PROBIOTIC GHERKINS | Lacto-fermented Style

*Find a detailed section on Fermentation including Everyday Sauerkraut, Kimchi and Lacto-fermented Vegetables in my new cookbook – Homegrown Kitchen: Everyday Recipes for Eating Well – available in bookstores and retailers around New Zealand and personally signed copies HERE.


Our fridge is currently in a crisis state, and I take complete responsibility. You see, this summer on top of preserving all our homegrown fruit to fill the pantry shelves, I have also gone a little lacto-fermenting mad. Any excess garden vegetables or seconds from the farmers market are being transformed into probiotic goodness for our bellies.

However, with this hot weather I haven’t been able to store the large jars of fermenting produce in the cold store (aka the laundry cupboard). Hence the fridge is currently bursting at the seams with around 16 litres of lacto-fermented goodness and I’m not ready to stop yet. Discussions of a second fridge have begun as every journey into our kitchen fridge entails an emptying of half the contents to find what you are looking for! My family is not impressed. I am beginning to understand why they built houses with cellars several generations ago. Surely I was born into the wrong era…

Probiotic Gherkins | HOMEGROWN KITCHEN

In case you are wondering what is this term ‘lacto-fermenting’, I will explain. It is a traditional method of preserving without the use of sugar or vinegar. It relies on the lactic acid producing bacteria (lactobacilli) naturally found on the surface of vegetables with the addition of salt, and time, to preserve produce. The slow fermenting is similar to sauerkraut and all kinds of microbial goodness is created during the process. Although these pickles need to be refrigerated (or kept in a cool store/cellar) after the initial fermentation they do keep far longer (up to 6 months) than fresh produce.

Probiotic Gherkins | HOMEGROWN KITCHEN

In years gone past lacto-fermenting was carried out in large ceramic crocks. These were rarely washed so the natural cultures would build up on the surface of the vessel so an added culture wasn’t required. (That may sound a little urrgh, however, our modern fear of germs and bacteria have not been to the benefit of our health.) In modern-day fermenting where most of us don’t have a large well cultured crock in our cool store room, we need to rely on large glass jars and the addition of a small amount of culture. These can be purchased in powdered form online, however, I find the easiest and most cost-effective way is to strain cultured whey from homemade milk kefir or yogurt (unsweetened good-quality yogurt  can also be used and coconut yogurt for dairy-free).

Some recipes for lacto-fermenting don’t use whey – and I don’t when making sauerkraut because there is more surface area to take advantage of the naturally occurring lacto-bacilli – however, when brine preserving as with this recipe I prefer to provide a little cultural assistance. If whey is not available then double the salt quantity and fermenting time – and also wait double the time before eating the pickles… see why I like the help of whey!?

Probiotic Gherkins | HOMEGROWN KITCHEN

Lacto-fermentation tips:

  • For best results use homegrown or organic produce to ensure plenty of lactobacilli is present on the skins/ surface.
  • Adding cultured whey (see below) helps to speed up the fermentation time without using a powdered culture and increases the shelf life.
  • Probiotic pickles can taste a little effervescent this is completely normal, however, if there is funky coloured mold on the surface of the brine and a bad odour discard the pickles. Use your instinct and common sense here.
  • Don’t over fill the jars, leave at least 2cm between the top of the liquid and top of the jar so there is room for movement during the active fermentation stage.
  • Make sure all produce is completely submerged in brine, packing tightly will help keep everything in place. Any exposed produce can potentially grow mold and in turn affect the whole jar rendering it unusable.

Probiotic Gherkins | HOMEGROWN KITCHEN

Probiotic Gherkins

These probiotic gherkins can be eaten after 1 week, however, the microbial goodness increases over time. I try to have a rotation in place with our lacto-fermented produce so we are waiting at least a month before taking our first bite. You will need a 2 litre glass jar. The optional addition of the grape vine leaves helps to retain the crunch of the gherkins.


1kg gherkins

dill or fennel flower heads

1 teaspoon mustard seeds

2 tablespoons unrefined salt

1 litre cold filtered water

2 tablespoons cultured whey*

2 grape vine leaves (optional)


  1. Wash the jar making sure to rinse off any soap thoroughly. Pack the gherkins very snugly into the jar and add the flower heads and mustard seeds.
  2. Make the brine by stirring the salt in the water until it is dissolved. Pour this over the produce to come within 2cm of the top of the jar (if there is extra brine set this aside for topping up the jar later). Pour in the whey and pack the grape vine leaves into the top of the jar. Secure the lid and gently turn (don't shake) the jar to distribute the whey.
  3. Place the jar on a tray (to catch any dribbles) and leave at room temperature for 2 days. The liquid may bubble over a little during the fermentation simply top up with extra brine to within 2cm from the top of the jar.
  4. Once this initial fermentation has taken place store the pickles in the fridge or a cool store cupboard (5 - 8C) . Wait at least 1 week before eating and consume within 6 months.


*Cultured Whey is the opaque liquid left over from low temperature cheese making. The easiest way to obtain whey if you don’t make cheese is to strain natural unsweetened yogurt or milk kefir through a cheesecloth lined sieve set over a bowl. Over several hours the whey will drip out and the yogurt becomes gorgeously thick and creamy. Keep whey in a glass jar in the fridge and use within 2 weeks.


6 Comments on “PROBIOTIC GHERKINS | Lacto-fermented Style”

  1. Hi Nicola. I have tried your method with a red cabbage sauerkraut and had great results. My family loved it. Now have a couple jars of gherkins started about 10 days ago but the brine has gone slightly cloudy and there is a white precipitate settling at the bottom of the jars. Do you have any advice or cautions here? Would hate to put my family off with a bad experience!

    1. Hi Kirstie, that is completely normal. The gherkins I photographed were freshly made so still very green, however, they do lose their vibrancy after a few days and the brine becomes milky. The most important thing is that the gherkins are completely submerged as any poking above the surface could begin to grow mold. Otherwise it all sounds on track. You can give them a taste in the next day or so to check. They do start to soften over time so if you prefer them crunchy then consume within a month.

  2. Hi Nicola! Me again. I am love your blog and philosophy of food- big fan over here! I am wanting to do more pickling of vegetables like the gherkins above. But I am wondering, can I leave them at room temperature for longer? Is it beneficial to do so? Or is 2 days sufficient? Kind regards, Emma xx

    1. Hello Emma! I hope you got my insta reply. Yes, they can be left for 3-4 days in summer and even longer in winter until they are sour to taste. Once they are sour the lactic acid is in full production so the beneficial bacteria will begin to proliferate, all good stuff. I go into more detail in my book which will be available very soon! Good luck, Nicola xx

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