Hua Gua Pickles (Sweet Soy Sauce + Licorice)


Do you love licorice like I do? I absolutely love the sweet, savory umami flavor of these pickles!

Last summer I made a batch of my lacto-fermented garlic “dill” pickles but instead of the dill I used tarragon. Tarragon, if you haven’t tried it, has a distinct flavor, similar to that of licorice or anise. (Anise, if you’re not familiar, happens to be used in place of licorice for most so-called “licorice” candies.) The tarragon pickles also had a fair amount of jalapeno slices.

This gave me the idea of making licorice pickles. But what exactly should go in them? I looked the concept up online, hoping I was being super original here, but of course I found some recipe examples. Although luckily I didn’t find the exact concept I had in mind already posted online by some other genius, I did see one recipe I really wanted to try:

This was “Hua Gua pickles.” They are a type of vinegar pickles (meaning they’re not fermented in saltwater) eaten in Taiwan and some parts of China. In addition to vinegar – rice vinegar to be exact – recipes tend to be in agreement that there’s also sugar, soy sauce, and licorice root.

Let’s be clear. I’ve never been to Taiwan or China and haven’t had these pickles except for what I’ve made. (Apparently they can be found canned in the US in some import grocers but can be disappointing.) I would never claim mine are better, but something I enjoy doing with recipes I find is tweaking them a bit and adding some depth of flavor if possible, while always respecting the original. (And although my recipe doesn’t include it, I think these would be amazing with some hot pepper slices thrown in too.)

So with no further ado, here’s my version of Hua Gua pickles!

This recipe can followed as is with 1 lb. of cuke slices, or doubled (make double the brine recipe too). Either way, it should be stored in a quart jar. If making only one pound of cukes, be sure to use a fermentation weight or a water-filled baggie to hold down and submerge all the cukes in the brine.

If the recipe is doubled, just fill the jar with the cukes and then add as much brine as will fit to the top. There will be excess brine you can dispose of (or use for some other purpose).

You Will Need:


  • 1 lb. cucumbers, 1/4″ sliced (a good option for these pickles are persian or japanese cucumbers, but I used my fresh-from-the-garden hard, crunchy medium pickling cukes and loved it)
  • 1/3 cup soy sauce (suggested: a good quality Taiwanese style soy sauce)
  • 3 TBSP sugar
  • 3 TBSP rice vinegar (same thing as rice wine vinegar)
  • 2 tsp cut/shredded licorice (or larger slices off of whole licorice sticks is a great option too, use ~4g)
  • 1-2 star anise pods (2 for a stronger licorice flavor)
  • 1/4 tsp Szechuan peppercorns (~12 peppercorns); can substitute with black or other peppercorn
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp white vinegar
  • Alternatives to licorice: If you can’t find licorice or don’t buy due to the cost, anise and/or fennel seeds will make a tasty alternative. In place of the 2 tsp licorice, just use 1 tsp of anise seeds, or 1/2 tsp anise and 1/2 tsp fennel. Similarly, you can replace the star anise with anise seed as well (these actually come from two different plants); simply use 1/2 tsp anise seed in place of the star anise pod.


1.) Rinse the cucumbers and cut the ends off. Then cut them in 1/4″ slices.

2.) Coat the cucumbers in 1 tsp salt and 1 tsp white vinegar, thoroughly mix to distribute; cover with plastic wrap and let stand for one hour.

3.) Rinse off the cucumber slices in a colander. They will still be a bit salty. Place them in a bowl or plate near the stove.

The licorice, star anise, and Szechuan peppercorns

4.) Combine the herbs in a mortar and grind for 30-60 seconds.

5.) Turn the saucepan on high. In the saucepan, combine the soy sauce, sugar, rice vinegar, and ground herbs, and stir continuously until all the sugar dissolves.

6.) Allow the mixture to come to a rapid boil. As soon as a rapid boil is achieved, put all the cucumber slices in the saucepan. Turn off the heat, and continuously but gently stir the cucumbers for a minute.

7.) Using a canning funnel (suggested), place all the contents in a quart jar. In order to submerge the slices, which is recommended for the next 24 hours, a fermentation weight is recommended. After the allotted time, the slices will typically stay submerged even without the weight.

8.) Allow to stand at room temperature for an hour or two, then place in refrigerator for storage. Will stay good for at least two weeks.

Note: If you doubled the ingredients in the recipe, the pickle slices should fill the jar roughly to the shoulder, then pour all the brine in until all the pickles are submerged. The fermentation weight may not fit or be necessary in this case.

The fermentation weight submerges the pickle slices. After 24 hours, you can remove the weight. For a full jar of pickles (~2 lbs. of cukes), the weight isn’t needed.

The flavor of the licorice will be more robust after 3-4 days, if you’re able to wait! Let me know what you think and what you use them with!

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