Pickles are extremely easy to make at home, but most people prefer the convenience of commercial jars, often not realizing what's inside. Lets take a look at Vlasic Original Dills, for example, to see what goes into industrial pickles these days. Here is the ingredient list:
Cucumbers, Water, Distilled Vinegar, Salt, Calcium Chloride, Polysorbate 80, Natural Flavors, Potassium Metabisulfite (Preservative), Yellow 5.
The first four ingredients make sense - they are what your grandmother used to make pickles. She also added lots of dill, which, despite the product's name, is surprisingly missing from the ingredient list. Now on to the "bonus ingredients".
Calcium Chloride is a flavoring that doubles as a food preservative. It adds to the salty flavor without the added sodium. On its own, calcium chloride is an irritant, but it is safe when part of a food.
Polysorbate 80 is an emulsifier used in ice creams to keep their texture smooth. It is also used as a solubilizer, helping to dissolve ingredients that would not otherwise do so. Recent research has implicated Polysorbate 80 with interference with gut bacteria.
Natural flavors can be anything that improves the taste of the pickle, so long as it comes from nature, not a lab. Be sure that a lab creates the natural flavor from a varied source of "natural ingredients", but the manufacturer is not obliged to disclose the exact formulation. It is a trade secret.
Potassium Metabisulfite is an additive that inhibits the growth of mold. Important when the shelf life is measured in months.
Yellow 5 is an artificial food coloring that is being phased out in European countries, as some studies have shown it to cause hyperactivity in some children. Unfortunately, it makes the pickles look brighter and thus fools people to believe they are tastier.
We just showed you a dill pickle without any dill, but hey, on the bright side, it glows in the dark.
If you want to take a stab at making your own pickles, here is our very own easy recipe.
If you are buying pickles, read the ingredient list and avoid products with artificial colorings and other ingredients you can't find in your own kitchen.