These two types of pickles may seem similar, but there's one big difference.

When someone says "pickles," most people may safely assume they're referring to pickled cucumbers, a beloved component of burgers, sandwiches, and charcuterie boards. But there are actually several varieties of pickled cucumber, each with their own distinct taste.

Two of the most common types are dill pickles and sour pickles. They might sound similar by name, but they are actually quite different. Here, we explore the two types of pickles, how they are alike, and how they're different.

What Are Dill Pickles?

By far the most popular kind of cucumber pickle, dill pickles get their name because recipes use the dill herb. Fresh dill is added to either a vinegar brine or a salt brine along with other flavor-packed ingredients, like mustard seeds and pepper.

When bought in the refrigerated section of grocery stores or from a local deli, your dill pickles are likely fermented in a salt brine. If they're shelf-stable, that means they've been made in a vinegar brine.

Chef John used a salt brine and fermentation for his Homemade Dill Pickles.

Pickled Cucumber being lifted from a jar with a fork
Credit: kajakiki / Getty Images

What Are Sour Pickles?

There are two types of pickles in this category: sour and half sour. Through the process of fermentation, without vinegar, these pickles achieve a tangy flavor and crunchy texture.

Half sours, which have a milder taste, ferment for roughly six to eight weeks. For fully sour pickles, the cucumbers are fermented twice as long for a lip-puckering tartness. These will only be sold refrigerated, since they aren't heat-treated to become shelf stable.

You can also make sour pickles with dill, such as these Fermented Kosher-Style Dill Pickles.

So, What's the Difference?

The biggest difference between dill and sour pickles is that the former includes fresh dill weed (and occasionally dill seeds or oil) for a boost of herby flavor. Also, dill pickles nowadays are typically vinegar-based, while sour pickles are always fermented in a salt brine.

Although their flavors are a little different, you can easily substitute one for the other in recipes or dishes if needed.

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