Pickles Of India - Preserving The Ancient Culinary Wisdom
Image Credit: Pickles are a huge part of Indian meals | Unsplash

What makes Indian food so exciting? It’s tough to answer this question in a few lines. Regional cuisines of India offer different flavours which leave your mouth watered. The amalgamation of flavours and textures is probably a valid distinction which makes Indian cuisine stand out. There are many iconic dishes which come to mind whenever we discuss the cuisines of the Indian subcontinent, be it vegetarian or non-vegetarian, Indian curries, breakfast dishes, bread or rice preparations, it is hard to single out a culinary factor which makes consuming an Indian meal so addictive and fulfilling. However, as I begin to think, if ever we come across a bland and boring meal in India, my mind narrows down to the numerous delicious accompaniments to the meals we consume. The papadums, chutneys, raitas, salads, and the king of accompaniments, The Achaar (Pickles).

Pickling is a culinary practice used for preservation in most countries; however, in India, Pickling is not merely a preservation technique but a culinary art form. The grandmothers are the most significant artists of this art form, whose recipes almost always leave us salivating. Most vegetables grown in India are used to make pickles. Mango pickle is the most common, a bottle of which can be found in most kitchens or as the centre appointment on the dinner tables. Red chillies, green chillies, carrots, cauliflower, Indian gooseberries (Amla), lemon, and garlic are some of the commonly found Indian pickles; however, as we delve into the regional cuisines of India, we will find local produces being pickled and forming a core of the cuisine in different states of India.

Jackfruit, Curry Leaves, Dates, Gongura, Tomato, Turnips, Ginger, Drumsticks, Brinjals (Aubergines), Ivy gourd, Bamboo Shoot, Raja Mirchi, Beetroot, Radish, Bittergourd, Coconut, Ker Sangri, Kacchri, Glueberry, Elephant Apple, Jujube, Plums etc. are some of the unique and delicious regional varieties of pickles you can find in India. Recipes for these pickles are unique regionally. Sun drying is an essential pickling process, as it dries up the moisture content, thereby providing pickles with a long shelf life. Oil, salt, and spices are other vital ingredients to make Indian pickles. Mustard oil is predominantly used in north Indian pickles, whereas Sesame oil is commonly used in south Indian pickles. The spicy, oily, salty pickles help preserve the pickled ingredient and make it a delicious flavour combination, heightening the flavour of anything you eat.

Authentic pickle recipes should be preserved | Unsplash

Regional cuisines of India are diverse in their offerings; however, pickles are what unites the taste preferences Indians have across the country. Be it the eastern states of Bengal, Odisha, or Assam, The Western states of Gujarat, Rajasthan, and Maharashtra, pickles are an indispensable part of all the different regional cuisines India possesses.

To add to the numerous styles of spicy and tangy pickles, there are also lip-smacking sweet pickles made with fruits and vegetables. Sweet Mango Launji, or the sweet carrot - Cauliflower pickle, is the sheer gastronomical pleasure of eating a spicy breakfast dish, with the opposing sweet flavour of these pickles creating a Yin and Yang effect on our palate. A true glutton can finish a big part of the sweetened pickle jar in no time.

Preservation techniques help create several delicious food items; other than the spicy, sweet or brined pickles, ‘Murabba’ and jams are also popular and delicious preserved food items. Preservation techniques are ancient to India, and the recipes have been passed on from generation to generation. Chefs across the country feel no qualm in accepting their inability to match up to the brilliance of the homely recipes, which no culinary institute of repute can teach. Many famous chefs across the country, who may have tasted the best food worldwide, meltdown as soon as the aroma of their grandmother’s ‘Aam ka achaar’ or ‘Mirchi ka achaar’ reaches their matured olfactory senses. The nostalgia of Daadi’s or Naani’s pickle and paratha or khichdi on a winter afternoon remains one of our fondest culinary memories.

Pickles is where lies the essence of our beautiful culinary heritage. With each generation, the need to preserve the recipes and the culinary art form of pickling becomes essential. Shortcuts must always be avoided while preparing achars. Be it the selection of fruits and vegetables, the sun drying, the proportion of spices, oil, and the tempering, the way we have been pickling for ages, it has been a masterful technique, and we must hope it must not be lost in future to either technology or resultantly our ill evolved palate. The pickles must remain the same, and the next generations may also be able to taste this culinary heritage passed from ages and experience the perfection of Indian Pickles.

Sidharth Bhan Gupta, Founder of 361 Degrees Hospitality, is a Hospitality / Food and Beverage / Restaurant Consultant, Travelling across India on a Cultural and Culinary Exploration