Sweet Pickle Relish: A Western Chutney

Sweet pickle relish is said to be America’s oldest condiment, but its roots are in India. The popular version in early America copied an Indian chutney. Chutneys had made their way to the New World via the British Empire. In India, chutneys are a condiment that may be served with any meal. The term refers to a range of products that consist of fresh or pickled ingredients. The British enjoyed the chutney flavors and brought versions of it back to Great Britain and from there it spread around the world.

Many historians believe that relishes were popular with early American colonists because it gave them a way to preserve vegetables over the winter.

Relishes were being used in the United States in the 18th century but increased in popularity in the 19th century. Heinz began producing a variety of relish called Chow-Chow, which comes from South Carolina and is the first ancestor of the modern sweet pickle relish. In 1888, they began making a kind of pickle relish called Piccalilli that was alleged to have been invented by Napoleon’s chef. It included gherkin pickles along with various vegetables and spices.

The year after introducing Piccalilli, Heinz began producing its India Relish which included pickled cucumbers and a variety of spices like ginger and garlic. After the Heinz company’s pickles and vinegar, the India relish became their most popular condiment product.

These days, traditional sweet pickle relish has a bright-green color and consists of cucumber with its skin intact along with peppers, sugar, and vinegar. Some versions such as the type used on many Chicago-style hot dogs will omit the peppers.

The word relish was first used toward the end of the 18th century.

Sweet pickle relish flavor profile

The main flavor of sweet pickle relish is the sweetness it gets from brown sugar. The sweetness is accompanied by a little tartness from the vinegar in the pickles used to make it. It may also have some tanginess from mustard seeds and a little umami from celery seeds.

Health benefits of sweet pickle relish.

Even though it is not marketed as a particularly healthy food item, sweet pickle relish is not completely bad for you. It can contain nutrients like:

  • Vitamins: While the nutritional profile does vary from brand to brand, sweet pickle relish can provide small amounts of various nutrients including vitamin A and various B vitamins like riboflavin and niacin.
  • Minerals: Sweet pickle relish can provide traces of various nutritionally important minerals like calcium, potassium and phosphorus.

The nutritional value of sweet pickle relish means that it can help treat or prevent health problems like:

  • Osteoporosis: Several of the minerals in sweet pickle relish are good for bone health including calcium and phosphorus.
  • Poor blood clotting: The vitamin K in sweet pickle relish helps your body to produce prothrombin, a compound that is essential for blood clotting.

Health concerns

Sweet pickle relish is high in sugar and sodium, two ingredients that have been linked to serious health problems like high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes.

Common uses

The most common use for sweet pickle relish is as a condiment for hot dogs. It is one of the main three with the other two being ketchup and mustard. Sometimes it gets used on burgers as an alternative to dill pickles. Sweet pickle relish may also be used in tartar sauce, the dressing for tuna salad and some potato salad recipes. It is also a key ingredient in Thousand Island salad dressing.