Historians believe that the English word “pickle” comes from the Dutch word “pekel” or the German word “pokel,” both of which refer to the brining aspect of pickling. Humans have been pickling foods for much longer than any of those words have been in use. In fact, some of the earliest evidence of food being pickled comes from the ancient Mesopotamians around 2030 BC. It was then that people from India brought cucumber seeds to the Tigris valley.
Pickles were similarly beloved by the Ancient Egyptians, including Cleopatra. The Ancient Romans are believed to have brought foods from their conquered territories back with them, using the pickling process to preserve them for the journey home. Julius Caesar is reputed to have been particularly fond of pickles.
In the era before steam engines were invented, sailors subsisted largely on diets comprised of pickled foods including salt pork and salt beef. The traditional method for pickling salt pork and salt beef involves the use of pickling spices.
Napoleon Bonaparte was yet another fan of pickles, so much so that he offered a cash prize to anyone who could improve the pickling process. His goal was to ensure that his troops were supplied with pickles in the field. Nicolas Appert won the prize when he found that heating foods beyond 2120 F helped to preserve them.
Pickled foods flavored with pickling spice continue to be popular today all over the world. Pickles are enjoyed in countries throughout Asia, Africa and the Americas.
Flavor profile of pickling spice
Pickling spice is a blend of spices chosen for their ability to withstand the pickling process and to complement a variety of pickled foods. Each pickling spice blend can be different, depending on the cook’s preferences; however, most blends add a complex combination of sweet and warm flavors to food.
Health benefits of pickling spice
As with other spice blends, the health benefits vary depending on the ingredients. With most pickling spice recipes, the components are rich sources of various healthy compounds such as:
- Vitamins: The allspice in pickling spice is a good source of vitamin A and of B-complex vitamins like riboflavin and niacin. Mustard seeds also contain those B-complex vitamins along with vitamin E. Coriander is an especially rich source of vitamin C.
- Essential oils: Cinnamon and allspice are both rich in eugenol, while cinnamon also contains linalool and cinnamaldehyde. Mace is a source of various oils like safrole and myristicin.
- Minerals: Coriander is full of minerals including potassium, zinc and magnesium. Black pepper is another good source of potassium and delivers a significant amount of manganese as well.
- Dietary fiber: Coriander contains enough dietary fiber that is possible to get the recommended amount for a full day from a single 100 g serving.
The spices in pickling spice can help with the prevention and treatment of health issues such as:
- Poor digestion: Juniper berries, black pepper and allspice can aid digestion and are often used on their own as treatments for gastrointestinal issues.
- Cancer: Juniper berries and allspice are among the pickling spice components that can help to neutralize free radicals. Free radicals can lead to cancer and other health issues.
- Heart problems: Bay leaves contain compounds like rutin that can help to treat heart issues. Rutin can make capillary walls stronger, in the heart and elsewhere in the body.
Common uses for pickling spice
You can use pickling spice to flavor everything from pickled vegetables to beef for corned beef. The use of pickling spice is not limited to brined foods; the blend of flavors is versatile enough to flavor everything from barbecue rubs to stews.