Most people will hear the word “pickles” and think of the classic, green, crunchy kind of pickle that is made from cucumbers. As tasty as those pickles are, there are even more healthy options out there!
Cucumber pickles are vegetables, and all other pickles are considered fruits or vegetables when that is what the pickle is made from. Pickled beets, onions, cucumbers, carrots, and peppers are all vegetables, among other types, and they keep many of their nutrients through the pickling process.
Pickles are a delicious and nutritious addition to meals, and that’s good news to their fans! Keep reading for more information on how to make vegetable pickles part of a healthy diet.
Pickle Nutrition, Quick and Classic
Pickles come in many shapes and sizes, and they are popular worldwide. Kimchi, a classic Korean dish that is often made of spicy fermented cabbage, is a pickle! German sauerkraut is another common pickle, along with Moroccan pickled lemons, Japanese pickled ginger, or pickled turnip from Israel. The options are much broader than the American dill, and they are all wonderful.
Pro Tip: If you’re interested in learning more about the different types of pickles, check out my article, What are the Different Types of Pickles?
Many cultures have pickles because it is such a reliable, convenient, and nutritious way to store summer vegetables for the cold winter months. We know that canned cucumber pickles can last for years, but other forms of pickles are long-lived too. Kimchi, for example, can stay good in the refrigerator for 3-6 months before spoiling, where a head of napa cabbage starts looking wilted and sad after just a few days.
Of course, many of the pickles we consume are of the canned variety, so they won’t have the same probiotics as Kimchi or fermented pickles. They are still delicious, nutritious, low calorie, and high in fiber, but pickle lovers should be aware of the sodium content in different recipes as well as the absence of probiotics.
Pro Tip: Learn more about the difference between pickling and fermenting in my article, Pickling Vs. Fermenting | Are Pickles and Ferments the Same?
Quick pickles, also known as refrigerator pickles, are a quick and easy way to enjoy that summery tang within a few days. The vegetables are simply stored in a brine of salt, vinegar, water, and spices and then are placed in the fridge for a few days.
Pro Tip: The great thing about quick pickles is that you don’t even need a canner or any special equipment. Check out my article, Quick Pickled Banana Peppers to see how easy it is to make quick pickles!
These veggies won’t have the deep flavor of fully canned pickles or the probiotics of fermented pickles, but they are a readily available option for any home.
Different preparation methods for quick pickles include slicing them thinly, cutting them into matchsticks, peeling well, or any other shape that will allow the brine to penetrate quickly. Flavoring with other herbs and spices is also popular, such as ginger, garlic, mustard seed, or dill.
Since quick pickles aren’t heated, they can retain more Vitamin C, Vitamin A, Thiamin, and Riboflavin than their canned cousins. However, they will lose nutrients with time, just like other fresh produce in the fridge. Enjoy them quickly once they have the flavor you want.
Quick Pickles Worth Trying!
Remember, you don’t need to limit yourself to cucumbers! Some great (and healthy) quick pickling options include:
- Cherry tomatoes
- Green beans
- Bell peppers
- Peaches (yes, really!)
Canned pickles are the beautiful things you’ll see on shelves at the grocery store or your grandma’s basement.
Canned pickles are not always less healthy, either! While some nutrients are lost to heat, others are preserved by the canning process. The most vitamins vegetables will have are when they are still growing in the ground. As soon as they are harvested, they begin to lose vitamins. In fact, if you don’t preserve or refrigerate your veggies within a few days, they can lose almost half of their vitamins! This is why canning can be very helpful.
“The heating process during canning destroys from one-third to one-half of vitamins A and C, thiamin, and riboflavin. Once canned, additional losses of these sensitive vitamins are from 5 to 20 percent each year. The amounts of other vitamins, however, are only slightly lower in canned compared with fresh food. If vegetables are handled properly and canned promptly after harvest, they can be more nutritious than fresh produce sold in local stores. “U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)
Yes, you read that right. Promptly pickling and canning your garden produce can make it more nutritious than what you’ll find in stores! As much as we might want to freeze those veggies to maximize nutrition, pickling isn’t subject to the whims of power outages, it doesn’t rely on your ability to play freezer-Tetris with bags, and frankly, it’s a whole lot more satisfying to look at a beautiful shelf of jars. We only get nutrients from what we eat, and pickled food tastes great.
How to Eat Your Vegetables by Eating Pickles
Something important to remember when considering pickle nutrition is that cucumbers just aren’t that nutrient-dense to begin with. They are tasty, and they lend themselves well to the salty, vinegary, and often spicy pickling process, but they’re also mostly water and fiber.
While grabbing a big, juicy pickle is definitely a healthier option than snacking on pickle-flavored potato chips, we have more options.
Vegetables like pickled beets are slightly higher in calories than barely-there cucumbers, but they are great sources of iron, potassium, and calcium. They’re also delicious in soups, salads, or chopped on top of a bowl of cottage cheese. Plus, they look gorgeous on a shelf!
Pickled carrots are another fantastic vegetable option. They can be pickled by themselves and enjoyed as a crunchy snack, pickled with jalapenos and onions to take taco night to the next level, or turned into an Italian springtime mix that will make frozen vegetable blends seem like a distant fever dream.
Boring, overdone green beans can turn into a snappy side dish with pickling. They have negligible calories and a fun, spicy taste that brings variety to your table. Even picky eaters might be enticed into trying these!
If you really want to show off, you can try pickling some beautiful bell peppers. Besides decorating your shelves year-round, these vibrant pickles are delicious on salads, sandwiches, crackers, and charcuterie boards, along with being perfectly enjoyable on their own.
In short, you can make vegetables fun again. Pickles are vegetables, and you’re missing out!
What Other Kinds of Pickles Are There?
Have you always associated pickles with cucumbers? Has this entire article been a step into a strange, flavorful new world? You’re not alone! Pickles have an almost endless variety, from spicy pickled mango to pickled pig’s feet. Here are some suggestions for other pickle options to broaden your home menu and preserve valuable food.
Pickled blueberries are an easy option that will make you feel like you’re in a fancy restaurant every time you open a jar. Try them spooned over goat cheese, on a salad, or as a chutney beside pork chops.
Pickled blackberries are waiting for you to use in a fancy cocktail or on top of vanilla ice cream. Pair them with pickled lemons and you can turn these jars into art!
Pickled eggs are a classic food that deserves a comeback. These guys are one of the reasons that pickles need a caveat of “they’re vegetables if they’re made from vegetables,” but this tasty protein source is worth the effort of clarification.
As with any cooking adventure, follow the safety rules and follow your heart. Enjoy your tasty new vegetables!
Related Articles all About Pickles!
If you enjoyed this article, you may also enjoy these other articles about pickling.
- Pickling Vs. Fermenting | Are Pickles and Ferments the Same?
- What are the Best Cucumbers for Pickling?
- What is Pickle Crisp and How Can You Use It?
- What is the Pickling Process?
- What are the Different Types of Pickles?
- What Types of Vinegar Can be Used in Pickling?
Recommended Resources for Pickling and Fermenting
Thank you for reading this article. I hope you found it helpful as you strive to stock your pantry with delicious pickled and fermented food! Here are some tools that I use that I’m hoping you’ll also find helpful. These are affiliate links, so if you do decide to use any of them, I’ll earn a commission. Please know that these are the tools that I actually use and recommend and believe in 100%!
DIY Pickling: Step-By-Step Recipes for Fermented, Fresh, and Quick Pickles (on Amazon). This is the first pickling and fermenting book that I purchased. I love that it has great photos and very clear instructions. If you want to learn about both quick pickles AND ferments in a single book, this is the one I recommend.
Wild Fermentation: The Flavor, Nutrition, and Craft of Live-Culture Foods (on Amazon). One of my good friends grew up on a farm and has been fermenting food since he was a young boy. This is the one book that he says is an absolute must if you want to learn how to ferment food.
Stainless Steel Fermenting Kits (on True Leaf Market) I love using stainless steel products because they stand the test of time. Though they are a bit more expensive than other options, in the long run they save money because they last pretty much forever. I also love products that work with mason jars, and these certainly fit the bill.
Fermenting and Pickling Kits (on Cultures for Health) are the best way to start with fermenting if you want everything you need to (except the food!) to start fermenting. If you’re hit with the intimidation factor when it comes to pickling or fermenting, consider starting with a kit.