Probiotic Pickles - How to Find and Make Fermented Pickles with Probiotics

Probiotic Pickles: Ultimate Guide on How to Find & Make Fermented Pickles with Probiotics

Probiotic pickles are lacto-fermented cucumbers which are unpasteurized, chemical-free, and made without any vinegar or chlorinated water.  They’re also delicious, and can make an amazing functional food for supporting a healthy gut!  

But there’s more to the story.  Finding pickles with probiotics is easier than it sounds – cause there are a lot of imposters on the market.  So, it’s time to clear the air and end the confusion.

In this article you’ll learn:

  • Exactly which store-bought pickles on the market are fermented (versus pickled) and which pickles have probiotics
  • How to determine whether or not a type of pickles has probiotics, based on its nutrition label and certain sensory observations
  • How to make your own lacto-fermented pickles with probiotics (if you prefer DIY)

Disclaimer:  This article was written for general education purposes. One size never fits all!  Please do not use this article to replace 1-1 consultation with your doctor and a registered dietitian / holistic nutritionist.

Affiliate disclosure: This article contains affiliate links* which are marked with an asterisk. As an Amazon Associate, I may earn a small commission on qualifying purchases, at no extra cost to you!

What are pickles?

Pickles are lacto-fermented cucumbers. 

This means the cucumbers have been submerged in a salt brine (with or without herbs and spices) for at least a week, in an “anaerobic” (without air) environment.  

  • This lacto-fermentation process and anaerobic environment allow for probiotic microbes on the cucumber to grow and multiply.  
  • The salt and probiotics created by this “pickling’ fermentation process act as a natural preservative, preventing the veggies from spoiling.

Before our ancestors had access to refrigeration, they would “pickle” or ferment vegetables (such as cucumbers) in salt brine as a natural preservation method.

As long as no vinegar, chemical preservatives, or chlorinated water (i.e. tap water) are used, a bi-product of the lacto-fermentation is – you guessed it – probiotics!  

Aka – healthy microorganisms that benefit our digestion, gut health, immunity, and mental health in more ways than we can comprehend.

But  just like sauerkraut, not all pickles contain probiotics! 

Which pickles have probiotics?

Finding store-bought probiotic pickles (or making your own) can often feel easier said than done, in a sea of imposters!

In short, raw lacto-fermented pickles are the type of pickles with probiotics.

But how do you know whether pickles are pickled or lacto-fermented?

What to look out for 

Pickles with probiotics don’t contain any of the following ingredients, since they can interfere with (and inhibit) the process of lacto-fermentation:

  • Chlorinated water – including tap water (1, 2)
  • Vinegar
  • Certain chemical preservatives (such as “sodium benzoate”)

Pickles with probiotics will be made only with cucumbers, filtered water, kosher salt / sea salt, and optional herbs/spices for flavor.

Some pickles may also contain tannin-rich tea leaves and/or grape leaves for astringency, since it helps to maintain crispness.

What’s the difference between pickling and fermenting?

You may have noticed that “pickling” and “fermenting” are used interchangeably, and pickled cucumbers & fermented cucumbers are both referred to as “pickles”.  

It’s confusing, because fermentation is a form of pickling – but not all pickles are fermented.

Pickling is a broad-spectrum term for a preservation method which entails submerging vegetables (such as cucumbers) in an aerobic salt brine OR in an acid brine (i.e. vinegar), often along with herbs and spices.

Pickles made via lacto-fermentation start out as cucumbers which get completely submerged under a salt brine (with or without filtered/spring water), and left in a jar (in the liquids) at room temperature for about a week.

Healthy strains of probiotic microbes such as Lactobacillus form as a bi-product of lacto-fermentation or “fermentation”.

This is not the case for vegetables that were pickled via the acid method, which entails boiling vegetables in an acid brine (usually made with vinegar).  This form of pickling serves as a preservation method and gives us a similar product – but it’s sterilized which means there are no probiotics formed.

The best probiotics pickles (round-up)

Store-bought lacto-fermented pickle brands & products

Barrel Creek Provisions

I love these because they’re small-batch, locally made (based out of Austin) and very tasty! 

(I first discovered these pickles at Whole Foods in Austin, Texas and haven’t seen them in any other supermarkets… yet.)

Where to find:  Whole Foods or online

Bubbies 

While Bubbies’ Kosher Dill pickles are raw, lacto-fermented and probiotic, it’s worth knowing that these and the Baby Kosher Dill Pickles are the only variations which contain probiotics.  Bubbies’ Spicy Kosher Dill Pickles and all variations of the bread & butter pickles are made with vinegar!  While they’re tasty, they don’t count as probiotic pickles.

Where to find:  Whole Foods, Sprouts, natural food stores, or online

Olive My Pickle

Olive My Pickle goes above and beyond in that they use unrefined mineral-rich salt, and they measure the probiotics in their pickles and pickle juice brine!

  • According to their website, “Probiotic pickles are loaded with 13 billion CFUs of lactobacillus per serving.”  (Lactobacillus is the main probiotic produced during “lacto-fermentation.”)

That’s a way more affordable (and effective) way to get a daily dose of probiotics, compared to probiotic supplements which are more expensive and hit-or-miss.

Where to find:  Natural food stores or online

Oregon Brineworks

Oregon Brineworks is a small family-owned business which uses organic ingredients in their small batch products. 

Where to find:  This line of probiotic pickles is exclusively available online or in some natural food stores along the west coast of the United States.

Real Pickles 

Real Pickles was my first probiotic pickle experience, back in 2014 while I was living in Boston.  I love them because they’re also organic and they use unrefined sea salt (like Olive My Pickle).

Unfortunately, the downside is that this product is only available in some stores along the east coast of the U.S. and they sell out pretty fast. (Can you blame them?!)

But if you ever come across these, I highly recommend!

Where to find:  Whole Foods (U.S. east coast only), local natural food stores (U.S. east coast only), or online 

What about Cleveland Kitchen pickles?

Cleveland Kitchen offers probiotic lacto-fermented sauerkraut, and they also have a line of “lightly fermented” pickles.  So why aren’t their pickles included on the above list?

I did some investigating and noticed that all variations of Cleveland Kitchen pickles contain vinegar, which indicates they’re not truly probiotic due to the higher acidity levels, which may inhibit lacto-fermentation.

Long story short, Cleveland Kitchen pickles aren’t considered probiotic! 🙁 Store-Bought Brands of Fermented Pickles with Probiotics

 

Best lacto-fermented probiotic pickle recipes

The only ingredients you NEED in order to make traditional probiotic pickles would be filtered water (or spring water), pickling cucumbers, and Kosher salt (or unrefined sea salt).

Below is a list of recipes for homemade vinegar-free pickles, with non-chlorinated water. 

Some are fancier than others in terms of the herbs and spices which doctor up the flavor. 

(If you decide to DIY, let me know in the comments how it went!)

How to identify fermented pickles: tell-tale signs

Label reading aside, there are a few distinct ways to spot fermented pickles.  Look for the following characteristics:

  • Cloudy brine
  • Bubbling brine
  • Specifies “Contains live active cultures” on product label

Frequently asked questions (FAQ’s)

Are pickles a fermented food?

It depends!  Pickles are cucumbers that may have been pickled, fermented, or canned. (These are 3 similar but separate preservation methods which turn cucumbers into pickles.)

So some, but not all pickles are a fermented food.

Are pickles a probiotic food?

Sometimes!  But not all pickles are considered a probiotic food.  Only raw, lacto-fermented pickles would be considered a probiotic food.

Commercially-made pickles containing chlorinated water, vinegar, table salt, and/or chemical preservatives may be pickled or canned.  

  • This particular preservation method sterilizes the pickles.

Do store-bought pickles have probiotics?

It depends!  In most cases, no. 

The only store-bought pickles with probiotics are those mentioned above:  Barrel Creek Provisions pickles, Bubbies Kosher Dill pickles, Olive My Pickle products, Oregon Brineworks pickles, and the Real Pickles line of pickles.

Are pickles low FODMAP?

It depends!  According to Monash University’s FODMAP App, 3 pieces of “gherkins, pickled in vinegar” are considered to be low FODMAP.

However, there’s no criteria or whether or not fermented pickles are low in FODMAPs.

Note that any pickles made with garlic would most likely not be considered low FODMAP.

For the above reasons, I recommend steering clear of probiotic pickles in the early stages of a low FODMAP elimination diet

What brands of pickles are fermented?

Lacto-fermented pickle brands most widely available include Barrel Creek Provisions pickles, Bubbies Kosher Dill pickles, Olive My Pickle products, and  Real Pickles.

Are pickles prebiotic?

Pickles aren’t inherently a prebiotic food; however, many variations of pickles contain prebiotic herbs and spices such as garlic.

Do homemade pickles have probiotics?

It depends on the type of preservation method you’re using.

Only lacto-fermented pickles have probiotics – not those made with vinegar, and not those which have been boiled/pasteurized.

Are Bubbies pickles probiotic?

It depends!   Bubbies’ Kosher Dill pickles contain probiotics, but their spicy pickles and bread & butter pickles are not probiotic.

Do Claussen pickles have probiotics?

No!  While they taste delicious, Claussen pickles are pasteurized and made with vinegar. They’re meant to serve as a condiment, not a probiotic food. 

Pickles vs sauerkraut – which is better for gut health?

In this case, it depends on your bio-individuality. (In other words, one size never fits all!)

Assuming both the pickles and the sauerkraut contain probiotics, I suggest trying out each of them individually and seeing which makes you feel better.

Or better yet – why choose just one option, if you like both?!  Diversity is KEY when it comes to optimizing your gut microbes, after all. 😎

(I’m personally a “both, and” kinda gal! To this day, I enjoy probiotic sauerkraut and probiotic pickles on-the-reg, since they help me to stay in remission from IBS.)

Some of my clients find they can tolerate pickles better than sauerkraut, or vice versa. 

Listen to your body, and consult an expert as needed!

Do vinegar pickles have probiotics?

No.  If pickles were made with vinegar, this is a different pickling method than lacto-fermentation, since vinegar has been said to interfere with lacto-fermentation.

Fermented pickles vs vinegar pickles – what’s the difference?

While the name, taste, texture and appearance are often very similar, and both are preservation methods for vegetables, fermented pickles pickles differ from vinegar pickles  in their ingredients and preservation method.  

For example, fermented pickles are made by submerging cucumbers and spices in a salt brine at room temperature, while vinegar pickles are made with vinegar (and also often sugar), and they’re boiled, which sterilizes the pickles.

TLDR:  Fermented pickles have probiotics and are vinegar-free; vinegar pickles do not contain probiotics.

What are the best pickles for gut health?

The best pickles for gut health are probiotic pickles which are raw (unpasteurized) and made via lacto-fermentation. 

Refer to the above list as a guide for the best store-bought fermented pickles and some easy lacto-fermented pickle recipes.

Are pickles good for IBS?

It depends!  In many, but not all cases, pickles in general are tolerated by people with IBS, but they don’t offer any specific health benefits.

Probiotic pickles, on the other hand, can be potentially beneficial for IBS in many cases.

Due to bio-individuality, what works for some may not work for others with IBS, so make sure you’re working with your doctor and a registered dietitian who specialties in gut health to make sure you’re getting custom advice tailored to your individual needs!

Are pickles bad for IBS?

In many cases, pickles aren’t bad for IBS in that they don’t usually trigger symptoms.  

However, everyone is different!  In my private practice, some of my clients navigating IBS don’t tolerate pickles.  

  • NOTE:  If you find that you struggle to tolerate fermented foods and probiotics in general, you may want to consult your healthcare providers about testing for small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO) and/or ruling out a histamine intolerance – which I see a lot in people with Mast Cell Activation Syndrome (MCAS).
    • SIBO is a serious gut health condition which masquerades as IBS in many cases, and which will wreak havoc on your entire system if left unchecked for too long.

When in doubt, listen to your body, consult your treatment team, and consider keeping an IBS food diary for clarity on which foods are triggering unwanted symptoms.

Health benefits: What’s so special about fermented pickles

For context, I’m a gut health dietitian nutritionist who’s been in remission from irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and leaky gut since 2014.  

That said, I’ve personally leaned on and reaped the many benefits of lacto-fermented pickles as a probiotic “functional food” throughout my gut-healing journey, and so have many clients in my private practice!

Incorporating probiotic foods (like fermented pickles) into your diet on-the-reg is a wonderful way to support healthier gut microbes.  

  • The microbes in your gut, which collectively make up your “gut microbiome”, have been shown to make-or-break your digestive health, immune function, energy levels, metabolism, skin, and more!

Long story short: adding probiotic pickles into your regimen can potentially improve your digestion and overall quality of life in some big ways.

How to incorporate them into your routine

Give this wonderful functional food a try, and let me know in the comments what you think!

Here are a few of my favorite go-to ways to add more probiotic pickles into your life:

  • Have a probiotic pickle spears on the side with your sandwich 
  • Top a burger, nitrate-free hog, or sub with sliced probiotic pickles
  • Add diced probiotic pickles into your salads

Learn more about probiotic foods & supplements

Recap and summary

Lacto-fermented pickles are an ancient delicacy and a recently trending probiotic functional food for those looking to improve and optimize digestion and immunity.

They’re different from pickles that were made with vinegar, in that they’re raw and made via a salt brine, which produces live beneficial bacteria (aka “probiotics”) like Lactobacillus.

You can find these hidden gems hiding in plain sight in the refrigerated section of Whole Foods, Sprouts, and certain local health food stores as well as online.

Make sure you’re choosing fermented pickles made without any vinegar, chlorine, or preservatives (like sodium benzoate) which can interfere with the fermentation process.

You can also easily make your own fermented pickles by submerging pickling cucumbers and herbs/spices (such as dill) under a salt brine, and leaving it in the cabinet to ferment for about 5-7 days.

Next steps

Join the free community

If you’d like to stay in touch and learn more about how to optimize your gut health & wellbeing  from a holistic and functional nutrition standpoint, I invite you to join us in my private Facebook community – Whole-istic Living for Better Gut Health!  

Whole-istic Living ("Holistic Living") Facebook Group with Jenna Volpe

(It’s a community of holistic-minded folks just like you, looking to take their health into their own hands.)

I hope to see you there!

Sharing is caring 🙂 

Thank you so much for taking time out of your busy day to read this article! I hope you found what you were looking for (and more).

In efforts to get this information into the hands (or onto the screens) of more people who can potentially benefit from the powers of probiotic pickles, please feel free to SHARE this article on Facebook, Pin it on Pinterest, or forward it along to someone you care about.

You can also feel free to let me know in the comments if you learned anything new or have any related general questions that weren’t covered in this article.

I appreciate you!

XX – Jenna

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