How To Keep Pickles Crunchy And What to Avoid

No one likes a soft pickle.  When making your own pickles, there are several ways to keep them crunchy and retain the natural firmness of the cucumber.  There are also things you should avoid if you want to keep the crunch

How Do You Keep Pickles Crunchy? 

  • Use Filtered Water.
  • Add Tannins To The Brine.
  • Add A Crisping Agent.
  • Use Smaller Cucumbers
  • Pre-Soak The Cucumbers In Ice Water

What Should You Avoid To Keep Pickles Crunchy?

  • Using Soft or Large Cucumbers
  • Using Poor Ingredients
  • Over Processing
  • Improper Storage

Each of these steps are not as simple as they appear.  Let’s go into more detail and make sure you are doing everything you can to keep your pickles good and crunchy.  Lets start with ways to keep pickles crunch.

How Do You Keep Pickles Crunchy? 

Use Filtered Water

Using proper water is critical when making pickles.  Typical municipal tap water contains traces of contaminants such as copper, lead, chlorine, and other particulates.  These can impact the coloration, crunchiness, and even taste of your pickles.  If you have hard water, this will also keep your pickles from being as good as they can be.

The proper water for making pickles is cold, filtered water.  A filter attachment or pitcher from brands like Brita will filter out these undesirable contaminants.  Keeping the water cold is also recommended when making pickles since warm or hot water can soften the cucumber  Some recipes call for boiling your brine first or processing the jar, but that is a whole other topic.

Add Tannins To The Brine.

In scientific terms, a tannin is a class of astringent, polyphenolic biomolecule.  In terms of your pickles, it is one more thing to add to your ingredient list that will naturally help your cucumber retain its firmness.  They can not reverse softening, so these should be added from the beginning.  Examples of tannin containing ingredients that you can add to your pickles are grape leaves, bay leaves, black tea leaves, and oak leaves

Add A Crisping Agent

Ther are products on the market that are designed specifically for keeping pickles crispy.  If you check the ingredient list on pickles you purchase at the grocery store, you may find them.  The most common crisping agent is calcium chloride.  You may find many brands that sell a jar of “pickle crisp” but there is no secret ingredient.   They will all be food grade calcium chloride, so be sure to check the label.  Be sure to follow the directions and use the appropriate amount.

There are other crisping agents that use to be prominent but are no longer considered safe by all pickle authorities, such as alum.  Alum is sold as potassium aluminum sulfate.  The National Center for Home Food Preservation states that you can still use Alum but, they also do not include it in any of their recipes.   If you must use Alum, do not use more than needed or it will cause bitterness.  As a general rule, we recommend using tannins before any crisping agent, and to avoid alum. 

Use Smaller Cucumbers

There are many cucumbers to choose from when making pickles, and we encourage you to experiment the different types available to you.  For this reason, we recommend selecting a smaller and firmer cucumber, such as Kirby Cucumbers.  You may also find these labeled as “pickling cucumbers” in some farmer’s markets. 

Do not forget to snip the blossom ends off a cucumber.  This blossom, if included in your pickles, can release an enzyme that contributes to the softening of your pickle, and make it not suitable for eating.

Pre-Soak The Cucumbers In Ice Water

Giving the cucumbers an ice water bath for a few hours before pickling will help keep them crunchy.  This may seem counter intuitive as we think of soaking something in water softens it.  The reason for this is cucumbers become soft over time due to losing water.  Think of a firm grape versus a squishy raisin. 

Unless a cucumber is being picked from the shade and going straight into the brine, it will have lost of its moisture over time.  An ice water bath is great way to rehydrate the cucumber so it enters the pickling process in well hydrated and firm.

What Should You Avoid To Keep Pickles Crunchy?

Using Soft or Large Cucumbers

Large cucumbers have less surface area compared to the “meat”.  This means that soft squishy part with seeds in the middle is more likely to be larger relative to the outer cucumber.  This leads to an overall softer pickle, and less enjoyable if preparing as slices.

Using Poor Ingredients

All ingredients used should be good and fresh where applicable.    Overlooking things such as moldy garlic will impact the crunchiness of your pickles and also can make your pickles unsafe to eat.  Ingredients should also be the proper type.  A common beginner mistake is using regular table salt instead of Kosher salt or pure sea salt.  While you technically can use table salt, it does contain anti-caking agents and will impact the qualify of your pickles

Over Processing

Processing pickles is the process of lowering the jar in boiling water for a period of time to preserve them.  You will hear the vacuum-snap of the mason jar lid, which confirms the seal is complete.  When processing pickles for long term storage, there is a window of not long enough and too long.  If you process for too long, you risk cooking your pickles, which is not good for anything.  Be sure to follow proper instructions when processing based on volume.

Improper Storage

Each type of pickle has its own storage requirements.  If these storage requirements are not followed, your pickle will not only risk softening, it may become unsafe to eat. 

While some pickles may sit on the counter during the fermentation process, others may require to stay in the refrigerator, like refrigerator pickles.  This is due to the ingredients and type of preservation process used to create them.  Once a cucumber becomes a pickle it does not mean it can be stored anywhere in any way, as spoilage can still occur.   When pickles are ready, many methods call for storing them in the refrigerator, submerged in their brine, with a tight lid.

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