Friday, January 14, 2005

All you need to know about pickles

How many people in the food business understand the basics of what they are doing? Very few, I have decided. How else to explain endless amounts of bad cooking? Be nice, but pay attention next time you go to an event where ordinary folks bring "pot luck" offerings to share.

Here is a clear explanation of pickling. Notice how important air (rather the exclusion of air -- oxygen) is to the process.

The process by which the Chinese, and later the Japanese, fermented beans in earthen pots is today known as lactic acid fermentation, or, in more common jargon, pickling. Optimum lactic fermentation takes place between sixty-four and seventy-one degrees Fahrenheit, which in most of the world is an easily achieved environment.

As vegetables begin to rot, the sugars break down and produce lactic acid, which serves as a preservative. Theoretically, pickling can be accomplished without salt, but the carbohydrates and proteins in the vegetables tend to putrefy too quickly to be saved by the emerging lactic acid. Without salt, yeast forms, and the fermentation process leads to alcohol rather than pickles.

Between .8 and 1.5 percent of the vegetable's weight in salt holds off the rotting process until the lactic acid can take over. Excluding oxygen, either by sealing the jar or, more usually, by weighting the vegetables so that they remain immersed in liquid, is necessary for successful lactic fermentation.

Notice, too, that [w]ithout salt, yeast forms, and the fermentation process leads to alcohol rather than pickles. Guess what that is talking about? a whole category of yeast-dependent foods from breads to wine. Most people know about the alcohol in spirits, but how many realize that when you open an oven door quickly and pay attention while baking rolls or loaf bread, you can catch a whif of the alcohol relased by baking?

Tip to 3 Quarks Daily (I noticed later, but speaking of Pakistan, this site stands in vivid contrast to the reference I made to an ignorant grad student in a previus post.)

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