Learn How to Make Pickling Spice

Pickling Spice
Pickling Spice. Photo © Molly Watson

Pickling is the process of preserving or increasing the lifespan of food. It is done by either fermentation in brine or immersion in a vinegar-based solution. Pickling spice is usually added to the mixture at the start of the process. It adds extra flavor to whatever is being pickled.

What Is Pickling Spice?

Pickling spice is actually a mix of spices that are used, as you might guess, when pickling. Pickling spice can also be added to the salt water when brining meats for extra flavor. There is no set answer as to what pickling spice is. It's a combination of spices and can include as few as two ingredients to many, many more. Pre-made pickling spice is available in the spice aisle of many grocery stores. Often a selection may be on display at specialty stores.

Homemade Pickling Spice

Nothing beats homemade pickling spice since you can customize it to match your palate. If you like spicy flavors, increase the crushed red pepper. If you don't like spice, omit them altogether. Homemade pickling spice is also a very economical option. Making it only requires pantry staples from your spice cabinet. It's also a great thing to make when you have spice jars that are running low. Combine all the small extra bits into one jar, and you've made pickling spice!

This pickling spice is a favorite. It works well for both pickled vegetables and meat brines. Note the optional ingredients and use them or adjust their amounts to reflect how much you like those flavors.

Homemade Pickling Spice

Combine the following in a small bowl or pint jar:

  • 1 tablespoon allspice berries (only whole allspice berries work here; ground allspice will be entirely too sharp and bitter)
  • 1 tablespoon black peppercorns (whole peppercorns, not ground pepper)
  • 1 tablespoon black mustard seeds (yellow work too, but won't provide the same visual effect in the jar)
  • 1 tablespoon cloves (only whole cloves work; ground cloves don't add the right flavor)
  • 1 tablespoon coriander seeds
  • 1 tablespoon red pepper flakes (optional; depending on your heat preference)
  • 2 teaspoons ground dried ginger (not fresh, it will be too sharp)
  • 1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg (optional, the warm homey flavor of nutmeg adds some depth of flavor)
  • 2 bay leaves (dried and crumbled)
  • 1 cinnamon stick (smashed or crumbled)

If you like, you can toast the allspice, peppercorns, mustard seeds, cloves, and coriander seeds in a dry frying pan for a few minutes for a deeper flavor before adding the other ingredients. Either way, mix everything together and store whatever you don't use that day in a glass jar or similar vessel in your pantry or spice cabinet. This recipe makes about 1/2 cup pickling spice. Use this pickling spice to make homemade corned beef or add it to the brine for pickled okra or to spicy pickled garlic for extra flavor.