Is every morsel of food that we put into our mouths a grenade waiting to go BOOM?
Going by the flood of dietary advice available, it would seem so; there are so many foods that are now taboo, that there’s barely anything that one can eat without worrying about repercussions.
So, are we not to eat at all? The trick is to eat not just well, but wisely. Common sense tells us that foods like pickles have been around forever. Maybe when Early Man went out to hunt and brought home the wild hog, or buffalo, the waiting family polished it off with their favourite pickle! So when did they suddenly become ‘poison’?
Setting aside wild conjecture, pickling is an ancient culinary art and one of the oldest methods of preserving food. This was the way for mankind to enjoy seasonal fruit and vegetables throughout the year, or conserve a bountiful crop which could not be consumed immediately, in the absence of refrigeration.
Pickles and the traditional Indian Meal
No Indian meal is complete without a pickle of some sort or the other: sweet, sour, sweet and sour, spicy, super spicy, hell-fire… you name it! Summers in India are hot and the accompanying water shortages limit food production. Pickling must have started to beat the shortage and high cost of scarce vegetables and fruits. Summers have now come to mean pickles.
Every part of India has its own method of making pickles. With the migration of people from one region to another, evolution of cooking methods, etc., Indian pickles have evolved into a fine art; the finest that can tickle your palate and put zest into the most mundane meal.
The most popular pickles
Indians can make a pickle out of just about anything edible! But the king of fruit, the mango, makes the king of pickles without a doubt. Mango pickle is a popular add-on to any meal.
The Tomato is the Queen of vegetables; it is one of the most universally used vegetables in India. Tomato pickle must also take pride of place in the pickle parade.
Why should we talk of only ‘common’ pickles? The exotic South of India is renowned for Gongura pickle. Roselle, or gongura, is an iron-rich leaf. Gongura pickle is the domain of expert picklers and pickle connoisseurs!
Are pickles bad for you?
Modern ‘health gurus’ condemn pickles as being high in sodium and oozing oil. It is important to remember that pickles are a part of the Indian traditional meal and have been around for at least 5,000 years. There is now a renewed interest in traditional methods of cultivation and eating. We now understand that every culture has optimized its diet and eating patterns to suit the region it lives in, including the local flora and fauna, and the local climate.
Here are 5 benefits to adding that piquant pickle to your plate and palate!
#1. Pickles preserve the supply of essential minerals and vitamins, the innate nutritive wealth of the vegetable or fruit being pickled.
Mangoes are rich in vitamins A, C, K and B-6, folate and fibre.
Tomatoes are a good source of the vitamins A, B6, B3, C, & E, innumerable minerals like magnesium, chromium, folate, potassium, copper, iron, zinc, phosphorous, to name a few.
Gongura contains Vitamin A, B1, B2, B3, & C. It is also rich in iron, calcium, phosphorous, potassium and magnesium.
Just remember: these pickles are not just about taste; they preserve sizeable amounts of nutrition as well.
#2. Antioxidant Protection: Raw, unripe fruits and vegetables go into the making of pickles. This makes them rich in antioxidants- micronutrients that help in protection against free radicals or unstable chemicals that are formed in our bodies during the natural process of cell activity. Free radicals lead to cell damage and result in disease.
#3. Probiotic-rich: pickling is a kind of fermentation where helpful bacteria help to break down hard to digest cellulose in foods. Pickling can also help to introduce beneficial bacteria into our gut. It is no wonder that after a dose of antibiotics following an illness, a dash of pickle in hot rice is what we crave for most! The friendly bacteria rejuvenate our taste buds and our digestion. This is the probiotic positivity of the best tomato or mango pickle!
#4. Great during the early stages of pregnancy: A tangy pickle, packing a punch is what nature ordered to deal with morning sickness during pregnancy. Pregnant mothers are required to eat well but the surging hormones and accompanying nausea makes this such a difficult task. Mango pickle, in particular, has proved to be the right antidote for this.
#5. Health follows happiness. Satiating hunger and a fulfilling meal are not just a physical need- it is a mental one. It is no wonder that comfort food always includes the pickle that tantalizes your taste buds. The meal that follows a tiring day at work, or the craving for the foods of Home in a foreign land, mouth-watering reminiscences of childhood summers, loving
memories of the soft lap of your grandmother… all these are intrinsically linked to the pickle that marked a satisfying meal.
The mantra for a healthy diet should be: No Fasting, No Feasting. Moderation is the best path to health and happiness.
So, unless your doctor has specifically banned pickles, feel free to enjoy that dash of comforting taste!
Pickle making is a long and laborious process. In today’s world of hustle and bustle, constricted kitchens, and demanding careers, of course it is difficult to set time aside. Fortunately, you can buy the best tomato, mango and gongura pickle from a reputed store.
A note of caution: make sure that your bottle is not pickling chemicals and preservatives. This is what most mass manufacturers do to ensure a long shelf-life.
The other point to consider is the freshness of the ingredients. Oil, in particular, tends to turn rancid and the pickle goes stale. NOT the best!