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A pickle is a fruit or vegetable (usually a cucumber) that has been preserved and flavored in either a brine (salt solution) or a vinegar solution, or a combination of the two.

Pickle may also refer to the pickling solution, or similar solutions used for different purposes, such as removing scale from metal or preserving wood. The word pickle sometimes means a tough situation, or it may refer to a difficult or annoying person.

In the following discussion, the word pickle refers to a pickled cucumber. For information about the process of pickling, or about foods other than cucumbers which may be pickled, see pickling.

It is believed that pickles were first made 4500 years ago in Mesopotamia. Cleopatra thought pickles made her beautiful. The armies of Julius Caesar and Napoleon were fed pickles. During World War II, forty percent of the pickles produced in the US went to the armed forces.

There are many different types of pickles based on differences in preparation, added ingredients, especially spices, size, and form.

  • Based on the way pickles are made, there are processed pickles (also called fermented), fresh-pack pickles, and refrigerated pickles.
  • Based on flavorings, there are dill, garlic, sweet, bread and butter, deli and kosher pickles.
  • Based on size, there are gerkins and midgets.
  • Based on form, there are whole pickles, spears, chips, slices, chunks and stackers.

Pickles are made in one of three ways:

  • Processed pickles are made the old-fashioned way, by a process of fermentation. The bacteria in the cucumber is allowed to reduce the sugars present. This usually takes about five weeks, and the resulting pickles have a shelf life of many months.
  • Fresh-packed pickles are made by pasturizing cucumbers to kill bacteria or make bacterial spores dormant. Fresh-packed pickles have a shelf life of many months. Many commercially-produced pickles are fresh-packed.
  • Refrigerated pickles (sometimes called overnight pickles) are made by placing cucumbers in a vinegar solution and refrigerating them. Compared to processed or fresh-pack pickles, refrigerated pickles have a relatively short shelf life, and even unopened jars should be kept refrigerated.

Dill pickles are sour. Kosher pickles are garlic-flavored dills. Bread and Butter pickles are onion-flavored and sweet.

A gherkin is a small cucumber (there are as many as 8500 gherkins in a 45 gallon barrel). A midget is even smaller (there are up to 30,000 small midgets in a barrel).

See also: food preservation

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