Pickled Garlic

Pickled garlic is a great intro to lacto-fermentation – it’s easy, tasty, versatile, and hard to mess up. Garlic has natural anti-microbial properties which inhibit the growth of mold and other undesirables, helping to ensure a successful batch. That’s not to say mold won’t/can’t grow on it, or that you don’t need to be watchful, but in my experience it’s less fickle than more delicate vegetables like cucumbers. Like all lacto-ferments, it’s important to use a proper brine to prevent dangerous microbial growth.

My local grocery store sells clearance vegetables, so I buy up any garlic that looks decent and make a batch before it starts sprouting. I can usually get 5+ heads for less than a $1 – such a bargain! This is also a great way to preserve home grown garlic, particularly varieties that don’t store well long term. If you’re fermenting with any regularity, keep a batch of brine in your fridge so you’ll be ready whenever the mood or sale strikes. I ferment my veggies wildly (i.e. don’t add a starter culture), but if you’re nervous about wild fermentation you can always use a vegetable starting culture. Veggie cultures can be purchased from many sites including Cultures for Health.


The leftover brine is infused with a lot of garlic flavor and pro-biotics so don’t chuck it! I like to add it to soups and homemade bread to give them a garlicky kick. Just remember there is salt in the brine, so reduce or eliminate any salt in your recipe. I haven’t tried this yet, but I think I’ll ferment a batch of other veggies in the garlic brine to add even more flavor. In this recipe I did not add a source of tannin (lack tea, grape leaves, etc.) to ensure crispness. Garlic is a lot more fibrous than other frequently fermented veggies, so I didn’t think it would much of a problem, and instead might make cooking with it easier.

Here’s an outline for making pickled garlic. You can do any volume you want as long as the you don’t change the brine ratio. Use kosher or sea salt, just not table salt for the brine. You can also add other herbs or spices to the jar. The garlic will absorb liquid and expand so don’t over pack your jar. If possible, add a weight on top of the garlic to keep it submerged. If garlic is poking up mold will grow on it! If this happens you can either chuck the offensive pieces (do this if they’ve become mushy!), or, if you caught quick it enough, you can just wipe it off and re-submerge it. I recommend using glass jars with screw on lids because they do not retain flavors and are easy to sterilize. For even better, more consistent results invest in, or make, a modified lid with an airlock. The speed of fermentation depends on several factors such as heat, present cultures, etc., so it’s hard to give an exact timeline. 

  • Several heads of garlic peeled and trimmed.
  • Enough brine made at a ratio of 1 qt water/2 table. salt to cover garlic.
  • Sterilized jars and lids.
  1. Pack garlic in jars and fill with brine. Ideally you want the garlic to be covered by 1-2 inches of brine. Do not overfill – leave 1-2 inches of head room for the garlic to expend and bubbles to pop.
  2. Loosely screw on lids. As fermentation happens gas is created and needs somewhere to go, so don’t screw them on tightly or you risk an explosion. Store in a dark cool place like a cupboard.
  3. After several day you should start to see bubbles forming – that means it’s working! Let ferment for 2-3 weeks, checking periodically.
  4. Store your refrigerator. That’s it! It keeps a long time, but you’ll most probably use it up pretty quickly.



Gin Twist Pickles

Recently I found bags of perfect baby pickles on sale, so it was time to come up with pickle recipes! I love juniper berries, and I just happen to have a pound bag full in my cabinet which I need to put a dent in. For inspiration I riffed a gin flavor profile by including juniper and and several other traditional gin herbs and a few more savory  elements to ground them. They turned out surprisingly sophisticated. Not genuinely ginny, but with some of that herbaceousness and a bit of zip mimicked by the lactic acid.

This recipe is for a lacto-fermented pickle but could easily be adapted for regular canning methods. I left the cucumbers whole to help maintain their crispness. If you use small ones they fit nicely in a mason quart jar. It is also helpful to included a source of tannin which helps create a crisp texture. You can use several natural sources – more on that another time – but the easiest way method is to steep a black tea bag in the brine. Yes, it will slightly tinge your brine, but one you get everything in the jar it’s hardly noticeable. I used 1 tea bag for 4 quarts. This isn’t meant to be a comprehensive guide to lacto-fermentation, so check out some other sources if you’re not familiar with the process.  I don’t add whey for these reasons.

I didn’t have the foresight to document this at the time, so sorry there’s not photos!

For the Brine:

  • solution of non-iodized salt and water in a 2 table./1 quart ratio.
  • some sort of tannin for crispness

For 1 Quart Jar of Pickles

  • 2 large sprigs of rosemary
  • 2 tea. coriander
  • 3 table. crushed juniper berries
  • 1/4 tea. mustard seed
  • 1 garlic clove sliced into several pieces
  • a few sprigs fresh dill fronds
  • 5-6 baby cucumbers
  • 4-5 small pickling or pearl onions
  1. Rinse the cucumbers, onions and fresh herbs. Slice the tips off both ends of the cucumbers and peel the onions. Prepare fresh herbs.
  2.  Add onions and garlic to bottom of the jar. Add dry spices. Add the cucumbers so they are standing on end while also layering in the dill and rosemary between them.
  3. Fill the jar with brine so that everything is well covered. Try to leave an inch or two of head space. Weight the cucumbers so they don’t float (word of warning, they might not float initially, but don’t be fooled – they will later on). Screw the lid on loosely so the CO2 can escape as the fermentation happens.
  4. Store in a dark temperature stable for about a week. Fermentation will progress at different speeds depending on the ambient temperature. After a week start tasting your pickles. Keep fermenting them until you achieve the desired amount of zing.
  5. Once they’re done, tighten the lids and store in the fridge.

Whey in Lacto-fermentation

If you make cheese, particularly any volume of hard cheese, you’re going to have left over whey.  If you happen to find miniature cucumbers on sale, like me, you’ll want to make lacto-fermented pickles! After scouring many recipes on the inter-webs I found an interesting  phenomenon – many lacto-fermented recipes call for the addition of whey to your brine. While this initially seems like a good idea, if you think about it for a moment, it doesn’t make a whole lot sense. Whey has been inoculated with whatever cultures you used in your cheese making. These cultures have been chosen for their ability to efficiently convert the milk sugar lactose into lactic acid. But, veggies do not have lactose! The lacto in lacto-fermentation actually refers to lactic acid that is produced by Lactobacillus – not milk lactose.  Lactobacillus is a naturally occurring good bacteria present on veggies. While the end product of these different bacteria is the same and desirable for similar reasons, the pathways are not – they don’t eat the same thing. The similarity in name may explain some confusion about adding whey to fermenting veggies. While adding good bacteria to our food is the basis for many wonderful products, and this blog, adding incompatible bacteria doesn’t make sense, and in my opinion, is asking for problems.

I did a batch of wild fermented pickles using a salt brine with added tannin from black tea. They turned our crisp and zingy. No whey needed! If you are concerned about letting your beautiful produce ferment wildly, you can purchase cultures selected for lacto-fermentation at sites like Cultures for Health.

If anyone knows of another reason for including whey in lacto-fermented veggies, I’d love to hear from you!

Stay tuned for more whey related posts and ideas how to use that sticky golden leftover!

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