Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Flash Pickling

A large, plastic syringe can be used to create pickles almost instantly. The syringe is used a create a difference in pressure that causes the pickling solution, vinegar, to quickly permeate the cucumber pieces.  For this quick experiment you'll need: a cucumber, a knife, a large plastic syringe, and flavored vinegar (apple cider and rice wine make tasty pickles).

Chop a cucumber into small 1/2" pieces and place several inside the syringe tube.

Insert the plunger and use it to draw up enough vinegar to fill the syringe 2/3 to 3/4 full.  Make sure to get out as much air as possible.

Place your thumb very firmly over the syringe opening and use the other hand to forcefully depress the plunger.

Keeping your thumb firmly sealed, withdraw the plunger and keep it extended for about one minute.  This may cause a small amount of discomfort to your thumb.

Remove the plunger and empty out the contents of the syringe.  These cucumber pieces are now saturated with the vinegar, and they should taste like fresh pickles.

Pickling has long been a way to preserve fresh foods such as vegetables, fruits, and eggs.  These foods would typically rot and spoil rather quickly if they weren’t eaten or kept cold.  Pickling came in handy before the refrigerator was invented, and it is still popular today because pickles are so tasty!  Mold, insects, and bacteria are common factors of rotting and spoiled food.  Pickling foods creates an acidic, anaerobic environment that is inhospitable to these factors.  Vinegar is an acid, meaning it has a low pH and tastes sour.  By covering the pickles in liquid brine, an anaerobic environment is created.  Anaerobic means without air.  Just like us, insects and other food spoilers need air to breathe.  The anaerobic environment keeps the pickles fresh and safe to eat.

Flash pickling with the syringe creates instant pickles whereas you need to wait 1-3 weeks for refrigerator pickles.  The key to this time difference is pressure.  Boyle’s law states that pressure and volume are inversely related in a closed system (as long as temperature remains the same).  By covering the syringe opening with your thumb, you are creating a closed environment.  When the plunger is withdrawn, the volume is increased.  This means that the pressure lowered, creating a partial vacuum.  When you relax the syringe and release your thumb, the fluid vinegar rushes into the cucumber pieces, creating almost instant pickles.  For the pickles sitting in the fridge, they must wait patiently for osmosis to take its course.

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