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Why do we use water in pickling.

 
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Howdy y'all. I've been planning a pickling recipe that I want to have high amounts of vinegar and salt. Through my research, my plan is to use Apple Cider Vinegar, Himalayan Salt, Formerly Grade B Maple Syrup, and Spring/distilled water if necessary.

I'm trying to understand the purpose of the water in the recipe, and if I can eliminate it. My current understanding is it's to resolve the salt, and/or to reduce the acidity of the brine.

According to my research, having high amounts of salt and vinegar will make sure it's preserved, and should still allow osmosis from the water in the vinegar. It should inhibit any growth of bacteria or fungi as well.

Thing is, in my research keeping the water/vinegar ratio equal is stressed vitaly, yet the purpose of the water in said articles, videos, and recipes are vague at best. A lot of them are focusing on making sure the acidity is high enough, which should be boosted if water is reduced.

The purpose behind this recipe is health benefits, and not taste. Taste as an issue should be ignored, for I'm sure it's not going to taste good at the end anyways.

Questions are: Is water necessary for pickling? If so, why? And what's the minimum I need for full functionality? What exactly does the water do in the pickling? Can you pickle without added water? Does anyone have any experience pickling without added water? And is there any other advice you have for me?

Thanks in advance for all the help! It is truely appreciated!
 
pollinator
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Are you trying this simply to see how long you can preserve something?  I'm confused why you want to preserve something that tastes bad?
 
steward
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You may safely eliminate the water in vinegar/water brines used for picking. That makes the concentration of vinegar stronger, which may negatively impact taste, but it improves safety. Store bought vinegar is typically standardized at 5%. Most of the pickling recipes I use make a brine that is around 2.5% vinegar.

It could be dangerous however to use less vinegar than a recipe calls for.

I'm not sure if taste can be ignored in homemade pickles. Because if the taste is too acidic or too salty for people to enjoy eating, then they won't eat it regardless of the health benefits.



 
pollinator
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I never dilute the vinegar and I do not know anyone else who does A quick google at danish recipes for pickled beetroot showed that this is normal here, and I remember it being normal in the UK as well. There is a difference though in the preparation, we do not waterbath.
Pickles made with pure 5% vinegar and sugar are perfectly edible and work fine.
 
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I would have said exactly what Joseph said above, that all the pickle recipes that include safety that I've seen say you need to have at least 50% vinegar (commercial 5% vinegar) in order to make it acid enough to can safely.

But, as Skandi says, I know somebody not in the US who does refrigerator pickles with straight vinegar. She said she just packs the vegetables and salt and flavourings in a jar and puts it in the fridge, and she likes it. I didn't try it.

If you're using apple cider vinegar, especially homemade, then sure, yeah, use it straight!
 
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Skandi Rogers
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Danish recipes do not add any salt at all, sometimes things do end up with salt in due to the pickling process like cucumbers but for beetroots or cabbage no salt at all.
 
pollinator
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As I understand it, there are two reasons why the vinegar would be diluted with water. Now I’m not a scientist by all means, mostly just someone who enjoys (wild) fermentation, so you might want to take my advice with a grain of (pickling) salt :-)
One would be the taste, like others here have already mentioned. Another could be to lower the ph just enough to prohibit the growth of dangerous bacteria ‘botulism, salmonella...) or unwanted things (like yeast growth), while enabling the growth of the beneficial probiotic bacteria (for example lacto acid fermentation). Unfortunately often in online tutorials the words pickling and fermenting are sometimes used interchangeably, without clarifying the exact method of how the preservation is accomplished.
When pickling, you create a sterile environment where you submerge your (sometimes pre-boiled) food into a highly acidic environment, preventing any bacteria (good or bad) to grow.
In terms of food safety, this is a safe way if you keep the acidity high enough. Just be mindful of pickling veggies with a high moisture content as the moisture inside the veggies could dilute the vinegar (or water/vinegar mix). Salt in a vinegar pickle is, I think; mostly for taste as the vinegar is already providing the preservation, unless your vinegar is diluted in which case it might function as a second wall of defence against unwanted bacteria.
In terms of health I believe the fermentation method could be more beneficial, because it boosts the growth of good bacteria (that outcompete the baddies) that are beneficial to your immune and your gut. You can kinda compare it to the permaculture-filosophy. Vinegar would be a treatment that kills most of the weeds, good or bad, basically prohibiting life. Fermentation would be the treatment where you allow the beneficial plants to outcompete the bad , which in the end will stimulate the health of your soil. Fermentation might be slightly less safe if you’re just improvising, without taking measurements and reading up on how it works. But in terms of the pay-off in taste and health benefit I would prefer fermented food over pickled food any day.
 
Raquel Thompson
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Thank you everyone! I'm excited to know that added water isn't a requirement, and plan to use the Apple Cider Vinegar as the main liquid in the brine. With health hazards out of the way, I can go forward in confidence!
 
pollinator
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I think a 50/50 ratio is way too low acid, TASTE WISE.  I like my pickled stuff tangy and acidic!  Even a 25/75 is still too weak for my taste buds.  I generally do pure vinegar or more like 10-20% water if I have to share it with someone who doesn't appreciate vinegar as much

I've used ACV a lot.  But it's REALLY strong and I've found that often times I don't like the end result.  It's the sweetness?  I've tried pure ACV with a variety of things and have never liked the end result.    I cut ACV with distilled white vinegar for a better taste.  About 50/50 ratio of the two vinegars.  I don't really follow recipes though, I just wing it every time.

I'd recommend testing your new brine on just a couple jars of pickles.  They're so easy to make there's no need to chance canning gallons of pickles at one time with an untested recipe.  Test just a small batch.  Fully water bath can them.  Then bust one open and eat it right away and see what you think.  If you really like it, chances are it will only get better as it ages.  If you're not sure about it, let the other test jars sit for at least 2 weeks, open another, test.  I find the pickles get better after they've sat for awhile.  If it's still not tasting the way you want you'll probably want to try a recipe alteration.  But to be sure, let that next jar sit for a month or three, then test it before tossing your recipe out.  
Taste and texture both tend to change over time with pickled stuff.  I've made very few pickles I didn't want to eat.  I had some radish pickles that weren't a success, and some shredded cabbage pickle stuff that was texturally impossible to deal with.   But generally I know how acidic I like it, I know what seasonings I enjoy, so I just stuff jars with extra veg of all kinds, a pinch of seasoning, a splash of water, and roughly equal parts of each vinegar.  Usually comes out pretty slick.

If you've got super juicy/watery veggies you can chop them up, salt them, and soak them in a big bowl.  Let chill and rest, the salt will draw extra water out of the veggies.  Drain the water away from your veggies before you can them.  That helps with avoiding having your brine altered by the water content of the veggies.
 
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I concur with everything that has been said.  I also do not use water or salt in some of my pickle recipes.  I do, however, make my brine 50/50 Apple Cider to Rice Vinegar so that the former does not dominate the taste of the cucumbers and because the later is cheaper where I live.  The additional benefit to using vinegar only is that you can reload the jar once you've eaten all the yumminess.  Just realize that if you reload (especially with watery veg), each successive batch will become more diluted so you can only get away with it once or twice before the preservation benefits (and the taste) begin to slump off.  
20200110_171744.jpg
A recent batch - I use plastic containers because that is what is readily available. Glass jars are not as common and tend to be smaller where I live.
A recent batch - I use plastic containers because that is what is readily available. Glass jars are not as common and tend to be smaller where I live.
 
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The acidity is a quality of the acid itself. Weak acids may not need diluting, stronger acids probably should be. In UK we use a lot of malt vinegar which is hard to get here, so I use ACV and just check to pH. Look up the pH of the recipe you are following, check your acid for pH with universal litmus paper (from chemists) and dilute if necessary.  Remember that 1 point higher on the pH scale is x 10 dilution, 2 point is 100 times etc.
 
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I am a bit confused: i've seen a couple references to water bath above. I thought pickling and fermenting were alternatives to canning. Is the water bath something different?
 
Mandy Launchbury-Rainey
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Barbara Kochan wrote:I am a bit confused: i've seen a couple references to water bath above. I thought pickling and fermenting were alternatives to canning. Is the water bath something different?



Although you are correct, US guidlines say that you should still waterbath jams and pickles.  In the UK at least, this is rarely done.  I never do unless I have not been able to sterilise jars first in the overn.
 
Rebecca Norman
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Barbara Kochan wrote:I am a bit confused: i've seen a couple references to water bath above. I thought pickling and fermenting were alternatives to canning. Is the water bath something different?



I thought the original post was asking about "pickling" by putting vegetables into vinegar, not the fermentation type of pickling.
 
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