Oh, that age-old conundrum - what came first, the pickle or the cucumber…
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Of course, we know this isn’t the question of all questions, and many people probably didn’t even know a pickle was a cucumber until they saw that sentence.
What is a conundrum, however, is the questions that arise over the status of the pickle and cucumber. Are they fruit? Perhaps a vegetable? Maybe they are a berry. Or, perhaps they are all three!
In this article, we will be delving deep into the world of pickles and discovering whether they are a fruit, or whether they have some other status. However, in order to do this, we must first establish what a pickle even is.
Nope, it’s not a trick question, and it will all become clear in just a second, so keep on reading….
What is a pickle?
The term pickle is in itself very confusing. If you ask for a pickle in every country of the world, you will not always be given the same thing. In the UK for example you will likely be handed a pickled onion (imagine a minuscule white onion in vinegar).
Here in the States, you will be given a small green cucumber in vinegar. In Korea, you may get kimchi or some pickled ginger. Some countries may even give you pickled beetroot, and even a pickled boiled egg!
Then you get the pickles that resemble sauce. For example, sandwich pickles (think of popular British brands such as Branston pickles), and piccalilli are all examples of different types of pickles!
Suffice to say, it is confusing! However, all ‘pickle’ refers to is the act of pickling which is when a food is fermented in vinegar, alongside salt, various herbs and spices, and sugar. Of course, it is most common to see these small green cucumbers, and they are sold worldwide.
However, many other vegetables, and even fruits and nuts can be pickles, too. The aforementioned piccalilli often has pickled cauliflower among other vegetables.
For the sake of clarity, in the article when we refer to the term ‘pickle’ we mean these.
As you will have read, pickles in this context are small green cucumbers (also known as pickled gherkins). This tells you that they are related to the cucumber at least in some way
Pickles are actually cucumbers that have been grown to be that size, specifically for the purposes of pickling. In all ways but size, they are exactly like the large cucumbers you can buy in a store for your salad. They have high water content and a fresh taste.
When they are pickled they are kept in a mixture of vinegar, often with salt, sugar, and other herbs or spices added such as dill. This preserves the cucumber and gives them a moreish, sour taste that is so loved by people all over the globe.
They are either kept whole in jars where they can be eaten or used in a dip, or they are pre sliced where they can be used in burgers, on pizzas, in a salad, and in many more recipes.
Is a pickle a cucumber?
As you have probably guessed by now, pickles (at least in this context) are indeed cucumbers. That is, they start their life as a cucumber before being picked and pickled to turn into the sour green snacks that we all know and love.
Because they have not reached the full size of a cucumber, many people may refer to them as baby cucumbers or simply small cucumbers.
However, it is important to remember that the term ‘pickle’ is a generalization and is given to any food that has been pickled such as pickled onion, pickled egg, and pickled ginger. So, not all pickles are cucumbers, but all cucumbers can be turned into pickles (confused yet?).
That being said, it is highly likely that if you ask for a pickle whilst you are in America, you will be bright out a small pickled cucumber. If you want to save the confusion in other parts of the world you can simply ask for a gherkin and you will be brought out the same thing.
Is cucumber a fruit or a vegetable?
Now, in order to establish the answer to the question asked at the beginning of the article, we must first get an idea as to what a cucumber is. By asking ‘is a pickle a fruit?’ you are also asking ‘is a cucumber a fruit?’.
Let’s find out the answer to that now, shall we? In order to answer this as thoroughly as possible, we should first establish the difference between a fruit and a vegetable.
What is a vegetable?
We know this sounds super condescending but trust us when we essay there is a reason for this in order to establish whether a cucumber (and by default, a pickle) is a fruit, we must gain a better understanding of what the difference is between a fruit and a vegetable.
The obvious answer that springs to the mind of most people we ask is that fruit is sweet and a vegetable is savory. This is definitely the most common way of identifying one from the other, and certainly, from a culinary perspective, it is correct. However, from a botanical perspective, the difference is a little more confusing.
The botanical definition of a vegetable is that it is something that comes from a plant that can be consumed by a human. This includes all parts of the plant such as the leaves, flowers, roots, stems, seeds, and fruit. Yep, you read that correctly - fruit.
This means that from the perspective of botany, the fruit of a plant is a vegetable.
What this indicates is that ‘vegetable’ is a broad term used to discuss any part of a plant that is edible for consumption by a human.
So, by this example, a cucumber is technically a vegetable in the sense that it is an edible plant safe for consumption by humans. However, the definition doesn’t stop there. Keep on reading to find out what we mean by ‘fruit’.
What is a fruit?
Botanically speaking, a fruit is the part of a flowering plant that bears a seed. The fruit is, technically, the seed. Now, by this definition, not every fruit is edible. Just think of the number of flowering plants out there that bear seeds in this way - not all of them are safe for eating!
From a culinary perspective, a fruit is an edible food that typically has seeds inside. For example, an apple, an orange, a pear, a lemon, and a peach would all classify as fruit. Technically, a banana cannot be included on this list as it does not contain a seed. In fact, a banana is a berry (more on this later).
With this definition of fruit in mind, it is clear that a cucumber must also be included on the ‘fruit’ list. This is because the cucumber is the fruit of a flowering plant and has seeds inside!
So, with this in mind, a cucumber - and by definition, a pickle - is both a member of the vegetable family and the fruit family. To complicate this, even more, we have the culinary definitions of fruit and vegetables to consider.
Because of the fact that cucumbers do not have a sweet taste, they are often not counted as fruit in terms of the culinary perspective. Instead, they are treated as a vegetable.
But wait, that’s not all! We can complicate this even further by defining the term ‘berry’ for you!
Is a cucumber a berry?
A berry is a bit of a funny one to try and explain! Many people will be sat there thinking “but isn’t a berry a type of fruit?”. You are not wrong!
Typically, the term fruit brings to mind an abundance of colorful foods, with berries taking center stage. For example, strawberries, blueberries, and raspberries are some of the most popular fruits in countries all over the world. However, they are actually not even berries!
In the botanical sense, a berry is a name given to the fruit of a plant that does not have a pit. By this, we mean that they are produced from one single flower. This means that the plant has one single ovary!
So, in a technical and botanical sense, any fruit that comes from a flowering plant with only one ovary is a berry. This also means that any fruit that comes from a plant with multiple ovaries is not a berry.
By this definition, raspberries and strawberries are actually not berries at all, because they come from a flowering plant that has multiple ovaries.
However, from a culinary perspective, berries are very different from this botanical definition. Raspberries, blueberries, blackberries, and strawberries are all the most commonly known and used ‘berries’, but not one of them is a true berry in the botanical sense. However, from a culinary understanding, these are all classed as berries.
On the other hand, some very surprising fruits and vegetables are technically classed as berries. These include bananas, kiwifruits, redcurrants, tomatoes, eggplants, watermelons, pumpkins (yes, really!), and of course, the humble cucumber.
This means that the cucumber is not just a vegetable, not just a fruit, but also a berry. In turn, this also means that a pickle is technically all of these things, too.
Conclusion - So, is a pickle a fruit?
So, in conclusion, we wanted to draw your attention back to the original reason for this article. We have been on a rollercoaster ride of botanical and culinary definitions.
Suffice to say that it is difficult to give a definitive answer to whether a pickle is a fruit. In truth, a pickle could be seen as a fruit, vegetable, or berry, depending on your perspective. In fact, you can see it as all three!
Conversely, many people may actually prefer to call it none of the above, since technically it is only the cucumber that belongs to all of these three groups. The pickle, by contrast, is made using a cucumber but also has other vital components such as vinegar, salt, sugar, and spices.
As well as this, to say that ‘all pickles are fruits’ is incorrect when you consider our earlier definition of a pickle and the fact that it does not solely refer to a pickled cucumber, but a whole host of other pickled foods.
In our opinion, the pickle (and in this context we mean the small pickled cucumber) is indeed a fruit, but it is also a berry and a vegetable, too. How you view the pickle is your choice entirely, and whether you call it a fruit, a vegetable, a berry, or nothing at all, then you are still correct!
We hope this article has been useful to you and that you learned something new and interesting! Now you know the next time you bite into a kosher dill pickle or get inspired with a new pickle recipe.
Thanks for reading!