There are two distinct types of pickled items — lacto-fermented pickles and acidified pickles. Lacto-fermented pickles involve the fermentation process using yeast and bacteria to change sugars to acid, while acidified pickles are made by adding an acid, in most cases vinegar, to quickly create a pickled item. Either way you go, pickled items take time to develop the complex flavors that they are known for, with many taking several weeks to complete their transformation. Quick pickles are the fastest to make, though several still benefit from a week to several weeks of curing.
Pickling refers to the souring of fruits and vegetables as a means of preserving them. Practiced in countless ways by different groups of people all around the world, pickling means a lot of different things to different people. Common lacto-fermented pickled items include kimchi, sauerkraut and dill pickles. Acidified pickles are most often available commonly in grocery stores in a pickle section and can also include dill pickles, as well as sweet pickles and refrigerator pickles.
Depending on the type of pickled product you are making, it can take anywhere from several days to several weeks for the fermentation process to be complete. On the shorter end of the spectrum is kimchi, a traditional spicy Korean cabbage, that is fermented for just three to five days before eating. Most fermented cucumber pickles are complete in two to three weeks of fermentation, and sauerkraut is typically fermented for five to six weeks to achieve complexity.
Acidified pickles are the quickest type to make, as they require little more than adding fruits or vegetables together with vinegar and spices to create a pickled product. However, depending on the type of finished pickle you are making, the product may benefit from a short curing before eating for maximum flavor. Many fresh pickles require up to a month of storage to allow the flavors to meld before eating. Other refrigerator pickles that are sliced or speared require less than a day until they are ready to eat.
Once pickled, many products can be kept for several months in the refrigerator without spoilage. Exact timings vary widely based on the product, but many types of pickled products can last up to a year when properly refrigerated. While the product may still be safe to consume, pickled products do have a peak for quality. Most pickled cucumbers should be consumed within six months for the best quality, after which time the firmness deteriorates. All types of pickles should be stored in the refrigerator once opened; discard any pickled product if mold is present, if it becomes slimy or mushy or if any foul smells are detected.
References and ResourcesThe Joy of Pickling; Linda Ziedrich
The Ball Blue Book of Canning and Preserving
Canning for a New Generation; Liana Krissoff