Achar, also known as Indian pickles, can be made from simple and seasonal ingredients, and there are several types available to Indians such as assorted, lime, chili, and gooseberry, among others. However, the most popular one is the mango pickle, which is made from raw mangoes at their tartest and firmest peak of the season. Each region of India boasts its own variety of mangoes and recipes as the best.
The origin of term ‘pickle’ is said to be rooted in the Dutch word “pekel” which translates to saline or brine. On the other hand, the word ‘achar’ commonly used in India is believed to have Persian origins, as it describes the preservation of “powdered or salted meats, roots, leaves, vegetables, or fruits” using salt, vinegar, honey, or syrup.
Indian pickles, or achar, have a history and cultural significance that dates back to over 4,000 years. According to the history of pickles, cucumbers, which are native to India, were first pickled in the Tigris Valley (Waynad) in 2030 BCE. Pickle making, as a tradition, has been practiced for thousands of years and is known by various names across the country, such as Uppinakaayi in Kannada, Urragaya or Thokku or Pachadi in Telugu, Urukai in Tamil, Uppillittuthu in Malayalam, Loncha in Marathi, Athanu in Gujarati and Achar in Hindi and in most other languages. It could be argued that pickling as a technique originated in India, and this process has been an integral part of Indian civilization. In order to preserve food for long journeys, people began salting and curing it in brines, which is an ancient practice.
Kimchi, a Korean version of pickles made from cabbage, radish, and other vegetables, is a delicious alternative that can be found on nearly every menu in popular food destinations across the world. Pickles have become an essential element of various cuisines worldwide as they add a sharp and spicy flavor that complements the primary serving. It’s worth noting that there are thousands of varieties of pickles used in different cuisines worldwide.
Opening a bottle of pickles is a universally enjoyable experience. The aroma of spices takes me back to my childhood, and the fiery peppers and colorful fruits in the mixture are a sight to behold. Mango pickle is a staple at every meal and is often paired with Hyderabadi biryani, one of India’s most popular rice dishes. Traditionally, Indians mix a small piece of a pickle with each bite of food, and it is enjoyed the most with hot plain rice and ghee.
The beauty of pickle-making lies in the forgiving nature of the time-tested process, making it accessible even to beginners. To make pickles, all you need is a vegetable or fruit, some spices from your cabinet, salt, oil, and vinegar. Almost all of these pickles can be stored in airtight containers and refrigerated for up to weeks, moths and in some cases years. So the next time you want to enjoy pickles, whether at your favorite Indian restaurant or in your kitchen, let your imagination run wild and create your own unique pickling masterpiece.
Achar has been a tradition in our family for generations, Memories of helping our grandmothers make achar during childhood vacations are still vivid in our minds, from selecting the right raw materials to carefully preparing the ingredients, assembling the pickles, adding spices, and finally waiting for the pickle to be ready. The big ceramic jars filled with fresh pickles sitting under the sun on terraces bring back memories of carefree holidays. In Indian cuisine, no meal is considered complete without a spoonful of the sweet, sour, spicy, and mouth-watering pickle.
The influence of each region on our cuisine is undeniable. Ingredients in their purest forms are handed over to people to work with, resulting in a unique identity and culinary movements over time. Indian pickles are a significant part of our daily lives and our palate, defining our identity. As food is a crucial part of Indian culture, pickles are an essential accompaniment that cannot be ignored.