Why Is My Pickle Limp?

A mushy pickle doesn’t always mean the food has gone bad. There could be several other factors to blame.
Here's hoping this one is crisp.
Here's hoping this one is crisp. / MB Photography/500px/Getty Images

Have you ever chomped into a pickle expecting to hear a satisfying crunch, just to discover you’ve actually bitten into sour, soggy mush? Not all pickles are created equal. To get to the bottom of why, we have to consider what makes them crunchy in the first place.

Why aren’t my pickles crunchy?

Pickles, as most people think of them, start out as cucumbers (though you can pickle a variety of other vegetables, too). A good, firm cucumber makes all the difference; if your base is flimsy, your pickle will be, too. Use a fresh cucumber for the best shot at a crunchy pickle. Older, poorly harvested cucumbers are one of the main culprits behind a flimsy pickle. As the fruit—yes, cucumbers are botanically fruit—over-ripen and age, their seeds grow larger, creating a mushier texture. 

Age isn’t the only factor behind why some pickles lose their crunch. Here are some other reasons why you might wind up with a soft pickle:

  • The cucumbers were boiled in hot water for too long.
  • There wasn’t a crunch-enhancing ingredient, like calcium chloride, in the brine.
  • The brine/vinegar solution was too weak.
  • The pickles were stored at too high of a temperature. 
  • The jar wasn’t airtight, and bacteria snuck in.

If you’re canning your own pickles, opt for smaller cucumbers that don’t have any sort of wax coating. Make sure you remove the cucumber’s blossom—the enzymes it contains will make your pickles soft [PDF].

Do pickles go bad?

Mushiness doesn’t always mean a pickle has gone bad. But when combined with other factors, it could be a warning sign that it’s time to chuck the food in the trash. Pickles don’t stay fresh forever. Though they can sometimes make it beyond their listed “best by” date, you definitely do not want to snack from a pickle jar that’s showing any of the following signs:

  • A sour scent: Give those bad boys a whiff! If there’s a sour smell or an odor that just seems a bit off, it’s time to toss them.
  • Mold: This one is a bit of a given, but it’s worth noting that any visible mold is a sign that the pickles are no longer safe to eat.
  • Odd colors: The brine should always look slightly clear. If it’s really murky and your pickles feel mushy, it means they’re likely past their time.
  • A domed lid: Oxygen is released inside the pickle jar when the veggies ferment and go bad. Because that oxygen has no place to go, it causes the lid to bulge and create a dome-like appearance.

Read More Stories About Snacks: