Due to the increasing number of individuals on the AIP who are new to fermenting, this article serves as something of a broad intro. Scroll down to the recipe below if you just want to get to it!
Although I’ve practiced my own spin on the Paleo Diet for a few years with excellent results, I didn’t hear about the autoimmune protocol (AIP) or autoimmune protocol “diet” (a bit excessive but probably helps newcomers better understand what we’re talking about) until more recently. A family member was experiencing some pretty severe gut-related health issues, learned about it, and felt it was worth trying before going with the conventional medical options, which were clearly not a guaranteed solution either.
This got me thinking about how my lacto-fermenting practices might best serve this person and the AIP / gut healing community more generally. Lacto-fermentation is what this site is mostly about. Although the name may seem to imply that there’s some connection with lactose (and therefore a need to add whey as a starter culture to a ferment), this is a common misnomer.
The term “lacto” in lacto-fermentation simply refers Lactobacillus bacteria which are normally present on the surface of all plant life. During the fermentation process, these helpful bacteria (and others) convert sugars into lactic acid. Besides aiding in food preservation, lactic acid increases or preserves vitamin and enzyme levels in nearly all forms of produce, as well as their digestibility. The bacteria itself is also good for the gut, as it actively stymies unhealthy bacteria populations.
That brings us to pickles. When fermented (as opposed to vinegar brined/marinated) pickles begin to take on a much more sour taste and smell, that’s our indication that a prime amount of Lactobacillus (and similarly beneficial) bacteria have proliferated and lactic acid has formed.
Although sauerkraut has become the darling of the AIP’s ferment world (and for good reasons which I won’t get into here), let’s face it. Not everyone enjoys sauerkraut, including this member of my family (who can’t stand to be anywhere near it, in all its stinky glory). Now to me that’s just crazy, but we’re all different in this world and I respect not everyone is going to crave a pungent, possibly mushy shredded pile of three month old cabbage. And although sauerkraut is easier to digest (if we are factoring in cucumber skins), the fact is some people have digestive problems with cabbage.
I decided to modify my classic garlic dill pickles to conform to the AIP. While this meant no black peppercorn, mustard seeds, or coriander, I could include tasty, gut-healthy anti-inflammatory spices like turmeric and ginger. I really wanted to include dill in this recipe too, which I’m certain would give a final flavor more along the lines of a kosher garlic dill, but I knew this individual was not a fan of the dilly-o either. Dill is fine on the AIP and good for your gut. I’ll provide details below about how much you can add if you want to, and how to play with this recipe to suit your own tastes.
Let’s get started.
First of all, if you don’t have fermentation lids, I recommend them but if you can’t wait to get started, even your metal lids will work if they’re new or rust free. Heard of “burping” your jar? If you are just using a plain old mason jar lid (metal or plastic), you’ll need to “burp” them each day. Watch this video explaining what that is and how to do it.
Note: I want to give a heads up that my recipes are usually more like a template. If you know something in the ingredients like onion or garlic gives you issues, or you just don’t like the flavor, regardless of its inclusion on the AIP you can simply discard it. The only things absolutely essential to lacto-fermentation are salt and water (and healthy produce that hasn’t been irradiated). Even salt levels can be reduced without normally causing problems if all other conditions for healthy fermentation are met (cleanliness, suitable ambient temperatures, anaerobic environment, etc.). Organic produce is often more nutritious and it tends to have more natural yeasts and bacteria which facilitate fermentation. However, non-organic cucumbers are normally suitable too.
Now let’s move on to the recipe.
You will need: a medium saucepan; wooden stirring spoon; measuring cups & spoons, half gallon jar or two quart jars; airlocks/fermenting lids & weights (recommended); mortar & pestle to grind seasonings (recommended); a widemouth canning funnel is also a great tool I recommend
- 6-10 firm pickling cucumbers or enough to pack up to the shoulder of the jar.
- 2.5 TBSP non-iodized, additive-free salt (e.g. pure sea salt, Morton’s pickling salt, Pink Himalayan, etc.)
- 4 cups filtered or distilled water
- 4 cloves garlic, quartered (~20g)
- 1/8 onion thin sliced (~50-60g)
- 5-6 cloves, crushed (use a mortar and pestle or place in a plastic bag and use a rolling pin)
- 2 bay leaves (leave whole, don’t crush)
- Small finger of turmeric root, ~10-15g, sliced (or substitute 1/4 tsp powdered)
- Small finger of ginger root, ~10-15g, sliced (or substitute 1/4 tsp powdered)
- Suggested: 8-10 sprigs dill (not shown in photos); this will render the final flavor closer to the kosher garlic dills you’ve probably eaten
Optional add-ons: Instead of dill, you can add other AIP-friendly herbs or spices. Or perhaps you’d like to combine a few. Just be careful about total quantity. Sometimes less is more. If you want to add rosemary to your dill, for example, consider 4-5 sprigs dill and only 1-2 sprigs of rosemary, which tends to be more pungent. Some other possibilities include: lavender, chives, cinnamon (I recommend sparingly, it goes a long way), saffron, oregano, parsley, shallots, thyme, lemongrass, etc. Remember no seeds and nothing from nightshades like red chili flakes.
1.) In the saucepan, combine the water, salt, turmeric, cloves, and ginger, and heat on medium-high, stirring until the salt dissolves. Reduce heat and simmer for another couple minutes. (Note you will need to allow this spiced brine to fall to room temperatures before adding it to your pickles.)
2.) While simmering, rinse your cucumbers. Thin slice your onion and peel & quarter your garlic.
3.) Place all the onions, garlic, and bay leaves at the bottom of the jar. (Add any herbs to the top of the jar once the cukes are in place.) Although you will likely have some floaters, we will try to keep them contained under the cucumbers as much as possible.
4.) Add the cucumbers. Placing them firmly into place so they don’t move/rise is a good approach but if it isn’t possible don’t stress. Try to position them so they are held in place and you can fit as many into the jar as possible. If using herbs, place them on top (these will be removed once the pickles are refrigerated, or within a week after refrigerating).
5.) Once the brine (saltwater solution) has cooled to room temperature, slowly add it to your jar. You probably won’t need to use all of it, as you want to have about 3″ of space between your brine line and the rim. This water level will rise after the next step.
6.) Once the brine was added, you may have noticed some of the spices or produce (including even the cucumbers) began to rise to the surface. You want to ensure everything is submerged under the brine. To do so, you should now add your fermenting weight. If you don’t have a weight, you will likely be okay if you manage to keep all the cucumbers locked in place under the brine by packing them tightly.
7.) At this point, everything should appear submerged, with at least a 1/2″ airspace (“headspace”) between the brine and the lid. You may now add your lid, whether that be a standard lid or an airlock lid. Sit on a shelf or your counter.
8.) For half sours, you should wait 3-5 days. For full sours, the wait is usually about a week with some extra time in the refrigerator. (Longer at room temp is a risk for mushiness.) As time passes, they will continually sour and build flavor.
Remember that the longer you ferment, the more healthy probiotic bacteria you will have (but waiting too long at room temp can produce a mushy pickle). As the ferment progresses the brine will become cloudier, with whitish sediments forming and dropping to the bottom. This is totally normal and a good sign.
These will stay good in the fridge for at least six months, and potentially much longer if they continue to be submerged in brine. As time passes, though, expect them to soften. Even quite mushy or hollow pickles are edible (or can be turned into relish) but these features can appear as time passes.
If you reduced your salt, the fermentation speed will be a bit faster (but salt also helps maintain crunchiness; adding Pickle Crisp is okay too, and not an AIP problem). Also, ferment times depend somewhat on the temperatures in your house, with warmer temps requiring a shorter ferment time. As an example, if it’s summer and a bit warm in your house, and you only used 2 TBSP salt instead of 3, the wait for full sours may only be about six days.
For your first time, you may want to open the jar after a few days and try pickles each day for a while to see how the flavor changes. In the future, I never recommend opening your ferment unless you absolutely have to, as the air exposure can begin to produce mold or yeast growths.
Trust your senses. If anything smells bad or seems off, take pictures and upload to our Facebook Group to ask what’s happening. It’s always better to toss what you made and start over than take risks with your health.