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Brine ratios

 
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I'm brand new to pickling and canning food, so I've been all over the internet looking at recipes. Something struck me as seeming a little strange, that being that there seems to be allot of variance in the recipes. More specifically, in the brines themselves. From what I understand, aside from the sealing process, the salt and acid in a pickling brine are creating an unfriendly environment for bacterial growth. So it seems to me that from a scientific aspect, there would be some type of formula or ratio that looks like: parts salt/parts vinegar/parts acid, by weight or volume, that outlines the minimums for safely pickled vegetables.
 So, I guess my question is just that. Is there a ratio or formula for a basic pickling brine? Like a good foundation upon which I can build my own recipes? For the sake of this post, I'm not particularly concerned about seasonings, just the functional elements of the brine.
 And a quick side question. What part, if any, do sugars (honey, processed sugar, molasses,etc.) play in the functionality of a pickling brine?
 This is my first post on this website, so I'd like to thank everyone for having me. I look forward to plaguing ya'll with my newbie questions.


 
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Location: Cache Valley, zone 4b, Irrigated, 9" rain in badlands.
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Ronnell: Welcome to the forum.

If fermenting foods, I use a ratio of 1.6# of food and/or water to 1 tablespoon of salt. I use that same ratio for anything that I am lacto-fermenting. I store lacto-fermented foods in the refrigerator.

For things that are pickled with vinegar, the vinegar and heating are what preserves them. Salt and sugar are only for taste, not for preservation.

I also happen to have a standard recipe for most types of pickles that I make:

3 cups water
5 cups 5% vinegar
2 tsp sea salt
1 cup sugar (if it's a sweet brine)
market-table.jpg
pickles at farmer's market
pickles at farmer's market
 
Ronnell Rosenthal
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Joseph: Thank you for the reply. That's valuable information, for sure. I was under the impression that the salt was a working element. But it does raise another question. Would you happen to know how much the vinegar can be diluted and still continue to be effective for preservation? In your recipe you are showing a 5:3 ratio of vinegar to water, and I'm wondering if I wanted a less sour pickle, could I lower the vinegar content and still expect a safe product? And would hot bath canning compensate for the lowered acid content of the brine?
 
Joseph Lofthouse
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I get my recipes from the Ball Blue Book, or the National Center for Home Food Preservation. I don't see tested pickle recipes with less than 1:1 ratio of 5% vinegar to water. I use a 5:3 ratio, because that is conservative, and is a commonly recommended strength of vinegar. And then I am conservative, again, by not packing the vegetables tightly into the jars, because they have water in them that dilutes the vinegar.

In the tested recipes that I use, the recipes with more diluted vinegar generally recommend boiling water bath processing times that are 50% longer than those with more concentrated vinegar. Depending on the vegetable, shorter cooking times can result in crisper pickles.

Salt is a working component in lacto-fermented vegetables, but not in vinegar-pickled veggies. A salt brine favors the growth of lacto-bacteria, and dis-advantages the growth of spoilage microbes.

People can get lazy in their writing. I intend to always distinguish between lacto-fermented cucumbers, and vinegar-pickled cucumbers. People might call both of them pickles. To me, they have completely different flavor profiles. The culinary production steps are way different.

 
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