Fight Covid-19…with Pickles

Naturally fermented products support the immune system

Aside from adding crunch and tangy acidity to any meal, naturally fermented pickles can help build your immune system to fight Covid-19 and other infectious diseases.

Most of the truly delicious pickles you’ve enjoyed have probably been naturally fermented; they’ve been brined for sometimes weeks with salt and spices until their flavors – and probiotic potential – have developed.

At the Oak Park Farmers Market last weekend, I asked a nice man selling pickles if they were naturally fermented. I thought I detected an eye-roll as he handed a bottle to me and advised, “The ingredients are all listed on the back.” Perhaps he’s had to answer my question before; the label did not say anything about fermentation, and unfermented products do not provide the immune system support that you get from fermented products.

According to a recent newsletter from the Harvard Medical School, “The foods that give your body beneficial probiotics are those fermented using natural processes and containing probiotics. Live cultures are found in not only yogurt and a yogurt-like drink called kefir, but also in Korean pickled vegetables called kimchi, sauerkraut, and in some pickles. The jars of pickles you can buy off the shelf at the supermarket are sometimes pickled using vinegar and not the natural fermentation process using live organisms, which means they don’t contain probiotics. To ensure the fermented foods you choose do contain probiotics, look for the words ‘naturally fermented’ on the label.” 

Looking over the pickle selection at even the highly health-conscious Whole Foods in River Forest, I found few pickles “fermented using natural processes.”  Natural fermentation takes time (to get the fermentation going) and space (to store the fermenting products), which means the price is usually higher than pickles made more cheaply and quickly, so it’s unlikely you’ll find many pickles that have been fermented, but they’re out there. Bubbie’s is a fermented brand of pickles I’ve seen at Whole Foods, and Claussen, a more popular brand, also makes a fermented variety of their pickles.

 With the abundance of fresh produce available at this time of year, I started fermenting cucumbers and carrots (because we have so many of them). Fermentation is pretty simple: in a Ball-type jar, put the vegetables in a brine of salt and water, cover with the lid loosely (to allow off-gases to escape), and store them in a cool, dark place for two weeks or more.

During these pandemic times, I try to eat fermented products once or twice every day. Sometimes, when the pickles are all gone, I even drink the brine (just small sips, but still containing lots o’ probiotics) – you can even buy gallons of pickle juice, just the juice itself, on Amazon. Pickle brine, full of electrolytes, is sold as an antidote to muscle cramps. If you’re a drinker, consider the “pickleback”: a shot of whiskey followed by a shot of pickle juice. No kidding: it’s a thing.

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David Hammond

David Hammond, a corporate communications consultant and food journalist living in Oak Park, Illinois, is a founder and moderator of LTHForum.com, the 8,500 member Chicago-based culinary chat site. David...