No Starter Culture Fermented Dill Pickles (4 ingredients, probiotic, & raw!) — the BEST ferment for beginners!
It’s so easy to make these yummy No Starter Culture Fermented Dill Pickles — hands-down, the BEST and easiest ferment for beginners! 4 ingredients, no cooking, no vinegar, no canning AND you come out with crunchy-delicious and still raw pickles packed with gut-healthy probiotics! Suitable for Whole30, keto, paleo, GAPS, and Real Food lifestyles!
I grew cucumbers in my garden for the first time this year with just one purpose…
I live in a house full of pickle-lovers. And, in years past, we’ve spent a pretty penny on store-bought ferments, like Bubbie’s pickles.
Because they’re so. darn. good.
My kids would literally eat an entire jar of Bubbie’s in one sitting if I’d let them. I don’t let them, of course, because Bubbie’s retail for $8 per quart around these parts. That’s an expensive snack!
So, I decided this was the year to get over my fears and “I can’ts” and grow some damn cucumbers. It’s for the children, remember?
I purchased heirloom Boston pickling cucumber seeds from Baker Creek, planted 2 rows of them, and waited all summer for cucumbers.
And now? I’m harvesting cukes daily, taking them straight from my garden to kitchen and making these No Starter Culture Fermented Dill Pickles! It doesn’t get any fresher than that!
No Starter Culture (like Bubbie’s liquid, whey, or veggie starter)??
You read it correctly! These fermented dill pickles are made entirely without a starter culture. No Bubbie’s pickles liquid. No whey from clabbered raw milk. And no purchased veggie starter cultures!
How is this possible, you ask?
Vegetables possess the needed bacteria to culture on their skins already (if you’re using organic, non-irradiated produce). You can use a starter like liquid from a jar of Bubbie’s pickles or a veggie starter culture, but it’s not necessary at all.
Whey from clabbered milk is not a good starter for veggies at all because:
- the veggies often develop slime
- the bacteria in dairy ferments are different than the strains in veggie ferments
I have a heck of a lot of respect for traditional food gurus like Sally Fallon Morrel and Nourishing Traditions/Weston A. Price folks, however using whey to ferment is definitely something I disagree with them about.
Here is a food fermentation study that makes a compelling case against using starter cultures in vegetable ferments.
Basically, if you create the right environment for bacteria to proliferate, they will — without inoculating the ferment with any additional cultures. When making a ferment without a starter, just give the ferment the right environment, including:
- plenty of salt to prevent mold growth
- organic, non-irradiated veggies — because irradiated produce does not contain sufficient natural bacteria to culture without a starter
- filtered water to prevent air from getting to the produce
- a sterile jar
- an airtight lid or device such as a PicklePro to allow CO2 to escape but keep air and airborne yeasts and bacteria out
This is the BEST ferment for beginners!
Never fermented before? I know it can seem intimidating to take a raw food and leave it on your countertop, unrefrigerated, for days and days, believing that you’re growing a microcosm of bacteria… if only you could see it.
Or, is that just me?
Anyway, if you’re new to the fermentation game and kinda freaked out about words like “mother culture” and new toys like “kraut pounder”… it might seem easier to stick with buying your ferments from the health food store or not eating them at all.
That’s why this recipe is the best ferment for beginners!
You don’t need any special toys or tools. No starter cultures have to be ordered or grown or found in advance. You can literally take ingredients from your pantry and fridge (or yard in my case) and create a gut-friendly, great-tasting food that’s rich in enzymes, bacteria, and all the vitamins and minerals it contained when it was plucked from the earth.
How To Make Fermented Dill Pickles With No Starter Culture
It’s so, so freaking easy to make these yummy fermented dill pickles. I mean, 4 (maybe 5… keep reading) ingredients, no cooking, no vinegar, no canning AND you come out with crunchy-delicious pickles packed with gut-healthy probiotics!
Here’s a step-by-step photo tutorial for these No Starter Culture Fermented Dill Pickles:
First, add quality salt, dill, and fresh garlic to a sterile, quart-size, wide-mouth Mason jar or Weck jar. If you plan to use black tea leaves, add them as well.
That’s right; everything goes right in the jar. No need to dirty up any extra dishes!
If you’re leaving the cucumbers whole and/or making spears, you’ll need to cut off the blossom end of the cucumber. This helps the cucumbers stay crisp as they ferment.
If making pickle slices or chips or spears, discard or compost both ends of the cucumber.
Next, decide what shape you want your pickles — sliced, whole, or spears. More on this below. 🙂 Obviously for this photo, I went with spears.
Pack the jar as tightly as possible with cucumbers. Don’t be afraid to really cram them in there!
Admittedly, it is easier to pack cucumber spears and slices over whole cukes. Although, the smaller cucumbers — like 2 to 4 inches long max — are much easier to fit into a jar than longer, fatter ones.
Finally, fill the jar with filtered water to cover the cucumbers, leaving about 1/2″ to 1″ of headspace.
Place an airtight lid on the jar and shake to disperse the salt, dill, and garlic.
Set on your countertop or a shelf to ferment for at least 3 days, burping the jar each day to release carbon dioxide. (Very important… more below!)
After 3 days, taste your pickles. Do they still taste like cucumbers? They’re not finished! Put the lid back on and give them another day or more.
It is totally possible that your pickles will need 5 or more days to ferment, so don’t be freaked out if they still taste like cucumbers and not pickles after 5 days, ok? 😉
Once they taste like delicious dill pickles and you’re happy with them, it’s time to stop the fermenting process. Give the jar one last burp, then secure the lid on, and place in the fridge.
And now, very important FAQs and tips for making successful fermented dill pickles without a starter culture…
What type of cucumbers to use?
I grew Boston pickling cucumbers and used those for all my pickles this year — slices, spears, and whole. I have found that smaller varieties of cucumbers make better pickles than the popular, store-bought variety of cucumbers. During August and September, Azure Standard usually has bulk cases of pickling cucumbers to order.
Although I’ve never tried them, I would guess that small English cucumbers would make great pickles, if sliced.
And, I’ve used an heirloom variety called Armenian cucumbers, which also make amazing, crispy pickles!
Yes, you can make walk into your grocery store, buy all these ingredients, and make this recipe. That’s why I say no special ingredients or equipment is needed. 🙂
Yet, if you want your ferment to have the best results — and you do, right? — choose the BEST ingredients you can afford. And for this one, I’m going to say organic cucumbers, no matter what variety, is a must.
Unless you’re growing them organically yourself. Store-bought, conventional cucumbers are irradiated, making them unsuitable for spontaneous, starter-free fermentation.
Should I use black tea?
Black tea contains tannins which help veggies stay crisp while fermenting. It is not uncommon for veggies to get soft and mushy while fermenting, resulting in something most people don’t care to eat because the texture just isn’t satisfying.
Black tea leaves are a totally optional ingredient here. Truthfully, I add black tea to my fermented dill pickles about 50% of the time.
You SHOULD use black tea leaves if…
- your cucumbers came from the grocery store
- the cucumbers aren’t super-duper fresh — like 2 days old or less
I grew my own cucumbers this year. Most days, I had them fermenting less than 10 minutes after picking them off the vine. It doesn’t get any fresher than that! And I didn’t use black tea leaves for those batches.
Last year (2017), however, I didn’t grow my own cucumbers. I purchased a 20-pound case of organic pickling cucumbers from Azure Standard. Obviously, those cucumbers weren’t super-duper fresh. I didn’t use black tea leaves, and some of my batches weren’t crispy. Lesson learned.
I use this black tea.
What is “burping” the jar?
As cucumbers ferment, bacteria grow and release carbon dioxide as part of their life process. The longer the food ferments, the more bacteria grow, resulting in a greater accumulation of carbon dioxide.
When you open the jar to release this CO2, it’s likely that you’ll hear a sound similar to opening a can of soda, though not as loud. And, bubbles will quickly rise to the surface of the water, indicating a healthy build-up of CO2.
Just look at all these bubbles!
This sound and those bubbles are definite indicators that fermenting magic is happening!
If you use an airlock meant for fermenting, such as a Pickle Pro, you won’t need to burp your jar. However, in all honesty, I have never found the need to use any sort of fermenting gadget or apparatus. I still get great results with a good old-fashioned Mason jar with a clean lid and intact seal. 🙂
How long should I ferment the pickles?
I have a very scientific, methodical answer to that question. Are you ready? …
They’re ready when you decide they’re ready. And you might decide they’re ready after 3 days, or you might decide after 7 days. Or longer.
Yes, really. 😛
My general rule of thumb is to start tasting them after about 3 or 4 days — again, this is not an exact science. Our great-great-grandmothers did this by look, smell, and taste and so can we.
If you taste the pickles, and they taste more like cucumber than pickle, they’re not done. Let ’em go another day or 2 or 3 and try again.
Once they taste like pickles, it’s time to stop the fermentation process by putting them in the refrigerator.
Are the pickles supposed to change color?
The longer they ferment — and especially if you use black tea leaves — the water and the cucumbers will darken in color.
Even if you don’t use black tea leaves, it is normal for the bright green of the cucumbers to dull and darken. In fact, if your cukes aren’t changing, then they might not be fermenting!
Look at the difference between some pickle rounds I made a few days before my pickle spears:
They look like they’ve been pickled in vinegar, but that’s the magic of fermentation. The food stays totally raw, but the naturally occurring probiotics do the work of transforming and preserving it!
What shape — rounds, spears, or whole?
I do all 3!
The kids prefer whole… because that’s the most like Bubbie’s. (Remember, this is a stealthy copycat Bubbie’s pickles recipe, mmmkay?) 😉 They love these pickles so much that they regularly pack them in their lunches for school.
I prefer spears, so that’s what I make for myself. But, let’s get one thing straight — no one discriminates and “my” spears quickly become public domain.
We like having the rounds (chips), too, for sandwiches, burgers, etc.
Large, fat cucumbers are best suited for making spears and chips. Shorter, smaller cucumbers, roughly 2″ to 4″ long make great fermented whole pickles. (And yes, they really are the most like Bubbie’s.)
Is everything supposed to rise to the top of the jar?
Oh, like this?
Yep, that’s totally normal. 🙂
You might even open your jars to find a pickle or 2 poking out of the top of the water. That’s ok, too.
You can try shoving them back down into the jar, but by the next day, the carbon dioxide will have floated them all up again. If your ferment is going to grow mold, this is where it’ll be. Just keep an eye on it.
Trust me; you’ll know it when you see it.
What about mold?
Unfortunately, mold can and does happen when fermenting. Most often, it’s fuzzy white, though it can be green or grey and fuzzy, too.
There are many variables that can cause mold, however it’s pretty easy to make these fermented pickles without any worry of mold. Make sure you do all you can to prevent mold by:
- Using a sterilized jar and lid. One that has come out of the dishwasher or hot, soapy water is perfect.
- Use a new lid with an intact seal. This prevents outside air from entering your jar.
- Culture away from other ferments. If you have kefir or kombucha fermenting in your kitchen, you’ll want to ferment your pickles elsewhere. Spacing ferments about 5 feet apart is a good rule of thumb for avoiding cross-contamination and potential mold growth.
- Don’t culture near the fruit bowl. You’ll prevent airborne yeasts from the fruits from entering your ferment, while also avoiding potential fruit flies!
- Your home’s temperature should consistently be between 65 and 78 degrees. Cooler temperatures will slow or stop fermentation, resulting in mold growth. Warmer temperatures will speed up fermentation, possibly resulting in mold growth.
Finally, I hope it puts your mind at ease to know that I have been making these 4-ingredient fermented pickles for years and have never had one batch grow mold. 🙂
The salt is important!
Trace minerals… you need them, your food has them, the probiotic microcosm you’re trying to grow needs them.
Iodized table salt or kosher salt do not contain these trace minerals.
So is the water!
Whatever you do, don’t use plain tap water. Because tap water is chlorinated (and contains other harmful chemicals and toxins), it is “designed” to be anti-bacterial — meaning it kills bacteria.
We’re trying to grow bacteria here, not kill it. So, can you see why tap water is no bueno?
If you only have access to tap water, I hope you’re already filtering it! I recommend the Berkey filtration system with a fluoride filter.
I have pure, clean, and tested well water, which is the best. Spring water is also great, if you have access.
Although not ideal, reverse osmosis water will work for fermenting, as long as you’re using a mineral-rich salt (see above). Because reverse osmosis systems filter out minerals in addition to toxins, it’s important to add minerals back in via salt.
Ok, they’re not cooked or canned, so how long do fermented pickles last?
Believe it or not, I still have last summer’s pickles (July 2017) in my fridge at the time of this post (August 2018)!!
That’s how effective fermenting is as a preservation method. These cucumbers/pickles are still raw, still full of probiotics, and still nourishing my family.
We are fortunate enough to have an extra fridge in our basement, so this is where I keep our quarts and quarts of pickles to last for the year.
Now, here’s my easy, 4-ingredient, totally raw, no starter culture fermented dill pickles recipe!
No Starter CultureFermented Dill Pickles (4 ingredients, probiotic, & raw!)
It's so, so freaking easy to make these yummy fermented dill pickles. I mean, 4 (maybe 5... keep reading) ingredients, no cooking, no vinegar, no canning AND you come out with crunchy-delicious pickles packed with gut-healthy probiotics!
- Next, add the cucumbers to fill the jar. Don't be afraid to pack them in there!
- Fill the jar with water, leaving about 1/2" to 1" of headspace.
- Place an airtight lid on the jar. You may use an air-lock if desired, but it is not necessary.
- At least once a day, burp the jar. Burp more often if your house is consistently warmer than 74 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Taste the pickles after 2 to 3 days. If they still taste like cucumber, they're not ready.
- Continue to taste each day. As soon as they taste like dill pickles, transfer them to the fridge to stop the fermenting process.
- Will keep refrigerated for up to a year.
More Easy Ferments You’ll Love…
- Fermented Cilantro Lime Jalapeños
- Fermented Cilantro Chimichurri
- Ginger & Turmeric Kombucha
- Spontaneously Fermented Sparkling Apple Cider
- Naturally Fermented Jalapeño Peppers
- Hydrating Pineapple Mango Switchel
Are you new to fermenting? Have you tried fermenting without a starter culture?
7 dinners, 2 desserts, prep steps, & printable shopping list...
All Real Food, all in your Instant Pot!