What's the Big Dill About Pickles?

by Annie Crockett 12 days ago in cuisine

Pickles...more than just a cucumber.

What's the Big Dill About Pickles?

Did you know that in Connecticut, for a pickle to be considered a pickle it must bounce? In addition, contrary to popular belief, cucumbers are actually a fruit because it has seeds within itself and grows from a flower. Just looking at a jar of pickles can make one’s mouth water, but have you ever stopped and thought about pickles on a deeper level? Why do pickles have a satisfying crunch? When were pickled cucumbers first made? What makes a pickle a pickle? From the right pH level to the modern-day pickle purpose, there’s a lot more that goes into pickles than you could have ever thought. Although pickles seem like a simple garnish, they have been a necessary food for centuries, and the misconceptions about them only increase human fascination with these pungent fruits.

Many may not realize it, but pickles have been around for thousands of years. Although the exact date is unknown, it is believed that Mesopotamians started the pickling trend in 2400 B.C. Mesopotamians were those who inhabited the portion of Southwest Asia between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers (Pruitt 1). Those native to the area began pickling their fruits and vegetables to preserve their food. This preserving technique saved an abundance of produce from spoiling before they could have been eaten. In an article written by Sara Pruitt, she states that “Pickles got their start more than 4,000 years ago when ancient Mesopotamians began soaking cucumbers in an acidic brine, as a way to preserve them” (Pruitt 1). It is believed that years later in 50 B.C., Cleopatra’s credited her beauty to pickles. As mentions in Pruitt’s writing,

Queen Cleopatra of Egypt credited the pickles in her diet with contributing to her health and legendary beauty. Meanwhile, Cleopatra’s lover Julius Caesar and other Roman emperors gave pickles to their troops to eat in the belief that they would make them strong. (Pruitt 1)

While there is no hard evidence that pickles can be credited for beauty and overall health, pickles were made much differently back in her day than they are now. Native to Sumatra, it was not until 900 B.C. that the herb dill arrived in Western Europe.

Flashing forward a few thousand years, during the Age of Exploration, pickles were introduced to the Americas during the famous expedition of Christopher Columbus. Pickles helped to keep sailors from dying of scurvy. Scurvy is a disease that is caused by vitamin C deficiency. As Pruitt mentioned in her writing, Christopher Columbus was known to distribute pickles out to all his crew as well as grow cucumbers in Haiti. Doing so allowed him to restock their inventory before continuing on their voyage. As a result of the great lengths he took to have pickled cucumbers onboard his ship, the number of scurvy cases were limited on his voyages. During the late 1650s, the pickle industry took a turn, and what would be known as the “largest pickle industry” started (Pruitt 1). Farmers in New York would grow cucumbers in Brooklyn, and “dealers” would buy the Dutch farmer’s produce to pickle the cucumbers to sell in large barrels in New York roadways (Pruitt, 1). This would be the first time recorded in history that pickles were made and sold to American people. While their picking method was less sufficient, the process definitely got easier in the coming years.

Starting in the early 19th century, there was a contest hosted by Napoleon Bonaparte. Whoever could pickle and preserve foods the best would win 12,000 francs, which in today's money is about $250,000. In 1809, the winner of the contest, Nicholas Appert, developed the current method of preserving foods also known as canning (Pruitt 2). Appert figured out that if he could remove all the oxygen from the glass jar, he could preserve more than just vegetables. As a result of his success, the first-ever Mason Jar was patented by John Mason in 1858. The patented jar was made from a glass that could handle a higher temperature than what was being used before. Thus, this made canning easier because you wouldn’t have to worry about the jar busting under high heat and ruining your food.

Over the next many years, during the 20th century, specifically the 1940s, forty percent of pickle production went to the U.S. Armed Forces during World War II. Such a tactic stuck with Americans because in 2000, the Philadelphia Eagles won against the Dallas Cowboys in temperatures above 100 degrees Fahrenheit. The team took a big lead as the final score was 41-14. The Eagles claimed that drinking pickle juice was responsible for their major win as it helped relieve muscle cramps faster and kept the players' endurance steady.

The process behind pickling is more scientific than many may think. For pickling to be deemed successful, the pH levels and the acidity levels must be in the right range. By raising the acidic levels of foods, it will throw off the microbes and will keep food palatable longer. Microbes are a bacterium that creates a disease and starts the process of fermentation (Ward 1). As mentioned in Christiana Ward’s article, “Food preservation works by erecting chemical and physical barriers to pathogen growth” (Ward 1). That being said, not all acids can be compared equally. As backwards as it may sound, the less the pH level is, the higher the acidity level is. And being that most foods we eat fall between a pH scale of 2-7. As Christiana Ward wrote about within her article:

The good news is that microbes are more sensitive to acid than humans are; their preferred range is a pH of 4.5 to 10. * This is good news because it leaves us with the range of pH 2.1 to 4.5 in which our foods will be safe from microbial infestation yet still tasty to eat…Changing the acidity of a food to within a range that is hostile to microbes yet palatable to humans extends the useful lifespan of that food. (Ward 1)

There are different types of acid, but the main two for pickling are acetic acid and lactic acid. Acetic acid would be what we know as distilled white vinegar. Distilled white vinegar has a pH level of 2.4 because it is 95% water and 5% acetic acid (Ward 2). Acetic acid is made by fermenting a carbohydrate of some sort to make it alcoholic. Then by giving the alcoholic liquid an abundance of oxygen, the alcoholic properties are removed because of the acetobacter (a genus of bacteria) rich environment that has been created by introducing oxygen (Ward 2). Lactic acid on the other hand is less acidic because its pH level is 3.2. Ward also mentioned that like acetic acid, lactic acid is the result of fermentation, but its process and chemical structure are slightly different. When lactobacillus (a genus of bacteria) consumes the carbohydrates and lactic acid is created. Lactobacillus is very beneficial to the human body and is acidophile. Acidophile is a fancy way of saying that the bacteria prefer to live in somewhat acidic environments and can be found in products such as yogurt and sauerkraut. Taking into account the best type of acid to use, now the real magic starts to happen.

When it comes time to pickle cucumbers, during the acetic acid process, the cucumbers that are drowned in vinegar are slowly drained of their water and it replaced by the acid solution. The brine is less acidic while the cucumber’s acidity level has risen keeping the vegetable safe from a microbe infestation that would corrupt the freshness of the cucumber. In recipes using water and salt to create a brine, this would be called lacto-fermenating (Ward 4). Once the cucumbers have been added to the brine and kept weighted down, the lactobacillus will eat the carbohydrates in the cucumbers in the form of sugar (Ward 4). When this happens, lactic acid is being produced and the brine solution and cucumbers steadily become for acidic. After about six weeks of waiting, the pickles have reached a safe level of acidity and can safely be enjoyed without the worry of any unwanted and dangerous bacterium.

Although many use the term interchangeably, pickled and fermented are two different processes. The simplest way to explain the difference between pickling and fermenting is that when you pickle something, it is the process of letting fruits or vegetables soak in an acidic solution and as a result you obtain the staple sour flavor. Fermenting has a similar flavor profile and is obtained through a chemical reaction, hence, why there is no need for an acid. The confusion between the two are quite common, as Chelsea Clark questions, “Are pickles fermented, or are pickled foods different from fermented foods?” (Clark 1). The chemical reaction takes place between the carbohydrates (sugars) and the already existing bacteria. So, while fermentation is a type of pickling, not all pickles are fermented. As Kelli Foster mentions in her article, “Pickling and fermenting are two different methods for naturally preserving foods, and both produce some delicious tangy results” (Foster 1). Thus, pickles don’t have the same probiotic qualities that fermented foods do. When it comes to fermenting foods, the product will be deprived of oxygen and as a result the natural bacteria (lactobacillus) eats at the carbs and turns it into lacto acid, which aids in digestion due to its probiotic capabilities. Thus, whether you go for a fermented or a pickled snack, there will be pros and cons to both, but why do we love such a pungent garnish?

The love of pickles is as much of a mental attraction as it is a physical taste attraction. Perhaps there is more to the pickle craze than we think. According to the U.S. Census data and Simmons National Consumer Survey, the projected that the growth of the pickle industry will have grown to have an expected value of $6.70 billion in 2020 (Bandoim 1). Why is that though? In recent studies, it has been proven that pickle juice can help reduce muscle cramps in athletes, as well as aid in lowering blood sugar spikes, but that’s not the only reason we crave pickles. In Lana Bandoim’s article about the “obsession with pickle juice,” she states that

Similar to sugar, salt can be addictive, and researchers at the Florey Institute of Neuroscience and Mental Health found the brain pathway responsible for the craving. They discovered that a specific circuit, which is part of the brain’s opioid system, can also make you want salt. In addition, you can build a tolerance to salty foods, so you need more of them to activate the reward center of the brain. (Bandoim 3)

At some point, if we consume enough salt on a day to day basis, we’ll develop an addiction to our favorite salty snack, and over time it’ll be harder to satisfy the craving. In addition to our mental urge to feast upon a pickle, turning to salty pickles can be a way to restore physical wellbeing. Pickle juice is an exceptional digestive aid. The fermented vinegar has proven to benefit gut health and help slow down abdominal emptying. Bandoim also reports that “Some other common reasons for craving pickles include dehydration, electrolyte imbalances, or Addison’s disease” (Bandoim 4). Pregnant women also enjoy the benefits of pickles and pickle juice because it can help curve their nausea spells during the first trimester. As long as pickles and pickle juice are consumed in moderation, it’s perfectly healthy and comes with some juicy health benefits.

Pickles have a whole new purpose now than they did back in 2400 B.C. When it came to pickled foods it was the means for survival and being able to eat during the winter months when no vegetation was being produced. In Nuala Sawyer Bishari’s article about how disgusting pickles are, Bishari notes that,

The invention was a vital part of surviving year around; during winter months, farmers would stockpile preserved vegetables to live off of over the winter, with underground stores to keep things cool. Pickles saved sailors on overseas journeys and fed troops in Napoleon’s army. Depending on how you look at it, they could be credited with the survival of humanity and the creation of the world as we know it today. (Bishari 1)

Bishari’s statement is fairly accurate, but her article is based on the assumption that pickles should be abolished. While she may have some valid points, her writing does contain flaws. As she mentioned in her article, “Shoving vegetables into jars filled with vinegar became unnecessary with the introduction of the refrigerator, yet the outdated practice remains prevalent today” (Bishari 2). Canning and pickles dates bank to 2400 B.C. and the technique was crucial to be able to keep food fresh and safe to eat for long. Especially during long winter when no vegetables were being harvested, and on long travels. Since the creation of the refrigerator, we haven’t needed as big of a reason to can our vegetables anymore. Being that the refrigerator concept is her only valid point, her follow up reasonings are based on personal opinion and she comes off as if anyone who enjoys eating pickles has a problem. Bishari states that “society has failed to catch up,” but most modern-day pickles or pickled products require refrigeration at some point. She also states that “Despite our progress as humans, we have yet to move on from this foul ingredient” (Bishari 2). Bishari comes off extremely bitter towards the topic of pickles, and about anyone who seems to enjoy eating pickles or other pickled produce. Her bitter judgment towards pickles not only causes her to come off as unreliable, but it also devalues her work because she isn’t looking at pickles with an open mind to how others may feel about the topic. It would be a shame if one day we needed to know-how and be able to pickle our fruits and veggies again, but because of new advanced technology, we stopped. Although we may not depend on the pickled cucumbers to keep us in good health, but there is a healthy side effect that comes with eating pickles, and it’s too good of a deal to pass up as a snack. While store-bought pickles are high in sodium, the crunchy kosher is high in vitamin K and vitamin A. In an article written about the benefits of pickles, Zawn Villines states that “The main benefit of pickles is that some pickles contain beneficial bacteria. People use brine to make pickles. Brine is water mixed with salt or an acid, such a vinegar” (Villines 3). To get the healthiest dill you can, make pickles at home to reduce the amount of sodium or buy fermented pickles. Fermented pickles will be a healthy option overall because it offers the beneficial bacteria you get from eating yogurt. The lactobacillus aids in digestion, constipation, diarrhea, and Crohn’s disease. Pickles help elevate dehydration, muscle cramps, and inflammation all while providing your body with a healthy dose of antioxidants. With all that being said, there’s more to pickles than what meets the eye.

Pickles make an excellent addition to many of America’s staple foods. Including dill slices on a juicy burger, a whole pickle alongside a turkey and cheese sandwich, pickle chips, and even pickle dips and slushies. There’s no doubt that the world loves pickles, and since the beginning of pickle creation, pickles have been a comfort food for many. As one of Cleopatra's trusted snacks, the acid-soaked fruit has been proven to have its perks. And no matter if you go for the fermented or pickled cucumber, you’ll still be reaping the benefits. So next time you’re making a sandwich and you reach into the pickle jar, think about what a pickle’s purpose is to you.

(Quick) Dill Pickle Recipe

Ingredients: 4 cups of white vinegar,

2 cups of water,

8teasponns of salt,

8 teaspoons of dill or kosher seasonings,

4 large cucumbers cut into quarter inch slices,

a couple garlic cloves (optional), a sprig of fresh dill and/or rosemary (optional).

Directions: First heat vinegar, water, salt, and spices in a saucepan. Once the mixture has come to a boil, place sliced cucumbers in a glass container and pour the boiling mixture into the jar submerging all of the cucumbers. Once the pickles are covered, toss in the fresh garlic, dill, and/or rosemary and give your pickles a quick stir. Next cover and then refrigerate until most cucumber slices appear to be floating (usually take about a day). Finally, after a mouthwatering wait, enjoy alongside your favorite meal or enjoy them solo. Your freshly made pickles will keep up to 2 weeks, but I doubt they’ll last that long.

Works Cited

Bandoim, Lana. “The Science Behind Everyone's New Obsession With Pickle Juice.” Forbes, Forbes Magazine, 22 Sept. 2018, www.forbes.com/sites/lanabandoim/2018/09/21/the-science-behind-everyones-new-obsession-with-pickle-juice/#3e04a70a18aa.

• Lana Bandoim’s writing is in the form of an online article published by Forbes.

• The articles purpose is to educate those on the benefits of pickle juice.

• The articles main focus is to explain, on a scientific level, why so many people love pickles and pickle juice.

• The work is an overview of the health benefits found in pickle juice.

• Bandoim’s work is for anyone who is curious about why pickles are one of America’s biggest obsession.

• Bandoim is a freelance writer with more than 10 years of experience and her work has been published in many highly reliable companies, including: Yahoo! News, Business Insider, The Huffington Post, The Week, and, MSN Money. She also graduated from Butler University with a B.A. in science as well as a graduated Summa Cum Laude with a double major in chemistry and biology.

• Although the article was published in September of 2018, the article is still viewed as current because of the context of her work.

• Within the article, she talks about the statistics of pickles and its expected growth.

• Bandoim’s article will help support my essay because the article centers around how pickles effect our health and overall wellbeing.

Bishari, Nuala Sawyer. “Pickles Are Disgusting.” SF Weekly, 20 Nov. 2018, https://www.sfweekly.com/dining/pickles-are-disgusting/

• Nuala Bishari’s writing is an online article.

• The purpose of the article is to voice her opinion about pickles as well as persuade those to think and feel the way she does.

• Bishari’s article is an argument to why pickles are disgusting.

• In the article, the author focuses on one specific viewpoint. Her own.

• The audience best suited for her work are those that agree with her opinion, and those that was to have a debate about how she’s wrong.

• Bishari graduated from Hampshire College with a B.A. in Liberal Arts. She is an award-winning journalist and editor and was once a reported for the San Francisco Examiner.

• Although the article was posted November of 2018, it remains up to date because it is her personal opinion. And her opinion is valid.

• Bishari’s work will help provide a different point of view, and through reasoning can prove my essay to be more credible.

Clark, Chelsea. “Are Pickles Fermented? Pickled Vs. Fermented Foods - Natural Health.” Mother Earth News, Ogden Publications, Inc., 11 May 2015, www.motherearthnews.com/real-food/fermenting/are-pickles-fermented-pickled-vs-fermented-foods-zbcz1505.

• The article is a part of an online website called Mother Earth News.

• The article is meant to help those know the difference between pickling and fermenting.

• The subject of the text is about pickling vs. fermenting and if pickles are or can be fermented.

• The article is a basic overview of the misconception.

• The article is intended for those who do not know the difference and share a similar confusion.

• Chelsea Clark holds a B.A. I. molecular and cellular biology with a concentration in neuroscience from the University of Puget. Clark is also a writer for the National Health Advisory.

• Although the article was posted in May of 2015, the topic of the text is to inform the differences between fermenting and pickling.

• There is a photo included within the article.

• The article will be helpful in my essay because I will be defining the difference between fermenting and pickling.

• The article will prove to be useful to my essay by providing for texture to the overall historical content.

Foster, Kelli. “What’s the Difference Between Pickling and Fermenting?” Kitchn, 4 April, 2016, https://www.thekitchn.com/whats-the-difference-between-pickling-and-fermenting-229536

• The article is a part of an online website called Kitchn.

• The purpose of the article is to inform those about the differences between pickling and fermenting.

• The article mainly focuses on the main aspects and differences of pickling and fermenting.

• The article is a basic overview of the misconception.

• The article is intended for the general public who once thought that picking and fermenting were the same thing.

• Kelli Foster is the Associate food editor at Kitchn and she graduated from a French Culinary Institute.

• Although the article was posted in April of 2016, the article is currently up to date because it’s about what defines fermentation and pickling.

• The article includes a photo.

• The article will prove to be useful in my essay because I will be defining the differences of fermenting and pickling.

Pruitt, Sarah. “The Juicy 4,000-Year History of Pickles.” History.com, A&E Television Networks, 21 May 2015, www.history.com/news/pickles-history-timeline.

• Sara Pruitt’s work is an online article that can be found on History.

• The purpose of the article is to inform their readers.

• The overall work is a depth view on the history of pickles and pickling.

• Pruitt’s work is perfect for any history lovers who wants to know more about pickles.

• Sarah Pruitt specializing in historical writing and is a frequent contributor to The History Channel website.

• Pruitt’s article was published less than a year ago. Her work is still considered up to date because of that as well as the historical aspect of her piece.

• There is an old ad for the H.J. Heinz company.

• Pruitt’s work will benefit my essay because of her extensive research on pickle history rather than a brief history.

Villines, Zawn, and Katherine Marengo. “Are Pickles Good for You? Benefits of Fermented Foods.” Medical News Today, MediLexicon International, 8 May 2019, www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/325124.

• Zawn Villiness work is published as an online article.

• Villiness informs the readers on the nutritional value of unfermented and fermented pickles.

• The context of the article is about the overall nutritional aspects of pickles as well how it effects your overall wellness.

• The intended audience for the article is anyone who is interested in having a deeper knowledge on the health benefits and downsides to pickles.

• Villiness writes about legal, social justice, and medical topics. Villiness’s work about the benefits of pickles have been medically Katherine Marengo LDN, R.D.

• Villiness article was published May of 2019 as well as medically reviewed so the article is still up to date.

• The article will be useful to my essay being that the content of the article is health related benefits to pickles.

Ward, Christina. “Pickle Science: How to Master the Preserving Power of Acids.” Serious Eats 28 August, 2017, last updated 1 November, 2019, https://www.seriouseats.com/2017/08/preserving-pickle-cucumber-science-acidity.html

• The article is a part of an online application called Serious Eats.

• The article is meant to inform those about the prosses of pickling.

• The article is an “everything you need to know” about the scientific process of pickling.

• Throughout the article, it is an in-dept writing that focuses on the steps and process of pickles.

• The article is intended for anyone who has an interest in the science know how of pickling.

• Christina Ward graduated from University of Wisconsin with a Master Food Preserver Certification. Ward specializes in developing recipes for canning.

• Although the article was posted in August of 2017, her work was last updated in November of 2019. And her article is based on the science side of pickling.

• The article has a few photos.

• Ward’s article will prove to be useful because a large portion of my essay will be about the scientific process of pickling.

Annie Crockett
Annie Crockett
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Annie Crockett

Hello, I am a full time college student who loves to write and all things science, cooking, crochet, knitting, and horses!

See all posts by Annie Crockett