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"Pickling", also known as "brining" or "corning", is the process of preserving food by anaerobic fermentation in brine to produce lactic acid, or marinating and storing it in an acid solution, usually vinegar (acetic acid). The resulting food is called a pickle. This procedure gives the food a salty or sour taste. In South Asia, edible oils are used as the pickling medium with vinegar.
Another distinguishing characteristic is a pH less than 4.6, which is sufficient to kill most bacteria. Pickling can preserve perishable foods for months. Antimicrobial herbs and spices, such as mustard seed, garlic, cinnamon or cloves, are often added. If the food contains sufficient moisture, a pickling brine may be produced simply by adding dry salt. For example, German sauerkraut and Korean kimchi are produced by salting the vegetables to draw out excess water. Natural fermentation at room temperature, by lactic acid bacteria, produces the required acidity. Other pickles are made by placing vegetables in vinegar. Unlike the canning process, pickling (which includes fermentation) does not require that the food be completely sterile before it is sealed. The acidity or salinity of the solution, the temperature of fermentation, and the exclusion of oxygen determine which microorganisms dominate, and determine the flavor of the end product.
When both salt concentration and temperature are low, Leuconostoc mesenteroides dominates, producing a mix of acids, alcohol, and aroma compounds. At higher temperatures Lactobacillus plantarum dominates, which produces primarily lactic acid. Many pickles start with Leuconostoc, and change to Lactobacillus with higher acidity.
Pickling began 4000 years ago using cucumbers native to India. It is called "achar" in northern India. This was used as a way to preserve food for out-of-season use and for long journeys, especially by sea. Salt pork and salt beef were common staples for sailors before the days of steam engines. Although the process was invented to preserve foods, pickles are also made and eaten because people enjoy the resulting flavors. Pickling may also improve the nutritional value of food by introducing B vitamins produced by bacteria.
The term pickle is derived from the Dutch word pekel, meaning brine. In the U.S. and Canada, the word pickle alone almost always refers to a pickled cucumber (other types of pickles will be described as "pickled onion," "pickled cauliflower," etc.), except when it is used figuratively. In the UK, pickle (as in a "cheese and pickle sandwich") refers to Ploughman's pickle, a kind of chutney.
India has a large variety of pickles (known as Achar in Punjabi and Hindi, Uppinakaayi in Kannada, Lonacha in Marathi, Oorukai(ஊறுகாய்) in Tamil, ooragaya (ఊరగాయ) in Telugu), which are mainly made from mango, lime, Indian gooseberry (amla), chilli, vegetables such as egg plants, carrots, cauliflower,tomato, bitter gourd & green tamarind etc., ginger, garlic, onion and citron. These fruits/vegetables are generally mixed with some other ingredients i.e. salt, spices, vegetable oils and is set to mature. A special variety of mango pickle prepared in India's Andhra Pradesh State called Avakaya is very popular. This pickle, often described as king of all pickles, is a fine blend of cut mango pieces, red chilli powder, mustard seed powder, salt and sesame oil each ingredient used in specified proportion all raw and allowed to mature for few weeks in porcelain containers in hot summer.
In Pakistan, pickles are known locally as Achaar (in Urdu) and come in a variety of flavours. Amongst some of the most popular is the traditional mixed Hyderabadi pickle, a common delicacy and staple prepared from an assortment of fruits (most notably mangos) and vegetables blended with selected spices.
Indonesian and Malaysian pickles, acar are typically made out of cucumber, carrot, bird's eye chilies, and shallots, these items being seasoned with vinegar, sugar and salt. Fruits, such as papaya and pineapple are also sometimes pickled. In the Philippines, achara is primarily made out of green papaya, carrots, and shallots, with cloves of garlic and vinegar. In Vietnam, vegetable pickles are called dưa muối (salted vegetables) or dưa chua ("sour vegetables"). In Sri Lanka, achcharu is traditionally prepared out of carrots, onions, and ground dates. Mixed with mustard powder, ground pepper, crushed ginger, garlic and vinegar, these items are seasoned in a clay pot.
China is home to a huge variety of pickled vegetables, including radish, baicai (Chinese cabbage, notably suan cai, la bai cai, pao cai, and Tianjin preserved vegetable), zha cai, chili pepper and cucumber, among many others.
The Korean staple kimchi is usually made from pickled cabbage and radish, but is also made from green onions, garlic stems, chives and a host of other vegetables. Kimchi is popular throughout East Asia. Jangajji is another example of pickled vegetables.
Turkish pickles, called turşu, are made out of vegetables, roots, and fruits such as peppers, cucumber, Armenian cucumber, cabbage, tomato, eggplant (aubergine), carrot, turnip, beetroot, green almond, baby watermelon, baby cantaloupe, garlic, cauliflower, bean and green plum. A mixture of spices flavor the pickles.
Romanian pickles are made out of beetroot, cucumbers, green tomatoes (gogonele), carrots, cabbage, bell peppers, melons, mushrooms, turnips, celery and cauliflower. Meat, like pork, can also be preserved in salt and lard.
In Albania, Bulgaria, Serbia, Macedonia and Turkey, mixed pickles, known as turshi or turshu form popular appetizers, which are typically eaten with rakia. Pickled green tomatoes, cucumbers, carrots, bell peppers, peppers, eggplants, and sauerkraut are also popular.
In Britain, pickled onions and pickled eggs are often sold in pubs and fish and chip shops. Pickled beetroot, walnuts, and gherkins, and condiments such as Pickle and piccalilli are typically eaten as an accompaniment to pork pies and cold meats, sandwiches or a ploughman's lunch. Other popular pickles in the UK are pickled mussels, cockles, red cabbage, mango chutney, sauerkraut, and olives.
Pickled herring, rollmops, and salmon are popular in Scandinavia. Pickled cucumbers and red garden beets are important as condiments for several traditional dishes. Pickled capers are also common in Scandinavian cuisine.
In the United States and Canada, pickled cucumbers (most often referred to simply as "pickles" in Canada and the United States), olives, and sauerkraut are most popular, although pickles popular in other nations are also available. Giardiniera, a mixture of pickled peppers, celery and olives, is a popular condiment in Chicago and other cities with large Italian-American populations, and is often consumed with Italian beef sandwiches. Pickled eggs are common in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Pickled herring is available in the Upper Midwest. Pennsylvania Dutch Country has a strong tradition of pickled foods, including chow-chow and red beet eggs. In the Southern United States, pickled okra and watermelon rind are popular, as are deep-fried pickles and pickled pig's feet, chicken eggs, quail eggs and pickled sausage. In Mexico, chili peppers, particularly of the Jalapeño and serrano varieties, pickled with onions, carrots and herbs form common condiments. Various pickled vegetables, fish, or eggs may make a side dish to a Canadian lunch or dinner. It has become quite trendy across Canada to pickle vegetables at home in Bernardin mason jars.
In chemical pickling, the jar and lid are first boiled in order to sterilize them. The fruits or vegetables to be pickled are then added to the jar along with either brine or vinegar or both, as well as spices, and are then allowed to ferment until the desired taste is obtained.
The food can be pre-soaked in brine before transfering to vinegar. This reduces the water content of the food which would otherwise dilute the vinegar. This method is particularly useful for fruit and vegetables with a high natural water content.
In commercial pickling, a preservative like sodium benzoate or EDTA may also be added to enhance shelf life. In fermentation pickling, the food itself produces the preservation agent, typically by a process that produces lactic acid.
The World Health Organization has listed pickled vegetables as a possible carcinogen, and the British Journal of Cancer released an online 2009 meta-analysis of research on pickles as increasing the risks of esophageal cancer. The report cites a potential two-fold increased risk of oesophageal cancer associated with Asian pickled vegetable consumption. Results from the research are described as having "high heterogeneity" and the study said that further well-designed prospective studies were warranted. However, their results stated "The majority of subgroup analyses showed a statistically significant association between consuming pickled vegetables and Oesophageal Squamous Cell Carcinoma".
The 2009 meta-analysis reported heavy infestation of pickled vegetables with fungi. Some common fungi can facilitate the formation of N-nitroso compounds, which are strong oesophageal carcinogens in several animal models. Roussin red methyl ester, a non-alkylating nitroso compound with tumour-promoting effect in vitro, was identified in pickles from Linxian in much higher concentrations than in samples from low-incidence areas. Fumonisin mycotoxins have been shown to cause liver and kidney tumours in rodents.
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