Monday, February 23, 2009


Pickles are considered delicious in the Indian cuisine system and there are hundreds of varieties of pickles generally based on green fruits and firm vegetables. Thus we have pickles made from green mango, lime/lemon, karonda, cucumber, green chillies, Indian gooseberry (Amla) etc either singly or in combinations called mixed pickles. Similarly we have a slightly different product concept from pickle called Thokku which are made by grinding the materials and cooking with red chilli, salt, tamarind pulp and sesame oil. Invariably the pickles and thokkus contain high salt content which along with acidity, preserves them for long. There are some pickle products with shelf life more than 2 years and surprisingly even to day the traditional technology for making them remains almost the same, though considerable improvements have been seen in the handling operations to make them more hygienic and safer. According to Fruit Products Order (FPO) regulations, a pickle should have a minimum of 12% salt and 1.2% acidity. Generally commercial products contain 13-19% salts as industry does not want to take risks of spoilage. Individual pickle consumption is about 5-10g which delivers a salt level of 1g and multiple servings can dramatically increase salt intake at least for some people.

Soups are important part of western cuisine and are made from juices and pulps of fruits, vegetables, lentils and animal food raw materials. During early part of twentieth Century, soups were made from fresh raw materials as the food industry had not developed well then but modern soup products are made from canned materials which are invariably processed adding lot of salts. While freshly made vegetable soups do not need too much salt for the required taste, those prepared from canned materials contain unacceptable salt levels at modern nutrition yardsticks. The quantity of soups consumed varies between 250 ml and 500 ml depending on the preferences of individuals. The concern here is the amount of salt ingested in a single serving which can be 1/3 to 1/2 of the RDA! Since over consumption of salt is implicated in hyper tension disorders, it is a relevant question whether soup consumption calls for moderation.

Implication of soups in developing stomach cancer is a serious matter worthy of investigation further. The mechanism as to how salt induces stomach cancer is yet to be elucidated. But like any other foods the answer lies in moderating the consumption rather than indicting the product. What is forgotten in this cacophony is that many soups are rich sources of cancer fighting phytochemicals like lycopenes, flavonoids etc and more frequent consumption of such vegetable soups based on carrot, tomato, cabbage, broccoli, some herbs can be more beneficial. Though salt does pose a risk, fresh vegetable soups require much less salt and can be consumed safely in moderate quantities. Probably people seem to be aware of the dangers lurking behind the bowl of soup, that in many parties the quantity of soups served is going down progressively. In most of the places the soup size does not exceed 120 to 180 ml and this is naturally an encouraging development from the health perspective. It is not to be forgotten that soup is one of the most refreshing appetizer and it does offer a convenient medium for delivery of many natural health friendly phytochemicals with vast choices.

Though pickle and soup have salt as the common denominator, the former does not pose much of a risk since it is a self-limiting adjunct, the quantity that can be consumed being limited by its high salty and 'hot' taste notes. In contrast there is a tendency to consume soups in larger quantities delivering higher salt levels in the process. Probably some basic sensory studies are called for in coming up with the possibility of newer soup formulations with lesser salt levels but without compromising the salty taste to any significant extent. Normal healthy adult should not be scared of consuming both pickles and soups in moderate quantities, though developing aptitude for foods with less and less salt may be rewarding in the long run.


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