How Does Pickling Work? | Serving Up Science
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How Does Pickling Work? | Serving Up Science

– Pickling, that
salty, briny process that makes food stay
so, oh, weirdly good. I’m Sheril Kirshenbaum
and on this episode of Serving Up Science,
we are exploring the science and
history of pickles. The word pickle comes
from the Dutch pekel or Northern German
pokel, meaning brine. (funky music) Pickling is the process
of adding acid to, or producing acid through, the controlled
fermentation of vegetables. (tapping jar lid) Fermentation is the
chemical breakdown of a substance by
bacteria, yeast, or other tiny living things. (tapping jar lid) A hammer would be better. And these little
suckers are created by immersing different
foods in acidic liquid, or brine, which is
essentially salty water, until they’re no
longer considered raw. Like cucumbers, asparagus,
onions, carrots, cabbage, eggs, watermelon
rinds, pig’s feet, beets, garlic, kimchi, peppers. I don’t know, guys. Someone needs to
write me a list. I need a drink. No, I don’t. And okay, in North
America, the word pickle typically refers to
a pickled cucumber. Now, how exactly does a
pickle become a pickle? Here’s the science. The brine, that salty solution, produces lactic acid and other
antibacterial substances. But it leaves the good stuff
behind, like nutrients. Germs that can make
us sick can’t tolerate high salt concentrations,
so they’re outta here. You can also use vinegar
instead of brine, and that works in a similar way, but produces a different taste. Vinegar lowers the pH of
the mixture to a level where a lack of oxygen
prevents the growth of germs. Both of these methods
for pickling impact the texture and flavor,
as well as the look. I’m talking about, well,
color and shrinkage. Cucumbers are green,
thanks to chlorophyll, which gives plants
their bright color. But the brine or vinegar
used in pickling replaces a magnesium atom
with a hydrogen atom and that just transforms the
natural emerald color to olive. And of course, as I said,
pickles get a lot smaller, and that’s because of
the process of osmosis. The high concentration
of salt in the solution causes a lot of the
water to rush out of the cucumber and
that makes it shrink. Today, pickles
themselves are usually an afterthought or a
garnish for many of us. But pickling was
born out of necessity thousands of years ago. Our ancestors couldn’t exactly store leftovers in
the fridge or freezer. So, they were in,
well, a pickle, dealing with the spoiled food which frequently led
to dangerous illnesses. And it’s not like they
could get antibiotics or pop some of the pink
stuff when things went south. The consequences of eating
rotten foods could be deadly. They still are, today. Pickling began a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far
away, Ancient Mesopotamia. Foods were pickled for
storage, convenience, and simply because we didn’t
have many other options. It was the way to be able
to enjoy out-of-season vegetables and fruits
all year round. While pickles were
originally created so foods wouldn’t spoil, we
continue the practice today because we like
the way they taste. Pickles also came into favor as one of the
earliest travel foods. Sailors could safely
store pickled fruits and vegetables to
satisfy hunger quickly in route to who knows where,
without additional prep. And pickled foods spring up in surprising ways
throughout history. Queen Cleopatra,
legendary for her beauty, credited pickles with
contributing to her
health and looks. And the logic isn’t
all that far-fetched. We’re preserving our
foods through pickling, so why not preserve
our bodies that way? Of course, she
couldn’t have visited a department store
cosmetics counter, so hey, I give her
credit for creativity. Around the same time,
Roman emperors believed that eating pickles would
make their soldiers strong. And later, Napoleon
held a similar notion. In fact, Shakespeare
references pickles in many of his plays, like
Hamlet and Twelfth Night, and Christopher Columbus, he
brought them on his journey when pickles were understood
to prevent scurvy. So, pickling and
pickles have been eaten and celebrated for
thousands of years, and we continue to
enjoy them today. Here is the important part. When pickling, don’t go rogue. You absolutely do
not want to change the vinegar, food,
or water proportions in any pickling
recipe you might try. Why? Well, it all goes
back to safety, which is the reason we started
pickling in the first place. You need to create a
minimum uniform level of acid throughout
the mixture to prevent the growth of bad bacteria
that can make us sick. So, make sure to
follow the recipe. But, after that,
it’s pretty simple. And, you get to enjoy
the non-spoiled fruits or vegetables of your labor. So, what kind of pickles
do you enjoy most? Let us know what you
think of this video and share your favorite
kinds of pickles in the comments and
make sure to subscribe. Peter Piper picked a
peck of pickled peppers. A peck of pickled peppers
Peter Piper picked. If Peter Piper picked a
peck of pickled peppers, where is the peck of pickled
peppers Peter Piper picked? (crew members cheer and applaud) (dramatic music)

7 thoughts on “How Does Pickling Work? | Serving Up Science

  1. Subbed because of serving up science; I'm loving it so far 😃 The videos are a perfect mix of funny sillyness and being educational and informative 😊

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