Irrespective of one being either a vegetarian or a non-vegetarian, hardly can one live without a pickle! Some people who have mere rice alone, still satisfy their hunger with pickle and water mixed together. Non-vegetarians who eat chicken, fish, shrimp etc. go after pickle of one kind or the other such as mango, lime, avakkai, nelli and narthangai.
The ever-precious pickle can be compared to small krithi in the Carnatic music arena which is rendered by the performer as the last piece. That will normally indicate the completion of the concert; similarly, pickle would normally be consumed when the last course of curd rice is served and eaten. Both these are being observed in the respective fields from time immemorial. If we discern both still more deeply, we will be able to notice a subtle difference. When the ‘thukkada’ is taken up by the musician, most of the audience would start leaving the hall; whereas whatever be the occasion and whatever be the type of lunch or dinner, the eaters would wait and eat the pickle with something or the other while eating. Such is the unique significance that the pickle enjoys on the table.
Origin of pickle in India:-
Culinary experts and historians claim that the process of pickling is around 4,000 years old. India, being a tropical country, people had to prepare and preserve some items during winter season for use in summer season. In the absence of refrigerator, they used to cut the fruits, add preservatives with oil and salt and keep them duly packed and preserved for longer use. They would be delicious and tasty.
Tamils always prefer mangoes as it is one of the three basic fruits. They cannot patiently wait till they become ripe enough. It will not be either sour or sweet. At this stage it is called mavadu. Villagers would sacrifice anything for a combination of plateful of curd rice with mavadu.
The same process is followed for nelli and lime also. They used to keep it in a jar without the human hand touch so that they would continue to be fresh and tasty for a long time.
There is no second opinion to the statement that the origin of pickle in India is right from 2030 BC during which time people used to prepare pickle from soaked cucumber. This is vouchsafed in the Pickle History Timeline which is still available in the New York Food Museum. The great poet Kalamegam has also mentioned in his poem as “Thinganudhalar thirumanam polaekeeri” meaning pickle as inevitable dish. In North India, people are in the habit of preparing mixed pickles which they take along with their staple dish of chappathi.
In Kannada it is known as ‘Uppinakkayi’; in Telegu as ‘pachchadi’, in Malayalam as ‘Uppillithuttu’, in Marathi as ‘Loancha’, in Gujarathi as ‘Adhanu’ and in Hindi as ‘Achchar’.
In English, the word ‘pickle’ is said to have been derived from the Dutch word,’Pekel’ which refers to salt water. The book ‘The Definitive Glossary of British India’ confirms the use of the Hindi version ‘Achchar’ in as early as 1563. The Portuguese medical practitioner has also made a reference to the ‘Achchar’ as one that is mixed and preserved with cardamom.
Similarly, the culinary expert author K.T.Achchaya has also confirmed the classification of pickle as one that comes under an item which is prepared without the use of fire. Pickle is not only prepared by means of boiling but also prepared with the mixture of oil, chilli powder and salt for any kind of emergency. Thus the reference of its history is endless.
The popularity of pickle is global. There is a rumour that Julius Caesar had compelled all his soldiers to take pickles so as to maximize their mental and physical strength. In States, they have earmarked a separate day for celebration of ‘Pickles Day’ every year wherein the pickle experts will prepare multifarious pickles and showcase their culinary talent.
Dietician Anitha Balamurali adds that pickles have very many advantages in respect of promoting health. She confirms that pickles possess important vitamins, minerals, antioxidants etc. It protects liver by means of easy digestion. They will further heal ulcer and other stomach disorder. Depending on the pickle like nelli, lime, mango, narthangai, various health issues will be addressed to our favour. Pickles are liberally used in non-vegetarian items also. Normally, 15 gms mango pickle contains 38 calories 10 mg.carbohydrate , 1 mg.sodium, 9 gm sugar besides vitamin C and D.
These pickles are not normally cooked but preserved for future use and hence they are health-protective. In particular, they protect us from the attack of free radicals. In addition to this, the probiotic bacteria which is responsible for proper digestion, will be destroyed or made to disappear due to excess intake of anti-biotic medicines. At that time, these pickles, especially the nelli pickle will serve the purpose of easy digestion. Some researches confirm that the vinegar- added pickles do control diabetic disorder also and this kind of pickle is widely in use in advanced nations.
Caution against Excess Use:-
Anything consumed in excess will definitely be harmful for one’s health. Pickle is not an exception. Excessive consumption of pickle will certainly result in stomach disorder and stomach ache caused by ulcer. People who suffer from indigestion, diarrhoea etc. should refrain from taking pickles. Since sodium is more in pickles, it is likely to result in disturbance in urination. Some will pick up gastric problem also. Pickles, in general, contain more salt and hence it is contra-indicative for high BP patients. In particular, the excess salt consumed by means of pickles will have to be removed through kidney function and if it is not proper, it will cause unwanted health issues. It is always better to avoid buying pickles from shops since they would add lot of good as well as bad preservatives which will have adverse effect. Essentially, limit is the governing factor. If we consume pickle as a pickle (in terms of quantity) it will do ocean of good to our health; on the other hand, if we consume it as main dish, it will certainly spoil our health beyond repair.
(This article originally written in Tamil by Balu Sathya has been reproduced in English by P S Ramamurthy)