Pickle is a general term to describe a form of food preservation in which a food product is stored in brine(salt) or acid to prevent growth of disease causing bacteria and moulds. The composition of pickles varies based on the region. In North America pickle refers to pickled cucumber which are immersed in salt or brine and further soured through fermentation similar to what is done in yogurt or curd production. In Europe, pickles are similar to relishes and are created using a mixture of diced vegetables and pickled using a sauce consisting of vinegar, tomato, apple and spices. Indian pickles or achar, is produced using a variety of fruits and vegetables such as lemons, chilis and mangoes which are pickled in a brine, vinegar or lemon juice with a mixture of salts, oils and spices. Fermentation from bacteria like Lactobacillus can further enhance the flavour of the pickle.
Shouldn’t all bacteria be killed in pickling? Are there any health benefits to consuming pickle?
Bacteria and fungi responsible for causing disease and spoilage are typically very intolerant to extreme conditions such as acid and salt. The conditions in pickle are extremely unfavourable for their growth and survival. The main that pickling targets are Clostridium botulinum the causative agent of botulism and toxic moulds. Both of these are significantly hindered in growth by brine and acidic conditions. Now you may be wondering whether the other bacteria present are healthy or not. There is nothing to worry, these are the same kind of bacteria found in yogurt, curds and other probiotic foods. These fermentative bacteria such as Lactobacillus, outcompete harmful bacteria and consumption of foods containing them has been shown to significantly aid in digestion and overall gut health. It is also an excellent source of fibre, vitamins and minerals due to underlying source. Consumption of achar in the Indian subcontinent has been correlated with a decreased incidence of colon cancer.
Is pickle bad for hypertension due to high salt content?
Unfortunately there is no evidence for us to draw an accurate image as to what would occur. Case-controlled trials with replication are required to produce data that would support or refute what would occur. As such there is simply no way to know for certain. We can however take an educated guess. For an average person consumption in moderation does not appear to have any adverse health effects, therefore those with hypertension should exercise caution while consuming pickle due to high salt content and limit their consumption if possible. If any claims are made that pickle will not cause any harm or can even benefit sufferers with hypertension, they are merely attempting to bolster their sales without concern for the consumers well-being.
How can pickle be consumed?
Pickle can be consumed in a variety of manners. Achar is primarily with rice and mixes rather well with a variety of curries and even plain curds. One of the most beloved dishes in the South is rice, curds and a little pickle. It is incredibly refreshing and perfect after returning home late from a long trip. It can be used in many other dishes as well like sandwiches or even garnishing for chicken. In Western nations pickles are often used in sandwiches. You could be adventurous and consume it by itself! And if you choose to do so, look no further than Organic Express’s Appemidi Pickle made from fresh handpicked mangoes from the Western Ghat.
By Rohan Shetty
M.S. Bioinformatics, Johns Hopkins University
M.S. Biotechnology, Johns Hopkins Univesity
B.S. Cellular Biology and Biochemistry, University of California, San Diego