Pickle it right

What goes into making a good pickle? Find out

Pickles are one of the most traditional condiments that trace back to the origins of our cuisine. Pickles not only add spice and flavour to any meal but they also work as a digestive.

Lime and mango were once the most popular pickles, but today, the varieties have been extended to vegetables like carrots, garlic and mixed vegetable. Some have taken things to the next level by pickling exotic ingredients like dates and prunes. And who can forget the wide range of non-vegetarian pickles that have originated in Kerala and in coastal regions like Goa, Vishakapatnam and Kolkata? Although prawn and fish pickles are very popular, chicken and lamb pickles have also garnered the interest of meat eaters.

Pickle is always known to be a homemade dish. Pickle recipes vary from one household to the other and the grandmothers in the family are the keepers of this secret. In the past, pickling was considered a family activity. In today’s fast-moving world, however, people often don’t have the time to make elaborate pickles and end up using store-bought versions. Commercial pickles lack in taste, quality and health benefits. Homemade pickles are made using the finest of ingredients and hygienic methods and this is reflected in the taste.

Let’s take a look at the ingredients that go into making a good pickle:

  • Oil: Traditionally, coconut oil was used for all pickles in Kerala. Today, the pickles available in the market are made of low-quality vegetable oil. Oil is a key ingredient in any pickle, as it ensures the condiment’s shelf life. A lot of homemade recipes also suggest using olive oil which is also healthy and neutral in flavour.
  • Salt: When it comes to salt, it is imperative to use the best and healthiest variant. Salt used in making the pickle goes a long way to ensure that it not only tastes good but also offers a lot of health benefits. 
  • Turmeric: Turmeric contains bioactive compounds with a host of medicinal properties.
  • Fenugreek: An essential component in pickles, fenugreek improves digestion and cholesterol levels. It also reduces inflammation.
  • Asafoetida: Apart from its digestive properties, hing provides relief from asthma and lowers blood pressure and maintains sugar levels.
  • Mustard: It has high levels of antioxidants and detoxifies liver and blood.

When I learnt pickle-making from my mother, I realised that the process involved a lot of skill. Oil, vinegar, salt and probiotic spices were the key ingredients to be used in our pickle bottles.

Here are a few things that I have learned which are crucial to making a delicious pickle:

  • Make sure your main ingredient (prawn, fish, vegetable etc) is cut to a consistent size. Uniformity is the key.
  • Timing is everything. Each ingredient takes its own time to cook. If you want the flavours to be released well, ensure that you don’t undercook the ingredients or else the pickle will taste raw. Overcooking results in a burnt taste.
  • Oil, vinegar, salt, garlic, ginger, chilli and probiotic spices are the key ingredients in each of these bottles. Since we refrain from using artificial preservatives in homemade pickles, make sure you use the right amount of oil, salt and vinegar.
  • Make sure the jars and lids you use to store the pickles are sterilised thoroughly. Always store these jars in a cool, dry area.
  • Most importantly, don’t be lazy and put a damp spoon in the pickle jar. Always use a clean dry spoon to ensure longer shelf life.

(The author is a CEO at Somey’s Kitchen)

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