Why You Shouldn't Be Tossing Your Pickle Juice & What to Do Instead
If you're a pickle lover, we bet you've felt torn about what to do when you finish a jar and have to decide what to do with the leftover pickle juice. Tossing all that goodness down the drain just feels so wrong. The truth is, there are so many delicious ways to reuse that prized liquid! And you may be surprised that pickle juice has some pretty interesting health benefits, which is all the more reason to hang on to it. Here's what you should be doing with your leftover pickle juice instead, plus some tips for finding the healthiest store-bought pickles.
What to Do with Leftover Pickle Juice
You miss out on so much deliciousness when you throw away leftover pickle juice-or pickled jalapeño juice, dilly bean liquid or other pickled veggie juice, for that matter. Next time you find yourself at the bottom of a jar, give one of these ideas a whirl.
Make More Pickles!
Leftover briny pickle juice is perfect for making a batch of refrigerator pickles. Slice up some cucumbers, jalapeños or green beans and add them to the jar, or get creative and try a combination, tossing in whatever vegetables you have on hand. This is a great way to use extra veggie pieces from making other dishes, such as salad. Just don't add extra liquid, as that will mess with the acidity and salinity of the brine, which affects both flavor and pickling capability. Depending on how pickled you like your pickles, check back in on the jar in a few days to see where things stand (just pull out a veggie and taste it).
A note on safety: When it comes to telling if your DIY refrigerator pickles are still safe to eat, watch out for common signs of spoilage, like a mushy texture, slime or sludge, a cloudy appearance or visible mold. Washing your veggies beforehand can also help prevent spoilage. If you're reusing store-bought pickle juice, chances are it'll last longer than homemade pickle juice, due to commercial-grade preservatives.
Cook with It
Just a few tablespoons of flavorful pickle liquid can quickly make drab recipes delicious. Use leftover pickle juice in place of (or in addition to) vinegar and salt in recipes for potato salad, marinades, salad dressings, sauces and more. And remember, you don't have to stick to classic dill pickles. Pickle juice from onions, garlic and peppers packs a flavorful punch, as does that from giardiniera (pickled mixed vegetables), capers, relish and kimchi.
Mix Up a Cocktail
Briny cocktails go beyond just the dirty martini. Add a tablespoon or two of your leftover pickling juice to a cocktail or mocktail for a savory, salty kick. A Bloody Mary is a great place to start if you're new to dirty-style cocktails.
Drink It Straight
The components of pickle brine have some interesting health benefits. For starters, different vinegar varieties have been shown to help with balancing blood sugar, improving cholesterol levels and taming high blood pressure. Also, if your pickle juice is fermented rather than brined and canned (you can find fermented pickles in the refrigerated section or at the deli counter), you get the added benefits that come from fermented foods-more of that good gut bacteria that has been shown to improve heart health, reduce the risk of colon cancer, and even improve your sleep pattern and mood by producing feel-good neurotransmitters, like serotonin. Just be wary of how much you're drinking, as the sodium can add up quickly. You may have also heard the claim that pickle juice can be used as an electrolyte replacement after exercise; however, research shows it's not an effective strategy for rehydrating.
What to Look for When Buying Pickles
As with all packaged food, it's a good idea to double-check the nutrition label to make sure you know what you're getting. Keep these pointers in mind on your next shopping trip.
Watch Out for Food Dyes
These Bread & Butter Pickles get their fluorescent yellow color naturally, from turmeric, whereas some commercially made bread and butter pickles use artificial food coloring (like Yellow #5) to achieve the same color. Because certain food dyes have been linked with some forms of cancer (Yellow #5 included) and other health problems, opt for naturally dyed pickles. Some pickle brands are using beta carotene as a coloring agent, which is the same pigment that gives carrots their orange color.
Read More: The Hidden Health Risks of Food Dyes
Go for Fermented
As noted above, fermented pickles have an advantage over regular pickles in that they still contain beneficial bacteria that our gut loves. You can find fermented pickles at the store in the refrigerated section or at the deli (or try making our fermented Spicy Green Tomato Pickles). The shelf-stable pickles you find in the aisle next to other condiments have been heat-treated during packaging to remove any trace of bacteria to prevent spoilage. While you'll still get some health benefits from the vinegar, to get the added probiotic benefits, go with fermented pickles.
Keep an Eye on the Sodium
Image: Getty / Kristin Lee
Pickles are inherently salty, and packaged foods themselves tend to be high in sodium for both flavor and preservation. Stick to one serving at a time and compare labels when shopping to choose the brand that has the least amount of sodium per serving.
Watch the Sugar & Opt for Naturally Sweet Options
While sugar is a typical component of pickling brine, some commercially prepared brands tend to use more sugar than you would if making pickles at home. When shopping, compare labels and go with the brand that has the least amount of added sugar per serving-and stick to one serving at a time. You could also opt for zesty pickles (like standard dill pickles), which are made with less sugar, over the sweeter bread and butter pickles. Or go for pickles made with naturally sweet ingredients, like these Mexican Pickled Carrots.
The Bottom Line
While the internet is full of other uses for leftover pickle juice, like using it as weed killer or heavy-duty dish cleaner, we feel it's best used in food. And that's easy to do with our tasty ideas for using up leftover pickle juice and tips for finding the best pickles at the store.
WATCH: How to Pickle Anything