Yes, there are matters of greater consequence. But consider that the age-old conundrum “war—what is it good for?” was solved by Edwin Starr, a mere one-hit wonder. Meanwhile the status of the pickle continues to baffle great minds.

You are watching: Are pickles a fruit or vegetable

For example, U.S. Supreme Court justices were so confounded by the question they settled on a vague “fruit of the vine” ruling (see Nix v Hedden, where the court also muddled the tomato’s status). Granted, some of that group may not qualify for the great minds category. Yet when the Burning Question crew approached faculty at CSU Monterey Bay, shopping the question to several experts, the profs were equally daunted. In fact, none expressed confidence in an answer. The stumbling block? Whether there is significant nutritional transformation between a cucumber and pickle.

Probably should be the topic of a seminar.

Even those who work with pickles on a regular basis struggle. “It’s definitely up for interpretation,” says Jordan Champagne of Happy Girl Kitchen Co. in Pacific Grove, who pickles cucumbers, beets, string beans and just about anything else she gets her hands on. “What about the half sour? Vegetable on the inside, pickle on the outside.”


Kera Abrahto be

Gabriel Arquelles, veteran chef at Tarpy’s Roadhouse was stymied, as well. “We consider it a vegetable,” he points out with some confidence, before hedging. “Well, actually, it’s kind of weird.”

Like the Supreme Court, Arquelles backtracked, questioning whether the pickle even starts out as a vegetable.

“When you eat a raw cucumber, is it a fruit?” he asks. “It’s complicated.”

Like Justice Clarence Thomas, Jose Miguel, manager at American Burger in Monterey, had never really pondered the pickle pickle (see, the word is even synonymous with “problem”). When we posed it, however, he also balked.

“It’s not a cucumber,” he says. And this from a man who puts pickles on almost every dish he serves at the restaurant.

My research—some bars have Wi-Fi, so we were able to do some serious digging—could not even settle whether pickles are healthy or harmful.

Fermenting foods helps break down cellulose, making digestion easier. They are full of antioxidants and probiotics, which is good. They are packed with vitamin K, which must be good (we didn’t pursue our research that far; happy hour interfered). On the other hand, the USDA claims that one pickle accounts for about half of the daily recommended allotment of sodium. Probably not so good.


Karen Loutzenheiser

Still, Americans consume a lot of pickles—9 pounds per person each year, according to some measures. At American Burger, Miguel goes through at least two gallons of pre-sliced pickles each week.

Our taste for pickled cucumbers and other vegetables (or fruit—now we’re unclear even on that) is likely due to the long history of food preservation. Before the era of refrigeration, people were forced to cure meats, turn fruits into jam and pickle the other stuff to ensure food throughout the year. The process ensured items would not go to waste.

“It would just be tilled back into the field,” Champagne explains. “Pickling is about preserving something.”

So vegetable or condiment? It’s complicated. We only found one person willing to take a stand.

Weekly contributor and columnist Mary Duan intervened with an adamant message. “A pickle is a vegetable,” she says. “So it is written, so it is done.”


Dave Faries
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(1) comment


Mikaela Bogdan May 13, 2018 11:48am

I would not eat ketchup or mustard by itself, but I would eat a pickle by itself, therefore a pickle is not merely a condiment. A pickle is also NOT A VEGETABLE. A pickle is a pickled cucumber, and a cucumber is a fruit, not a squash, or tomatoes, or anything not broccoli or Brussels" sprouts...which are technically mustard...which is a condiment, not a vegetable. Yet broccoli and Brussels" sprouts are vegetables...I think the real question you should be asking is whether mustard is a vegetable or a" welcome.

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