Wondering how to make pickling spice?
If you’ve decided to put up pickled cucumbers or pretty much anything else with the word “pickle” in the name, the canning recipe probably calls for 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 pickling spice of it in the spice aisle and be done with it. Note that any Ball Canning recipe calls for Ball Pickling Spice but there’s nothing special about their pickling spice recipe, so feel free to sub another brand or…make your own pickling spice!
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 create your own blends. That allows you to customize the flavors to your liking or to suit a particular recipe. It’s so easy that calling it a pickling spice recipe is almost too formal – but here’s what’s in pickling spice and how to make it.
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What’s 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 and it’s merely steeped in the boiling pickle brine.
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.
Pickling spice isn’t 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.
Easy 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 whole 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.
Can you use ground pickling spice?
Not really. Ground spices just don’t have the same amount of flavor, which means they won’t infuse the brine enough. They’re also going to make the brine murky, unless you strain it through cheesecloth. But doing that would remove most of the flavor. With the exception of the ground ginger, use whole spices, leaves and cinnamon sticks.
Pickling spice ingredients
This is where 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 and Blending Spices
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 spicy pickles, so I tend to add more pepper flakes to the mix.
How much pickling spice do you use?
Any safe and tested canning recipe will include the amount of spice, as well as instructions for how to use the blend. Most pickle recipes call for 1 to 2 tablespoons of pickling spice for every batch, and a batch is usually 6 pints. Some recipes will obviously call for more or less spice and some may have the mustard seeds added to the jar separately. The recipe will also specify how long to simmer or boil the brine and when to add the spices. Be careful not to simmer the brine too long. Doing so can cause evaporation, which might change the ratio of ingredients and lower the acidity.
Canning pickles with pickling spice
I usually put a little more in my batch than called for, though, especially for bread and butter pickles. In general, it’s safe to add more dried herbs or spices to a canning recipe than called for, so you can feel free to up the spice a bit. Pickling spice is for flavor, not preservation. So you can use less or leave out spices you don’t like.
If you’re using your spice blend for refrigerator pickles or non-canning recipes, you can really use whatever you want in the mix.
The important thing is to try out some variations and then see what you like best.
Remember, too, that pickles 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 blend is going to flavor the batch.
Is pickle crisp the same as pickling spice?
No, they’re completely different things with different purposes. Pickle crisp is added to brine to help the vegetable tissue keep its structure through the heat of canning. The more the tissue stays intact, the crisper the finished pickle. But pickle crisp doesn’t add flavor to pickles and it’s not a preservative.
And, of course, my printable Canning Planner will help you get organized and ready to go.
Speaking of canning….these are the best canning books and books about food preservation
The All New Ball Book is my favorite canning book. In addition to providing sound instruction, it has really interesting recipes and it offers guidance on how to use the food you’ve canned in other recipes.
If you only buy one canning book, that’s the one I recommend. Click on any of the books to order your own copy through Bookshop. Buying from Bookshop means I receive an affiliate credit (at no cost to you), which helps cover the costs of producing content. Bookshop robustly supports local, independent bookstores.
Variations and customizations
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
- whole dried cayenne peppers
- dried garlic cloves
How to store 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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Make your own pickling spice
Now that you’ve seen how easy it is to make your own, you’ll never need to buy it again. Homemade pickling spice is more flavorful and you can customize it to your liking. Just pick good quality, fresh whole spice berries and leaves and you’ll be all set. Do you make your own? Have you created your own custom blend? Let me know in the comments!