Like artisan cheese and craft beer, pickles are trending. But they’re far from a new fad. Borne out of necessity, pickles have historically served a very utilitarian purpose. While you may not need to preserve your vegetables for colder months like your ancestors once did, you can still reap the benefits from this ancient practice.
Prior to modern refrigeration, preserving fresh produce by pickling it was one way that people kept food from spoiling. It’s believed that people in Greece, Egypt, and Asia have been pickling their food since 3,000 B.C., according to the New York Food Museum. By the Middle Ages, pickles were common in Spain and England, and were even mentioned by Shakespeare in his plays. Today, we pickle less out of necessity, and more for gastronomic reasons.
Pickling involves preserving food, like vegetables or fruit, in an acidic liquid, like vinegar, along with salt and spices. Sometimes, you’ll see pickles preserved in a saltwater brine. Brine is usually used when the pickling process is longer, which is known as fermentation.
There are many health benefits of pickling, but the most talked about benefit is the fact that they are probiotic. Because of the fermentation process, they are good sources of bacteria that can help to balance and maintain beneficial gut flora.
They also contain antioxidants and many of the nutrients present in the original vegetables that are pickled, but it should be noted that the pickling process does destroy water-soluble vitamins, like vitamins B and C. Pickling also requires a lot of additional salt—one dill pickle can take up about half of your daily sodium allowance.
However, pickles are more good than bad, and they also make for good snacks, a fun time in the kitchen, and great gifts. It’s important when preserving foods that you follow food safety protocol. The National Center for Home Food Preservation has some good tips for getting started.
Here are some pickle recipes to get you started:
Yes, you can pickle fruit! And the super sweet tropical pineapple is a perfect candidate for pickling. This recipe from Running to the Kitchen features jalapeños and cilantro, to give the fruit a tangy bite. Add it to sandwiches or salads, or snack on them alone.
This recipe for pickled cabbage from Edible Perspective demonstrates the difference between pickled and fermented.
Top your sandwiches with this crispy treat or serve them alongside spicy Caribbean cuisine. These red onions from Fox Valley Foodie are versatile when fresh, and this recipe for pickling them opens up even more possibilities.
If you’re a garlic lover – and you should be – this recipe from the Yummy Life is a treat. Use this pickled garlic as a garnish on appetizer trays, slice them up in salads, mince them to give flavor to dressings, stuff them into olives, or eat them as is!
For a quick pickle fix that you plan on getting through quickly, look no further than this recipe from A Dish of Daily Life. These spicy pickled carrots are ready in less than an hour and will keep for a week in the fridge. Enjoy!
If you like things that are sweet, sour, and slightly spicy, you’ll love these radish pickles from My Korean Kitchen. The recipe uses pink radishes, but you can make them more traditionally Korean by using daikon radishes, if you can find them.
Giardiniera is an authentic Italian dish, often used as a condiment, made of pickled vegetables. It traditionally uses whatever’s in-season, but this recipe—another one from A Dish of Daily Life—calls for celery, bell pepper, cauliflower, among other delights. Feel free to substitute your favorite veggies and make it your own.
If you eat sushi, you’ve likely eaten pickled ginger. This version from Kitchn is something you can make yourself. If you don’t have access to young ginger, which is naturally pink, you can color your pickled ginger with the hue of a single radish in your pickle jar.