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What is a Gherkin?

By Sheri Cyprus
Updated May 16, 2024
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A gherkin is a small early cucumber that is pickled. Gherkin is derived from the Dutch word gurkkijn and pickle is from the Dutch pickel. American gherkins are between 1 - 3 inches (3 - 8 cm) in length, while American dill pickles can be twice as long.

The West Indian gherkin, or Burr gherkin, must be picked at 1.5 inches (4 cm) long or less because if it is any larger, it will usually have an unpleasant and bitter taste. The West Indian gherkin was native to West Africa before being brought to the West Indies. Some people like to add horseradish root to the Burr gherkin for extra crispness. However, gherkins are generally crisper than dill pickles.

French cornichons are very similar to gherkins and were sold commercially in France by the 1820s. Cornichons traditionally accompany pâtés in France, especially as an appetizer. Americans may serve gherkins as an appetizer or snack also, often with platters of cheese and crackers.

Many people enjoy gherkins with a burger. The gherkin and other pickling cucumbers are considered condiment vegetables. Condiment vegetables are used to make condiments that accompany dishes and are eaten for flavor rather than nourishment. Onion, herbs and garlic are also usually considered as condiment vegetables. Condiments include all sauces, chutneys, mustards, relishes and pickles.

Gherkins are often prepared in a brine of water, vinegar and sugar and can be sweet if the sugar content is fairly high. Unlike sour dill pickles, gherkins can be extremely sweet pickles. Most gherkin brines are flavored with herbs such as tarragon, rosemary and/or thyme. Mustard seeds are also usually added to the gherkin jars.

London, England has a modern skyscraper called The Gherkin. It's located in the financial district at 30 St. Mary Avenue and is very distinctive with its shape and its many diamond-shaped panels of glass. The building is rare in that the windows actually open to let in fresh air. London's Gherkin building has 40 floors with a restaurant on the 39th floor.

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Discussion Comments

By showered72 — On Jul 12, 2010

Gherkins make excellent additions to both tuna and chicken salad. The crunchy texture of the pickle is a surprising contrast to the creamy mayonnaise-based dishes.

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