I was at my neighborhood market the other day when a bucket of pickles by the deli counter caught my eye. Now, pickles to me have always been those flimsy things that come in a jar, but there they were, floating in that brine-y green liquid, calling out to me. After some playful pickle banter with the deli guy, I grabbed the tongs and shoved a couple Half Sours into a plastic container; my very first real New York pickles.
When I got home and crunched down on a deliciously refreshing pickle, I reflected on how I was taking part in a New York tradition. Pickles gained popularity throughout the 19th century when immigrants of Eastern Europe settled in the city. Today, pickle merchants such as Guss’s down in the Lower East Side remain New York City institutions.
Unlike commercially-produced pickles-in-a-jar, New York-style Kosher pickles are made by curing fresh cucumbers in brine and spices such as peppercorns, dill and mustard seed (mine were especially garlicky). Natural lacto-bacteria ferment the cucumbers, producing lactic acid which effectively preserves the cucumbers and gives them that sour taste. Lacto-bacteria are of the friendly variety (aka probiotics) that will line your digestive tract and keep out bad bacteria that can cause cramping, bloating, and gas. Patients with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (aka IBS), Crohn’s Disease and other gastrointestinal diseases have reported decreased symptoms by including probiotics in their diets. Probiotics also produce B vitamins, digestive enzymes and other bioactive compounds with numerous health benefits.
Pickles are a low-calorie, fiber-filled, and flavorful snack that can be a great addition to a healthful diet. One medium-sized pickle contains 7 calories, 1 gram of sugar, 1 gram of fiber and 730 milligrams of sodium. Next time you’re in a deli, why not treat yourself to a New York-Style pickle (out of a brine-y bucket, not a jar) and experience the healthy benefits of one of New York’s finest fermented foods? Just make sure to watch the salt.
(Photo Credit by cherrypatter on Flickr)