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Probiotic Rich Fermented Dill Pickles – aka Sour Pickles

Traditionally fermented pickles are easy to make and full of probiotic goodness for your gut. These pickles are usually known as sour pickles. They aren’t canned and there’s no vinegar.

Every summer we make jar after jar of these naturally pickled cucumbers to preserve for the year. We make whole dill pickles, spears and pickle chunks.

jars of lacto-fermented pickles

When I tell people we prefer fermented dill pickles instead of canned dill pickles, they usually get a confused look on their face. I don’t know if it’s a regional thing or not but most people in our area think fermented means rotten and NOTHING could be further from the truth.

Fermented foods are full of probiotics which are great for your gut. In fact, fermenting is the only preservation method that actually increases the nutrition of the produce instead of decreasing it.

What is lacto-fermentation?

Lacto-fermenation or just fermentation is a way of preserving vegetables, fruits and even dairy. Sauerkraut, wine, and yogurt are probably the most recognizable fermented foods.

In the Beginners Guide to Fermentation I talk quite a bit about the health benefits of eating fermented foods. Let’s just say, if you have any intestinal troubles such as excess gas or belching fermented foods can probably help.

To ferment cucumbers you need….

  • Cucumbers
  • Salt
  • Non-cholorinated water
  • Spices (optional)
  • Grape leaves or black tea (optional)
  • Container and covering
  • Time

{There’s a printable recipe for naturally fermented probiotic dill pickles at the bottom of this post. If you just want the recipe, you can scroll down to it.}

Let’s explore each of these items a little so you can make lacto-fermented pickled cucumbers in a way that is best for your family.

wicker basket with leather handle filled with cucumbers

Best cucumbers for pickling?

If you grow cucumbers, plant a pickling variety. Pickling cucumbers have thinner skin and are less moist than slicing cucumbers are which makes a better pickle.

If you aren’t growing your own cucumbers, I suggest checking out your local farmer’s market. I bet there is at least one farmer growing pickling cucumbers.

If you have to buy your cucumbers from the grocery stores buy organic, non-irradiated cucumbers. In order to properly ferment, the vegetables need to still have the naturally occurring bacteria on their skin. Irradiation kills that bacteria.

Salt for fermenting

Vegetables are fermented in a saltwater brine and in order to make the saltwater you need salt.

Everyone has their own opinion of what salt is “best” for fermenting vegetables. Technically, as long as the salt is pure salt with no iodine or anti-caking agents added to it, it will work just fine. I’ve used Himalayan salt, Redmond’s Real Salt, and plain old sea salt to ferment vegetables.

Because we live in a culture of abundance we have the luxury of debating which salt is best for fermenting. But the reality is vegetable fermentation has been going on for thousand of years, long before fancy salts were being shipped all over the world. My advice is to start with whatever pure salt you normally use for your family and if you think you’ll get better results with a different salt, try it and see.

ingredients for fermented pickles on wooden table. There are cucumbers, garlic, dill, peppercorn, and mustard seed

What water should I use for fermenting cucumbers?

The big no-no for fermenting vegetables is using tap water that has been chlorinated. Chlorine will kill bacteria and we need bacteria to pickle the cucumbers.

If you have chlorinated water, you’ll need to buy spring or drinking water for fermenting.

If you have well water you can use it. However if you have a water softener that uses salt or a lot of minerals in your water, the pickles may not turn out. It may take longer to ferment or they may ferment faster and turn mushy. You won’t know until you try it.

That being said, we have a whole house water softener that uses salt and I use the water from our tap to make my ferments. I’ve never had a problem because of the water.

Again, I think we have the luxury of obsessing over the “best” water for fermenting because we live in a culture of abundance. Just start with what you have, as long as it’s not chlorinated, and see what happens.

Spices for pickling

You can make all kinds of different pickle spice combinations when you make small batches of fermented pickles. You can add garlic, dill weed, dill seed, peppercorns, mustard seed, whole cloves, whole allspice, and even onion slices. You can also use this pickling spice recipe to make a batch and have it ready so you don’t have to open a bunch of jars every time you want to make fermented pickles.

Just keep notes of what you put in each jar so you can recreate the ones you liked best.

fermentation lid that is overflowing with bubbles

Fermentation containers and lids

Historically, vegetables were fermented in fermentation crocks. You can still get them and they’re really quite nice – but expensive.

You can use a regular jar and lid but you’ll need to watch it and burp it occasionally.

I think that for those who are beginner fermenters or those who like to try various small batch ferments or who need a system that is hands off, then using mason jars and Easy Fermenter lids is the way to go.

How long do I ferment pickles?

It depends on several things such as how the cucumbers are prepared (are they whole or sliced), how fresh the cucumbers were when fermented, how crisp you like your pickles, and how strong of a ferment flavor you like.

I prefer a short ferment for cucumbers – between 5-7 days but you can ferment cucumbers up to 2 weeks if you prefer a longer ferment.

If you’ve never had fermented cucumber pickles before you need to know that they taste different than canned pickles – even if you use all the same spices. They will not have that sharp vinegar flavor; instead they will have a milder acidic flavor.

They don’t taste worse or better than canned pickles, just different. I always tell this to people when they try a fermented probiotic pickle for the first time. I believe that if the don’t expect it to taste like a canned pickle, they aren’t disappointed when it doesn’t.

You should see bubble starting to form in the jar in just a day or so, this is a sign that fermentation is taking place. The liquid will also get cloudy, the bright green color of the cucumber skin will darken and the white of the cucumber will become more translucent looking.

ingredients for fermenting cucumber pickles and The Ultimate Guide to Preserving Vegetables book

Whole, spears, or slices?

We prefer whole dill pickles so we try to pick our cucumbers when they are just 3″ or so. Of course, we always miss some and end up with larger cucumbers. We will either make pickle spears or chunks with these.

If we have a super overgrown cucumber we’ll make fermented German mustard pickles. The recipe is in The Ultimate Guide to Preserving Vegetables.

We don’t care for fermented dill slices. I think they loose their crisp and get mushy quickly. If you choose to make fermented pickle slices, I would do a very short ferment of 2-3 days and then taste the pickles to see if they are fermented enough. If not, you can ferment them for another day or two.

If we need slices for a sandwich, we just slice a whole pickle.

Getting Crispy Pickles

It is not uncommon for fermented pickles to lose their crisp. There are several things you can do to make sure you get crispy pickles.

  • Start with fresh cucumbers. Try to ferment them the day they are picked.
  • Cut the tip off the blossom end of the cucumber (I don’t do this but it is recommended)
  • Use pickling cucumbers instead of slicing cucumbers.
  • Ferment whole cucumbers instead of slices or spears.
  • Add tannins to the ferment. The most common ways of adding tannins to the fermented pickles is to add grape leaves or black tea leaves.

Like the flavor, I think we need to adjust our expectations about how crispy fermented pickles will be. They will never be as crisp as commercially canned pickles that have alum, lime or calcium chloride added to them. That doesn’t mean they are mushy, they just aren’t super crisp.

fermenting cucumbers with lots of bubbles near the lid

What? No starter culture?

No, to ferment vegetables you do not need a starter culture. The vegetables have all the bacteria they need to start the fermentation process. Now, if you are buying cucumbers that have been irradiated or “sanitized” in some way, you might need a starter.

If that’s the case, use a little fermented brine from another vegetable ferment, such as peppers or sauerkraut. You could also ask a friend for a small amount of her left over fermented pickle brine.

I know a lot of people recommend adding a little bit of whey from yogurt to kick start the ferment. I don’t. When you add whey to vegetable ferments, they tend to get slimy. I believe it’s because the strains of bacteria in dairy ferments are different than the strains of bacteria in vegetable ferments.

Yield: 1 quart

Fermented Probiotic Dill Pickles

A close up of fermenting cucumber slices, also called natural pickles

Fermented probiotic dill pickles are easy to make and a tasty way to preserve the harvest.

Prep Time 10 minutes
Additional Time 5 days
Total Time 5 days 10 minutes


  • Cucumbers - enough to fill a half gallon mason jar
  • 3-5 cloves garlic
  • 2 tsp dried dill weed
  • 2 tsp dill seed
  • 10 black peppercorns
  • 4 whole cloves
  • 2 whole allspice
  • 1 tsp mustard seed
  • Non-chlorinated Water
  • Salt
  • 2-4 fresh grape leaves or 1/2 tsp black tea leaves (optional)


  1. Wash the half gallon mason jar, the glass weight and the fermentation lid in hot soapy water.
  2. Rise the cucumbers in cool water to remove any dirt
  3. Cut the cucumbers into spears or chunks if desired
  4. Pack the cucumbers tightly into the jar leaving about a 2" headspace
  5. Add spices and black tea leaves (if you are using them) to the jar.
  6. Make a 3.5% saltwater brine by mixing 33 grams (approx 2 tbsp) of salt with 4 cups water. (You'll need a scale that has a metric option.)
  7. Pour the saltwater brine into the jar, being sure to cover all the cucumbers. Make more brine if necessary.
  8. Put the grape leaves on top of the cucumbers
  9. Put the weight in the jar and then put the lid on.
  10. Put the sealed jar in a bowl or saucer just in case it overflows and store it in a dark corner for 5-14 days.
  11. Once the cucumbers are fermented to your liking, replace the fermentation lid with a regular storage lid and store in the refrigerator to slow down the fermentation process.

Nutrition Information:



Serving Size:


Amount Per Serving: Calories: 61Total Fat: 1gSaturated Fat: 0gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 0gCholesterol: 0mgSodium: 270mgCarbohydrates: 14gFiber: 3gSugar: 4gProtein: 3g

Did you make this recipe?

Please leave a comment on the blog or share a photo on Pinterest

half gallon mason jar filled with cucumbers and garlic for fermenting.

Other probiotic rich fermented vegetables

There are so many great fermented vegetables and many are fermented the same way that fermented dill pickles are made. Fermented peppers are easy to make and don’t have that sharp vinegar flavor that canned pickled peppers do.

If you like sauerkraut, you should try this fermented rainbow sauerkraut that uses green and red cabbage, carrots, and even a little apple.

What are some of your favorite fermented vegetables?

Thanks for sharing with your friends!


Friday 16th of July 2021

Could I do zucchini this way?

Angi Schneider

Saturday 17th of July 2021

Yes, zucchini can be fermented just like cucumbers.

Larry Welch

Saturday 29th of May 2021

what is the method for long term storage?

Angi Schneider

Saturday 29th of May 2021

They need to be refrigerated or be kept in some kind of cold storage. The cold temperature will slow down the fermentation but won't completely stop it. We've found that the whole cucumbers are best for storing long term. We just opened up our last jar from last year's harvest and the whole cucumbers are still crisp while the last jar of spears had lost some of their crispness. They weren't mushy by any stretch but they weren't as crisp as the whole ones. We eat the cubed ones first, then the spears, then then whole ones. Hope that helps.


Thursday 11th of February 2021

I made fermented dills this past year for the first time. I was told they should be kept in a cool place, from day one. If you have a second fridge that works perfectly. My brine did not turn milky, I used grape leaves for the tannin, and used water from my fridge tap. They are perfect, I will make them again. They are ready to eat in a short period of time, and after several months still have a nice crunch to them. I prefer them to the regular dill pickles, they will be my go to pickle from now on. So good for you.

Angi Schneider

Sunday 14th of February 2021

Glad that is working for you. Putting them in the refrigerator from day one (I'm assuming before they have actually fermented) will slow down the fermentation process and they will take longer to ferment. The brine doesn't always turn milky, but it there's nothing wrong with the ferment if it does. I'm glad you've found a system that works for you, fermentation is as much an art as it is a science.


Thursday 31st of December 2020

Hi,does it matter if the pickles have been refrigerated in a bag.

Angi Schneider

Sunday 3rd of January 2021

Nope, not at all.


Saturday 19th of December 2020

Have you ever heard of using an oak leaf for the tannins?

Angi Schneider

Sunday 3rd of January 2021

Yes, oak leaves can be used. We don't have any oak trees but we do have grape vines, so that's what I use. If you have oak leaves, definitely use those. You can also use black tea leaves and horseradish leaves.

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