It seems like everywhere I look right now I’m seeing pickled cucumbers. Pickles on Facebook, pickles on Instagram, pickles in the news. I’m dreaming of pickles. So what’s all the fuss about?
This pickle preoccupation seems to be largely based on the benefits of fermented foods containing probiotics, and the rehydration abilities of pickle juice (pint of pickle anyone?).
So do pickled cucumbers really live up to the hype? Is it a pickle epiphany or a pickle phony?
Let’s take a look:
Traditionally, cucumbers would have been fermented in water and salt as a means of preservation. The fermentation occurs when the probiotic bacteria Lactobacillus grows and covers the surface of the cucumber. Now Lactobacillus is great for our gut health – it helps us to digest our food properly, absorb nutrients, fight off less ‘friendly’ bacteria, and keep us regular (but not too regular). It can also be used for treating IBS, UTIs and even the common cold. Not only that, but probiotics like lactobacillus also play a role in the health of our immune system and could potentially be used to treat diseases such as allergies, eczema, and viral infections¹.
So is it time to ditch your morning yogurt for a glass of dill juice and a side of pickle? Probably not.
Unless the pickles you’re buying (or even better, making yourself!) have been fermented in brine (salt and water), they most likely don’t contain significant levels of probiotics. Most commercially available pickles are heated and stored in vinegar instead. This speeds up production time and increases the shelf life. It also kills off most of the bacteria, including those lovely probiotics.
A Pickle A Day Keeps The Doctor Away?
Possibly the most obvious benefit of eating pickled cucumbers (or sauerkraut, or kimchi for that matter) is that they’re vegetables! Eating a diet rich in vegetables is essential for good health. They are important sources of many nutrients, including potassium, dietary fibre, folate, and vitamins A and C. They help to prevent heart disease and some cancers, reduce our risk of type ii diabetes and obesity, help maintain bone density and keep our gut healthy.
Now unless your pickles are fermented in brine (not produced commercially), there aren’t really any benefits of choosing them over another non-pickled vegetable. In fact, because pickles contain a lot of salt, and consuming too much salt can increase our risk of developing heart disease among other health problems², they should be consumed in moderation.
That’s not to say they’re unhealthy (you don’t need to be picking them out of your burger!), just that most of your daily vegetable intake would be better coming from fresh or frozen veggies.
Parched For Pickle Juice
Muscle cramps from dehydration? Just completed a workout and sweated so much you feel like a raisin? Why not grab a glass of pickle juice.
There is some truth in the claim that pickle juice can help you rehydrate. Pickle juice has a higher concentration of salt than water, which makes it more effective for replenishing sodium (an electrolyte) lost when we sweat, it also contains some potassium which is another electrolyte lost through sweating³. It basically works the same way as a sports drink, but usually contains less sugar.
Does that mean we should be taking bottles of pickle juice to the gym? Fortunately for my gag reflex, no. For most of us, even after an intense workout, plain old water is good enough for rehydrating. If you’re a marathon runner or professional athlete, you could give it a go. Or just try putting a couple of teaspoons of salt and sugar in your water flask.
So would a pickle by any other name taste so sweet? Or rather, pack so many benefits? Well, a plain old cucumber would probably do it! Unless you’re fermenting them yourself, that is. Next blog post?
 Yan F, Polk DB. Probiotics and immune health. Current opinion in gastroenterology. 2011;27(6):496-501. doi:10.1097/MOG.0b013e32834baa4d.
 Strazzullo P, D’Elia L, Kandala NB, Cappuccio FP. Salt intake, stroke, and cardiovascular disease: meta-analysis of prospective studies. BMJ. 2009;339:b4567.
 Miller KC. Electrolyte and Plasma Responses After Pickle Juice, Mustard, and Deionized Water Ingestion in Dehydrated Humans. Journal of Athletic Training. 2014;49(3):360-367. doi:10.4085/1062-6050-49.2.23.