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.



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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