Pickled Foods: Flavor, Health and Tradition
Pickling is an ancient technique of food preservation and flavoring that remains popular, and delicious, to this day.
The art of pickling likely originated in India, more than 4,000 years ago. Pickling utilizes the natural process of fermentation, and almost always calls for some combination of vinegar and/or oil, salt and spices.
While most people in the United States will envision some variety of pickled cucumber (kosher dill and gherkin, for example) when they hear the word “pickle,” a large variety of fruits, vegetables and meats can be pickled, both to keep the whole food from spoiling, and for adding a wide range of flavors.
As with many other fermented foods, such as yogurt, pickled foods like kimchi and sauerkraut promote gut-health through probiotic properties. These “good,” or healthy bacteria, are also what help preserve fermented foods such as pickles.
Additionally, pickling is known to preserve the natural antioxidant properties of the fresh whole fruit or vegetable, though many other phytonutrients can be potentially lost in the process. With that said, the loss of specific phytonutrients is highly dependent upon the pickling process used and the food being pickled. Certain pickles, such as dill cucumber pickles, are also known to be particularly high in sodium, which is harmful if consumed in excess.
When foods are pickled in vinegar, there may be some benefit for diabetics, as several studies have indicated vinegar as being helpful in controlling blood-glucose levels and increasing insulin sensitivity in diabetics.
Ultimately, since there are so many foods that can be pickled, and so many forms of pickling, the nutritional benefit or harm that one can expect to experience from consuming pickled foods is highly variable. From a cultural and culinary standpoint, pickles are a wonderful way to experience different kinds of flavors and foods that may be difficult to find locally and freshly grown.
Resources and Further Reading
Checkout open-source friend-to-all wikipedia for a list of pickled foods from around the world: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_pickled_foods
More about pickles: https://www.healthline.com/health/food-nutrition/are-pickles-good-for-you
High-Sodium foods, such as dill pickles, nutritional profile: https://www.ars.usda.gov/ARSUserFiles/80400525/Articles/IFT14_SodiumMonit.pdf
The possible benefits of vinegar for diabetics: http://care.diabetesjournals.org/content/27/1/281
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