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Pickling is a method of preserving and flavoring food using spices combined with either a vinegar base or a salt-brine base. Pickled foods exist virtually everywhere in the world, though the type of food preferred varies from place to place. A pickling mix is typically a dry mixture of herbs and other flavorings that is added to water, vinegar or brine in order to achieve the desired flavor for the food being pickled.
One of the more common uses for pickling mix in some areas is for making dill pickles from cucumbers. The process of pickling preserves the cucumber while imparting a strong, distinctive flavor to the food. Pickling mix is often also used in the making of sweet pickles and other kinds of pickled vegetables including onions and tomatoes. Meats, watermelon, cabbage and mushrooms are also often pickled in various ways.
The ingredients contained in a pickling mix depend on its intended use, but there are some spices that are often used. Whole seeds such as mustard, dill, fennel and coriander are common. Cloves, cinnamon, unbroken peppercorns and a whole hot pepper may also be added to some recipes. Crushed or broken bay leaves, allspice and ginger are popular favorites that add a distinctive flavor and zest to some pickling recipes.
When pickling spices are added to foods, especially in canning, many cooks recommend placing the pickling mix in a small cloth bag, then tying it shut. The flavor will come through the bag but all of the seeds, leaves and other pieces of spices can easily be removed to make the final product look more appealing. If seeds are crushed in the pickling process, the liquid may become cloudy and appear unappetizing, but the bag normally prevents that from happening.
Some examples of pickled foods that are eaten in various countries are sauerkraut from Germany, kimchi from Korea, miso pickles from Japan and balut, pickled and fermented duck eggs that are popular in the Philippines. These foods and others like them were originally developed as ways to preserve the bounty of the summer for the long, cold days of winter. Over thousands of years many different foods were tried. Some worked and some didn’t, but the ones that became popular have virtually all inspired the creation of a favorite pickling mix that will properly flavor the food.
One important aspect of a pickling mix is the type of salt used in the recipe. Because pickled foods are often canned and stored, regular table salt cannot be used. This type of salt frequently contains iodine, an additive that can cause the pickling liquid to turn dark and make the food appear spoiled. Pickling salt is pure salt, without any additives, and will leave the liquid clear so that the food within is appetizing and can be seen.