Tuesday, August 3, 2010

"Pickles are more nutritious than fresh cucumbers" - really?

The Internet is full of astounding information, some of which is true, some completely unfactual, and some that seems just a little odd.

Take NC State University's cucumber profile, for example. As quoted in the title of this post, this article includes a statement that pickles have more nutritional value than fresh cucumbers. Really?? Doesn't this fly in the face of raw foods being more healthful than processed ones?? This certainly deserves further examination.

I've always thought of pickles as a sort of junk food condiment - like ketchup, it's made from vegetables, but it isn't actually "good for you." I delved into some literature and online databases to find out more; perhaps my assumptions about fresh produce would be turned on its head.

The USDA has a very cool searchable online nutritional value database. I used this to compare the nutritional content of cucumbers to pickles, as well as the cucumber profile from NC State.

Since I'm not a nutritionist, I can't really interpret precisely how much better or worse pickles are than fresh cucumbers. I'd love to know if the brine makes pickle nutrients more readily absorbed into the bloodstream. But anyway, what I've found from my quick research project is that cucumbers are 95% water and have very few calories, and that pickles are 94% water, have very few calories and a lot of salt. There are some differences in the amounts of vitamins and minerals, but neither have high concentrations (except with sodium in the pickles.) Therefore, as a non-expert, I would conclude that they are about the same nutritionally speaking, except for the salt.

The American Heart Association recommends that we consume less than 1,500 milligrams of sodium per day. According to the USDA database, one 4-oz dill pickle contains over 1,100 milligrams of sodium. That's almost your whole daily allotment - wow!

Why is salt bad?? - Excess sodium intake is linked to high blood pressure and increased risk for heart disease and stroke, two of the top three leading causes of death in America, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

The bottom line: I intend to eat fresh cucumbers and also make pickles. The salt content of pickles will keep them as a tasty condiment to be enjoyed in small quantities, and the watery crunch of fresh cucumbers makes them perfect for main dishes and salads.

This really started off as a post about making pickles, but somehow I found myself in the middle of a huge digression.

Anyway, I made four different kinds of pickles on Sunday night, using up about 10 pounds of cucumbers. Half were from my garden and half from Musterfield Farm (we rode our bikes to the farmstand.) I'll let you know what I think of the results of this recipes as soon as I try them...

Here are the recipes:
Audrey's Refrigerator Pickles
Refrigerator Dill Pickles
Marisa's Garlic Dill Pickles - this is a truly great blog on canning!!

Bread and Butter Pickles (adapted from the Ball Blue Book)
-makes 4 quarts-
4 lbs cucumbers, run through the food processor into 1/8-in slices
2 lbs onions, run through the food processor into 1/8-in slices
1/3 cup salt (non-iodized)
-- Combine cucumber and onion slices in a large kettle, layering with the salt. Cover the top with ice and let stand 1.5 hrs. Drain, rinse, drain again.

2 cups sugar
2 Tbsp mustard seed
2 tsp turmeric
2 tsp celery seed
1 tsp ginger
1 tsp peppercorns
1 tsp allspice berries (at Adam's request - may add an interesting flavor, we'll see)
3 cups vinegar (I used white vinegar this time, but would normally use apple cider vinegar.)
-- Combine ingredients in a medium saucepan to make the brine, bring to a boil.
-- Pour brine on top of cucumbers and onions in the kettle. Bring to a boil.

Boiling water in a canning kettle
Sterilized quart jars with lids and rings
Chopstick, spatula or other wooden or plastic stick
-- Pack hot pickles and liquid into hot jars, leaving 1/4-inch headspace.
-- Run a chopstick around the outside of the jar, removing any bubbles.
-- Put on lids and screw on rings.
-- Process quarts in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes.
-- After the jars have sealed and cooled, put them in a storage area and wait 4-6 weeks for the flavor to develop.

1 comment:

  1. I need to print this out and try it. I rely heavily on store bought spice packets for my pickles. They turn out wonderful every time, but a good recipe would too.