste, whereas fermented foods all taste different due to the metabolic activities of the microorganisms.

While both fermentation and pickling are for preserving food, they do so through distinct processes that result in unique flavors and textures.

Either way, fermented and pickled foods both taste delicious and have a variety of health benefits. Now that you know the difference between the two, you can go ahead and make your own pickled and fermented foods.

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