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The Fascinating History and Rich Diversity of Indian Pickles

Updated: Jul 10

The Fascinating History and Rich Diversity of Indian Pickles
The Fascinating History and Rich Diversity of Indian Pickles

The word “Pickle” is of fairly recent origins – it comes from the Dutch word “pekel” which means brine. Brine is water impregnated with salt, and was used as a preservative across much of Europe. But ancient India had a far more effective – and healthier – preservative: cold-pressed Mustard Oil. It is 100 per cent natural, and has powerful antifungal, antimicrobial and antibacterial properties that prevent moulds and pathogens from spoiling the fruits and vegetables being pickled.   


Sadly, we have no written record of what the ancient Indians called their pickles. We know that these pickles made their way to Persia and the Persians called it “Achaar”, which means fruits, vegetables or meats preserved using salt, vinegar, honey or mustard oil. Did they adopt the word from India? We may never know.

The earliest written reference to Achaar can be found in a Kannada treatise called “The Lingapurana of Gurulinga Desika”. It dates back to 1594 CE and contains descriptions of more than fifty different types of pickles. Another book dating back to the 17th Century is an encyclopaedia called Sivatattvaratnakara. It mentions various pickles that were popular during the reign of the King of Keladi, Basavaraja.

The dazzling, mind-boggling array of pickles that one can find across India stems from the regional variations in recipes across different parts of the country. As a fertile tropical nation, India has a wide array of fruits, vegetables and nuts that can be pickled, and hence the extremely wide variety of recipes and practices. Usha Prabhakaran, a researcher based in Chennai, set out with an ambitious objective of documenting as many Indian Achaar recipes as she could find. She ended up compiling more than a thousand such recipes! 

So that’s the good news, pickle lovers – you’ll never run out of recipes. One lifetime seems really too short for exploring the fascinating world of Indian pickles.

You can find more recipes at:

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