No Grape Leaves For Sour Pickles? Try These Alternatives
I remember a few years ago, trying desperately to find grape leaves in the area where we lived. I was quite new to fermented foods, and I was excited to try making some ‘real’ sour pickles (aka lacto-fermented cucumbers flavoured with pickling spice and all things nice…). But much to my dismay, there were none to be found (not even bottled grape leaves).
So I forgot all about the pickles until my first summer back in New Zealand, when I suddenly realised (with some delight) that grape leaves were available all over the place. In fact they hang over fences, drape themselves over trellises, and along with an abundance of vegetables, make pickle making wonderfully simple, and delightfully cheap all summer long!
Grape Leaves To Keep Pickles Crisp
So, if you’ve stumbled across this post and you’re wondering what all the hullabaloo is about grape leaves, well the answer is that they help keep lacto-fermented pickles crisp.
You see when you ferment cucumbers without grape leaves, (and this also goes for some other vegetables), the cucumbers go soggy after sitting in liquid for so long. The secret to those crunchy pickles is the tannin in grape leaves that helps keep them crisp.
What I didn’t realise all those years ago when grape leaves were rarer than ? hens teeth, was that there are alternatives to grape leaves that work just as well…
Alternatives To Grape Leaves
The following alternatives to grape leaves can be used in lacto-fermented pickles (sour pickles) in the same way as they also contain tannin:
- Oak leaves
- Horseradish leaves
- Black tea leaves
ℹ️ I’ve also read that red wine vinegar, raspberry leaf, bay leaves and cloves might do the same job. I haven’t tried any of these, so I’d experiment with a small batch first…
Now going back to my dilemma of a few years ago when no grape leaves were available, I think I would have been pushing it trying to find any Oak leaves either as I was living in tropical Queensland at the time. But if I’d known, horseradish leaves might have been possible and failing that – black tea!
Everyone has access to black tea… (why didn’t I think of it?)
If only I’d known… Oh well, I do now (and so do you) and the good thing is that it means pickled zucchini is still a possibility during the winter when there are no grape leaves or oak leaves around (assuming I can get some zucchini as a reasonable price). Yay!
Note: If I were to use tea leaves, I’d use unbleached (organic if possible) tea bags. That way the tea leaves are contained and won’t be all over your pickled vegetables when it comes time to eat them!
A further note: I tried using teabags without much success, so perhaps loose tea would be better. I’m also thinking though that maybe the brand of tea might make a difference (variation in tannin content) and that the tea might be better soaked in hot water first (not too hot) to release more tannin and then the tea added to the ferment. Now that’s an experiment for the future!