Fermentation and Pickling: Sauerkraut and Kimchi, Cucumber Pickles, Olives

Appears in
On Food and Cooking

By Harold McGee

Published 2004

  • About

Fermentation is one of the oldest and simplest means of preserving foods. It requires no particular kind of climate, no cooking, and so no expenditure of fuel: just a container, which can be a mere hole in the ground, and perhaps some salt or seawater. Olives and sauerkraut—fermented cabbage—are familiar examples of fermented fruits and vegetables. An overlapping category is the pickle, a food preserved by immersion in brine or a strong acid such as vinegar. Brines often encourage fermentation, and fermentation generates preservative acids, so the term “pickle” is applied to both fermented and unfermented preparations of cucumbers and other foods. Less familiar but intriguing relatives of sauerkraut and olives include North African preserved lemons, the pickled plums, radishes, and other vegetables of Japan, and the highly spiced, multifarious pickled fruits and vegetables of India.