Of tingling tastes...

Of tingling tastes...


Of tingling tastes...

Uppinakaayi, oorugaai, and achar: no matter what it is called, pickles brighten our meals and make them a bit more special by adding a very complex flavour that is spicy, salty, sweet and sour, all at once. Have you ever thought of making them at home yourself? Not only are they delicious, they are much more nutritionally balanced than those found in your neighbourhood store.

With a rich produce easily available in our country, it’s hard not to make pickles  in the comforts of our home. Traditionally, the art of pickling was passed down through generations and was a yearly ritual for many. However, many shy away from this as they believe that it takes a lot of effort and time.

This has led many to go in for the commercially available pickles, which can be unhealthy. “Unlike the general opinion, pickling is not time consuming at all. With the advent of modern gadgets, the process can be done in quick phases, and by keeping all the necessary spices ready in advance,” says Usha R Prabakaran, author of Usha’s Pickle Digest, a book that lists out recipes for over thousand pickles. To understand it better, let’s deconstruct the story of pickles.

A powerhouse of flavours

The process of pickling began as a means to preserve seasonal fruits and vegetables so that it can be consumed during their off-season times. This also helped in carrying them over long journeys. Pickles are an interesting mix of six flavours — sweet, sour, salty, pungent, bitter and astringent. When these are in perfect balance, the tangy pickle that we all love comes to life. “It is essentially combining acidic or non-acidic vegetables and fruits in salt and oil for preservation with desired spices,” divulges Usha. For instance, vinegar is used for acidic produce while tamarind, citrus juices or curd are added to produces that are non-acidic.

Spicing agents like chilli powder, pepper powder, green pepper, garlic and ginger, souring agents like tamarind, citrus juices, vinegar and curd, sweetening agents like jaggery or sugar, and rock salt and oil are some of the essential ingredients that make up pickles’ blend. Turmeric, red chilli powder and salt are a common denominator across all pickles. “In North Indian pickles, spices like fennel seeds and nigella seeds are seen while in South India, there is a predominance of black mustard seeds and roasted fenugreek seeds,” adds Chitra Agrawal, a food blogger and founder of Brooklyn Delhi, a US-based Indian condiments company.

What enables the pickle to get its distinctive colour and flavour is the anaerobic fermentation. Summer’s hot climate and low humidity comes in play as well in this process. The dry weather ensures that the pickle is free from mould and spoilage. High concentrations of salt, oil and spices play the role of preservatives here.

There’s no one way to make a pickle and this is what makes them extremely diverse, even if they are made using the same ingredients. Some are made with no oil, some are made with a lot of oil and there a few that use salted water brine. “You can also make instant versions on the stove or make a pickle that will be ready in months and stay good for a year or longer,” elaborates Chitra.

To make the pickle, a vegetable or fruit is cut into a desired shape and size and set aside in adequate salt for a day. Citric fruits like lemons need to be set aside for at least two weeks to avoid mould. They are then transferred to a container, ideally a jaadi or bharani (ceramic jars). The spice mix, which is mostly powdered chilli, fenugreek, asafoetida and turmeric among others, is sprinkled all over. Later, tempered mustard seeds are added as a final garnish.

The bases

Depending on what region you are in, pickle is made in different ways and with varied ingredients. And, depending on their base, the taste of the pickles range from spicy to sweet. Take for instance, Gujarat’s chhunda pickle and Andhra Pradesh’s aavakaaya pickle. Although they use the same fruit, mango, their flavour greatly vary from each other — one being sweet while the latter, spicy. Some of the popular pickled produce includes mango, lemon and other citric fruits, garlic, tomato, gooseberry and some root vegetables as well. In some regions, some types of meat and fish are pickled as well.

In the North, mustard oil, vinegar or citrus juices (orange and lemon) are used. A hint of dry mango powder (amchoor) or pomegranate seeds (anardana) is added at times to give the pickle a tangy flavour. Down South, gingelly (sesame) oil, tamarind, lemon or curd are common bases for the pickles. Western India, on the other hand, uses jaggery as its base.

But don’t let the large quantities of oil and spices fool you and your healthy living. Pickles are healthy too as many of the spices like turmeric and asafoetida aid in digestion, contain antioxidants and are anti-bacterial. Other ingredients such as cumin and green cardamom are known to be cooling while cloves are warming and ginger eliminates instances of flu. 

Doing it right

Pickle making is an art that takes time to master. While this may be the case, don’t get discouraged if doesn’t turn out the way you expect it the first time. To help kick-start your journey of pickle making, here are a few tips:

Always stir your pickle with a dry spoon as any additional water moisture will spoil it.
 When you are storing pickles, don’t store them in steel or copper vessels as the pickle’s acid will react with the vessel.

Place a muslin cloth under the jaadi’s top to ensure that moisture does not sep into it.

Check for salt and other seasonings the next day. If there are bubbles on top, it means that salt is less.
No matter what base you use for the pickle (oil, vinegar or buttermilk), ensure that it is always one or two inches above the vegetable or fruit quantity.

Make sure to not use iodised salt in your pickles. Use rock salt instead.

Keep an eye out for formation of fungus on the surface. If you do see any, it can be salvaged by adding salt and placing it
under the sun.

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