Pickles in History
It was not always the case that varieties of foods were available all year round for people to consume. Back in the day, as you know, there was not even refrigeration to store seasonal produce long enough let alone store in season produce for out of season use such as we do by freezing and dehydrating these days. If we are talking food waste today, just imagine the type of waste that took place in ancient communities! Back when people were gathering communities, how much do you reckon they were able to gather, and then how much of it were they able to store and for how long? Don’t be fooled though, just because our ancestors had just set out exploring life and what options they have, does not make them fools. Most of our current advancements are built on generations upon generations of achievements, discoveries, trials and errors and the build up of knowledge and technology since then. It is no surprise then that they would have first started with food. It is after all survival, as food equals life and our ancestors knew this all too well. They knew that in order to survive they must eat and in order to always eat they had to think of ways to have access to food regardless of the circumstances (seasonal, regional, or even terrain safety at that time). Food had to be available and had to remain available even in the most difficult of times. As such food preservation had come to life with the earliest human civilisations that we know of (Mesopotamia). And I bet you, if we discover earlier civilisations, then for sure we will find a form of food preservation carried out even then!
Pickling is one such food preservation technique that is traced back to the earliest human civilisation. For a quick history of pickles watch the video above, it should give you a good idea of wherepickling started and how it moved around the world. In this post, I will not be focusing on pickling history, rather I wish to focus on the health benefits of consuming pickles. Partly because there are many health benefits to pickles that most people are not aware of, also because our customers are always asking us questions about the health benefits and risks of consuming pickles, and finally because I want to build up to explaining fermented foods to you as our specialty products happen to be fermented and again all of you always ask what fermented foods are and what health benefits do they offer us and about probiotics and so on..
It is quite difficult to explain all this at once, and so I will publish a few posts to explain all this to you, which will be kept here for your reference anytime. It is one of the hottest food and health topics at now and been so for a couple of years, and so you should know all about it. so here we go…
I will start with pickling just to explain the benefits and risks of consuming pickled foods and move on to fermentation in later posts..
What is pickling?
In short pickling is submerging food in brine (a solution of mainly salt and liquid) or in acid (vinegar or lemon juice) for the purpose of elongating the food’s shelf life. So, for example, the food that would naturally last up to a week in room temperature, is able to survive for years in this solution.
Of course, this is an over simplification of the process. It is an art and has many ways and mixtures and combinations to carry out. It also has a science behind it, what makes it a good pickle, what makes it safe to consume, when does it become poisonous and so on… Also the shelf life is hugely dependent on the method, cooked VS raw, fermented VS fresh…etc.
Quality & Health
It is worth mentioning here that pickled food is like any other food, the outcome and quality of the pickle is heavily reliant on the quality of the ingredients used. In fact, when it comes to pickles it is mandatory to use the utmost highest quality possible or the results will be disastrous. For instance, the fresh produce has to be extremely fresh or the pickle won’t work, try pickling soggy 1 week old cucumbers and see what happens.
Also as with all types of food, the health benefits of pickles are affected by the “health” factor of the ingredients used. Yes because as you preserve the fresh produce you are also preserving all the bad chemicals, hormones, GMO’s that this produce contains. So just like it is healthier and way better to eat organic cucumbers, it is also better and way healthier to eat organic cucumber pickles….
Health Benefits of Pickles
To begin with, as with all foods, everything has to be consumed in moderation. This is the most essential health tip when it comes to food and eating. This is especially true in the case of pickles, because pickles contain a substantial amount of salt (sodium) it is essential that we consume moderately. Don’t be discouraged and think that sodium is the devil, no sodium is an essential nutrient without which the body will stop functioning and its absence is actually fatal! However, excessive sodium intake is also fatal and so this is a nutrient that has to be kept in check and consumed moderately. So don’t eat a jarfull at once, rather enjoy a few pieces a day.
It helps here when you choose products that use better salts (natural salts, unprocessed salts) as these are healthier and also do not cause any side effects when consumed in moderation. (check my articles on this link about Himalayan Pink Salt, the salt we use in making all our MOONEH products)
According to NSDA, test results showed that sour cucumber pickles contain moisture, energy, protein, fat, carbohydrates, dietary fiber, and sugars. The minerals found in this pickle include iron, magnesium, phosphorous, potassium, and sodium. This pickle also contains vitamins that include vitamin C, thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, vitamin B-6, folate, vitamin B-12, vitamin A, vitamin E, vitamin D, and vitamin K. (of course these nutrients will vary according to the type of produce used and its natural nutrients)
Pickles can be a good source of antioxidants
As the vegetables or unripe fruits are stored fresh without cooking, the antioxidants present in those vegetables or unripe fruits are preserved too. Antioxidants are those micronutrients that help in protecting our body against the attacks of free radicals. Free radicals are unstable chemicals that are produced during cellular metabolism. These unstable chemicals react with our cells and damage our DNA to become unstable and in the process, create more and more free radicals. We can protect ourselves from free radical attacks by consuming food with high antioxidants.
Supply of probiotic or gut-friendly bacteria
Probiotic bacteria are those friendly bacteria that are present in our digestive system. These bacteria actually help us in the digestion of food. Sometimes, due to the use of antibiotics, along with invading bacteria, these friendly bacteria are also killed. The fall in their numbers can cause digestive problems that can be solved by eating pickles made without the use of vinegar. Naturally fermented salt pickles encourage the growth of these friendly bacteria, which will replenish the numbers in our digestive system and restore our health. I will leave this point at that for now, because I will be going in depth once we talk fermented food. For now, salt based pickles that do not include vinegar are a good source of probiotics.
Diabetes & Glucose Control
Studies have shown that consuming vinegar based pickles improves hemoglobin levels in diabetic patients, which in turn helps in controlling diabetes. The acetic acid present in vinegar has been noted to be responsible for this phenomenon. To keep the blood glucose level under control, you may consider including a moderate amount of pickles to your meals. By doing so, you may prevent the blood sugar from rising after the meals. However, care must be taken to avoid the consumption of salted pickles as excess salt increases blood pressure.
Helps in pregnancy
Pregnant women do have pickle cravings for good reasons. Nausea and vomiting which is so common in the first trimester of pregnancy can be relieved by consuming pickles. Morning sickness may be done away with the consumption of pickles. The tart, tangy and sour flavor of pickles tingle taste buds while reviving appetite. This cures nausea and curbs vomiting.
Pickle juice is well known for curing muscular cramps. It can fabulously resolve cramping. As per the studies, the one who consumes 1 ml serving of pickle recovers from muscular cramping much faster than the one drinking a glass of plain water.
Turnip Pickles and some Japanese pickles can boost the activity of immunity system to help one avoid Spleen Cancer. Certain special kinds of pickles may prevent cancer diseases.
Pickle juice too has benefits!
Pickle juice is known as a solid workout booster and post workout sodium replenisher and rehydration drink. It is scientifically proven to to assist in post workout recovery. In fact many manufacturers now produce a post workout drink that is essentially pickle brine. Pickle juice is also known to help in curing a hangover and stomach unrest. It helps to replenish depleted level of sodium and helps in rehydration as well. In most parts of the world, pickle brine is consumed just before stepping outside as it helps prevent sun strokes.
Finally, the pickle brine can also be used in soups, salad dressing and almost any recipe.
I will leave you with this delicious home-made pickle recipe that you can make yourself during harvest season to enjoy both the flavour and health benefits of pickles. Remember we have a large range of organic pickles and fermented foods that you can purchase through our online store on this link, which we will deliver to your door. All our products are organic, and support local organic farmers of the UAE, as we purchase straight from them and use no preservative, chemicals or any additives in their making. We even use 100% natural Himalayan Pink Salt and organic vinegar when making our pickles. Everyone who’s tried them loved them and you will too. Give us a try 🙂 And if you like to make your own pickles and ferments then you will love the recipes in my book Plated Heirlooms, which too can be purchased on the same link above and we ship worldwide. It includes a lot of useful information about pickling, and also recipes that adapt to many variations, grab a copy and start pickling and fermenting straight away.
Will be back with more articles about fermented foods and probiotics and the rest of this preserved foods talk. so come back for more soon 😉