I'm interested in fermenting pickles for the first time. Many of the recipes I have found call for ingredients such as allspice, cloves, coriander, mustard seed, nutmeg, black or red pepper, and similar additives. Are these ingredients necessary for the pickles to properly ferment? Or are they simply for flavoring?
Also, many recipes call for using bay leaves. Do they need to be fresh or will dried work?
Some people make the distinction by referring to grated, shredded vegetables as sauerkraut, and chopped but large pieced or whole vegetables as pickles.
I personally don't make the distinction that way, but it makes sense when people talk about it like that.
Sauerkraut is fermented, although many types of pickles and sauerkraut in stores are just brined in vinegar. Many add sodium benzoate, which turns into the carcinogen benzene in your body. Some claim , "Oh we only add a little bit of it!" I don't even want small amounts of carcinogens added to my food.
The spices aren't necessary, but they taste good and they definitely have health benefits, in terms of anti-oxidants, etc. I think that most people experiment and compose their style over time.
"The Art of Fermentation" by Sandor Katz is a great resource.
I agree with John S.'s recommendation above, Katz's book is like a fermenting bible.
No spices necessary, it's just for taste preferences. We make plain - slated only - pickled radishes, carrots, cuke-pickles, as well as cabbage kraut.
In Katz's book, you'll also find ferments for other veggies, like a Tibetan way to store greens. Really cool stuff! Also breads, drinks, chutney -the list goes on and on. A huge, tasty world to explore.
Be joyful, though you have considered all the facts. ~Wendell Berry
Thanks for the help. This is great information. I'm curious if when I make the salt-fermented cucumber pickles I need to leave the skins on or if it is ok to peel them? (My local sellers cover the cucumbers in vegetable wax. Yuk)
You don't want to peel them. They won't have the right texture, I don't think. But you can't use waxed ones, either. For good results, you need to use cukes that are either A. specific for pickles, or B. immature table cucumbers. So if you are buying them, rather than growing them, you'll want to buy pickling cukes, and they are not waxed because they are specifically for pickling.
Another option, the organic Persian cukes that Trader Joe's sells might work. I haven't tried them for this purpose, but they are immature, unwaxed cucumbers.
Cukes that are good for pickling have a more tender skin than most table cukes, that's a part of how you get the texture. If you use a mature table cuke, I think it will turn out with really tough skin and just mush on the inside.
Because it's hard to source pickling-grade cukes all year, cuke-pickle-making is usually a summer thing. However, there are lots of other great fermentables right now, like radishes, cabbage, just about any Asian veggie, turnips, carrots... the list is long.