A pickled cucumber, often just called a "pickle" in the United States, Canada, and Australia, is a cucumber preserved by anaerobic fermentation in salty water called brine, or by marinating in vinegar. The brining process converts sugars into lactic acid, providing a sour taste. Pickled cucumbers have a much longer shelf life than fresh cucumbers. There are many different varieties of pickled cucumber.
Pickling spices are added to the brine or vinegar in which pickled cucumbers are marinated in order to add flavor. Sugar may be added as well to make a sweet pickle. Bread-and-butter pickles include more sugar in the brine than other varieties, and the cucumbers used to make them are often sliced before the pickling process. Bread-and-butter pickles are often eaten on sandwiches or hamburgers.
Polish style pickled cucumbers are made without vinegar, and rely solely on fermentation for the preservation and sour flavor of the pickle. The naturally occurring Lactobacillus bacteria on the skin of a freshly picked cucumber is essential to the process, and must be artificially added if freshly harvested cucumbers are not used. Polish pickles are made in a glass, ceramic, or wooden vessel, and a selection of natural spices are added to the brine, such as whole dill, garlic, mustard seeds, horseradish, bay leaves, and dried allspice berries. The water used in the brine is first sterilized by boiling. The container is sealed with cloth, and stones may be used to keep the cucumbers submerged.
Because of the lack of vinegar in Polish pickles, a film of bacteria forms on the top of the brine and is removed before serving the pickles. The lack of vinegar also results in Polish pickles having a shorter shelf life than other varieties. Polish pickled cucumbers are available in half sour and full sour varieties. The more salt in the brine, the more sour the final product will be.
Kosher dill pickles, another sour pickled cucumber variety, are not necessarily strictly kosher, or prepared according to Jewish dietary laws, but are made in the traditional manner of the Jewish community in New York City. This type of pickled cucumber features a lot of garlic in the brine. This type of pickled cucumber is traditionally served in New York delis. Lime pickles are soaked in lime instead of brine for 24 hours, giving them a crisper texture. The lime is rinsed off, and vinegar, sugar, and pickling spices are added to the pickled cucumbers.