20 Clever Uses for That Leftover Pickle Juice in the Jar
Not sure what to do with the leftover brine in the pickle jar? Solve that dill-emma with these creative ways to use up pickle juice in drinks, dishes, and yep, even to make more pickles.
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Fresh dill, onion, olive, and pickled pepper brine line a shelf of my refrigerator. I religiously hoard these by-products of pickling because they're versatile condiments on their own. Pickle juice’s sharp, vinegary constitution can perk up any savory meal. Take advantage of its health benefits, too: You can drink it straight up for post-workout electrolytes and to relieve muscle cramps. You can even bake with it (yes, pickle bread is a thing)! So if you’re a pickle lover and you find yourself with a surplus of pickle juice, keep reading. We’ll teach you how to use leftover brine in no time.
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What is pickle juice?
Pickle juice is a brine typically made from water, salt, and distilled white vinegar and used to pickle a cucumber. But what exactly happens when you put a cucumber in the brine?
Put on your lab goggles! The science of pickling, wherein an object like a fresh cucumber is placed in brine, comes down to osmosis. The cucumber has a semi-permeable membrane or skin, meaning it will allow *some* molecules to pass through and some not. Spice molecules, yes. Entire peppercorns, no.
Both the brine and cucumbers have water in them, but since the brine is so salty (or is a "hypertonic" solution), the cucumber will want to reach equilibrium. The water and flavors of the cukes start to exchange places with the salt and spices in the brine, resulting in a new, milder brine after the pickles are done curing. Osmosis at its finest.
Does pickle juice go bad?
Yes, pickle juice can go bad. And, not all parts of the leftover brine are recommended to reuse. Before you start reusing pickle brine, there are a few preliminary steps you should take to ensure it’s safe to consume and has a flavor profile that will work with your next use of it:
First, take a look at the jar of pickles. Is there any visible mold on the sides, lid, or floating on its surface? If so, discard it.
If your brine passed the mold test, the next step is to remove any spices and aromatics (such as the dill, black peppercorns, mustard seeds, or garlic cloves) by running the pickling brine through a fine-mesh strainer or coffee filter-lined colander. Then, taste it! You heard me. You have to know how briny it is so you can adjust it if needed. Taste good?
Recipes and tips for using pickle juice
So you finished all the pickles and now you have some leftover pickle juice. Relish (ha!) the opportunity to give that pickle juice new life. Check out all the interesting ways you can use it up below.
1. Reuse pickle brine for, uh, more pickling!
Reuse store-bought or homemade pickle juice to make a new batch of homemade pickles. Grab our recipe for quick pickles here. Bring the leftover pickle brine to a boil in a pot with a fresh clove of garlic and a few pickling spices before pouring it over a clean jar of cucumber slices, onions, peppers, or peeled boiled eggs. Then refrigerate and watch the magic happen! All sorts of veggies are prime for the pickling: Radishes, green beans (aka dilly beans), and cauliflower are all good candidates. When you’re finished with the first batch, repeat ad infinitum.
2. Pickle juice is a flavor burst for deviled eggs.
Speaking of eggs, add a splash of juice to the yolks of your deviled eggs. That’ll give them some extra zing.
3. Pickle juice is an alternative to other strong acids like vinegar or citrus juice.
An excellent example is to swap the lemon out in hummus!
4. Pickle juice and olive oil in a squeeze bottle make a great sandwich condiment.
Comedian Hannibal Buress says he dips his hand into a jar of leftover pickle juice and flicks ham sandwiches 7 to 11 times for more flavor. An easier way to accomplish this (and to mimic the oil and vinegar of classic Italian hoagies): Transfer 1 part strained pickle juice and 1 part olive oil to a squeeze bottle. Shake and squirt at will.
5. Use pickle juice in sauces.
6. Use pickle juice in salad dressings.
Toss your salads (including macaroni or potato salads) with a simple, puckering vinaigrette, herby dressing, or creamy ranch. When making slaw, you only need 1 to 2 tablespoons of pickle juice per head of cabbage to dress it.
7. Use pickle juice in gastriques.
A uniquely tart condiment to learn is a gastrique. It starts as cooked down honey or sugar syrup, but instead of apple cider vinegar, add the complex bouquet of brine. Once cooled, it’s a stellar accompaniment for strong blue cheeses, fruit, or poached proteins.
8. Marinate soft cheeses in pickle juice.
Pack a picnic by marinating soft cheeses like mozzarella or balls of goat cheese in a mason jar. Add a little pickle juice, olive oil, thyme, red pepper flakes, sliced garlic, and a couple of olives.
9. Add chicken stock to pickle juice to help mellow it.
One of my favorite recent discoveries is zupa ogórkowa, or Polish pickle soup. When heat is applied to pickle juice and chicken stock, it mellows out the sharp edges of the brine. Try different proportions of broth to brine in gazpacho, a batch of beans, congee, braised chicken thighs, and boiled potatoes. Read more about congee here. I’ve tried slowly simmering chicken adobo with a mix of pickle juice and soy sauce; it was plucky but satisfying over rice.
10. Pickle juice is an alternative to wine for deglazing a pan.
Keep pickle brine around like you would a cooking wine. If you’ve just seared some meats, quickly deglaze the pan with brine to create a punchy sauce.
11. Use pickle juice to marinate meat and seafood.
You don’t have to brine just vegetables; meats and seafood benefit from acidic marinades, too. They help tenderize the muscle fibers and pack it with flavor. Chicken, steak, and pork chops will all work.
12. Steam veggies and fish with pickle juice instead of water.
Fill a pot with diluted pickle juice to steam your vegetables or to poach fish.
13. Cure fresh raw fish or its veggie substitute with pickle juice.
14. Drink pickle juice straight from the jar.
There could be no simpler thing to do with pickle juice than to drink it completely undoctored, all on its own. If you think you could handle it!
15. Or suck on a pickle juice popsicle.
They’re dill-icious. Enough said.
16. Sip non-alcoholic sparkling drinks made with pickle juice.
If drinking brine straight from the jar or as a frozen pop is too much for you, tone it down with non-alcoholic concoctions. A splash of olive juice with seltzer is very similar to Vichy Catalan, a Spanish sparkling water.
17. Mix up a sweet, fruity pickle juice beverage.
For a sweeter summer sip, shrubs or drinking vinegars are tamed with the addition of fruit.
18. Pickle juice is a natural cold remedy.
19. Use a shot of pickle juice as a chaser for hard liquor.
A pickleback is the perfect chaser for stinging drinks like straight whiskey or tequila. The strong flavors of the pickle juice neutralize the burn you feel in your throat.
20. Pickle juice is great in cocktails.
More surprising kitchen tips await
No matter how you repurpose that leftover pickle juice, you can feel good that you’re preventing food waste while adding a new jolt of flavor to your dishes.
But pickle juice isn't the only thing in your kitchen with superstar versatility. Check out the articles below.