How do you build the perfect cheeseburger? A big piece of juicy beef on a warm sesame-seed bun is usually a good start. But then come the toppings: cheese, ketchup, mustard, mayonnaise, lettuce, tomato, and onions. Many of you may be thinking we're forgetting the most important one. What are we talking about? Pickles, of course!
Those round, crispy, green discs add just the right amount of spice and sour flavor to a cheeseburger. Of course, they also enhance many deli sandwiches, too. Even chicken sandwiches benefit from pickles these days.
Have you ever WONDERed where pickles come from, though? Think about it for a second. Do they grow on pickle trees? Have you ever seen a pickle bush? Do farmers harvest a giant field full of pickles every fall?
Nope! As some Wonder Friends may already know, pickles are actually cucumbers that have been preserved in a special solution (called brine) of vinegar, salt, and special seasonings after having been fermented in naturally-occurring bacteria.
Mmm! Fermentation in bacteria followed by preservation in brine! Sounds great, doesn't it? Some of you may be thinking, “Ewww! Gross!" But don't let the terminology and process fool you. The results are delicious. In fact, pickles are so popular that experts estimate as many as five million pounds of pickles are eaten every day around the world!
If the process of making pickles sounds difficult, don't worry. It's really fairly easy. Although it may sound like modern technology is needed, process of pickling has actually been around since ancient times. The first pickles were probably made from cucumbers from India over 4,000 years ago!
Today, modern pickling processes have become more automated with new technology and the invention of special machines. The basic science of the methods used, however, has changed very little over the last 4,000 years.
The basic ingredients used to make pickles are cucumbers, acids, flavorings, colorants, preservatives, and stabilizers. The cucumbers become the pickles and the other ingredients make up the juice in which the pickles are stored.
Besides vinegar, there are several other ingredients that affect the final taste of the pickles. Sugar or artificial sweeteners are often added to offset some of the sour taste from the vinegar. Salt is also added for additional flavor.
Particular types of pickles usually have specific ingredients added for special flavors. Some popular examples include dill weed (for dill pickles), allspice, cinnamon, cloves, black pepper, and garlic. Finally, colorants, preservatives, and stabilizers are often added by pickle manufacturers to lengthen shelf life and increase consistency across batches.
So the next time you take a bite out of a pickle, remember that you're enjoying a snack that's been around for a really long time!