Grape leaves are full of tannins, which help make pickles crunchy. But sometimes it can be hard to get your hands on some grape leaves. Here are my top 11 suggestions on the best substitutes for grape leaves in pickles. They are excellent sources of tannins for Lacto-fermented pickles (sour pickles) and regular pickling.
Top Sources of Tannin Rich Leaves for Pickles
- Black or Green Tea
- Bay Leaves
- Blackberry leaves
- Indian almond leaves
- Cherry leaves
- Horseradish leaves or Horseradish root – grated or chopped
- Raspberry leaves
- Mesquite leaves
- Black Currant leaves
- Sour Cherry leaves
- Oak Leaves contain the most tannins so be sure to use a little less than other varieties.
Bay leaves are an easy-to-find grape leaf alternative. Add 2 – 4 bay leaves per quart to achieve the crunchiness you like.
Black or green tea: add 1 – 2 bags of tea in your Lacto-fermented pickle recipe.
That’s not all, following are a few more steps beyond just adding tannins to a recipe to help your fermented pickles get their crunch.
8 Bonus Tips: How to Make Crunchy Pickles
1. Use a Saltier Brine
The salt in the brine actually prevents harmful bacteria from growing. Then, the healthy lactic bacteria can produce lactic acid to preserve the cucumbers. The healthiest choices are natural sea salt and Himalayan pink sea salt.
We recommend using a salt brine mixture of 4-5% as opposed to 2-3% or lower. This will bring out the taste and crunchiness.
My family prefers a 4% salt brine, it’s not too salty, and it provides a satisfying crunch factor.
*A 4% salt brine converts to 2 tablespoons of salt for every 4 cups of water.
While a 5% salt brine is 2.5 tablespoons of salt for every 4 cups of water. This was a little too salty for my taste, but it could be perfect for you.
By using a higher percentage of salt brine, you will preserve the crispiness of the pickles. Beware though, you don’t want to overdo it because if they are too salty, you might end up throwing them out.
2. Use Small Whole Cucumbers
Small cucumbers tend to keep their crunch better than larger cucumbers. When buying cucumbers, choose the Persian cucumbers over Kirby’s. Kirby’s are already quite crunchy and better suited for a quick pickling process. They don’t hold up as well through the longer fermentation process. Traditional Kirby cucumbers tend to get mushy on the outside during fermentation.
If you are using larger cucumbers, do not cut them into small pieces because they tend to become soft. It’s best to choose a little cucumber and divide it into large spears. This will ensure the best-tasting pickles for your recipe.
3. Use Fresh Cucumbers
Fresh is best when it comes to fermenting pickles. If you notice your cucumbers are wilting, throw them out. Grocery stores always put the freshest produce in the back and the oldest in the front. Fresh cucumbers have the most amount of nutrients and health benefits, so take the time to find the best ones!
The cucumbers should have no soft spots and should not look wrinkly. If they have either, then they are on the way out. Fresh picked cucumbers from your garden or the farmers’ market work best. I find that using small, Persian cucumbers make the crispiest and crunchiest pickles.
4. Remove the Blossom End
The end of a cucumber contains enzymes that soften pickles. Cut a thin slice from the end, to preserve the firm texture. This will keep the enzyme from softening the cucumber before it’s fermented.
5. Puncture the Skin
Cucumbers that get harvested a bit late in the season or have been on the vine longer will develop a thicker skin. A great way to improve their taste and texture it to simply prick a hole in each cucumber with a knife or skew. This will allow the brine to penetrate faster and the cucumbers will culture better.
6. Chill Cucumbers in an Ice Bath
Chilling cucumbers in an ice bath for four to five hours before starting to process them will help improve the crispiness of the pickle. Use a large, food-safe container and fill it halfway with ice before pouring in water. Replace the ice as needed to keep the cucumbers cool.
7. Ferment at the Coldest Temperature You Can
The ideal temperature for fermenting pickles is between 60-70°. Anything much warmer than that will result in mushy pickles. Stay in this range for the best results.
However, if the temperature is over 70 degrees, then shorten the fermentation time. Do a taste test after three days to determine their level of crunch. If they taste great and have the crunch you desire, then they are ready.
8 Pay Attention to the Color
The color of the cucumber is another indication of readiness. When the cucumber changes from bright green to an olive or yellow-green color and the inside is translucent the batch is ready to eat.
By now you should be well on your way to being an expert in pickle Lacto-fermentation. If you follow these steps, you will keep your cucumbers from turning mushy while reaping all the benefits.
Be sure to store your pickles in a cool, dry place. A refrigerator or root cellar is the best option and will increase its shelf life. There are many vegetables you can ferment, but a crispy, crunchy pickle is the tastiest of them all!
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