What is Pickle and what are Pickles?
Pickles are foodstuffs preserved in an acid solution which keeps the food from spoiling using anaerobic fermentation. The acidity kills and prevents growth of bacteria and fungus that would otherwise cause the ingredients to spoil and decompose.
The acid can either be added, usually using vinegar, or created by the natural fermentation process.
Fermentation is the anaerobic or partially anaerobic oxidation of
carbohydrates by either microorganisms or enzymes (as opposed to
putrefaction which is the oxidation of proteins).
Fermentation can have
both positive and negative effects. When the fermentation occurs in a
controlled way, it yields lactic acid which inhibits the growth of
The pickling process is biologically complex
(and has only been studied in detail for a few economically-important
pickles), but consists in part of the actions of yeasts from the Saccharomyces family, especially S. cerevisiae, which convert carbohydrates to alcohols and bacteria of the Lactobacillaceae family which produce enzymes which oxidise the alcohols to lactic and acetic acid.
The contemporary use of the terms pickle and chutney generally refer to one or more ingredients preserved in a thick sauce often containing sugar, vinegar, spices and flavourings.
The PH of a chutney or a pickle is typically below 4.6; sufficient to kill most bacteria and therefore preventing the food going bad. Techniques and recipes may also utilise antimicrobial herbs and spices which include mustard, garlic, cinnamon and cloves.
In some cases pickling may increase elements of the nutritional value of the foodstuff through the process of B-vitamin creation by bacteria.
When making pickles and chutneys, it is essential that the jars or other vessels used to store the finished product are sterilised first to prevent the inclusion and subsequent growth of any fungus or bacteria that may be present. The presence of such can spoil the pickle of chutney and in extreme cases create poisons.
The History of Pickle and Pickles
The earliest know examples of pickled food are cucumbers known to have been pickled around 2030 BC in Mesopotamia, when inhabitants from northern India took cucumber seeds to the Tigris valley.
Pickling has been used extensively throughout history as a way of preserving food for long journeys, especially by sea, and storage for eating later in the years and when the ingrediants are out of season.
Pickles are mentioned at least twice in the Bible (Numbers 11:5 and
Isaiah 1:8), were known to the ancient Egyptians (Cleopatra attributed
some of her beauty to pickles), and Aristotle praised the healing
effects of pickled cucumbers. The Romans imported all sorts of foods
from the countries they conquered, pickling them for the journey in
vinegar, oil, brine and sometimes honey. Garum or Liquamen, a fermented,
salted fish-based condiment was a dietary staple and has been found as
far north as the Antonine Wall.
Notable pickle loving characters from history include: Emperors Julius Caesar
and Tiberius, King John and Queen Elizabeth I of England, Samuel Pepys,
Amerigo Vespucci, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and Napoleon
The English word 'pickle' derives from the Middle English pikel,
first recorded around 1400 and meaning 'a spicy sauce or gravy served
with meat or fowl'. This is different to, but obviously related to the
Middle Dutch source, pekel, meaning a solution, such as spiced brine,
for preserving and flavouring food.