How clean are the ingredients in your favorite store-bought Indian pickle? It is actually a little funny that some pickles use preservatives!! The very word ‘pickling’ refers to a form of food preservation in itself.
However, we are now in new world territory where brands have to take up maximum shelf space by offering different flavors (even flavors that are not traditionally pickled) + some companies want to cut costs by easing up on quality of oil, or accelerate manufacturing time by not allowing time for fermentation, etc.
As a consumer, you still have a choice to select good products by performing this simple act – turn the bottle over and read its ingredients.
Let’s review the labels in 2 parts: 1)Type of oil used and 2)Preservative-free or not
Types of Oil Used
Traditional Oils: Sesame Oil, Mustard Oil
Traditionally in South India, sesame oil is used for homemade pickles. They are sometimes referred as Gingelly oil (that word originated from the sound that the seeds make in their pods)
Traditionally in North India, Mustard Oil is used in pickles.
While we are on this product showcasing the Mustard oil; I must point out that while the Verka product proudly claims “No Preservatives” and 100% Natural, the last ingredient is listed as “Sodium Benzoate“!! (So, don’t just take the company at its claims, read each and every ingredient. They may just have a generic logo which they use across product lines.)
Middle Category: Rice Bran Oil, Peanut Oil
Many products use Rice Bran Oil and Peanut Oil. While they are not traditionally used, they are not also as heavily processed as the next category.
The famous Priya brand pickle uses Rice Bran oil in almost all the flavors I have seen.
The Telugu brand uses Peanut oil to fry its Namkeens and most likely buys peanut oil in bulk across all its products.
However, I am most impressed that Telugu Foods has promised “No preservatives” in their website and has maintained its promise in the pickles that I have seen so far.
Heavily Refined Oils: Corn Oil, Cotton Seed Oil
Some of the very famous pickle brands have chosen to cut costs by using highly refined oils. Here are some examples:
The Surati Brand uses Refined Corn Oil
Mother’s Recipe uses CottonSeed oil in all the flavors I have seen in stores.
How bad is Cottonseed oil? Cottonseed oil must be refined to remove gossypol. This naturally occurring toxin gives the oil its yellow color and protects the plant from insects. Unrefined cottonseed oil is sometimes used as a pesticide. This toxin has also been linked to infertility and liver damage.
Some of the other refined oils that I have also seen used in other pickle products are canola oil, vegetable oil and sunflower oil.
Choose pickles with the type of oil that you are comfortable with – for your health and the health of your family.
Let’s move on to the topic of preservatives.
According to the Indian Institute of Food Processing Technology, there may be 3 types of food additives for pickles permitted by the FSSR:
- Acidifying agents (acetic acid, malic acid, citric acid)
- Firming agents (Calcium chloride, Calcium lactate etc.)
- Preservative (Sulfur Dioxide, Sodium Benzoate, Pottasium Benzoate, Benzoic Acid)
If you are trying to avoid preservatives in your food, then try to avoid pickles with the above listed ingredients, especially #3 (Sodium Benzoate, Pottasium Benzoate etc).
Indian Pickles are naturally preserved using one or combination of the following factors: Salt, Sourness, Sweet (jaggery), Oil and Pasteurization.
In general, pickles should have a pH factor of less than 4.6, which indicates medium to high acidity, sufficient to kill most kinds of bacteria. Pickles made of naturally acidic fruits such as as mango and lime typically don’t require the addition of a souring agent.
So, there are ways to completely avoid using preservatives, if a company choses to do so.
However, many companies still use them. Here are examples of companies that use preservatives:
Here’s Deep using Sodium Benzoate for a Mango pickle:
Priya pickles has some pickles with preservatives (like shown below) and some without.
Even some of the brands who pride themselves on “good quality” like MTR use preservatives. Notice that they are using a good traditional oil – sesame oil, but they dropped the ball on preservatives.
Another thing that bothers me with this pickle is that it is stored in a plastic bottle. Since only glass bottle jars with metal lids can be pasteurized (in high temperatures); there is a higher probability that the pickle jars that have plastic jars or lids have preservatives in them.
Here’s a strange problem. This company uses preservatives, but does not declare them in the ingredient section, only further down below in the label. Maybe the amount they use is very less, however be aware to check the entire bottle.
Let’s look for something positive, shall we…
Here are some brands and products that have not used preservatives.
You can find many good pickles, you just have to look patiently.
Sometimes, there are smaller brands (that have only 1 or 2 flavors) tucked away in the shelf’s corner that have no preservatives and actually promise to be clean. It is about time, we consumers, give these small companies also a chance, don’t you think?
Here are my easy conclusions:
- Turn the bottle over, read the label.
- Choose pickles using a healthy oil. What is healthy? Basically, choose a product with the oil that your mom or grandma traditionally used.
- Choose products/flavors that do not use preservatives.
- Try to pick pickles in glass bottles over plastic bottles (optional)
Homework for all of you 🙂 – Check the pickles in your home and post your observations you made below!!
Please note: I have no connections to any companies listed above, just my observations and opinions.