If you've ever looked at a recipe for pickles or chutneys (like our tomato chutney posted last week), you may have encountered an ingredient simply called "pickling spice." What's in pickling spice, and should you buy it premixed or make your own?
Pickling spice is a blend that stands up well to the pickling process and lends complex flavor to preserved fruits and vegetables. It can also be used in stews and other vegetable and meat dishes. It usually includes whole or crumbled spices rather than ground. The mixture is often tied in cheesecloth, added during cooking, and then removed.
The precise blend can vary by individual cook and manufacturer. Most include the following basic spices:
• bay leaves
• mustard seeds (yellow or brown)
• peppercorns (black, white, red, or green)
Other spices may include:
• allspice berries
• cardamom seeds
• celery seeds
• dried chili peppers (whole or flakes)
• cinnamon sticks
• coriander seeds
• whole cloves
• dill seeds
• fennel seeds
• dried ginger
• juniper berries
• mace blades
• star anise
From McCormick to Penzeys, many spice companies offer a pickling blend, and it may be cheaper to buy it premixed if you don't already have the individual spices. However, it's easy to make your own, and you can customize it to your tastes and ensure that the spices are fresh. If you regularly have enough of the component spices on hand, you can mix just the amount that you need, and even tailor it to the particular dish you're cooking. Or, you can make up a larger batch at once and keep it in an airtight jar.
A basic recipe for pickling spice might include:
• 10 bay leaves, crumbled
• 2 tablespoons yellow mustard seeds
• 2 tablespoons black peppercorns
• 1 tablespoon allspice berries
• 1 tablespoon coriander seeds
• 1 teaspoon each of a few of the other spices mentioned above
We're sure some of you have a favorite pickling spice blend – whether store-bought or grandmother-taught, please share in the comments!
(Image: Emily Ho)