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Causes and Possible Solutions for Problems with Fermented Pickles

Problem Cause Prevention
Soft or slippery pickles. (If spoilage is evident, do not eat.) 1. Salt brine too weak during fermentation. 1. Maintain salt concentration specified in recipe.
  2. Cucumbers stored at too high a temperature during fermentation. 2. Store fermenting cucumbers between 70 and 75F. This is the optimum temperature for growth of the organisms necessary for fermentation.
  3. Insufficient amount of brine. 3. Keep cucumbers immersed in the brine.
  4. Pickles not processed properly (to destroy microorganisms). 4. Process pickles in canner after filling jars.
  5. Moldy garlic or spices. 5. Always use fresh spices.
  6. Blossom ends not removed from cucumbers. 6. Slice at least 1/16th inch off blossom end of cucumbers and discard.
Strong, bitter taste 1. Spices cooked too long in vinegar, or too many spices used. 1. Follow directions for amount of spices to use and the boiling time.
  2. Vinegar too strong. 2. Use vinegar of the proper strength (5% acidity).
  3. Dry weather. 3. No prevention. Bitter taste is usually in the peel or skin of fruits and vegetables.
  4. Using salt substitutes. 4. Potassium chloride, the ingredient in most of these, causes bitterness.
Problem Cause Prevention
Hollow Pickles 1. Cucumbers too large for brining. 1. Use smaller cucumbers for brining.
  2. Improper fermentation. 2. Keep brine proper strength and the product well covered. Cure until fermentation is complete.
  3. Long lapse of time between harvest and brining. 3. Fermentation process should be started within 24 hours after harvesting cucumbers.
  4. Growth defect of cucumber. 4. None. During washing, hollow cucumbers usually float. Remove and use for relishes instead of fermented pickles.
Shriveled Pickles 1. Placing cucumbers in too strong brine, too heavy syrup, or too strong vinegar. 1. Follow a reliable recipe. Use amounts of salt and sugar called for in a recipe, and vinegar that is 5% acidity.
  2. Long lapse of time between harvest and brining. 2. Brine (start fermentation) within 24 hours after harvesting cucumbers.
  3. Overcooking or overprocessing. 3. Follow a reliable recipe exactly.
  4. Dry weather. 4. No prevention. Bitter taste is usually in the peel or skin of fruits and vegetables.
Scum on the brine surfaces while curing cucumbers. 1. Wild yeasts and bacteria that feed on the acid thus reducing the concentration if allowed to accumulate. 1. Remove scum as often as needed.
Dark or discolored pickles. (If brass, copper or zinc utensils and brining equipment were used, do not use pickles.) 1. Minerals in hard water. 1. Use soft water.
  2. Ground spices used. 2. Use whole spices.
  3. Spices left in jars of pickles. 3. Place spices loosely in cheesecloth bag so they can be removed before canning.
  4. Brass, iron, copper or zinc utensils used. 4. Use food-grade unchipped enamelware, glass, stainless steel, or stoneware utensils.
  5. Iodized salt used. 5. Use canning or pickling salt.
Problem Cause Prevention
Spotted, dull, or faded color 1. Cucumbers not well cured (brined). 1. Use brine of proper concentration. Complete fermentation process.
  2. Excessive exposure to light. 2. Store processed jars in a dark, dry cool place.
  3. Cucumber of poor quality. 3. Use produce of optimum quality, and grown under proper conditions (weather, soil, etc.)
White sediment in jar. 1. Bacteria cause this during fermentation. 1. None.
  2. Salt contains an anti-caking agent or other additives. 2. Use canning or pickling salt.

For problems with jar seals, and other general canned food problems, see Causes and Possible Solutions for Problems with Canned Foods.

This document was adapted from "So Easy to Preserve", 5th ed. 2006. Bulletin 989, Cooperative Extension Service, The University of Georgia, Athens. Revised by Elizabeth L. Andress. Ph.D. and Judy A. Harrison, Ph.D., Extension Foods Specialists.

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