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The Indian Art of Pickling - An Old School Way of Preserving Food

Updated: May 18, 2023

Pickles have been a part of Indian culture and history for 400 years. The process is as ancient as our civilization. We have an unconditional love towards pickle and whichever part of the country we might belong to, Pickle is likely to have been a part of our earliest food memories.

It all started with salting and curing food in brines to preserve it for long journeys. The word "pickle" is derived from a Dutch word "Pekel" or northern German "Pokel" which means "salt" or "brine." These two are the essentials components in the process of pickling.

Salt and time, naturally break down the vegetables and fruits and preserve them via fermentation. Good bacteria break down sugars and create lactic acid, preserving the fruit and giving fermented pickles. The acid that is produced acts as a natural preservative and prevents the growth of bacteria that could cause the pickle to go rotten. Direct sunlight and sufficient ambient light provide the warmth required for the bacteria to go about the business of fermentation. It takes anywhere between 15 days to a month for this process.

Pickling - A Ritual in Indian Families

We all have experienced the time when the art of pickling was a closely guarded family secret preserved by our grandmothers. We could find our mothers and grandmothers peeling, slicing, and mixing seasonal fruits and vegetables at any time of the year to transform them into a delicious pickle. Many of our grandparents have gone through the process of pickling in their lifetime. For them, pickling was more science than cooking.

Our grandparents inherently coincided with nature, and before refrigeration took place in households, pickling was a popular method to preserve food. No pickling was done during the monsoon months as the humidity and insufficient sunlight would make the pickles grow molds.

Dying Art of Pickling

Achar, the traditional Indian pickle, has graced the family's table for generations. Nowadays, traditional pickling has become a bit of a lost art. Apart from the ingredients, this dying art requires time and patience, which, in the hustle of today's busy life, people don't have. And with the growing culture of instant food, people forgot the family secret preserved by their grandmothers. For most of them, it is much easier to buy factory-made pickles than to make one at home. Pickling is deeply associated with Indian culture, and it is a source of employment for rural women who still have the pickling art that has been passed to them by their mothers and grandmothers.

Health Benefits of Pickles

Pickles are the indelible part of Indian cuisine. But, is it healthy to eat pickles every day? Some considered it unhealthy as it contains high salt and oil. Having said that, readymade pickles that are commercially manufactured are not ideal.

Pickles are good for health but only when consumed in moderation.

Here are some healths benefits of homemade pickles.

  1. Good source of antioxidants - As homemade pickles contain raw and unripe ingredients, it is a good source of antioxidants.

  2. It improves the digestive processes of the body.

  3. A reliable source of vitamins and minerals.

  4. Produce healthy bacteria in the body.

  5. Pickles are high in salt content, and the main risk of eating pickles is an increase in blood pressure. It is better to avoid commercial pickles as they are high in salt content and prepared by using different chemicals that are harmful to health.

  6. The right amount of salt and oil ensures good quality pickles. Using less amount of recommended usage of salt and oil would help the pickle to grow molds and bacteria, which will eventually spoil the pickle. If you have BP and other heart issues, you can avoid processed food, eating outside, not exercising enough. But you can surely have a homemade pickle. Just remember to eat pickle like a pickle.

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