Pickles have been around for thousands of years, yet they appear to be as popular as ever. Whether as a side or as a burger topping, pickles have become a true staple at restaurants, especially in 2022.
In fact, 43.9% of restaurant menus mentioned pickled ingredients in the second quarter of this year, according to Technomic data. That represents a rise in popularity for pickles during the last couple years.
It begs the question: How, exactly, have pickles become more popular than ever?
It’s all about reinvention. Even though classic pickle pairings aren’t going anywhere, restaurants are finding new ways to present the ingredient. Think Sonic’s Pickle Juice Slush, Diller’s pickled-pineapple lemonade or Crane’s pickled foie gras, as noted by Restaurant Business.
“There’s an interesting dynamic going on with pickles. About a decade ago we saw a resurging popularity for fried pickles, even though they had been around since the ‘60s,” Allen Bixby, author and restaurant owner at notakeout.com, told The Food Institute. “Couple that with the Pan-Asian food boom, which brought new ranges and styles of pickled veggies, and you have a food thousands of years old, re-inserting itself to our culinary diorama.
“The last layer was both a positive health image, along with an introduction into the adult beverage scene.”
Why pickles? Why not find something new? Well, pickles are a very cost-effective ingredient and can be used many ways. For example, Bixby suggests never dumping the pickle brine.
“This is free money, usable as a beverage or sauce base among a number of outlets,” Bixby says. “Base a bloody Mary in that for example, and the natural garnish is the pickle itself. Same for a pickle beer and pickle martini. Add a couple ingredients and you have a versatile coleslaw or salad dressing.”
Quick pickling any crispy vegetable is easy and lends itself to creating signature flavors, Bixby adds.
“From traditional to garlic to ginger to ghost peppers; these recipes yearn for distinctive flavors and [are] already trending as a popular statement in boutique restaurants,” Bixby said. “Tossed in salads, offered as standalone starters, or served as a side to rich dishes, there are a multitude of places to incorporate them in a menu.”