Pickles happen to be one of the earliest processed food products made by man and it has a history of more than 4000 years. There have bee many famous admirers of pickles including Aristotle, Cleopatra, Julius Caesar, Napoleon Bonaparte and a host of other personalities. It is not clear whether this glamor is based on scientific experience or just personal fancy. India is considered the home to the pickle and it was Christopher Columbus who, after is voyage, brought it to the western world. India is the largest producer of pickles with a volume estimated at 65000 tons valued at Rs 5 billion and Indian pickles based on mango, lime, amla, karonda, gongura, mixed vegetables etc are exported all over the world, mainly to meet the needs of immigrant populations of Indian origin.
Pickles are made either by long fermentation running to several or quick method without fermentation, using acid such as acetic acid or vinegar in sufficient quantities to lower the pH to preclude growth of harmful bacteria. Though pickle making is a traditional technology many modern scientific development in food science have been incorporated to make them safer. Pickle is supposed to be a healthy product and many consumers believe it can promote digestive health, lower cholesterol and prevent diabetes, cancer and SARS. As a technology, pickling process has served mankind admirably well in saving millions of tons of seasonal vegetables which otherwise would have gone waste at a time when modern technologies were not developed. One of the drawbacks with these type of products is the inevitable presence of high concentration of sodium chloride which has to be added during the process to stimulate growth of lactic acid producing bacteria at room temperature.
At low temperature and lower salt concentrations Leuconostoc mesenteroides predominates producing mixed acids, alcohols and aroma while at 30C and higher levels of salt, Lactobacillus plantarum takes over generating mainly lactic acid. Thus pickles by fermentation will contain salt at 15-20% levels making pickle one of the high salt containing foods in the diet of Indians. It is this aspect which may ring the death knell for the industry because of the aggressive anti salt campaigns in many countries affected by life style diseases like blood pressure and kidney disorders. In UK Food Standards Agency is sparing no stones unturned to bring down salt consumption to a level of 6 gm a day. Under such compelling circumstances pickle will become the major casualty unless new technologies are developed that will drastically reduce the salt content without affecting drastically the taste and flavor of the product. Use of Nisin antibiotic is being suggested when pickles are made with under low salt level conditions but the overall sensory quality is reported to be adversely affected.
Current level of consumption of salt is in the range of 9 gm to 12 gm per day by an average person, with Indians topping the list where as nutritionally daily intake need not be more than 2.5 gm for an adult. With such a perception, intense efforts are bound to be mounted to bring down salt content in all products made in the organized sector of food industry. Under such an avalanche, what chance pickle industry has to weather this storm, remains to be seen. One thing is sure that unless the sodium content in pickles is drastically brought down, pickles will join the unenviable company of high sugar, high calorie and high fat foods, which are on their way out sooner or later.