Pickles vary according to size, flavor and category. Pickled products which include cucumbers asparagus, cauliflowers, okra and olives fall in any of the three categories of processed, fresh packed or refrigerated. Sandwich and salad-bar establishments are almost certain markets for pickles, which are consumed at an average of 1.45 billion annually. Marketers should be aware, however, that pickles are prone to discoloration, necessitating inspection and rotation of product displays.
Cool, crisp, and bursting with zesty flavor that ranges from sweet to garlicky to fiery hot, pickles are among the most unique and popular flavor-enhancing garnishes on the market today. Most often thought of in connection with cucumbers, which account for the lion’s share of pickle sales, “pickled” can also apply to a wide range of vegetable products everything from asparagus and cauliflower to olives, okra, and beets.
For expets who remember to ask for the order, pickles can offer high-volume repeat sales. They’re virtually an automatic sale in any operation that has sandwiches on the menu, and they’re good bets for salad-bar operations. Dill spears make great “stir sticks” for Bloody Marys, and complimentary bowls of fresh, refrigerated deli-style pickles can create a point of distinction in table-service sandwich operations.
Three Pickle Types
Foodservice pickles typically fall into one of three major categories: processed, fresh pack, and refrigerated. Each category utilizes a different processing procedure, which creates a distinct style of pickle. Processed pickles remain the volume leader, with most fast-food chains using them with burgers and other sandwiches. Fresh-pack and refrigerated (deli-style) pickles are gaining in popularity, however, because they offer a fresher taste and, in the case of refrigerated, a crisp, crunchy product.
By far the highest-volume pickle category in foodservice, processed pickles include dill chips and relish. To make them, cucumbers (or other vegetables) are washed, graded to size, and put into tanks filled with a high-salt brine. The brine stops the natural fermentation process, and holds the cucumbers for up to three years.
The pickles are removed from the tanks, placed in fresh water, and heated to remove excess salt. They are left whole, sliced, or chopped for relish and packed in pickling liquor (dill, sour, or sweet). They are then packed in pails, jars, or cans. Pickle chips are also available packed in lightweight flexible pouches that reduce storage requirements and boost ease of handling.
Fresh, select cucumbers (and other vegetables) that are washed, graded to size, and immediately packed in jars or cans of brine or syrup prior to being pasteurized are termed “fresh pack.” Produced during harvest season in late summer and early fall, fresh-pack pickles move quickly from field through cleaning and grading to container.
Unlike processed pickles, they’re not held in brine prior to packing. As such, they have a less-salty, fresher flavor but also a shorter shelf life. Their ultimate flavor is determined by the pickling brine used, which can range from dill to sweet, and from low to high spice or heat level.
Cool ‘n Crisp: Refrigerated
- Refrigerated varieties are popular in delis and other sandwich applications. They’re picked, cleaned, and graded, but not pasteurized.
- Refrigerated pickles are packed throughout the year. When fresh domestic cucumbers are out of season, imports from Mexico and other Central American areas are used.
Because they’re unpasteurized, refrigerated are the crispest pickles available. They also have the most natural flavor. Their flavor is determined by the pickling liquor, although almost all are characterized by dill and garlic.
Refrigerated pickles must be kept cold throughout distribution and storage. They have the shortest shelf life of any pickle style.
Size it Up
Pickles come in a variety of sizes suited for various menu applications. Pickle terminology, moving from smallest variety to largest, includes tiny midget, midget, gherkin, and pickle. Flavoring terms are commonly used in conjunction with sizing terms e.g., tiny sweet midgets or kosher dill pickles.
According to one leading pickle packer, processed pickle varieties have a shelf life of from nine months for dill chips to two years for relish. Fresh-pack pickles, which turn soft and dark with age, must be used within one year to 18 months after date of pack. Refrigerated pickles, because they’re not pasteurized, have a refrigerated shelf life of approximately 120 days from pack date.
Note: Pickle products packed in glass will discolor when exposed to fluorescent or natural light. Encourage customers to rotate products properly and inspect for discoloration.
IN a Pickle
Pickle products made from cucumbers typically hail from one of three varieties of pickling cucumbers: gherkins, American dills, and cornichons (a small French pickle). Pickling cucumbers are relatively small. For better flavor, you can enjoy them with sauces. Gherkins and cornichons are rarely more than two inches long, and American dills rarely more than four inches. All pickling varieties have dark green skin with knobby warts or spines.
Any pickled product cucumber or other vegetable is preserved in brine or a vinegar solution. Herbs and spices added to the pickling solution create flavor varieties.