Soon to a Sister Site!
Information about Asian pickling will appear on the Asia Food
website. The Asia Food people participated
in the Pickle Day event by staffing a table. To visit the site
follow this link: http://www.asiafood.org
A history of floods, droughts and
famines taught the Chinese to stretch their food supply by using
small quantities of meat and fish (not wasting any part of the animal)
and by preserving foods for use at another time or season.
Pickle Logic and Methods: The Chinese philosophy of food
is one that includes fresh, natural ingredients, a balance of taste,
purity and texture and flexible and adaptable food habits. In China,
many beans and vegetables, and even meats, fish, and eggs are fermented.
Greens are usually half-dried before pickling so bacteria does not
decompose the proteins as much.
Chinese pickle vegetables with either salt or vinegar brine made
from rice, wheat, peaches, or grape juice. Salt is also used in
combination with vinegar to keep foods, particularly fish and shrimp,
edible for long periods of time.
Chinese pickles are made from vegetables, meat, fruit, and nuts
in almost every type of preservative. Vinegar, acids, and amino
acids are used to pickle meats such as deer, rabbit, and goat. Fruits
such as watermelon, myrobalan (an astringent fruit from Southeast
Asia), and Chinese plums are not eaten raw, they are eaten only
after pickling. Hazelnuts are pickled and eaten to stimulate the
appetite and digestion and to satisfy hunger. Cabbages are the favored
vegetable for pickling.
Regional Pickles: Each region of China has its own distinctive pickle.
In the western province of Szechuan dishes are hot, spicy and distinctly
seasoned. There, the winters in the mountains are harsh and make
pickling a necessity. A typical recipe for "pickled vegetables"
the Szechuan style has a spicy brine of salt, Szechuan peppercorns,
dried chili peppers, water, ginger, and gin. The brine keeps well
for months, but the vegetables are only pickled for four to seven
days. Northeastern China has an arctic climate; you will find preserved
mushrooms, fish, and the "100-year-old" buried egg to
last throughout the harsh winters. Vegetables are pickled in rice
wine and mildly flavored with garlic, chives, and green onions.
In the south, the weather is tropical and vegetables are used in
large amounts. Fermented bean curd is used to season foods and provide
the pungent flavor.
Tsukemono: Pickles in Japanese Cuisine
"a bowl of rice with a small plate of pickles and some soup
is not merely food, but cuisine..." - Ashkenazi
"Even in the dead of winter, one bite and you are in full summer
again" - A Taste of Japan, Donald Richie
"It's enough for me to eat a bowl of rice with pickles and
a miso soup." - Ashkenazy
"Mother eats seaweed and plum pickles / and when the Mormons
come knocking / she does bird talk." - "Pearls" by
is there a meal in Japan where pickles, tsukemono, are not
For breakfast... A "proper" Japanese
breakfast would include rice and miso shiru, okazu of fish and
pickles. The pickles might include soft umeboshi, and matsutake
(pine mushroom) and radish pickle.
For lunch (on the go)... Every day millions of Japanese
trot off to school or work with a bento, a boxed lunch that almost
invariably contains rice balls wrapped in seaweed with plum or
pickles inside. Teishoku, a set meal, includes several varieties
of tempura, plus rice, pickles, and soup. To form a complete meal,
tempura is often served with soup, rice or noodles, and pickles.
In the market... In the outdoor market of Shimo-Kitawawa,
stall owners shout their wares, and feature stands selling only
a large variety of pickles (like Guss's!). Plums, radishes in
vinegar, in salt, and in sake, dried and pickled fish, fresh bamboo
shoots, several varieties of local miso pickles color the stands.
Before meals... Japanese pickles are often served
in bars and restaurants as appetizers.
At everyday meals... While boiled spinach, eggplant
and green beans are all typical side dishes, pickles are the most
common (and convenient) vegetables served.
At feasts... a collection of sunomono form the final
element of the main course. "pickles intended to see the
rice through and to refresh the palate. Pickled slices of saba
(mackerel), cucumbers, young shoots, and red peppers, were pickled
in nanban ("Southern barbarian" [i.e., Spanish or Portuguese])
style, a delicate escabeche. These were served with small containers
of freshly cooked rice: the necessary "center" of any
meal." The traditional Japanese tea ceremony includes pickles.
Between meals... In farmhouses, a plate of pickled
vegetables is a common daily snack. "A common snack offered
to guests in rural areas is pickles, which more frequently twenty
or more years ago than now, were home-made, and reflected specific
household tastes. In Yuzawa
housewives would bring out
glorious pickles: gourds stuffed with wild mushrooms, stuffed
with chrysanthemum leaves further stuffed with bits of eggplant,
the whole pickled in sake lees or bran."
After meals... Ending a meal with tsukemoni is a
strong tradition in Japanese cooking.
In snow-covered mountain villages, especially, pickles were a sole
source of vegetables until warmer weather brought fresh crops. Eaten
with tea or rice, they were both delicious and nourishing.
Eighth century records discuss pickling salt vegetables more than
1,500 years ago. The variety of pickles in Japan increased gradually,
reaching today's levels during the Edo Period (c.1603-1867).
In 1836, a pickle wholesaler in Edo (present-day Tokyo), published
detailed instructions on how to make 64 kinds of pickles. During
the Edo period, the tsukemonoya (pickle shop) came into existence.
As time passed and the use of pickles got even more sophisticated,
and were chosen to add color and texture to different kinds of food,
or to clear the palate for a new taste (e.g., pickled ginger).
Pickling with rice bran adds vitamin B1 and has two other advantages:
removing of some of the water produces a concentrated, high-fiber
food, and the lactic bacteria present aids digestion.
Taste: Tsukemono offer color, texture and aroma to a meal, keeping
their basic taste even after lengthy pickling, and maintaining their
crispness and flavor even after being in the pickle pot for a year.
Pickles Today: Today, with vegetables available year-round, pickling
is no longer essential. Pickles still provide an inexpensive and
delicious alternative to ordinary vegetables and the art of pickling
has evolved into a sophisticated means of complementing and enhancing
the flavors of other foods.
Pickling traditions continue, passed down from generation to
generation. Again, from A Taste of Japan. "after the war many
Japanese mothers took to making their own pickles and whole generations
grew up associating tsukemono and maternal care. The bond continues
even now when the vast majority of pickles are store bought. Tsukemono
are... a 'caring' food."
Types of Pickles and Methods
"It is said that in Japan there are four thousand different
kinds of tsukemono and over one hundred different techniques for
making them" - Richie.
There are endless varieties of tsukemono, including fruit, vegetables,
eggs, seeds. Fish and meat are kept in miso or sake. Cherry blossoms
are pickled (sakura no hanazuke) and served in hot water to mark
special social occasions.
Ingredients vary with the season, but tsukemono are generally vegetables:
Chinese cabbage, daikon radish, carrots, bamboo, turnips, burdock
root, ginger root, kyuri (Japanese cucumbers), and Japanese eggplant
The main pickling agents are salt, rice bran, miso (fermented bean
paste), sake lees, malt and mustard. Weight and salt together force
water out of the vegetables, promoting a slow process of fermentation.
Regional recipes combine different methods with different vegetables:
nara-zuke, Nara's famous pickled gourd or daikon in sake wasabi-zuke;
shizuoka's wasabi is horseradish pickled in sake; kyoto's senmai-zuke
is daikon sliced paper thin, sprinkled with red pepper and preserved
in kelp. A lot are available commercially but many people make pickles
at home because it's so inexpensive and easy.
In the simple and popular Shiozuke, or salt pickles, vegetables
are salted in a earthenware jar and pressed with a heavy stone for
several hours to several days. Today's modern Japanese kitchens
use a "pickle press."
One-night salt pickles are called ichiyazuke. A long-term variety
are umeboshi, tart, salty pickled plums or apricots, well-known
and frequently eaten (often daily!). Umeboshi were first mentioned
in 10th century writing. They were originally a disinfectant, then
a medicine before becoming a favorite pickle. Popular at breakfast,
many think umeboshi are a good appetite stimulant - one must eat
a lot of rice to get rid of the salty-sour taste. Umeboshi can be
used whole or in a paste.
Suzuke are pickles cured in vinegar. As Japanese rice vinegar has
a low acidity, these pickles cannot be kept for long.
In nukazuke pickling, vegetables are covered with nuka, or rice
bran, salt and dried chilies, for about three months. In many households,
salt bran is kept in a cask or jar on hand. The most popular kind
of nukazuke is takuan zuke, pickled daikon radish. Colored yellow
with turmeric, the best season for natazuke is winter when the water
freezes on the surface of the keg for keeping natazuke. Nukazuke
have a pungent aroma, a tangy flavor, and gather vitamins and minerals
from the rice bran. Unlike salt pickles, nukazuke only last for
a few days once removed from the pickling medium, so it's best to
eat them right after they are washed.
Japanese radish preserved in rice bran (crisp, tart, deep yellow
in color). The most popular way to prepare daikon radish, legend
has it the pickle was named for the resemblance of the heavy stone
used in pressing to the gravestone of pickle inventor and vegetarian
Zen Priest Takuan. But it is also said that the name came from "takuwae-zuke"
= to preserve.
For Kasuzoke, a white liquor called sakekasu (made from the rice
left from making sake) is combined with sugar and salt to make a
The oldest known variety, misozuke, is made by imbedding vegetables
such as garlic, pumpkin, in miso paste. Miso pickles take a long
time, sometimes years, to mature. To form the pickling base, miso
is mixed with sake. A few ways to make misozuke using this quick
burdock (gobo), parboil and pat dry inch long spears before embedding
in red miso for at least 3 months
asparagus, parboil and pat dry before embedding in white miso
beefsteak leaves (shiso), embed in red or white miso at least
daikon, cut into rounds about ¼ inch thick (you can also
cut them into half moon shapes). Embed in red miso for at least
Japanese cucumbers (kyuri), cut into rounds about ½ inch
thick, salt press, then embed in red or white miso for at least
Koji, rice mold, is used as the pickling base (koji is also used
in the manufacture of sake, soy sauce, miso and mirin). Bettarazuke,
one kind of kojizuke, is daikon pickled in koji. This winter pickle
is known for its sweet flavor and alcoholic aroma.
Vegetables can be pickled in shoyu, soy sauce, and mirin, a sweet
liquid flavoring. Fukujinzuke is one of the most popular kinds of
soy sauce pickles, and is the standard accompaniment to curry and
rice. To make fukujinzuke, a mixture of seven thinly sliced vegetables
(which could include white radish, eggplant, lotus root, ginger,
shiso buds, turnip, shiitake, udo, sword beans, shirouri) is salted
and pickled in soy sauce and mirin.
The famous pickle of Kyoto is made from turnip, salt-pickled for
up to a month with konbu (a seaweed), mirin or sugar, and chili
Around October in Akita, people dried radishes over the daily
cooking hearth. The dried and smoked radishes were then pickled
with salt and rice bran for two to three months, making "iburi
gakko," or "smoked pickles."
The Korean meal is based on rice and kimchee
(literally, "pickles"). Kimchee originated from a need
for food to last through the bitter cold winter months. Kimchee
provided vitamin C that otherwise would have been hard to get.
Eaten since prehistoric times, kimchee is considered to be the national
dish of Korea. Kimchee is not only an essential part of Korean cuisine,
it is a symbol of Korea's culture, connecting Koreans to both ancestors
and descendants. Kimchee is such an integral part of the Korean
diet and culture that traditionally, a woman's ability was judged
by the variety she could make: a good housewife could make twelve
kinds of kimchee.
A meal in Korea is not complete without kimchee. It is served as
a side dish or condiment and can be an ingredient in other dishes.
Its unique taste comes from fermentation. It is first salted, then
seasoned; every kind of kimchee is made with sea salt which prevents
spoilage and encourages the growth of beneficial bacteria. As the
vegetables ferment and mature, they become tender, retain their
crunchiness and the flavor becomes less salty, more sour and slightly
For cabbage kimchee, the most popular combination is chili, garlic,
scallions, and ginger. Chili and garlic quicken the fermentation
and allow for less salt, while scallions and ginger add flavor.
The introduction of the red chili pepper in the 18th Century changed
the flavor of kimchee and the way it was made. Through the 17th
Century, kimchee was fermented with salt and vinegar or with heat
and water. Red peppers kept vegetables from becoming rancid and
methods of preservation became more diverse. The addition of these
peppers gave kimchee its bold, spicy flavor and distinct red color.
Fermented fish and fish paste are also an essential ingredient added
during fermentation. Shrimp or anchovy pastes are usually used,
but hairtail, squid, and pollack may be found in some recipes.
Kimchang is the event where large amounts of kimchee are made for
the long winter. The kimchee is prepared and stored in earthenware
jars called hangari. Traditionally, the jars were wrapped in straw
and buried underground to avoid a fluctuation in temperature, which
causes the kimchee's flavor to deteriorate. The length of time the
ingredients ferment varies, but it is generally thought that the
longer the fermentation process is, the deeper the flavor of the
kimchee. It used to be that each region and each individual home
developed its own recipes; today, however, most Koreans buy high-quality
kimchee from the store.
Traditional whole cabbage kimchee, or "T'ong Paech'u Kimchee,"
is prepared by stuffing whole cabbages with a combination of powdered
red pepper, red chili, garlic, ginger, scallions and fermented fish
paste, plus an assortment of vegetables such as, radishes, carrots,
mustard leaves, watercress, and seaweed. The kimchee ferments in
a cool place for 3-4 weeks.
The varieties of kimchee differ regionally due to climate and tradition.
In the north where it is colder, kimchee is lightly seasoned and
is juicier, with a mild taste. In the warmer south, where fermentation
is faster, more salt and hotter spices are used to give the kimchee
a deep taste and to make it keep longer. The most popular kimchee
in Korea is paech'u kimchi made with cabbage. Also common are oi
(cucumber) and mu (daikon) kimchees.
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NYFM 2003, Dana Terebelski and Nancy Ralph.