Two versions of pickles: sweet or healthy

Pickles in Romania are like national food. There is no traditional housewife without a pantry full of jars of pickles. The shapes, the colours, the arrangements into jars go to an artistic level and displaying these jars can also be part of the house decoration. What is amazing is that every family has its own recipe and use their preferred vegetables/fruits.

The original idea of making pickles has a good base. Our grandmothers didn't have the luxury we experience today to find tomatoes in January at the supermarket and either to have a fridge. Fruits and vegetables were coming fresh with warm seasons and by the end of the autumn, they were gone. But people needed fruits and vegetables over the cold season as the meat was not an everyday food. So, they found a way to preserve fruits and vegetables for a long period and enjoy them also in the winter and early spring.
One option that my grandma was using, was to preserve tomatoes in big pots of salt. I bet not many of you are aware of this method. But the most popular method was through fermentation. They didn't have jar glasses back then, they were using ceramic big pots (that are even better than glass jars by the way).

When I was living in Romania, this food was on every table, in any house. It was such a common food that it was not raising any interest to me anymore. But when I moved to Belgium, I started to miss them. I tried to buy them but the taste was different from what I knew. I had then to learn to do them myself to get back the taste I knew from childhood.
One of my preferred pickles was "gogognele". They are nothing else than pickled green tomatoes harvested when they are unripe. There was no way that I could find them in a Belgium market as was the case in the Romanian food market. So, I almost gave up on the idea and stick to what was easily available: cauliflower, carrots, celery. But 2020 was a very productive year for tomatoes and by October, my tomato plants still had a lot of unripe cherry tomatoes hanging. It was the perfect moment to transform them into pickles. I called my mother and asked for 2 recipes: one with sugar, one without. Why 2? Because I knew the ones with sugar were tastier but the ones with only salt were super healthy.
I made 2 versions to have a direct comparison. The first 2 photos of this post are made back in October 2020, which is almost one and a half years ago. After making them, I noted down the recipes and waited for the right time to write this post. But there was no right time until I realised that there were only 3 jars left in the pantry and soon I wouldn't have been able to photograph the finished product as they would have been fully eaten. Yes, I made a lot of different jars back then with all sorts of vegetables and we ate them slowly because during the summer and autumn I prefer fresh vegetables to accompany a stake.


Difference between pickles with only salt version and the ones with vinegar and sugar version
The 2 versions were important to me to compare the taste but there was no doubt which one I should choose for health reasons.
The pickles made with salt only are having incomparable healthy benefits. The ones made with vinegar and sugar have a different process (chemically speaking) and do not reach the health benefits that the other version has.
In the salt only version, the pickled vegetables/fruits preserve the quantity and quality of antioxidants (like vitamin C, betacaroten etc.), they are an important source of vitamins (A, B1, B2, C, E, K) and minerals (iron, magnesium, calcium, potassium). They contain probiotic bacteria that help the digestive system by feeding the microbiome so important to our body immunity and health. These are natural antibiotics and prevents cancer. They reduce the allergies and inflammations inside the body. They are also suitable for a diet, as they are low in calories.
All these are so well fit in the winter to help you avoid catching a cold and to keep you healthy. Our grandparents had no idea about all these health benefits discovered lately by studies but they were avid consumers of the pickles over the cold season.
Looks like miracle food right? Well, it is, but there is one case though when you have to avoid them and that is if your doctor recommended you to minimise the consumption of salt.

Now let me tell you my conclusions after making the 2 versions. The ones with sugar are having a sweet flavour that makes them more appealing. The ones with only salt, I expected to be more salty than sour, but I was wrong. Both were sour with a delicious taste with just the sweet flavour as a difference. I liked them both and I will do them again for sure. Which version? Definitely the one with salt only. Why? Because of the unmeasurable benefits the naturally fermented food has for our bodies. In the end, even if the sweet flavour is missing in the salt version, the taste is not that different.

Before ending, if you plan to make your own pickles, let me give you some tips and tricks to keep in mind:
  • make then in the autumn, September and October are perfect to have them fermented in the early winter.
  • pick healthy vegetables/fruits, preferably hard type not soft. Root vegetables are perfect!
  • Do not throw away the leftover brine (only for the salt version) after eating the pickles, it can be used for souring soups. The salty brine from cabbage is very popular among Romanians to consume after a long drinking night as it will reduce the hangover symptoms.


  1. Vegetables or fruits**:
    • Suitable vegetables: cauliflower, carrots, celery (green or root), cabbage, bell peppers, cucumber, beet, onions, mushrooms, zucchini etc
    • Suitable fruits: green tomatoes, small watermelons, apples, peaches, quince, grapes, pears etc
  2. Brine (You need to calculate the amount of brine you need based on the available jars.
    For a jar of 5 litres, 3 litres of brine is needed):
    1. Version with vinegar and sugar*
      • 1 litre vinegar (vinegar with higher alcohol is better, preferably over 8%)
      • 2 litre water
      • 150g coarse salt (as a general rule, there is one heap spoon of coarse salt for every litre of liquid)
      • 500g sugar
    2. Version with salt only*:
      • 3 litre of water
      • 150g coarse salt
  3. Dried preservatives**: 6g coriander seeds  (recommended), 6g mustard seeds (recommended), 12g pepper seeds (recommended), laurel leaves (recommended), dried thyme branches, pepper flakes 
  4. Other preservatives**: 1 clove of garlic, some branches of lovage/parsley, pieces of horseradish, dill, a few hot peppers, rosemary, oregano

* - pick one of the versions

** - put whatever you have available, no need to put them all, but some of them should be used. 


  1. Peel, wash and cut the vegetables/fruits into manageable chunks.
  2. Boil the brine with dried ingredients and let it cool to 60-70ºC. While cooling, you can do the next step.
  3. Sterilise the glass jars and their lids. In fermentation, we are dealing with bacteria but we want only specific bacteria to deal with the pickles. Glass jars needs to be washed with dish detergent manually or using a dishwasher. Put the jars and lids in the cold oven and heat them together at 120-150ºC. When the oven reached the desired temperature, count 15 minutes for any unwanted bacteria present on the jars and lids to die. Do not preheat the oven and add the cold jars after as they will break, heat them slowly together while the oven is heating too.
  4. Lay the cut vegetables/fruits in the sterilised jars. On the bottom, place the ingredients indicated at other preservatives. Try to arrange them to use efficiently the space in the jars.
  5. Pour the warm brine (including the dried preservatives) over the vegetables/fruits in the jars. A trick to avoid the jars cracking is to place the jars on a metal surface when pouring the liquid. Let them cool uncovered (better overnight), then put the lids on and move them to the pantry, cellar or a cool place.
  6. Wait for at least one month for the fermentation to complete. In the first days, you might see some bubbles inside, a sign that the fermentation takes place. During the fermentation, the right bacteria consume the sugar from the fruits (or the added sugar if used) and release alcohol. You can keep them in your pantry for 1 to 2 years. After one year you might notice that the vegetables may become too sour or they get too soft, so the best is to be consumed in the first year.


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