This article is from the Food Preserving FAQ, by Eric Decker email@example.com with numerous contributions by others.
PICKLE AND PICKLE PRODUCT PROBLEMS
Making home-made pickles is a time consuming and expensive operation.
There are a variety of different steps along the road from cucumbers
to sweet Gherkins, so there are a number of places where the process
can break down. Pickle problems can usually be traced to the method by
which the pickles, brine or syrup are prepared:
o a. Weather and growing conditions (quality of your vegetables).
o b. Kind of salt used (canning or pickling vs iodized table salt).
o c. Vinegar (5% acetic acid, or 50 grain).
o d. Temperature of storage conditions (fermentation).
o e. Pickling method (fermented, quick-pack).
o f. Time lapse between gathering and pickling the vegetables. [And
you store them during this step.
1. White scum appears during fermentation--the scum is a layer of
yeast and/or mold: Safe
o A. Vegetables are not submerged in brine.
o B. Pickling container is not sealed.
2. Pickles or sauerkraut is soft or slippery: Unsafe
o A. Brine is too weak (less than 10-12% salt)--allows growth of
organ- isms which cause texture softening and sliminess.
o B. Vinegar is too weak (less than 5% acetic acid)--allows growth
organisms which cause texture softening and sliminess.
o C. Temperature during brining was too high (over 75 F).
o D. Too little brine--all cucumbers must be immersed.
o E. Salt is unevenly distributed on cabbage.
o F. Air pockets due to improper "packing" of cabbage allow for
growth undesirable microorganisms. [Need to tamp well
o G. Failure to remove scum daily on surface of brine.
o H. Failure to remove the cucumber blossoms--enzymes from the
blossom will cause softening.
3. Pickles are hollow: Safe
o A. Improper curing: weak brine, pickles uncovered during curing,
curing stopped short of full fermentation.
o B. Too much time lapse between gathering and brining (ie. more
than 24 hours).
o C. Cucumbers have grown in an "abnormal" way.
o D. Temperature too high during fermentation.
4. Shriveled pickles--caused by excessive loss of water from the
cucum- bers: Safe
o A. Curing brine is too strong (more than 12% salt, vinegar more
than 6% acetic acid).
o B. Too much time lapse between gathering and brining (i.e. more
than 24 hours)-- cucumbers are dehydrated.
o C. Pickling solution which is too "heavy", or contains too much
5. Pickles or sauerkraut is dark or discolored: Color development due
to iron is safe to some extent but not with other metals.
o A. Using hard water for pickling solution--minerals in the water
react with pigments in the cucumbers. Iron in the water is the
o B. Use of brass, iron, copper or zinc utensils during pickle
making - they contribute metal ions which react with cucumbers to
form dark pigments.
o C. Use of ground spices will darken pickles.
o D. Whole spices were left in the pickles after packing.
o E. Vegetables (cabbage) is unevenly salted.
o F. Curing temperature is too high.
o G. Vegetables are making contact with the air - pigments oxidize.
o H. Use of cider vinegar with light colored vegetables.
o I. Use of brown sugar with light colored vegetables.
6. Sauerkraut turns pink: Unsafe
o A. Too much salt (over 2.25%) = yeast growth on surface.
o B. Uneven distribution of salt = yeast growth on surface.
o C. Kraut is improperly covered or weighted during fermentation =
yeast growth on surface.
7. Moldy pickles or sauerkraut during fermentation: Unsafe
o A. Fermentation temperature is too high.
o B. Insufficient lactic acid production (too much salt).
o C. Failure to keep cloth on top of kraut clean during
fermentation (may need to be replaced after skimming).
8. Pickles are strong or bitter tasting: Safe
o A. Used too much spice.
o B. Spices cooked too long in the vinegar.
o C. Vinegar is too strong (more than 6% acetic acid).
o D. If pickles are too acid increase the sugar, do not decrease
o E. Use of "old" or overmature cucumbers with tough, bitter skins.
9. White sediment occurs in the jars: Small amount of sediment normal.
If pickles are soft and slippery---Unsafe.
o A. Yeasts grow on the pickle surface then settle to the
bottom--they are harmless, but can be prevented by water bath
processing filled jars.
o B. Use of table salt instead of pickling salt--it contains
anti-caking ingredients which settle out.
o C. Poor temperature control.
10. Pickling liquid in the jars is cloudy: Unsafe
o A. Pickles are spoiled--discard.
o B. Hard water minerals may cause clouding.
o C. Use of table salt instead of pickling salt--it contains
anti-caking ingredients which cause clouding.
o D. Use of unstrained brine (from fermentation) for pickling
liquid may cause clouding.
11. Pickles or sauerkraut "spoil": Unsafe
o A. Use of unsterilized jars.
o B. Use of ingredients which have lost their strength (i.e.
o C. Inaccurate measuring of ingredients.
12. Pickles are "dull" or "faded" in color: Safe
o A. Use of over-ripe or yellow cucumbers.
o B. Use of fruits with pale color.
o C. Overprocessing of beet pickles--pigments are damaged.
o D. Pickles exposed to excessive light.
Prepared by Susan Brewer/Foods and Nutrition Specialist/Revised, 1992