Introduction: Instant Pickles! (30 Second Vacuum Pickles!)

Picture of Instant Pickles! (30 Second Vacuum Pickles!)

Got that tickle for a pickle, but feeling fickle about the wait? With your hand-powered vacuum, you can convert your cucumbers in about 30 seconds to delectable dills of delight!

This pickling relies on a fascinating process using negative pressure to collapse the cell walls of your cucumber, and break down the membranes, letting water out, and your vinegar brine in. Whether you're in it for the science or in it for the taste, 30 second pickles are just magical!

  • What: Instant Pickles! (30 second vacuum pickles)
  • Wait, seriously!?: Yes indeedy
  • Concepts: air pressure, cell structure, diffusion
  • Cost: ~ $2 for a full on cucumber conversion
  • Time: ~ 60 seconds prep, 30 seconds pickling
  • Materials:
    • Cucumber
    • Vinegar
    • Sugar
    • Spices
    • Large syringe (with no point)
    • Small cup
  • Tools:
    • Knife

There is an amazing amount of pickle info out there. To get an introduction to pickles, look at pickles through history and to learn more about the science, here's how traditional pickling works.

However, we're going to take what sometimes takes years and blow it out of the vinegar. In 30 seconds. About one millionth the time.

Step 1: Mix Your Brine

Picture of Mix Your Brine

Flavors and preferences will vary here, but for the most part, you'll want to start off with pouring in some vinegar. White vinegar works well, but for more flavor up front you can go with balsamic (yum!) Add some sugar to taste, and some spices. I used cumin and turmeric, but also common is salt, pepper, curry, cayenne, really anything you want!

Mix it in a cup, and you want enough to be able to partially fill your syringe.

Step 2: Cut and Load Your Cucumber

Picture of Cut and Load Your Cucumber

For instant-pickling, thin slices work best. Slice your cucumber, and then divide those slices into chunks that can fit into your syringe. Remove the back plunger, throw them in, and then squeeze then replace the plunger and squeeze. You're ready for pickle time!

Step 3: Pickle Time!

Picture of Pickle Time!

With your cucumbers in the syringe, pull enough of your brine to submerge them. Then flip your syringe upside down, and place your thumb over the tip. Then pull back the plunger so a partial vacuum is created inside, and hold!

Step 4: Hold for 30 Seconds (also Science Time!)

Picture of Hold for 30 Seconds (also Science Time!)

As you hold the vacuum for 30 seconds, you can take a moment to check out the science. If you look in your syringe, you can see bubbles forming and escaping from your cucumbers. This is because there are tiny air pockets in every plant cell and throughout the structures. As you pull your partial vacuum, the air trapped in cell vacuoles burst out of the cell and in between the structures. This is one of the many reasons we wouldn't do too well in space. Check out this blog of someone using a vacuum chamber to pickle for more details.

This breakdown also release a lot of the water within, allowing it to be replaced by our brine, which will give our pickles their taste. The longer you hold, the more brine infusion, but 30 seconds is a pretty good amount of time.

When you're done, release your thumb from the syringe tip!

*** Neatly, Liam brought up in the comments the possibility of the water inside the syringe boiling, and that can happen, too! If you can pull your vacuum such that the pressure inside is ~0.36psi in a 70 degree fahrenheit room, you can see large bubbles forming throughout which is actually boiling water. Woot! It's definitely worth doing with even just water alone.

Step 5: Extract Ze Pickles and Enjoy!

Picture of Extract Ze Pickles and Enjoy!

Push out your brine into your cup, remove the plunger, and pour out your pickles! You can see them next to regular ol' cucumber, and they are looking GOOOOOOOD!!!

Chomp them up, and mess with your recipe to get ones you love even more. Also, you can pickle and infuse so many things like tomatoes, zucchinis, peppers, watermelons, and more. So long as you're working with plant items and vacuums, it's hard to go wrong.

Pickle lots and pickle often. Especially now that it's 10000% faster.


SouthernGentleman (author)2015-06-11

Do you think this would work equally well with a food vacuum sealer?

ardrhi (author)SouthernGentleman2015-06-16

Liquids are an issue with a vacuum sealer, and a vacuum bag may squish the cukes if they're soft and your sealer pulls a good, hard vacuum. I'd try using a vacuum container instead of a bag, and use one large enough to leave headspace so the liquid can't get sucked into the sealer. It's the same process, but a harder vacuum, you can probably make pickle spears since you don't have to fit the pieces into an air piston, and you won't get that little sucker mark on your thumb. *grin*

There's tons of vacuum sealers that work with containers, and the Foodsaver has an attachment for vacuum-sealing Mason jars. There's handheld vacuum pistols that work pretty well (I have one) and they make containers for those as well. I have a container and both quart and gallon bags for mine.

The one I got is here:

Steamcrunk (author)ardrhi2015-10-31

I use this vacuum sealer, which comes with a few containers that this process would work excellently with. I will report back!

Lesl1e1 (author)ardrhi2015-06-18

Have you tried this?

This is a wonderful comment on the food sealer option! Thanks ardrhi!

if you really want fast pickles i would recommend buying a vacuum chamber with a vacuum pump,

I was wondering the same thing.


Yes, this is great! Indeed, somebody has done it with a food vacuum sealer, and this is a method for if you don't have access to one, or want to experiment with air pressure on your own.

Check out the link in Step 4 to see somebody who is working with a food vacuum sealer. The results look mighty tasty, and make beautiful translucent veggies!

Thank you for the comment, and if you have access to a food vacuum sealer, let us know what you make!

JermaineM10 (author)2017-07-30

As a renal patient going to dialysis every couple days, I WONDER if they'd give me an oversize syringe for this kind of thing. Well, free source! I want to try this out!

blueye81 (author)2016-01-28

Great idea, I'm wondering how the process can be speeded up, like using
vacuum space bags (if you're not afraid of plastic) and a vacuum

Yonatan24 (author)2015-12-16

Thanks for haring, That is really cool!
I was just about to comment Liam's comment that the water might boil!

connor_da_brave (author)2015-12-02

Wow! Um I know u have ur finger over it, but if ur pushing down then won't it still spray out the sides a little bit

Pirate_Prince (author)2015-06-11

Thanks for the great ible.
I will have to try this because, I have recently built a small hand operated vacuum chamber for my art and craft projects (which I hope to upload it here sometime next week) so it would be good to experiment with pickling vegetables.
About your comment though, space being a vacuum. We do not really know that for a *fact* do we? I have yet to see a single factual video footage of space being a vacuum and its effect on any living organism. If space was really a vacuum, why would NASA train their astronouts under water instead of a real vacuum chamber? which they are quite capable of building.
Besides, life wouldn't exist ('not as we know it, Jim') anywhere in the universe if space was a vacuum. I personally don't buy it.
Keep up the good work!

Michael013 (author)Pirate_Prince2015-06-11

They do test in vacuum chambers, and this is what happens when things go wrong -

Pirate_Prince (author)Michael0132015-07-22

Yes but that was way back in 60's. Nasa knows that the space is not a vacuum environment, hence not subjecting their astronauts to it any longer.

Nasa is also hiding the information and video footage of biological entities filmed in space that proves space is not a vacuum.

Whoa and Yikes! That is an amazing video and interview. Thank you for sharing Michael013!

lbrewer42 (author)Pirate_Prince2015-06-16

Yes - we do know space is a vacuum. This is how jets of air can be used to manipulate astronauts using a "jet pack" when on a space walk. As they shoot a small jet of (nothing but) air into the surrounding vacuum, the force of the air leaving the nozzle is enough to turn them b/c no gravity is stopping them from turning, and there is no friction from surrounding atmosphere acting against their movement.

Underwater training has nothing to do with vacuum. When in water, the water makes us buoyant. If there is enough counterweight to balance the buoyancy, the person in the tank is as simulating weightlessness as close as they can (easily be done) on the earth. They also train in airplanes which ascend, cut their engines, and dive.

Hey Pirate_Prince! Thank you much, and can't wait to see your hand operatred vacuum chamber. That should be lovely!

As for space, I only mentioned that we don't do too well, out of pressure but also because of exposure to low temperature (related of course). Deep space is, however, the closest we have to a complete vacuum, but no vacuums are perfect as you said. :)

As for the training in water, I think that's mostly for the experience of completing operations while in neutral buoyancy, like life without strong gravity.

However, it would be really interesting to see testing in a vacuum. And it would be neat if space were more like a pool.

Keep up the exploring, and thanks Pirate_Prince!

xjacob (author)2015-07-06

We use this technique in surgery to rehydrate demineralized cancellous bone implants! Making pickles is genius, though. I would add that, if you make a habit out of this, they make little caps and/or stopcocks for luer lock syringes like that, so you don't get that finger hickey. Can't wait to try this!

mdeblasi1 (author)2015-06-22

Two words,

Nyxius (author)2015-06-22

I've made instant ice cold lemonade this way in the past. When water boils it cools the liquid portion. So water boiling at room temperature gives cold water when the pressure is restored. For instant lemonade just subject lemons water and sugar to a low grade vacuum until the water stops boiling. Then vent and enjoy.

bravoechonovember1 (author)2015-06-20

does it taste like a regular pickle?

I'd say about 80%-85% of a regular pickle. It's a great tester, and it has its own flair.

I'm growing cucumbers in my garden
I'll have to try this!!

cbunn (author)2015-06-22

Any idea if I could get any success heating the brine, putting it in a mason jar and using the pressure that it would create when the jar cools off? (taking into account that I have a risk of imploding the jar)

If I could reduce the time to a couple of hours, or even a day, it would be a win in my book

Hey cbunn!

That's a great question indeed! The short answer is that unfortunately the pressure difference isn't great enough to burst the vacuoles of the cell therefore speeding up the brine coming in.

The long answer is like this. The boiling temperature from when you seal your jar is approximately 373 degrees Kelvin, and room temp is around 294 Kelvin. With this reduction, the pressure difference will drop the pressure to around 0.78 atm. When you pull a vacuum with your finger, we're looking at changing the volume by a factor of three or so, and thus bringing it down to the 0.33atm range. It's around there that plant cells start to open up to make the process quick.

Thanks for the answer, and the amazing explanation :)

emets31 (author)2015-06-17

I am curious, would this work for other vegetables? I am a huge fan of giardiniera (not afraid to admit it!), and it would be awesome if I could make my own! I will have to try it, but I wanted ask the source, first. Also, I think rice vinegar would be killer for an Asian flair.

Hey emets!

Yes, and that's perhaps the funnest part is experimenting with other stuff. Any plant should be able to be infused with also just about anything. Try it out!

DanielR33 (author)2015-06-16

I'm not a chemist, so if this is a stupid question please forgive my ignorance, but I was wondering if I could make my apple cider vinegar this way, rather than stuffing the apples in a jar and waiting, and waiting, and waiting?

A mighty question indeed! For apple cider vinegar, that process requires fermentation, which is harder to harder to instafy. But while you're waiting, you'll have plenty of pickles to chomp on. Thanks for the question, DanielR33!

MrCafe (author)2015-06-17

I am sure you may have thought of this but rather then make that really awesome red dot on your thumb I've used my silicon rubber oven glove with some success to seal the top, even tried a rubber quark ( I keep them from liquor bottles).

An excellent addition! Thank you MrCafe!

nolan.kriegel (author)2015-06-16

I have been doing that with my vacuum food sealer with the attachment to use a quart canning jar. Also use left over favorite pickle juice, in my case it is Claussens.

pfred2 (author)nolan.kriegel2015-06-16

I've done that. Loaded empty pickle jars with more cucumbers. I was in a supermarket today studying pickles. I determined that I have to harvest my cucumbers when they are smaller. It looks like I am going to have a lot this year. I'll probably have to setup a table by the side of the road with a pile and just give them away.

If you want to use a food sealer I have found them in thrift stores, Salvation Army, Goodwill, and ARC for $4.00 - $5.00 and then order the adapters for quart canning jars through Amazon for a few bucks.

amberharding82 (author)2015-06-12

A piece of genius! Even though the syringe has small capacity, it will take million less seconds to stuff all the pickled cucumbers than wait for them to get ready somewhere in a jar, tucked behind a spider's web in some forsaken cupboard...

Awww thank you and hilarious. Indeed, now all we have to find is a jumbo syringe somewhere. :)

A little bigger :)

That is quite beastly indeed. You may need some real muscle to pull a good vacuum with that guy, but it would make a mighty bunch of pickles real quickle!

I'm all about the quickle pickle. Besides, you started this :)

You may try a farm store like Big R or Tractor Supply in their vet supplies.

you can get them on busy street corners in shady neighborhoods, just don't share needles with anyone.

zanne101 (author)2015-06-16

I wonder if this would work in an Aeropress. It's made like a syringe and creates a vacuum for the coffee, you would just have to insert something solid where the filter is usually placed. You could made full slice pickles.


pfred2 (author)2015-06-12

This might work good for dialing in my picking juice recipe. Right now I make batches, and wait. Then they all do not always come out quite as good as I'd like. With this I could sample the juice before I commit to making jars of pickles.

That is a mighty call indeed. It works great as a pickle previewer. :)

sundug (author)2015-06-16

Are the pickles crisp?

Super crisp! Basically the crispness of your starting cucumber.

myrobnme2 (author)2015-06-16

Can you reuse the brine?

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