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Pickling is the process of preserving or expanding the lifespan of food by either anaerobic fermentation in brine or immersion in vinegar. The resulting food is called a pickle, or to prevent ambiguity, prefaced with the adjective pickled. The pickling procedure will typically affect the food's texture and flavour. In East Asia, vinaigrette (vegetable oil and vinegar) is used as the pickling medium.
Another distinguishing characteristic is a pH 4.6 or lower, which is sufficient to kill most bacteria. Pickling can preserve perishable foods for months. Antimicrobial herbs and spices, such as mustard seed, garlic, cinnamon or cloves, are often added. If the food contains sufficient moisture, a pickling brine may be produced simply by adding dry salt. For example, German sauerkraut and Korean kimchi are produced by salting the vegetables to draw out excess water. Natural fermentation at room temperature, by lactic acid bacteria, produces the required acidity. Other pickles are made by placing vegetables in vinegar. Unlike the canning process, pickling (which includes fermentation) does not require that the food be completely sterile before it is sealed. The acidity or salinity of the solution, the temperature of fermentation, and the exclusion of oxygen determine which microorganisms dominate, and determine the flavour of the end product.
When both salt concentration and temperature are low, Leuconostoc mesenteroides dominates, producing a mix of acids, alcohol, and aroma compounds. At higher temperatures Lactobacillus plantarum dominates, which produces primarily lactic acid. Many pickles start with Leuconostoc, and change to Lactobacillus with higher acidity.
Pickling began 4000 years ago using cucumbers native to India. It is called "achar" in southern India. This was used as a way to preserve food for out-of-season use and for long journeys, especially by sea. Salt pork and salt beef were common staples for sailors before the days of steam engines. Although the process was invented to preserve foods, pickles are also made and eaten because people enjoy the resulting flavours. Pickling may also improve the nutritional value of food by introducing B vitamins produced by bacteria.
The term pickle is derived from the Dutch word pekel, meaning brine. In the U.S. and Canada, and sometimes Australia, the word pickle alone almost always refers to a pickled cucumber, except when it is used figuratively. It may also refer to other types of pickles such as "pickled onion", "pickled cauliflower", etc. In the UK, pickle, as in a "cheese and pickle sandwich", may also refer to Ploughman's pickle, a kind of chutney.
POPULARITY OF PICKLES AROUND THE WORLD
South Asia has a large variety of pickles (known as achar in Punjabi, Hindi, Bengali, uppinakaayi in Kannada, lonacha in Marathi, oorukai in Tamil, ooragaya in Telugu), which are mainly made from varieties of mango, lemon, lime, tamarind and Indian gooseberry (amla), chilli. Vegetables such as brinjal, carrots, cauliflower, tomato, bitter gourd, green tamarind, ginger, garlic, onion, and citron are also occasionally used. These fruits and vegetables are generally mixed with ingredients like salt, spices, and vegetable oils and are set to mature in a moistureless medium.
In Pakistan, pickles are known locally as achaar (in Urdu) and come in a variety of flavours. A popular item is the traditional mixed Hyderabadi pickle, a common delicacy prepared from an assortment of fruits (most notably mangos) and vegetables blended with selected spices.
In Sri Lanka, achcharu is traditionally prepared from carrots, onions, and ground dates that are mixed with mustard powder, ground pepper, crushed ginger, garlic, and vinegar, and left to sit in a clay pot.
In the Philippines, achara is primarily made out of green papaya, carrots, and shallots, with cloves of garlic and vinegar. Other versions could include ginger, bell peppers, daikon, cucumbers or bamboo shoots. Separately, in some provinces, unripe mangoes or burong mangga, unripe tomatoes, green apple guavas, jicama turnips, bitter gourd and other fruit and vegetables are also pickled. Siling labuyo, sometimes with garlic and red onions, are also pickled in bottled vinegar. The spiced vinegar itself is a staple condiment in Filipino cuisine.
In Vietnam, vegetable pickles are called dưa muối ("salted vegetables") or dưa chua ("sour vegetables"). In Burma, tea leaves are pickled to produce lahpet, which has strong social and cultural importance.
Japanese tsukemono (pickled foods) include takuan (daikon), umeboshi (ume plum), gari & beni shoga (ginger), turnip, cucumber, and Chinese cabbage.
The Korean staple kimchi is usually made from pickled napa cabbage and radish, but is also made from green onions, garlic stems, chives and a host of other vegetables. Kimchi is popular throughout East Asia. Jangajji is another example of pickled vegetables.
In Iran, Turkey, Arab countries, the Balkans, and the Caucasus, pickles (called torshi in Persian, turşu in Turkish language and mekhallel in Arabic) are commonly made from turnips, peppers, carrots, green olives, cucumbers, cabbage, green tomatoes, lemons, and cauliflower.
Central and Eastern Europe
In Hungary the main meal (lunch) usually goes with some kind of pickles (savanyúság) but they are commonly consumed at other times of the day too. The most commonly consumed pickles are sauerkraut (savanyú káposzta), the different kinds of pickled cucumbers and peppers and csalamádé but tomatoes, carrots, beetroot, baby corn, onions, garlic, certain squashes and melons and a few fruits like plums and apples are used to make pickles too. Stuffed pickles are specialties usually made of peppers or melons pickled after being stuffed with a cabbage filling. Pickled plum stuffed with garlic is a unique Hungarian type of pickle just like csalamádé and leavened cucumber (kovászos uborka). Csalamádé a type of mixed pickle made of cabbage, cucumber, paprika, onion, carrot, tomatoes and bay leaf mixed up with vinegar as the fermenting agent. Leavened cucumber, not like other types of pickled cucumbers that are around all year long, is rather a seasonal pickle produced and sold on the summer only since it is fermented with the cucumbers and slices of bread put in a glass of salt water and kept in direct sunlight for a few days. Its juice can be used to make a special type of spritzer ('Újházy fröccs') instead of carbonated water. It is common for Hungarian households to produce their own pickles. Different regions or towns have their special recipes unique to them. Among them all the Vecsési Sauerkraut (Vecsési savanyú káposzta) is the most famous. Repopulated by Bavarian settlers after the Ottoman rule, Vecsés has built up centuries of tradition producing sauerkraut so the city's name is associated with it. It is widely sold at the Great Market Hall of Budapest and considered a tourist attraction too together with the Market Hall itself and other unique Hungarian products sold there just like tokaji, Winter salami, paprika, embroidery etc.
Romanian pickles (murături) are made out of beetroot, cucumbers, green tomatoes (gogonele), carrots, cabbage, bell peppers, melons, mushrooms, turnips, celery and cauliflower. Meat, like pork, can also be preserved in salt and lard.
Polish and Czech traditional pickles are cucumbers and sauerkraut, but other pickled fruits and vegetables, including plums, pumpkins and mushrooms are also common.
Russian, Ukrainian and Belarusian pickled items include beets, mushrooms, tomatoes, sauerkraut, cucumbers, ramsons, garlic, eggplant (which is typically stuffed with julienned carrots), custard squash, and watermelon. In these countries garden produce is commonly pickled using salt, dill, blackcurrant leaves, bay leaves and garlic and is stored in a cool, dark place.
In Albania, Bulgaria, Serbia, Macedonia and Turkey, mixed pickles, known as turshi or turshu form popular appetizers, which are typically eaten with rakia. Pickled green tomatoes, cucumbers, carrots, bell peppers, peppers, eggplants, and sauerkraut are also popular.
Turkish pickles, called turşu, are made out of vegetables, roots, and fruits such as peppers, cucumber, Armenian cucumber, cabbage, tomato, eggplant (aubergine), carrot, turnip, beetroot, green almond, baby watermelon, baby cantaloupe, garlic, cauliflower, bean and green plum. A mixture of spices flavours the pickles.
In Greece, pickles, called τουρσί(α), are made out of carrots, celery, eggplants stuffed with diced carrots, cauliflower, tomatoes, and peppers.
Pickled herring, rollmops, and salmon are popular in Scandinavia. Pickled cucumbers and red garden beets are important as condiments for several traditional dishes. Pickled capers are also common in Scandinavian cuisine.
United States and Canada
In the United States and Canada, pickled cucumbers (most often referred to simply as "pickles" in Canada and the United States), olives, and sauerkraut are most popular, although pickles popular in other nations are also available.
Canadian pickling is similar to that of Britain. Through the winter, pickling is an important method of food preservation. Pickled cucumbers, onions, and eggs are very popular. Chow Chow is a tart vegetable mix popular in the Maritime Provinces, similar to piccalilli. Pickled fish is very popular, as in Scotland. Meat is often also pickled or preserved in different brines throughout the winter, most prominently in the harsh climate of Newfoundland.
Giardiniera, a mixture of pickled peppers, celery and olives, is a popular condiment in Chicago and other cities with large Italian-American populations, and is often consumed with Italian beef sandwiches. Pickled eggs are common in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Pickled herring is available in the Upper Midwest. Pennsylvania Dutch Country has a strong tradition of pickled foods, including chow-chow and red beet eggs. In the Southern United States, pickled okra and watermelon rind are popular, as are deep-fried pickles and pickled pig's feet, pickled chicken eggs, pickled quail eggs, pickled Garden vegetables and pickled sausage. In Mexico, chili peppers, particularly of the Jalapeño and serrano varieties, pickled with onions, carrots and herbs form common condiments. Various pickled vegetables, fish, or eggs may make a side dish to a Canadian lunch or dinner.
In the United States, National Pickle Day is a popular food holiday every year on November 14.
Mexico, Central America, and South America
THE PICKLING PROCESS
In chemical pickling, the jar and lid are first boiled in order to sterilize them. The fruits or vegetables to be pickled are then added to the jar along with brine, vinegar, or both, as well as spices, and are then allowed to ferment until the desired taste is obtained.
The food can be pre-soaked in brine before transferring to vinegar. This reduces the water content of the food which would otherwise dilute the vinegar. This method is particularly useful for fruit and vegetables with a high natural water content.
In commercial pickling, a preservative like sodium benzoate or EDTA may also be added to enhance shelf life. In fermentation pickling, the food itself produces the preservation agent, typically by a process involving Lactobacillus bacteria that produce lactic acid as the preservative agent.
Alum was once used as a preservative in pickling and is still approved as a food additive by the U.S.A. Food and Drug Administration, but alum in repeated small doses may cause brain damage.
"Refrigerator pickles" are unfermented pickles made by marinating fruit or vegetables in a seasoned vinegar solution. They must be stored under refrigeration or undergo canning to achieve long-term storage.
Traditionally manufactured pickles are source of healthy probiotic microbes, which occur by natural fermentation in brine, but pickles produced using vinegar are not probiotic.
POSSIBLE HEALTH HAZARDS OF PICKLED VEGETABLES
The World Health Organization has listed pickled vegetables as a possible carcinogen, and the British Journal of Cancer released an online 2009 meta-analysis of research on pickles as increasing the risks of oesophageal cancer. The report cites a potential two-fold increased risk of oesophageal cancer associated with Asian pickled vegetable consumption. Results from the research are described as having "high heterogeneity" and the study said that further well-designed prospective studies were warranted.
Some common fungi can facilitate the formation of N-nitroso compounds, which are strong oesophageal carcinogens in several animal models. Roussin red methyl ester, a non-alkylating nitroso compound with tumour-promoting effect in vitro, was identified in pickles from Linxian in much higher concentrations than in samples from low-incidence areas. Fumonisin mycotoxins have been shown to cause liver and kidney tumours in rodents.
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