How Tea Leaves Can Help Keep Your Homemade Pickles Crisp

Besides its salty and sour taste, one of the best parts about eating a pickle is its distinctive crunch. Each bite has a pleasing snap to it, so the worst thing you can offer a pickle lover is a mushy spear. The thought seems reprehensible. However, with canning as a hobby on the rise, more and more people are turning to jarring their own pickled cucumbers. So if you want it all crisp and no mush, you might want to consider tossing a few tea leaves into the brine. 

No, you're not making some strange new tea-flavored pickle. It's actually a fairly common practice within the jarring community. Some enthusiasts use tea leaves, grape leaves, and oak leaves to help preserve that crunch in their pickles. There's actually a variety of potential plants you can use. However, there are also types that you wouldn't want to use like plum leaves, since they contain cyanide compounds and are toxic to animals. 

Sticking with tea, it's probably the most convenient of the options. While it may make your brine off-colored, you can use a few tablespoons of black tea grounds or a prepackaged bag of tea as well in the jar. As far as why tea protects your pickles, it actually all comes down to science. 

Why tea helps preserve a pickle's crunch

Tea leaves and tea grounds contain a compound called tannins. Tannins are polyphenols that can both help extend a food's shelf life but also protect it on a cellular level from microbes as well. In the case of pickles, tannins help slow down pectinase enzymes. These enzymes are responsible for breaking down the cucumber's cellular walls, which is what leads to a mushy pickle as a result. By introducing tannins, home jarring enthusiasts can help extend the freshness of their pickles, providing a nice suitable crunch long after. 

Unfortunately, there's very little tea leaves or tannins can do if a pickle is already mushy. You'll need to add tea to your brine from the start if you want to see the best results. However, there is a way to resurrect a mushy or soft pickle. Calcium chloride is a compound that can add back crispiness to your pickles. It's sold over the counter with several different brands but is also known as pickle crisp. In order to use the powder, all you have to do is add it to your brine, and you should see results. However, for those who don't want to use calcium chloride, tea leaves seem like an easy and natural solution. Just be sure to add them in time.