Is Pickle a Fruit or Vegetable?

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In the U.S., Americans eat about 9 pounds of pickles each year. Pickles go great with burgers, sandwiches and hot dogs. They are also good for you because they contain lots of fiber and vitamin C. 

But is pickle a fruit or vegetable? 

Pickles are made from cucumbers that have been fermented in brine. Since cucumbers are classified as a fruit and a vegetable, so does that mean the pickle is the same as well?  

This article will explore pickles, their classification, how pickles are made, and their history. 

Pickles in a Jar
Pickles in a Jar

Is Pickle a Fruit or a Vegetable?

Trying to decide if a pickle is a fruit or vegetable is more complicated than meets the eye. They do not grow or develop as “pickles” on the vine. They are usually referred to as cucumbers that have undergone the “pickling” method.

In this article, when I refer to pickles or cucumbers, they are the same thing when discussing their definition as a fruit or vegetable. 

Pickles are both a fruit and a vegetable. Botanists classify cucumbers as fruit, but from a culinary perspective, cucumbers are vegetables. Pickles can also be classified as a condiment as well. 

Why Is a Pickle a Fruit?

For botanists and their botanical definition, pickle is a fruit, because its original form as the cucumber is also a fruit. They develop and grow on a flowering plant and also contain seeds.

In science, fruit is the seed-bearing part of a flowering plant. It contains female reproductive organs.

For culinary purposes, people identify fruit as sweet-tasting plant parts. They are most often eaten raw, but not always true. Consider the case of sour citrus fruits. Fruit is not always sweet.

Cucumbers are also classified as berry fruits. For botanists, a berry is a fleshy fruit without a pit or stone. They develop from one ovary from a single flower, which is what a cucumber does.

Why Is a Pickle a Vegetable?

Pickles are defined as vegetables in the culinary definition. They are savory fruits, which in culinary terms are considered vegetables. That’s why many fruits are also vegetables, like the tomato, eggplant, and cucumber. 

In botanical terms, vegetables are any edible part of a plant. This includes stems, leaves, roots, tubers, and fruit. So, for botanists, fruits will also be vegetables. But not all vegetables will be fruits.

What Is a Pickle? Is It a Cucumber?

The term pickle generally refers to pickled cucumbers. It is safe to say that cucumbers can be pickles, but that not all pickles will be cucumbers.

Any cucumber can be pickled, but Kirby and Gherkin cucumbers are used most often. These varieties are thicker and shorter. They lend themselves to the pickling process more so than slicing cucumbers do.

Different cultures and countries will even pickle different types of edible plants. 

In North America, if you request a pickle, you will likely receive a pickled cucumber. In the United Kingdom, a pickle refers to a pickled onion. In Korea, the pickle is usually pickled ginger. Other cultures will pickle other foods.

Pickles can include all kinds of vegetables, fruits, meats, fish, and even eggs. This term refers to any food undergoing natural fermentation or the “pickling” process. If you are in a foreign country and want a traditional pickled cucumber, ask for a gherkin.

Pickles in a Bowl
Pickles in a Bowl

How Are Pickles Made?

Pickles are made through a form of food preservation that’s called “Pickling.” The process can take months depending on the method.

There are two main methods used for pickling: vinegar and salt fermentation.

1. Pickling Cucumbers with Vinegar

This is a simple and quick method for pickling. Highly acid vinegar preserves the fruit and kills harmful organisms living on the fruit. This method uses white vinegar, water, and salt. Although some people may add in herbs or spices like garlic, dill, sugar, or peppercorns. Special pickling salt will hurry the process because it is without anti-caking agents.

Once placed and sealed in an airtight container with brine, the fruit or chosen edible food is left alone for weeks to ferment. The final taste will depend on how long they ferment, and the brine mixture used.

To prepare the brine, bring a cup of water, vinegar, and salt to a simmer, over medium heat. Pour the brine over the food. Seal the jars and leave it to cool to room temperature. After that, you can refrigerate it.

2. Pickling Cucumbers with Salt

This method requires fermenting fresh cucumbers. Natural healthy bacteria will eat the sugar from the cucumbers. They ferment the cucumber slowly. This is a traditional method of food preservation. Cucumbers are pickled using only salt and water. It requires a bit more time to do.

Can All Foods Be Pickled?

Any vegetable or fruit can be pickled regardless of its shape or thickness. Most people use thinly sliced foods or small foods to make the pickling process faster. Get the best pickling results with fresh food.

The most common foods used include:

  • Eggs
  • Fish
  • Fruit
  • Vegetables

History of the Pickle

Christopher Columbus is the person who many people believe brought pickles to the United States. He was one of the first Europeans to discover the Americas. It was a long trip and pickles were one of the popular foods for trips on the sea. 

Pickling as a food preservation method is thought to have originated in 2400 B.C. in Mesopotamia. Pickles were historically used on long ship voyages to ward off scurvy. Scurvy is a common illness due to  a vitamin C deficiency. The pickles were boarded in large barrels when refrigerators had not yet been invented.

In 1893, the pickle’s classification was influenced by a Supreme Court case. Mr. John Nix sued the New York port Authority to get vegetable taxes reimbursed. American President Arthur signed the Tariff Act of March 3, 1883. This required a tax on all imported vegetables. Nix sued about tomatoes. Tomatoes and cucumbers share the fruit or vegetable dilemma.

During the historic trial, botanists testified that tomatoes were fruit for science. Others testified that culinary use should define classification. In the end, the Justices deliberated that tomatoes were indeed vegetables! Hence, cucumbers followed suit and were also classified as a vegetable. 

Pickles on a Plate
Pickles on a Plate

Is Pickle a Fruit or Vegetable? Final Thoughts

The traditional North American pickle, or pickled cucumber is a fruit, a berry, and a vegetable. For cooks, chefs, and people in general, the pickle is a vegetable due to its savory culinary use.

Pickling does not change the basic nature of the food that undergoes this process. Once a fruit or vegetable, always a fruit or vegetable, even if pickled.

For other edible foods and their definition as a fruit or vegetable, check out these articles: 

Fast Growing Trees and Plants

Photo of author

Written by:

Denise Davis
Denise Davis is an avid gardener, deeply rooted in growing organic veggies and crafting homemade fertilizers. She cherishes the earthy essence of composting and the continuous learning that gardening provides. Denise sees gardening as a holistic activity, offering physical and mental benefits alongside the joy of consuming what you cultivate. Her passion is to inspire others to embrace gardening as a rewarding, healthful lifestyle.

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