Pickles are not only dill-lightful (sorry, we couldn’t help ourselves), but they are also great for your health and a good way to use up excess produce. Pickles have a long history and have been touted for their amazing health benefits since the days of Cleopatra. Enjoyed with cheese, curries, sandwiches and, yes, even ice-cream, and lasting in your fridge for months on end, the only question you’ll have is what to pickle next.
The benefits of pickles are vast, which may be why they’ve been a popular choice since the days of ancient Mesopotamia. Fermented foods are recommended as a great treatment for anyone with stomach and digestive problems, as they are full of probiotics, which are important for gut health.
Cucumbers (the original pickle) are high in the antioxidant beta-carotene, which has been shown to help lower your chances of dying from heart disease, stroke, cancer and respiratory diseases.
Not only are the pickles themselves good for you, but the juice has also been said to provide health benefits. Pickle juice has been used by athletes to quickly replace lost electrolytes after exercise, with one study suggesting the sodium in the juice may work better than straight water to relieve muscle cramps. Pickle juice has also been credited as beneficial to those at risk of diabetes, as the vinegar may help curb sugar spikes.
Get adventurous! Pickling and fermenting allow you to spice up some of your tried-and-tested recipes with a little pickley twist. And with each different type of pickled vegetable or fruit comes different health benefits and different flavours. Don’t just stick to cucumbers, try onions for a Parisian cornichon, ginger for Japanese pickled ginger, and cabbage for Korean-style kimchi or European-style sauerkraut. It’s a great way to use up whatever your garden is producing in excess, and will last for months.
Pickles: A history
The 4,000-year-old history of pickles travels from the ancient Mesopotamians in 2400 B.C to the hotdog vendors of modern-day New York. Initially, in a world without refrigeration, pickles were born out of necessity and made by fermenting fruits and vegetables in a salty liquid for long enough that they wouldn’t spoil on long voyages at sea or along the Silk Road.
In Ancient Egypt, legendary beauty Cleopatra swore by pickles for her health, while her lover Julius Caesar fed them to his soldiers to build their strength.
During his voyage to the New World in 1492, Christopher Columbus rationed his sailors with pickles to protect them from scurvy during the long voyage. Columbus is credited for bringing pickles to America, the country which, by 2010, was consuming more than 900,000 kilograms of pickles a year.
In 1809, Napoleon Bonaparte offered to pay a huge sum of money to the person who could come up with the best way to pickle and preserve food for his troops. French chef Nicolas Appert discovered that by removing the air before sealing a jar, he could boil the bottle and preserve its contents. Appert discovered he could preserve jellies, syrups, soups and dairy products and easily won the competition.
Pickles have a place in almost every country around the world. In Iran, they serve a soup studded with ghooreh (which is a type of sour pickled grape); in France, charcuterie boards are regularly served with cornichons; in India, curries/stews are served with sesame oil- or mustard oil-pickled mango or lime; and – of course – in America, no hotdog or burger is complete without a lashing of pickles (cucumbers).
How to pickle? Quick pickles versus fermented pickles
There are two main ways to pickle. The quick pickle is, as it sounds, a simple, no-fuss approach of making a simple brine of one-part water to one-part vinegar, salt and sugar. Heat the mixture until the sugar and salt have dissolved, then add it to a jar with your choice of vegetables and spices. Store the pickles in the fridge for a day or so and they’ll be ready to eat.
For fermented pickles, the process is a little more in-depth and time consuming – but the health benefits are worth it. It’s important to use super-clean ingredients and utensils, and prepare the pickles in a clean environment to minimise the chance of growing any nasty bacteria within the jar.
What can you pickle?
Honestly, it’s probably safe to say you can pickle anything edible. The options are just that endless! While cucumbers are the original pickle, you can get creative with any vegetables or fruits you have spare. For example:
IMPORTANT LEGAL INFO This article is of a general nature and FYI only, because it doesn’t take into account your personal health requirements or existing medical conditions. That means it’s not personalised health advice and shouldn’t be relied upon as if it is. Before making a health-related decision, you should work out if the info is appropriate for your situation and get professional medical advice.
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