Fermenting and pickling are methods to treat perishable food, usually with the intent of preserving it for a long period.

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Fermenting versus Pickling comparison chart
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Definition In the context of food, fermenting is the conversion of carbohydrates to alcohols and carbon dioxide or organic acids. The process also occurs in pickling. Process of preserving foods by allowing it to anerobically ferment in brine. Fermenting occurs during pickling.
Method Fermentation is the biochemical process in which energy is extracted from sugar without the use of oxygen. Fermentation by yeast is the basis of the alcoholic beverage industry. The jar and lid are first boiled in order to sterilize them. Fruits or vegetables are added to the jar along with brine and/or vinegar and are then allowed to ferment until the desired taste is obtained.
Origin Fermentation occurs naturally in fruits. Since ancient times, however, the earliest evidence of wine making dates from eight thousand years ago, in Georgia in the Caucasus area. Pickling began as a way to preserve food for out-of-season use and for long journeys.
Foods Used in the production of beer, wine or cider. Vegetables and meats can be pickled for preservation.
Cucumber, carrots, beetroot and various vegetables pickled in brine
Cucumber, carrots, beetroot and various vegetables pickled in brine


The term pickle is derived from the Dutch word pekel, meaning brine. Salt beef and salt pork were common staples for sailors on long voyages. Although the process was invented to preserve foods, pickles are also made to accompany main dishes.

The chemistry of fermentation were first investigated by Louis Pasteur in 1860, who called the process la vie sans air, or life without air. The primary benefit of fermentation is the conversion of sugars and other carbohydrates e.g., converting juice into wine, grains into beer, carbohydrates into carbon dioxide to leaven bread, and sugars in vegetables into preservative organic acids.

Grapes being fermented for Pinot Noir at a winery
Grapes being fermented for Pinot Noir at a winery


For pickling vegetables, the firmest vegetables are chosen. The pickling liquid or brine usually consists of vinegar, water and salt boiled together. The vegetables are tightly placed in a boiled and sterilized canning jar. The boiling brine is poured over the vegetables and in to the jar and sealed for a couple of weeks in a cool place.

Fermentation is carried out without oxygen, and is therefore an anaerobic process. Fermentation is also important in baking. Yeast is mixed in with the dough, so as to consume sugar. Carbon dioxide causes the dough to expand during the rising phase. Once in the oven, fermentation ceases as the yeast dies from the heat. Sugar from grapes (for wine) or grain (for beer) is fermented by strains of yeast chosen for their tolerance of alcohol and other characteristics. The yeast continues to ferment until either the sugar is depleted, or their fermenting enzymes become inhibited by the build-up of products. In both wine and beer-making, initial fermentation occurs in large vats, allowing the carbon dioxide to bubble off. For most wines, bottling is done only after fermentation has ceased. Champagne and other "sparkling" wines are bottled before the end of fermentation, causing some carbon dioxide to be trapped in the bottle, where it becomes dissolved in the liquid. Most beers are also completely fermented before bottling, with carbon dioxide added back in just before capping. You can ferment alcohol just by waiting for wild yeast to colonize any fruit juice or grain mash, but the results are not likely to be pretty. There are strains of yeast known to be good for brewing.


Commonly pickled foods in different countries include:

Common foods that use fermentation in preparation:


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