Can You Pickle Without Salt? Step-by-Step Guide

A jar of pickles top view surrounded by other pickles, spices, and garlic on a worn white wooden surface.

It’s hard to imagine pickles without salt. Salt, water, and spices are known to be key ingredients of pickling. For pickle lovers who need a low-salt diet, doing away with the salt would be a great thing. But is it even possible? Can you really pickle without salt? That is what I will be discussing here in this article. 

It is possible to pickle vegetables without salt with a 1:1 ratio of water and vinegar. This is the only way it is safe to consume and store the pickles for a length of time.

Even though it is possible, that doesn’t mean the pickles will taste the same. The quality and taste of the pickles will not be the best, so keep that in mind before following this guide.

Why Is Salt Used in Pickling?

It is widely known and accepted that to preserve any form of vegetables, we need salt. Salt is considered to be the core ingredient when it comes to preserving and pickling vegetables. But the question nevertheless remains: Why is salt needed for pickling in the first place?

Water, in any form, has the ability to damage or spoil fruits, vegetables, and many other types of food. In the presence of water, food has a significantly shortened lifespan.

The microorganism can grow and breed substantially in the presence of water. As a result, fruits and vegetables containing high levels of moisture will surely get infected by these microorganisms. In this circumstance, they will:

  • spoil
  • rot
  • have a very short lifespan

To prevent this, salt is introduced in the preservation and pickling of a wide range of fruits, vegetables, and other preserved foods.

Sodium chloride removes or sucks out excess water present in fruits and vegetables due to a natural phenomenon known as osmosis. When we put salt in pieces of vegetables in order to pickle them, the sodium chloride consumes the moisture until the pieces are dried out. Basically, it removes the excess moisture.

In the absence of water, bacteria will not be able to grow. It will no longer be able to breed and multiply and the pickles will be preserved for safe consumption. Thus, the salt acts as a preservative in the pickling of vegetables.

You may be wondering: What if microorganisms were already present before we even added the salt?

Not to frighten you, but this situation is very likely. However, it isn’t anything to worry about. Due to osmosis, the bacteria will lose water from their cytoplasm and die. This is exactly why we use salt for pickling in the first place!

What Happens When You Don’t Use Salt for Pickling?

As previously mentioned, salt is a core component in the act of preservation, thus a lack of it may result in negative or harmful outcomes in some cases. Even though there are a few alternative methods of picking which don’t require salt, there are a few things you should know before you begin a journey of no-salt pickling.

Not using salt will lower the shelf life of your pickle. We already covered how salt prevents bacteria and other microorganisms from breeding and potentially rotting the vegetables. In such cases, it should be a concern that once you lower the salt content, you will also be inviting the chances of harmful bacteria growing.

On that note, lowering the salt will also cause a fall in the acid content which will render the product unsafe to eat and the veggies will now be quick to spoil.

Also, I’m sure you can imagine that not using salt will drastically reduce the taste of your pickles. The addition of salt adds flavor to vegetables and raises the quality of pickles. Thus a lack of salt might result in pickles tasting not quite up to the mark.

Alternatives such as potassium chloride and acetic acid like vinegar can be used instead (find both on Amazon). Keep in mind that even though these partial replacements might be possible, they are not of very much effect. For them to reach the level of effectiveness that salt provides, they will need to be used in large quantities and in high concentrations.

Why Is It Important to Have a Low-Sodium Diet?

Consumption of salt is necessary but in low amounts. A high sodium intake can lead to severe health complications and future health problems. In order to prevent this, it is advised to have a low-sodium diet as a daily routine.

It is important to control the amount of fluid that we drink on a daily basis. Carrying extra fluid means that your heart is being forced to work harder. Later in life, consuming too much salt can lead to high blood pressure and hypertension.

For patients with previous heart complications or congestive heart failure, adding more salt to their diet will cause fluid to be retained in their bodies. As a result, they can experience shortness of breath and chest pains.

Such a cause may even lead to hospitalization if not taken care of properly. So it is always highly advised to reduce salt intake.

NOTE: Even if it plays only a small part, salt-free pickling will reduce your daily intake of sodium chloride; decreasing the chances of complications from too much salt.

A jar of small pickles with peppercorns surrounding along with fresh dill.
With vinegar, it is possible to pickle without salt

When Is It Absolutely Necessary to Use Salt for Pickling?

According to research done by The USDA (2015), it is stated that even though adding salt is a necessity when it comes to pickling vegetables, salt can be avoided with means of vinegar. So following a vinegar-based recipe will produce better quality salt-free pickles which will be closer to the real thing.

HOT TIP: Make a smaller batch of salt-free pickles first to make sure you like them before moving on to larger quantities.

Start by submerging the vegetables in vinegar in order to acidify them. Make sure to follow a tested recipe or the step-by-step guide will be provided for you in this article. Even though the texture and quality might not be quite the same, it will be safe to eat.

It’s important to be very cautious even when fermenting vegetables without salt. The use of salt is crucial here as it prevents the spread of harmful microbes while favoring the desired bacteria. This is why salt is a must when fermenting vegetables.

 For example, The National Center for Home Food Preservation states that not only does salt add flavor to the pickles, but it is also an important component that adds to the pickles’ texture and the safety concerns of its consumers. Salt is extremely important in the safe preservation of these food items.

Researchers at the University of Wisconsin have also provided evidence and cautioned the public that it is highly dangerous to alter or make any changes in the amount of salt in fermented pickles. The concentration is vital as any fluctuations will result in harmful bacteria which will spoil the vegetable.

To prevent such spoilage from occurring, it is crucial to make sure that the amount of sodium chloride is up to the required level when making fermented vegetables. In such cases, the omission of salt is not even in question. 

As we also mentioned, the use of potassium chloride or vinegar as alternatives to salt should not be used when dealing with fermented pickles. If you’re still bent on lowering the sodium content of fermented pickles, one way to do so would be to wash and rinse the pickle before consumption.

This way, you will be getting rid of the excess salt in the pickle just before you eat them. Make sure to do this before eating and not before canning, otherwise, the acid content will fall and thus it will result in a higher pH level which means that the pickles will be unsafe to eat and quick to spoil.

What’s the point of reducing your salt intake if it results in your demise? So be mindful before you move on to the pickling process.

NOTE: Is pickling and fermenting the same thing? Read my article to learn all you need to know!

There have been a few breakthroughs and some researchers have observed that it may be possible to bring in a substitute when dealing with fermented vegetables. 

But the risks remain the same as several tests would be required to determine the quantities of the ingredients needed. These tests are to be carried out by certified professionals, so it is impossible for an amateur home pickle maker.

There is no funding for research so the chances are slim that such alternatives will make their way to our kitchens in the right quantities.

The alternatives will need to be in higher amounts to have the same functionality as salt. It is highly advised that you don’t reduce the salt quantity of your fermented or brined veggies until there has been proper:

  • funding
  • research
  • testing
Top view pickled radishes in a jar, with whole fresh radishes surrounding.
Radishes can be pickled with vinegar instead of salt

Step-by-Step Guide on A Salt-free Method of Pickling

Now that you know that pickling can be done without salt, let’s learn how to actually do it. Below shows a step-by-step guide on how to pickle your vegetables:

Ingredients for No-Salt Pickles

Most of these ingredients can easily be purchased on Amazon.

Food You Can Pickle: 

  • cucumbers
  • whole bananas
  • cauliflower 
  • onions 
  • sliced cucumbers
  • radish
  • carrots 

Almost every type of vegetable can be pickled if you have the recipe for it. 

The Pickling Process 

  1. Invest in a mason jar as you’ll be putting all your ingredients there. Make sure it’s quart-sized with a wide mouth, like this one on Amazon. 
  2. Once you’ve finished washing the vegetables, cut and put them inside the mason jar.
  3. In a saucepan, warm all the ingredients above. Stir the mixture until it comes to a simmer, then turn the stove to low heat.
  4. Once the mixture is ready, carefully pour it into the mason jar over the vegetables to submerge them in the hot liquid.
  5. Refrigerate the pickles for at least 4-5 hours so that they can properly marinate.
  6. Or, tighten the lid and keep it in the fridge for a month so it will taste more like the real thing.

NOTE: To make dill pickles add garlic, herbs, and some peppers to the jar.

This is just one method, any recipe that requires more vinegar than water will be helpful in preparing pickles without the need for adding any salt to the mixture. As a rule, always remember that a no-salt pickle will only be safe to consume if it contains at least the same amounts of vinegar and water.

If a recipe calls for ¼ cup of water, make sure that the amount of vinegar is ¼ cup or more. In some cases, vinegar might be the only ingredient required in your recipe.

A jar of pickled cauliflower next to a whole head of cauliflower.
To reduce salt in your diet, try pickling veggies with vinegar!


Pickling without salt might be a challenge for some but when done properly, it can help reduce added salt in your diet.

Make sure to follow the instructions carefully, and don’t take any risks with fermented vegetables as it will lead to health complications. So can you pickle without salt? The answer is yes!

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