Pickles add a sour punch to dishes and meals. They are perfect alone as simple finger food, as a palate cleanser between courses, or stirred into soups, stews, curries and tagines. They are also a go-to condiment to be piled on burgers, paired up with barbecue and layered into sandwiches.
Pickles around the world
In East Asia the Japanese have a whole category of pickled foods called tsukemono, which includes tasty treats like the pickled ginger you serve with sushi (gari), cucumbers pickled in miso (misozuke) and pleasantly salty pickled plums (umeboshi). The Chinese flavor soups and stews with pickled turnips and mustard greens (zha cai) and nibble on pickles as a snack with beer or rice wine. And the Koreans, of course, like their kimchi slow-fermented, chile-spiced and garlicky.
If you see the word "achar" or something similar (atchar, achaar, acar) in Southeast Asian cuisine, they're likely referring to a pickle. Indians pickle carrots, mangos and limes, heavy on the spices. Indonesians and Malaysians like pickled cucumbers, carrots and pineapples. Filipinos prefer pickled papaya (achara).
Pickling is considered almost an an artform for the peoples of of Central Asia and the Middle East, where variations of the word torshi indicate the sour punch of a pickle. Pickled olives, eggplant, cauliflower, turnips, peppers, pumpkin and garlic are all on the menu. The pickled lemons of Morocco (leems) are world famous.
The Europeans have historically pickled primarily to preserve the fall harvest deep into the winter months. Pickled herring, pickled beets, pickled cucumbers and pickled peppers are common larder items in countries across the continent. Mediterranean olives, soaked in brine, are a form of pickle. And from Central Europe on into the Russian plains, pickled cabbage (sauerkraut, choucroute, kiszona kapusta, savanyú káposzta) forms a core part of local and regional cuisine.
Moving into Latin America, pickles aren't quite as common. Yet Mexicans bathe chile peppers and carrots in a vinegar brine to make jalapenos in escabeche, a beloved table condiment. Curtido is a lightly tart cabbage slaw from Central America. And pickled red onions (cebollas encurtidas) are a preferred garnish for foods from the Yucatan to Peru.
Caribbean cooks favor hot pickled peppers. The Haitians make a delicious vegetable slaw called pickliz. Jamaicans are particularly fond of a escovitch, a dish of fried pickled fish.
In Canada and the United States, the pickled cucumber — dilled, bread and butter, or sweet — reigns supreme. But pickled green beans, carrots, beets and eggs are also popular.
The one area of the world that doesn't seem to have much interest in pickles is sub-Saharan Africa. However, given European and Southeast Asian culinary influence, both curried pickled fish and mango pickles hold a cherised place in many South African hearts.
Learn more about how to make great, quick refrigerator or slow fermented pickles.
International pickle recipes
(Haitian spicy pickled vegetables)
(Japanese miso pickle)
(Mexican pickled jalapeño peppers)
(Korean spicy fermented cabbage pickle)
(Indonesian cucumber pickle)
(Ecuadorian, Mexican pickled red onions)
(Japanese pickled ginger)
(Iranian, Afghan pickled vegetables)
(Swedish pickled beets)
(Moroccan preserved lemons)
(Italian green tomato pickle)
(American, Southern-Soul garden refrigerator pickle)