For centuries we have been preserving food as a means to secure surplus food supplies for long winters, famine and other times of need. One such method is pickling. Pickling is the process of preserving food by anaerobic fermentation in brine (salt) to produce lactic acid, or marinating and storing food in an acid solution (vinegar). With a pH less than 4.6 and antimicrobial herbs and spices, such as mustard seed, garlic, cinnamon or cloves, the resulting food is called a pickle. This process gives the food a salty or sour taste and increases the “shelf-life” of perishable items for several months in jars.
Pickling can be broadly categorized into two categories:
1) Chemical Pickling: the food is placed in an edible spiced liquid that inhibits or kills bacteria and other micro-organisms. Typical pickling agents include brine (high in salt), vinegar (high in acid), alcohol and vegetable oil. Many chemical pickling processes also involve heating or boiling so that the food being preserved becomes saturated with the pickling agent and spices. Common chemically pickled foods include cucumbers, peppers, corned beef, herring and eggs.
2) Fermentation Pickling: the food itself produces the preservation agent, typically by a process that produces lactic acid. Common fermented pickled foods include sauerkraut and kimchi.
Pickling is a global culinary art. You can find different items pickled around the world. Fruits, vegetables and meats are generally mixed with other ingredients (salt, local spices and vegetable oils) and set to mature in a sealed jar:
- India: Known as Achar; pickling commonly from mango, lime, Indian gooseberry, chili, and vegetables such as egg plants, carrots, cauliflower, tomato, bitter gourd & green tamarind, ginger, garlic, onion and citron.
- Indonesia and Philippines: Known as Acar or Achara; pickling commonly from cucumber, carrot, bird’s eye chilies, garlic, shallots and fruits, such as papaya and pineapple.
- Korea (Asia): A staple dietary item is kimchi; pickled cabbage and radish. Also made with green onions, garlic stems, chives and many other vegetables.
- Middle East: Known as mekhallel; pickling commonly from turnips, peppers, carrots, cauliflower, green olives, cucumbers, beetroot, cabbage, and lemons
- Eastern Europe: Pickling commonly from beetroot, cucumbers, green tomatoes, carrots, cabbage, bell peppers, mushrooms, turnips, celery, cauliflower and melons. Meat is preserved in salt and lard.
- Britain: Most commonly pickled items are onions, eggs, beetroot, gherkins, herring, olives, capers and other condiments. Other popular items are pickled mussels, salmon, and red cabbage.
- North America: Pickled cucumbers (most simply referred as “pickles”), olives, and sauerkraut are most popular.
For more information on pickling, including “how to” recipes, please visit http://nchfp.uga.edu/how/can6b_pickle.html