Every tradition has its origin in sound logic, however anachronistic it may seem. Pickle making in India is steeped in tradition; every family group in every nook and cranny of our expansive country has a tradition of pickle making. Pickle and chutney recipes have been handed down generations within families, with Grandma’s little secrets, that make them unique. However, the humble pickle has been reduced to a side show on our plate, rather than the showstopper that it is. Over time many of us have come to consider pickles and chutneys as just a condiment to enliven our palette.
We at Indikhaa, on the other hand aver that if staples are the body of the Indian meal; and if dal, curries and curd form the heart of the meal; then pickles form the soul of the meal. One would be incredulous if we were to say that pickles pack the proverbial punch – not just in taste but also with respect to health benefits. Certain pickles like the aged, blackened lime pickles of north India, kokum and tamarind pickles found further down south aid in digestion. These are proven home remedies for digestive disorders. Move over Gelusil, Hello Homemade Pickle.
In many cultures, drinking pickle juice, the morning after a night of alcohol induced revelry, is considered as a “pick me up”. Too bad Jeeves was unaware of this magic potion, else Wooster wouldn’t have had another hungover morning!!! Jan Davison, in her book Pickles: A Global History notes that the 2nd century physician Galen recommended pickles to counter phlegm, stimulate appetite and aid digestion. She further notes that in the 18th century Sauerkraut, which is rich in Vitamin C was identified as a preventive for scurvy, every seagoing nation’s scourge. Fancy that!!!
Now coming back to Indian pickles. Many of us may be quick to surmise that since these are made with a lot of oil, they must be unhealthy. Let’s just take a step back and analyse our beloved Aavakaaya or Achaar. Pickles in India are predominantly made from seasonal fruits or vegetables like mango, carrots, cauliflower, lemon, green chilli etc. The pickling process seldom uses heat, and thus the main raw material (fruit or vegetable) retains all its nutrients especially the micro nutrients like vitamins, mineral, anti-oxidants et al. One will not need another vitamin supplement.
In addition, Indian pickling recipes use myriad condiments like turmeric, caraway seeds (ajwain), asafoetida (hing), mustard (‘aava’ in Telugu, sarson), fenugreek (methi seeds), coriander (dhaniya) et al. Each of these condiments is a superfood on its own. Turmeric has curcumin which has anti-inflammatory properties. Use of unrefined oils (kacchi ghani mustard oil/gingelly oil/groundnut oil etc): These oils are rich in Vitamins A/E/D/K and also provide anti-inflammatory properties and hormonal balance.
Ask the well-known nutritionist Ms. Rujuta Diwekar and she will tell you how good Indian home made pickles are for your health. She once took to social media to educate her followers on the benefits of our traditional Indian home-made pickles.
“Ati sarvatra varjayet” – excess of everything is bad or so the elders say. And they are not wrong. To prolong shelf life, Indian pickles are steeped in brine and oil. They are high in sodium and trans fats. That is the reason why our elders advise us to eat pickles in moderation. All the health benefits of pickles notwithstanding, we would advise consumers to remember the tenets of a balanced diet. Consumers who are on quantified diets are advised to adjust their macros according to the nutritional values printed on the packaging.
Our traditional recipes have been crafted with a lot of thought and are based on centuries of empirical evidence. As consumerism spreads among us GenX, GenY and millennial populace, we look for everything in a fancy package. We at Indikhaa love to go back to our roots and hope that you would join us on our journey of rediscovery.