Various pickled foods in seperate jars.

What Is A Pickle?

 Most people will agree that pickles may not be a favorite with everyone, but it tends to leave a memorable taste once you eat one.

A pickle is any food product that has been preserved with brine, but you’ll find that most people in the U.S. use the term “pickle” to refer to pickled cucumbers. The rest of the pickled food products are referred to as “pickled onion,” “pickled fish,” and so on.

Centuries ago, man discovered pickling as one of the best ways to preserve foods. Let us look at the meaning of pickling, what brine is, the health benefits of pickling and why the word pickle is usually equated to mean cucumbers.

What Does it Mean to Pickle Something?

Jar of pickles on a shelf in front of a window.

While considered by some to be a culinary art, pickling is simply the science of soaking food in solutions to prevent them from spoiling. Pickling is not confined to only one region of the world, but is a practice in kitchens all over the globe, with each region having a preferred food item they like to pickle.

Pickling is one of the oldest food preservation techniques. Humans have used pickling for centuries to preserve foods (usually produce) from a specific season so that they can enjoy it in a later season when that food is no longer available for harvest.

The most interesting fact about pickling is that it changes the taste and texture of the food. You can easily move from a boring meal to a sumptuous and gourmet meal. Add a pickled food product to your meal, and you will love the outcome of your meal.

What is Pickle Brine Made Of?

Gherkins in brine in a pickling jar with the lid open.

There are several ways of making brine to use for pickling; you can follow a recipe or even buy a packet of ready-made brine mix at the grocery store.

Here are a few common pickling methods and the brines associated with them:

Fruit Pickles:

Yes, pickling is even used to preserve fruits! Brine for fruit pickles is typically made with a mix of lemon juice, vinegar, and spices (optional) and is used to preserve both whole or sliced fruits.

Quick Process Pickles:

With quick process pickling, the time does most of the work. Pickles are put in a jar covered in a brine made of spices and boiled vinegar and then left in their sealed jars for several weeks.


Chopped vegetables and fruits are cooked in a spiced vinegar solution until the mixture reaches the desired consistency.

Fermented Pickles:

Here, the brine is made from a salt and water solution. The food to be pickled is soaked for one or more weeks, and the lactic acid produced during the fermentation process preserves the food product.

Whatever recipe you choose, it’s important that you strictly follow the proportions as given in the recipes or instructions. Following the correct proportions will ensure there’s enough acidity to prevent the growth of a bacteria that tends to produce highly toxic poison in low-acidic foods. For this reason, use only proven brine recipes from trusted sources.

With a total work time of under an hour and a prep time of about ten minutes, pickles are easy to make. Once you’ve found the brine recipe you want to use, it’s just three easy steps to make your own pickles.

Easy Sliced Pickles (Cucumber)

  1. Slice cucumbers as thinly (or thickly!) as you prefer and stuff as many as you can in a jar.
  2. Add crushed garlic at the top, add salt, water, sugar, and vinegar, and stir until the sugar and salt dissolve. You can add some red pepper flakes if you use them.
  3. Pour some vinegar into the jar and patiently wait for one hour, and you can have your pickles.

What Other Foods are Pickled?

Assortment of pickled foods sit with their lids off all in seperate jars.

Though most people in the United States associate pickles with cucumbers only, so many other types of food can be pickled. Aside from cucumbers, just about any food can be – and is – pickled.

While not all regions will pickle the same type of food product, many regions have a certain food that’s known to be their pickling specialty.

Here are some of the world’s most famous pickles that you might want to try should you find yourself in those regions:

Country/RegionMost Pickled Food
ScandinaviaPickled Herring
JapanMiso Pickles
ChinaSalted Duck Eggs
Southern United StatesPickled Pigs Feet
IrelandCorned Beef
New York CityKosher Pickles (cucumbers)

Are There Health Benefits to Pickling Foods?

Different fermented foods on a table in pickling jars.

Although pickling was borne of necessity, the health benefits associated with this traditional form of food preservation are a nice bonus.

  • The main benefit of pickling comes from the brine used in pickling. Fermented brine has bacteria that aid digestion and can help prevent minor stomach issues.
  • Pickles are also said to contain antioxidants. Antioxidants help control some of the chemicals found in the body known to induce inflammation or accelerate the development of some types of chronic disease.
  • Since pickles have a high rate of sodium, a vital mineral which can be lost through sweating or dehydration. Consuming pickles or their brine is touted by athletes and others as restoring electrolytes that are depleted during a game or workout.
  • Vinegar is thought to help control blood glucose levels, and thus pickles by extension. Control of blood glucose is critical for people who are suffering from diabetes. When blood glucose is stabilized, it can help control the extreme feeling of hunger, helping people battling obesity.
  • Pickles are said to help with muscle cramps. One 2010 study demonstrated that participants induced with cramps quickly experienced relief if they chugged pickle juice. Drinking water with a similar chemical makeup did not produce the same effect, leading researchers to believe that it was something specific about the pickle juice itself that eased the severity of the cramps.

Why are Pickled Cucumbers the Only Pickled Food Just Called “Pickles”?

Close up of pickled cucumbers in a jar.

Although it might seem strange that so many foods are pickled but only pickled cucumbers get the title, it really just boils down to geography. In the US and a few other countries, the most widely available and commonly consumed pickled food is pickled cucumbers, so it makes sense that the shortened “pickle” is synonymous for “pickled cucumber” in those regions.

Being one of the more conducive foods to pickling has also helped pickled cucumbers earn the title. Pickling cucumbers are a variety cultivated purposely to make them thinner and smaller, and as their name implies are ideal for pickling (although the rest of the cucumber varieties can of course be pickled also).


Jarred pickles on a wooden cutting board.

Pickling can be a very interesting activity if you’re concerned about the preservatives in store-bought or are just curious about learning to make your own. It’s a very simple process and the ingredients used are not expensive. Apart from being able to enjoy your favorite fruit or veggie no matter the season, keeping a variety of pickled foods on hand means you’ll always have a tasty snack or the perfect, flavorful addition to your meals.


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