A pickled cucumber (commonly known as a pickle in the United States and Canada, and a gherkin in Britain, Ireland, Australia, South Africa, and New Zealand) is a cucumber that has been pickled in a brine, vinegar, or other solution and left to ferment for a period of time, by either immersing the cucumbers in an acidic solution or through souring by lacto-fermentation. Pickled cucumbers are often part of mixed pickles.
|Alternative names||Pickle, gherkin|
|Main ingredients||Cucumber, brine or vinegar or other solution|
It is often claimed that pickled cucumbers were first developed for workers building the Great Wall of China, though another hypothesis is that they were first made in the Tigris Valley of Mesopotamia, using cucumbers brought originally from India.
Brined pickles are prepared using the traditional process of natural fermentation in a brine which makes them grow sour. The brine concentration can vary between 20 and more than 40 grams of salt per litre of water (3.2–6.4 oz/imp gal or 2.7–5.3 oz/US gal). There is no vinegar used in the brine of naturally fermented pickled cucumbers.
The fermentation process is dependent on the Lactobacillus bacteria that naturally occur on the skin of a growing cucumber. These may be removed during commercial harvesting and packing processes. Bacteria cultures can be reintroduced to the vegetables by adding already fermented foods such as yogurt or other fermented milk products, pieces of sourdough bread, or pickled vegetables such as sauerkraut.
Typically, small cucumbers are placed in a glass or ceramic vessel or a wooden barrel, together with a variety of spices. Among those traditionally used in many recipes are garlic, horseradish, whole dill stems with umbels and green seeds, white mustard seeds, grape, oak, cherry, blackcurrant and bay laurel leaves, dried allspice fruits, and—most importantly—salt. The container is then filled with cooled, boiled water and kept under a non-airtight cover (often cloth tied on with string or a rubber band) for several weeks, depending on taste and external temperature. Traditionally stones, also sterilized by boiling, are placed on top of the cucumbers to keep them under the water. The cucumber's sourness depends on the amount of salt added (saltier cucumbers tend to be more sour).
Since brined pickles are produced without vinegar, a film of bacteria forms on top of the brine. This does not indicate that the pickles have spoiled, and the film may simply be removed. They do not, however, keep as long as cucumbers pickled with vinegar and usually must be refrigerated. Some commercial manufacturers add vinegar as a preservative.
Bread-and-butter pickles are a marinated variety of pickled cucumber in a solution of vinegar, sugar, and spices. They may simply be chilled as refrigerator pickles or canned. Their name and their broad popularity in the United States are attributed to Omar and Cora Fanning, who were Illinois cucumber farmers that started selling sweet and sour pickles in the 1920s. They filed for the trademark "Fanning's Bread and Butter Pickles" in 1923 (though the recipe and similar recipes are probably much older). The story to the name is that the Fannings survived rough years by making the pickles with their surplus of undersized cucumbers and bartering them with their grocer for staples such as bread and butter. Their taste is often much sweeter than other types of pickle, due to the sweeter brine they are marinated in, but they differ from sweet pickles in that they are spiced with coriander and other spices.
Gherkins, or baby pickles, are small cucumbers, typically those 1 inch (2.5 cm) to 5 inches (13 cm) in length, often with bumpy skin, which are typically used for pickling. The word gherkin comes from early modern Dutch, gurken or augurken for "small pickled cucumber".
Cornichons are tart French pickles made from gherkins pickled in vinegar and tarragon. They traditionally accompany pâtés and cold cuts. Sweet gherkins, which contain sugar in the pickling brine, are also a popular variety.
A "kosher" dill pickle is not necessarily kosher in the sense that it has been prepared in accordance with Jewish dietary law. Rather, it is a pickle made in the traditional manner of Jewish New York City pickle makers, with generous addition of garlic and dill to a natural salt brine.
In New York terminology, a "full-sour" kosher dill is one that has fully fermented, while a "half-sour", given a shorter stay in the brine, is still crisp and bright green. Elsewhere, these pickles may sometimes be termed "old" and "new" dills.
In Hungary, while regular vinegar-pickled cucumbers (Hungarian: savanyú uborka) are made during most of the year, during the summer kovászos uborka ("leavened pickles") are made without the use of vinegar. Cucumbers are placed in a glass vessel along with spices (usually dill and garlic), water, and salt. Additionally, a slice or two of bread are placed at the top and bottom of the solution, and the container is left to sit in the sun for a few days so the yeast in the bread can help cause a fermentation process.
Polish and German
The Polish- or German-style pickled cucumber (Polish: ogórek kiszony/kwaszony; German: Salzgurken), was developed in the northern parts of central and eastern Europe. It has been exported worldwide and is found in the cuisines of many countries, including the United States, where it was introduced by immigrants. It is sour, similar to the kosher dill, but tends to be seasoned differently.
Traditionally, pickles were preserved in wooden barrels, but are now sold in glass jars. A cucumber only pickled for a few days is different in taste (less sour) than one pickled for a longer time and is called ogórek małosolny, which literally means "low-salt cucumber." This distinction is similar to the one between half- and full-sour types of kosher dills (see above).
Another kind of pickled cucumber popular in Poland is ogórek konserwowy ("preserved cucumber") which is rather sweet and vinegary in taste, due to the different composition of the preserving solution.
Lime pickles are soaked in pickling lime (not to be confused with the citrus fruit) rather than in a salt brine. This is done more to enhance texture (by making them crisper) rather than as a preservative. The lime is then rinsed off the pickles. Vinegar and sugar are often added after the 24-hour soak in lime, along with pickling spices.
Like pickled vegetables such as sauerkraut, sour pickled cucumbers (technically a fruit) are low in calories. They also contain a moderate amount of vitamin K, specifically in the form of K1. 30-gram sour pickled cucumber offers 12–16 µg, or approximately 15–20%, of the Recommended Daily Allowance of vitamin K. It also offers 3 kilocalories (13 kJ), most of which come from carbohydrate. However, most sour pickled cucumbers are also high in sodium; one pickled cucumber can contain 350–500 mg, or 15–20% of the American recommended daily limit of 2400 mg.
Sweet pickled cucumbers, including bread-and-butter pickles, are higher in calories due to their sugar content; a similar 30-gram portion may contain 20 to 30 kilocalories (84 to 126 kJ). Sweet pickled cucumbers also tend to contain significantly less sodium than sour pickles.
Pickles are being researched for their ability to act as vegetables with a high probiotic content. Probiotics are typically associated with dairy products, but lactobacilli species such as L. plantarum and L. brevis have been shown to add to the nutritional value of pickles.
In the United States, pickles are often served as a side dish accompanying meals. This often takes the form of a "pickle spear", which is a pickled cucumber cut lengthwise into quarters or sixths. Pickles may be used as a condiment on a hamburger or other sandwich (usually in slice form), or on a sausage or hot dog in chopped form as pickle relish.
Soured cucumbers are commonly used in a variety of dishes—for example, pickle-stuffed meatloaf, potato salad, or chicken salad—or consumed alone as an appetizer.
Pickles are sometimes served alone as festival foods, often on a stick. This is also done in Japan, where it is referred to as "stick pickle" (一本漬, ippon-tsuke).
In Russia and Ukraine, pickles are used in rassolnik: a traditional soup made from pickled cucumbers, pearl barley, pork or beef kidneys, and various herbs. The dish is known to have existed as far back as the 15th century when it was called kalya.
In southern England, large gherkins pickled in vinegar are served as an accompaniment to fish and chips, and are sold from big jars on the counter at a fish and chip shop, along with pickled onions. In the Cockney dialect of London, this type of gherkin is called a "wally".
The term pickle is derived from the Dutch word pekel, meaning brine. In the United States and Canada, the word pickle alone refers to a pickled cucumber (other types of pickles will be described as "pickled onion", "pickled beets", etc.). In the UK pickle generally refers to ploughman's pickle made from various vegetables, such as Branston pickle, traditionally served with a ploughman's lunch.
The term commonly used in British English to refer to a pickled cucumber, gherkin, is also of Dutch origin, derived from the word gurken, meaning cucumber.
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