What a pickle!

TNIE delves into the tangy world of pickles and examines why this accompaniment is a kitchen staple the world over
Representational image
Representational image

KOCHI: Pickles. Who doesn’t love them — that tangy, spicy accompaniment which sits all too invitingly on the side of your plate? A bottle of this godsend enjoys a ubiquitous presence in kitchens, in India and the world over. The reasons for this are as myriad as the flavours it facilitates and the emotions it evokes.

For some, pickles are a culinary embodiment of love; for the nostalgic, a portal to the familiar comforts of home; for others, the aroma emanating from them comes with the memory of a cherished someone, now long gone.

Yes, pickles are a godsend, no doubt. The word pickle is derived from the Dutch word peel, meaning saline or brine. On the other hand, achar, believed to have Persian roots, refers to powdered or salted fruits, meats or pickles preserved in honey, syrup, salt or vinegar.


This practice of preservation, according to the New York Food Museum, dates back to at least 4,000 years, when ancient Mesopotamians began soaking cucumbers in acidic brine to preserve them.

Pickles were also a topic of discussion during 50 BC after Queen Cleopatra of Egypt credited them as the source of her beauty and health. Even Julius Caesar believed it would help people gain strength.

However, it was during the age of exploration that pickles became a game changer. Sailors, who went on long voyages, relied on pickles as a means to keep scurvy, a disease brought upon by a deficiency in Vitamin C, at bay.

Dawn of the pickle industry

It was Christopher Columbus who brought pickles to America. In the 1650s, Dutch farmers in New York began growing cucumbers in what is now Brooklyn. They produced them, pickled them and sold them in barrels on streets, thus heralding the advent of the world’s largest pickle industry.

Different varieties of pickles came to the fore in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, especially when New York opened to immigrants, who came with their set of recipes. Eastern European Jews who arrived here introduced the popular kosher dill pickles.

Elsewhere in the world

In China, the process of pickling became a norm due to the region’s history of floods, drought and famine. It was imperative that food be stored in reserve to thwart a calamity. This meant pickling them. Chinese pickles are made from vegetables, meat, fruit and even nuts. Fruits such as Chinese plums, myrobalan and watermelon are mostly eaten only after pickling.

In Japan, there is rarely a meal without pickles (tsukemono). Fish and meat are preserved in miso or sake, while cherry blossoms are pickled and served in hot water on special occasions.

The popular pickle variety here is Shiozuke, where vegetables are salted in earthenware and pressed with a heavy stone for several hours to days.

Pickling in Korea reminds one of kimchee. It is an integral part of the Korean diet. Earlier, a woman’s ability was judged by the variety of kimchee she could make.

Achar supremacy

In India, pickles go by different names. In Tamil, it’s called urukai, whereas in Marathi, it’s loncha. athanu in Gujarati, uppilittathu in Malayalam and pachadi in Telugu. Compared to the West, Indian pickles are loaded with spices and masala. The Kannada text Lingapurana of Gurulinga Desika from 1594 CE mentions over 50 types of pickles.

While green and red chilli, tamarind, gooseberry, lime, and date pickles dominate the condiment space in India, mango achar has dedicated fan base of its own.

The variety is even mentioned by Ibn Battuta, a traveller and writer who documented Muhammad Bin Tughlaq’s life, in one of his writings.

‘Source of beauty’

Pickles were a topic of discussion during 50 BC after Queen Cleopatra of Egypt credited them as the source of her beauty and health. Even Julius Caesar believed it would help people gain strength

Tuna fish pickle


  • Tuna fish: 500gm

  • Ginger garlic paste: 15gm

  • Salt: To taste

  • Asafoetida powder: 5gm

  • Turmeric powder: 5gm

  • Black pepper powder: 10gm

  • Sugar: 5gm

  • Coconut oil: 150ml

  • Crushed ginger: 15gm

  • Crushed garlic: 15gm

  • Vinegar: 100ml

  • Fenugreek powder: 10gm

  • Kashmiri chilli powder: 25gm

  • Curry leaves: 5gm


  • Marinate the fish, which is cut into cubes, with salt, turmeric, ginger garlic paste and 5 grams of Kashmiri chilli powder.

  • Heat oil in a pan and deep fry the marinated fish. Keep it aside. Reheat the leftover oil of the fried fish.

  • Add the crushed ginger and garlic. Sauté it until brown and add all seasonings and vinegar.

  • Add the fried fish cubes and cook for a few minutes.

  • Once the gravy becomes thick, add curry leaves and turn off the stove.

  • Allow it to cool. Store the pickle in an air-tight container.

Narthangai pickle

by Irudhaya Mary


  • Narthangai (citron): 1

  • Fenugreek: 20 g

  • Cumin seeds: 20g,

  • Mustard seeds: 20 g

  • Sesame oil: 10 tsp

  • Garlic (whole): 2

  • Chilli powder: 1 tsp

  • Asafoetida: A pinch

  • Cane sugar: 1/2 tsp


  • Wash and dry the lime completely.

  • Soak it in salt and cover the bowl with a cloth.

  • Sun dry the mixture for three days.

  • Sautè fenugreek, cumin and mustard seeds in a pan and blend it as a powder.

  • In another pan, add oil and to it the blended powder.

  • On low flame, add garlic and saute, until it cooks.Add the dried lime, chilli powder, cane sugar and asafoetida and sautè it, till you get the aroma.

  • Cook until the fruit softens and the oil floats.

Rambutan pickle

Recipe courtesy: Chef Arun Vijayan


  • Rambutan flesh: 500gm

  • Salt: To taste

  • Turmeric powder: 5gm

  • Asafoetida powder: 5gm

  • Fenugreek powder: 10gm

  • Kashmiri chilli powder: 30gm

  • Vinegar: 100ml

  • Mustard seeds: 10gm

  • Whole red chilli: 5gm

  • Chopped garlic: 15gm

  • Ginger Julienne: 20gm

  • Sugar: 5gm

  • Mustard oil: 100ml


  • Heat oil in a pan and temper the mustard seeds with red chilli. Add ginger, garlic and salt to it.

  • Sauté until brown and add all the seasonings and vinegar. Add the sliced flesh of rambutan and cook for a few minutes.

  • Once the mix has a thick consistency, turn off the flame.

  • Allow it to chill and then store it in an air-tight container.

White onion pickle

by Sapna Panjabi


  • White onion (small): 1

  • Fenugreek: 1 tsp

  • Black mustard: 1 tsp

  • Red chilli powder: 1 tsp

  • Salt: 1 tsp; Mustard oil:½ tsp


  • Do not cut the white onion into pieces but make a slit on all four sides of the onion.

  • Mix fenugreek, black mustard, red chilli powder and salt in sterilised water and mustard oil.

  • Stuff the mixed gravy in the crosses made in the onion.

  • Pour the remaining sauce on top of the onion with a few drops of vinegar for preservation. Store in an air-tight jar.

Malaysian Nyonya Achar

Recipe courtesy: Cafe De Bangkok


  • Par boiled Veg Cabbage - 300gm, 

  • Carrot - 150gm 

  • Cauliflower - 100gm

  • Long Bean - 50gm

  • Green & red chili - 25gm

  • 1 whole pineapple 

  • 2 whole cucumber , sprinkle 2 tbsp of salt before use

  • 1 whole garlic clove


  • Crush Peanut (50gm)

  • Sesame Seed White (25gm)

Pan roast

  • Chilli paste/powder/flake - 20gm 

  • Turmeric powder - 5gm 

  • Cooking oil - 1/2 cup

Vinegar Mixture

  • Vinegar white - 100ml

  • Sugar white - 50gm

  • Salt- 30gm; Water-  1 litre


  • Heat oil and saute chilli and turmeric. Add vinegar mixture  and bring to boil.

  • Add par boiled vegetables and the rest when the brine is cooled off.

  • Leave it overnight outside then keep it in the fridge for fermentation.

  • Add peanut and sprinkle sesame seeds before serving.

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