The first pickled cucumbers were produced in India over 4,000 years ago and ever since people around the world, for some reason have sprooked their nutritional value, and even healing power. Mmm, while the idea of pickled vegetables may sound unappetising to most , this ancient form of preservation actually produces really delicious results. I know, I produce a range of my own pickles at home on a regular basis. The traditional pickling vegetables has always been used as a way of stockpiling certain foods throughout the year when abundant, and then having the food to eat during the winter months, or sometimes for ruse on a long journey, especially by sea.
So what is pickling all about?
The idea of pickling is to create an acid environment that is inhospitable to botulism, i.e. microbes that would normally cause food to decay. So Pickling is really a combination of salt, vinegar, and/or fermentation with bacteria. In some cases, spices, oil, hone and sugar are also added. The benefit of using the more traditional way of pickling, is that lactic acid fermentation is allowed to happen naturally. This is the original pickling method, which has been an essential part the healthy human diet for many thousands of years. Although I pose the question – do commercially prepared pickled vegetables on offer in our supermarkets deliver the same health benefits.
Different pickling methods.
Pickling food these day is very common around the world, and you’ll find an amazing selection of pickled foods, ranging from the famous pickled onion to pickled eggs and preserved or pickled lemons. In Australia we’ve inherited our love of pickles from our European ancestors, so down-under we have delicacies such as pickled cucumbers, beetroot, red cabbage, sauerkraut, olives, mixed vegetables and capers, plus a stack of other pickled food. In Italy for instance, they serve a pickled vegetable dish (giardiniera), which includes onions, carrots, celery, and cauliflower.The Polish traditionally serve up pickle plums, pumpkins, and mushrooms. On the Indian sub continent, you will find various fruits and vegetables mixed with other ingredients, like spices and vegetable oils, to produce a pickled chutneys. Iranian’s pickle turnips, peppers, cabbage, lemons, and cauliflower. Not sure about turnips! The Chinese also like to pickle lots of different vegetables, including radish or daikon (yum), Chinese cabbage, and chilli pepper.In Korea, one of their staple foods is kimchi, which is a spicy pickled cabbage – it’s easy to make and we eat it at home all the time, naturally fermented in a large earthenware crock. And in the US of A, they pickled some very interesting thins like okra, watermelon rind, pig’s feet, quail eggs, and pickled sausage (this is very good).
As you can see tastes and pickling options are wide and varying.
Mmm, so is pickling good for you?
Here are some facts and figures re the nutrition of pickled vegetables –
– The fibre in pickled vegetables is roughly the same as with cooked vegetables. Fat soluble vitamins, such as A, D, E and K, are also retained during pickling and, Korean researchers have even noted that kimchi is a very good plant source of vitamin B12. This is probably true of some other pickled vegetables, too.
– Vegetables that are naturally fermented (not hermetically heat sealed in jars), also have the added benefit of boosting the gut’s good bacteria.
– Unfortunately research has shown that when it comes to the heat required in commercial canning processes to form a vacuum in a jar for preservation and health safety, it t destroys much of the vegetable’s vitamin C; while light destroys the riboflavin content.
– So when it comes to the beneficial bacterial, it is highly unlikely that these are present in significant amounts in commercially produced pickles. Unfortunately, many of the pickles in your supermarket, are nothing more than cucumbers canned in a vinegar solution. This is not fermentation it’s usually rubbish in bottles high in sugar and salt – so be warned!
Facts and figures, re scientific research on pickled vegetables.
Please don’t assume because most pickled foods are vegetables, they must be a healthy option for you. Unfortunately, some researchers suggest it may not be as simple as that.
Back in 2009, researchers noted that there was a two-fold increased risk of oesophageal cancer associated with the intake of commercially pickled vegetables sealed in jars.
In 2010, researchers concluded that a high intake of pickled vegetables may increase gastric cancer risk, and recommended an increased intake of fresh vegetables, rather than commercially pickled vegetables.
An alarming study from two years ago in 2012, suggested a potential 50 percent higher risk of gastric cancer associated with eating commercially pickled vegetables and other commercially pickled foods. Once again please, the message of moderation is appropriate here.
If the largest proportion of your vegetable intake comes from processed vegetables, which have been salted or pickled, rather than from fresh vegetables, the results of these studies suggest you may be putting your health at risk – it’s as easy as that.
So, do I just avoid pickled foods completely?
The studies mentioned, focus on Asian countries, where the intake of pickled foods is much higher than what it is here or in the US. This extremely high intake of pickled products commercially produced is possibly one reason why these countries show higher rates of cancer. Moderation is the key here re commercially made pickled products.
You can eat pickled vegetables – but make sure it’s the healthy way!
I believe through experience, the only way to eat pickled vegetables, is to choose those that have been naturally fermented, and therefore contain live bacteria – like the ones I produce and eat at home.
When a food is allowed to ferment naturally, it actually adds to and build the nutritional content, since the bacteria causing the fermentation produce B vitamins, and the bacteria helps keep the digestive tract fit and healthy. To get the greatest health benefits, look for fresh pickled vegetables, such as sauerkraut, in the refrigerated sections of supermarkets, and natural food stores. Some delicatessens also sell them now and the range of these naturally fermented pickles is growing.
Although I reckon if you want to be healthy and eat the best pickles you’ve ever tasted, why not try making your own pickled vegetables, using traditional methods.
Start with Kimchi and sauerkraut – they’re sooo, easy!
If you’d like some recipes that work and are just outright delicious – email me on –
Or check out the next 1910 Lifestyle Magazine out in March 2014 for pickling recipes.
So to finish off: if you are replacing fresh vegetables with commercially jarred pickled vegetables most of the time, you are at an increased risk of adversely affecting your health.
However, eating pickled vegetables that have been naturally fermented and not pasteurised in the jarring process using extreme heat – will help you glow with health!
Please note – This is not medical advice nor should it substitute for consultation with a qualified medical practitioner when it comes to your diet, health and well being.