Sweet pickles are pickled cucumbers made with salt, sugar, vinegar, and an assortment of pickling spices. Technically, any type of vegetable could be pickled with this spice mixture, but the convention of referring to pickled cucumbers as “pickles” will lead most consumers to associate cucumbers with sweet pickles. These pickles are readily available in grocery stores in whole, sliced, diced, and spear forms, and they are also relatively easy to make at home, providing that you have canning experience.
Sweet pickles differ from kosher or dill pickles because the primary flavor is the sweetness, rather than a tart flavor caused by pickling in salt. Some consumers prefer the flavor of sweet pickles, while others find them too cloying. Relish is commonly made from these pickles, and they also frequently appear as a garnish for hamburgers and fried foods, as the sweetness interacts with the salty flavor of the food.
When well made, these pickles are crisp and crunchy, just like their more sour counterparts. Some consumers prefer a softer pickle texture, and will soak their pickles in repeated changes of warm water before canning to give the pickles a mushy texture. Others pickle in one day, and add alum to the pickling mixture so that the pickles will remain crisp. In both cases, it is important to make pickles in spotlessly clean canning jars to avoid the onset of rot and mold.
As with sour pickles, sweet pickles can be made in a variety of ways. Changing the pickling spices is the most common way to adjust the flavor, but some cooks also add ingredients like other vegetables, especially garlic and sweet onions. Most grocery stores carry a range of tart and sweet pickles with an assortment of additional ingredients. Variations with additional vegetables such as carrots and cauliflower can be more difficult to find, except at specialty store which carry a ranged of pickled vegetables.
Gherkins, pickles made from the Cucumis anguria plant, are often made sweet. This cucumber is related to the cucumbers primarily used for pickling, Cucumis sativus, which are sometimes mislabeled as gherkins when they are pickled at a young age. As can be seen, a gherkin is actually a completely separate species, and because of the tendency of gherkins to be slightly bitter, they are often used to make the pickles. Sweet pickles made with gherkins are particularly popular in Great Britain.