Wondering what’s in pickling spice?
If you’ve decided to put up pickled cucumbers or pretty much anything else with the word “pickle” in the name, the recipe probably includes pickling spice. If you’re wondering what pickling spice is and how to make it, you’ve come to the right place. First, the easy part. Pickling spice is just a combination of whole spices that can include cloves, allspice berries, cinnamon, and mustard seeds. You can purchase small amounts of it in the spice aisle and be done with it. But it’s really easy to make pickling spice and if you’re putting up more than a few jars, it’s much cheaper to buy bulk spices and make up your own blends. That allows you to customize the flavors to your liking or to suit a particular recipe.
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Let’s talk about the purpose of pickling spice
Like all spices, the pickling spice blend adds depth of flavor to the brine. In some recipes, the pickling spice is added directly to the pot with the brine and vegetables. In others, the pickling spice blend is contained in cheesecloth or a tea ball. If the pickling spice is in the brine, it ends up in the jar with the pickles. For blends with cloves, peppercorns or allspice berries, it’s best to keep it contained, since those spices don’t soften in the brine.
It’s not just for pickles. This spicy, aromatic mix is also used in brines for corned beef or other meats. And it can be part of a marinade. Knowing this, it’s easy to see why keeping the main ingredients of pickling spice on hand and mixing them together for a particular purpose is better than buying a ready made mix.
Basic Pickling Spice Recipe
If you just need a recipe for the standard pickling spice, use this:
- 1 tablespoon each allspice berries and coriander
- 2 tablespoons mustard seeds
- 1 teaspoon of powdered ginger
- 1 teaspoon of red pepper flakes
- 2 bay leaves
- 2 cinnamon sticks
- 6 cloves
That’s the standard recipe for pickling spice. You can’t go wrong with it.
What do you need to know about making spice blends?
Not much, honestly. It’s pretty straightforward. Measure out the desired quantities, then combine. The most important thing is to use fresh spices. If they’ve been languishing in your pantry for years, they might be too stale to flavor your brine. Open the jar and give a sniff. If there’s only a faint aroma, odds are good those spices aren’t going to have a lot left to give.
Be sure to use whole spices, not ground, with the exception of the powdered ginger.
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Ingredients for pickling spice
This is why it starts to get fun. Amassing a collection of whole spices is really satisfying. If you’re putting up more than a batch or two of pickles, or you expect to do a lot of brining or marinating, it’s much cheaper to buy quality spices in bulk.
If you have a local bulk spice store, then that’s the best place to get your pickling spices. Otherwise, here’s my suggestions for the best intersection of price and quality. Anthony’s is a great company and one of my favorite bulk spice suppliers.
Mixing It Up
It’s best to mix up only what you need immediately. That way you can use your bulk store of spices in other recipes or create different spice blends. It’s really as easy as just combining the spices as noted above. In some cases, you’ll need to break up the cinnamon sticks. Other canning recipes, like pickled watermelon rind, include the whole sticks in the jar.
I personally like a spicy pickle, so I tend to add more pepper flakes to the mix, and I usually put a little more pickling spice in my batch than called for. The important thing is to try out some variations and then see what you like best. In general, it’s safe to adjust or omit ingredients from pickling spice when canning pickles, but always trust the recipe.
Remember, too, that pickles will need time to develop their flavor. So tasting the brine or opening a jar too soon won’t necessarily give you an accurate sense of how your pickling spice blend is going to flavor the batch.
And, of course, my printable Canning Planner will help you get organized and ready to go.
Pickling Spice Variations
As always, if you’re canning a food, defer to any recommendations on ingredients and processing included in the recipe.
With that out of the way, here are some of my favorite additions to pickling spice. Tweak these additions to suit the pickle or brine in question.
- whole peppercorns – a great way to add a peppery note (obviously)
- cumin seeds
- sesame seeds – especially if you also bump up the ginger
- star anise – brings a note of licorice flavor to the party
Storing whole spices
Now that you’ve got a wonderful collection of whole spices, you need to store them carefully. The manufacturer bags they arrive in likely aren’t sufficient for keeping oxygen out and flavor in.
Unless you expect to use them all up within a few months (definitely possible in the height of pickling season!), they should be stored in airtight containers. My favorite bulk spice storage is old food jars. It’s a great way to reuse and repurpose those single-use items. You can also use canning jars but given how comparatively expensive canning jars are, I’d say save them for actual canning projects.
Like other food storage, your bulk pickling spices should be stored in a closed cabinet or otherwise out of direct sunlight.
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