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Uses for pickle juice, from marinades to pickle sports drinks to shots to ice pops

Updated on June 6, 2013
Homemade pickles from sleepyneko on Flickr
Homemade pickles from sleepyneko on Flickr

Pickling is a type of fermentation. When refrigeration was not commonplace--or even invented!--pickling was a way to preserve fruits, vegetables, and other foods so that it could be stored in on a pantry shelf for winter. The Korean darling kimchi is a pickle, as is German sauerkraut.

In the U.S., the most common pickle is the pickled cucumber. Pickled cucumber is so common that “cucumber” is usually dropped from the name. On menus and in recipes, it’s listed simply as a dill or bread and butter pickle depending on flavoring.

Because pickles are stored in the brine they ferment in, once all of the pickles are removed from jar, all that’s left is the liquid. While it’s all too easy to pour the brine down the drain and throw the jar away, take a second to consider: what could you be doing with all that tasty pickle juice?

Live to pickle again and again

Leftover brine is all you need to make your own pickles. Because the right amounts of vinegar and herbs are already in the mix, anything you throw in the jar--sliced cucumber, onion, tomatoes, garlic, squash, green beans, radishes, beets, mushrooms, eggs, and most any other vegetable--will turn into a pickle. Whatever’s in the jar will soak in the flavor and soften as you let it ferment.

You can pickle cheese in brine. Pickled feta cheese, an expensive olive bar item, is cheap to make at home. Even better is when you at hot sauce, garlic, or sliced peppers to the brine. This will result in spicy, garlicky cheese.

Pickles from dierken on Flickr
Pickles from dierken on Flickr

Vegetables love pickle juice

When boiling vegetables, if you add pickle juice to the water, it can give your meal a zingy, tart taste. Acidic flavors stimulate the taste buds and round out the savory tastes of a dish. Whole potatoes boil especially well in pickle brine. Even if you’ve already made dinner, feel free to use the juice as you would any other vinegar.

Mixed into dressing for salads, pickle juice provides a tart, herbal flavor. Greek yogurt and pickle juice is a great dressing for slaw, especially if you don’t like mayo. This pickle juice-yogurt mixture would mix well into tuna fish for a dill-flavored tuna fish salad.

Pickle juice can be a good base for soups. In fact, in Poland and other countries in the area, pickle soup is a common dish. Here is a recipe for Polish pickle soup on About.com.

Jars of pickles from YoAmes on Flickr
Jars of pickles from YoAmes on Flickr

Pleased to meat you

Pickle juice can be used as a meat tenderizer. It’s good for pork, but especially chicken. In fact, many recipes claim that soaking chicken breasts in pickle juice overnight makes the cooked chicken taste like it was made at Chick-Fil-A, a popular food chain.

When drizzled over fish, the acid of the pickle juice can add an unexpected lightness to your meal. It’s also pretty great mixed into barbecue--instead of vinegar-based sauce--or in ground chuck for zingy burgers.

If you use the liquid to cook bratwurst or hot dogs, you’ll end up with dogs with the sweet, tart relish flavor cooked right in.

When you drink, you get pickled

Some people swear by drinking shots of pickle juice, loving the complex, fermented flavors. Others hate pickle juice with a passion: drinking pickle juice was a childhood dare for many. Pickle juice, being salty, is a great post-workout drink. A pickle sports drink helps restore electrolytes lost from sweat.

In a way, drinking pickle juice is no different from chugging down drinking vinegars. In fact, you could probably make a savory shrub from pickle juice, tomato, and gin.

Pickle juice can be worked into alcoholic drinks. Some bars serve pickletinis, martinis made with pickle juice. Others drink pickle juice and vodka. Here is a recipe on The Kitchn for a pickletini. For the shot enthusiast, picklebacks are fun and easy. Just take shots of pickle juice after shots of whiskey. The flavors blend well--just don't overdo it!

Sesame pickles from sleepyneko on Flickr
Sesame pickles from sleepyneko on Flickr

Relish your pickle juice

Pickle juice is a great flavoring agent to condiments. Just as hot sauces can be vinegar-based, the vinegar flavor of pickle juice mixes well with peppers to make your own spicy blend.

Mixing pickle juice with mustard provides both a tartness and an herbal flavor. It’s especially good with stone-ground mustard, as the strong mustard flavor gets cut by the tart vinegar.

Straight-up pickle juice, depending on the dish, can be an excellent condiment in its own right. Sprinkled on plain potato chips, it harkens back to the pickle-flavored chips offered on grocery store shelves. When poured over plain beans with a little hot sauce, it makes for a bold, complex side.

I've heard of sweet pickles, but...

People aren't content to just leave pickles as a meal. Pickles can be for dessert as well! In Texas, pickle juice is a popular flavoring to pour over shaved ice. The flavor is popular enough that 1-800-SHAVED-ICE, a leading flavoring syrup provider, offers pickle-flavored syrup for sale on their site.

Pickle juice ice pops are also popular, especially in the Southern U.S. One Yahoo! Answers contributor supplied a recipe for a food known as a pickadilly, an ice pop made with pickles and Kool-Aid powder. Other recipes simply freeze the pickle juice plain or with pepper flakes for a salty, piquant treat. As with other pickle sports drinks, some athletes opt to eat frozen pickle juice after a workout.

Freezerburns, an ice pop reviewer, tackles pickle pops

What's your favorite way of reusing pickle juice?

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    • thirdworldcraft profile image

      Anupama Maharjan 4 years ago from Nepal

      really good idea...voted up!!!

    • Vacation Trip profile image

      Susan 4 years ago from India

      Great idea of using the leftover pickle juice. Thank you for sharing.