Do pickles have health benefits? What goes into the pickling process? Which pickle of the several hundreds in India could be your pickle of choice? Discover with chef Zarin Mirza.
From generation to generation, Indian families hand down legacies—from the family business to everyday strategies for smooth-home operations. One such tradition that is taught from generation to generation is the art of making pickles. To some, a pickle is just a spoon of masala on a plate that’s eaten with the rest of the meal. To others, a meal is incomplete without a pickle! A plate of simple curd rice with pickle is a quick breakfast in many regions of the country, like the dahibhaat in the South or the pokhalbhaat in Orissa. Pickles have also been a necessity in times of scarcity and frugality. In a country where drought was often a prevalent phenomenon, pickles played a very important role in certain regions.
While there is much debate about whether pickles are unhealthy and lack nutritive value, I argue that this is the case for only commercially-made, preservative-heavy pickles. As an age-old ayurvedic practice, the ageing process of pickling is said to result in a lot of medicinal properties. According to renowned nutritionist and author Rujuta Diwaker, pickles are rich in vitamin K2, which is necessary for the absorption of vitamin D by the body. Pickles are believed to be high in ‘good’ bacteria—fashionably called ‘pro-biotics’ today—which is necessary for the gut. If you want nutrition-rich pickle recipes, look out for the ones that have been handed down by elders in any family to their children. The design of these traditional recipes is usually such that they maintain high nutrition and the medicinal values of the ingredients. They also maintain the quality of processing and the quality of ingredients.
First of all, the sun plays an exceptional role in making pickles. It acts as a natural dehydrator that removes excess moisture from the ingredients. This is why most households carry out pickling between March to June when the sun is at its peak in India. Besides this, what does the process of pickling look like?
This year, during the mango season, I made three pickles—chundo (sweet-spicy raw mango pickle), methiyakeri nu achar (fenugreek and raw mango pickle) and gundakeri nu achar (stuffed fragrant manjack and raw mango pickle). For this, I collaborated with an aunt of mine whose style is a little different. She believes there is no point in dehydrating mangoes to make pickles. Instead, she’d ask—why not use the mango’s own water so it can emulsify with the oil added to the pickles? The process takes away the need to sun-dry the pickles. But to make chundo, my aunt advocates using sunlight. I am currently enjoying all three pickles at home with various combinations!
The most common pickle known to Indians is aam ka achar, the mango pickle. And the second most famous pickle is made of lemon. But in different parts of the country, different ingredients are used to make pickles because India has so many indigenous varieties of fruits and vegetables. Each region has its favourites and their preference also changes seasonally. Medicinal properties and occasions also determine what kind of pickle to pickle. Some examples of the different kinds of pickles include these:
The art of fermentation has taken a fashionable turn in the food industry of late, with more and more chefs fermenting ingredients to enhance flavours in their dishes. But as s times change and families become nuclear, the age-old Indian tradition of handing down recipes risks becoming extinct. The process of pickling is seen by many as being time-consuming. To maintain the nutritional value of pickles, my recommendation is that we source pickles from houses and gruhudhyogs and promote small-scale pickle makers instead of buying pickles from largescale factories. We could also create a new culture around the dying art of pickling by organising pickling events. These would be a welcome local adaptation to our attempts at emulating the West’s wine tastings and cheese tastings.
I have been making pickles for my family for the last two years and the experience is very satisfying. The bonus from the hard labour every time is a bottle full of fresh, homemade pickles that do not spoil but only mature with age!
About the author :
Zarin Mirza is a chef and culinary expert from Ahmedabad. She is the Corporate Chef at Ahura Restaurants Pvt Ltd. for the TOMATO’S & DHOOM DHAAM brand. She teaches cooking to students, develops concepts for restaurants and has worked as Junior Sous Chef at Taj Landsend, Mumbai.
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