Nordic Secrets: How to eat more sustainably by pickling your food

Friday, January 20, 2017 - 16:12

By Lucy Peters

From pickled herring to gherkin relish, the Nordic diet relies on an ancient, salty-sour method of keeping food fresh.

For the Opening Weekend of Southbank Centre’s Nordic Matters year, we invited Swedish-Norwegian deli producer Gunnar Lieungh, from Nordic smokehouse House of Sverre, to teach us the art of pickling, and explain why this Nordic culinary tradition earns points for sustainability.

Gunnar Lieungh in the smokehouse.

‘Pickled herring is my favourite food. In Sweden we have over 70 varieties, in all sorts of sauces and pickles. Pickled beetroot and cucumber is also a nice treat, on a sandwich of liver pâté or a piece of ham.

‘Nordic people have an abundance of fresh food in the summer, especially seafood, fruit, berries and vegetables. As we have free access to lakes, seasides, forest, fields and mountains, we are free to pick berries and fruit and to fish at any time. Pickling was the natural way of preserving food before we had access to refrigeration. Home cooking is a big Nordic tradition.

‘Pickled food has a sparkly taste that blends in well with other food and dishes. The process keeps food healthy and fresh for a long time; just store the jars in a cool, dark place.

‘Pickling is not only the healthiest way to eat your veggies but also fun, easy and you get to take your jar home. By incorporating probiotic foods into your diet, you are feeding the bacteria that keeps your digestive health in balance.’


Food preservation and pickling is a core concept in sustainability because it teaches us to save food and eat locally and seasonally. There’s less food waste, and no environmental footprint.

Getting started

According to Gunnar, to start pickling, you need:

  • A clean and a sterilised glass jar with a tight air-locked lid.

  • An acid such as vinegar or salt water (if you use vinegar, remember to add sugar)

  • Sugar and salt.

  • Spices and herbs

  • A chopping board

  • A sharp knife

  • A cooking pot for the vegetables

For beginners, Gunnar recommends this recipe from, which guides you through the process of creating a basic pickle brine.

Getting the best results

Gunnar had plenty of tips:

  • Use fresh vegetables.

  • Alternatively, oily or fatty fish such as herring, anchovies and salmon gives great results.

  • Distilled vinegar gives the freshest taste to food.

  • Always sterilise glass by washing your jars and putting them in the oven at 100°C for 15 minutes, or in boiling water for five minutes.

  • If pickling seafood such as herring, use salt brine to give your pickle a longer shelf-life.

  • Don't take shortcuts. The jar and lid sterilisation process, timings when boiling your water, and the amount of vinegar you use are all critical components to crafting perfect pickles.