Bread and Butter vs. Sweet Pickles: What’s the Difference?

If the idea of ​​pickles makes you shudder, there’s a chance you’ve been missing out on a whole category of canned cucumbers. Of the 20 billion pickles consumed each year in the United States, about a third fall into the sweet pickle category. Unlike their dill and kosher cousins ​​which are either lacto-fermented in salted water or simply added with flavored vinegar, sweet pickles contain a generous amount of sugar and spices added to the brine, giving them a delicious sweet and sour flavor. Sweet pickles are used in sandwiches, but they’re also great chopped and mixed into recipes like tuna or egg salads.

You may have noticed one of the most well-known varieties of sweet pickles nestled on your grocery store shelves among the other sweet pickles: crinkle bread slices and butter pickles. The recipe for bread and butter pickles traditionally includes slices of onion or red pepper, along with mustard, celery, and cilantro seeds. So even though bread and butter pickles are a type of sweet pickle, not all sweet pickles can be called bread and butter.

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What is a sweet pickle?

sweet pickles – Igradesign/Getty Images

Exactly as their name suggests, sweet pickles have some form of sweetener in their recipe, with an overall balance that leans toward sweet and not sour. Sweet pickles can come in many cucumber varieties, from small, inch-long pickles to large cucumbers left whole or sliced. Bread and butter pickles are a sweet pickle recipe, and many other styles and flavors are simply labeled as sweet. If you take a look at the ingredients, you’ll see a range of spices, from milder flavors like cinnamon and clove to more traditional hot spices of unsweetened pickle types, like chili peppers, peppercorns, coriander and mustard seeds.

You will also find a much sweeter candied pickle in the sweet pickles category. This Southern specialty starts with a jar of regular pickles. Pickles are usually sliced, then covered in sugar and returned to their jar for several days with a little brine to cover them. The result is a semi-translucent green gem with a unique sweet crunch and a flavor that stands up to the smokiest meats and richest fried chicken.

What is a bread and butter pickle?

pickle bread and butter

Bread and Butter Pickles – sjarrell/Shutterstock

There is no bread, or even a grain of butter, in the recipe for bread and butter pickles. The old name dates back to the depression of the 1920s in Illinois. A farming couple used jars of a family recipe for sweet and sour pickles to swap groceries, including — you guessed it — bread and butter. They were very successful because the pickles were delicious and word spread. The term stuck, and other pickle makers picked it up to sell their version of the not-too-sweet but still tangy pickle and the recipe became a hit with home cooks as well.

The spices used for bread and butter pickles vary a bit in passed down recipes that were eventually published in dozens of magazines and cookbooks, but it is usually some variation of mustard, celery and coriander seeds, with a little turmeric. The flavor is sweet, but not candy-like, with a pleasant sour touch. If you want to try the original, Mrs. Fanning’s brand bread and butter pickles are still on the market – a rather remarkable achievement for a century-old condiment.

What makes bread and butter pickles different?

pickles on a plate of fried chicken

pickles on a plate of fried chicken – Tatiana Volgutova/Getty Images

Any type of sweet pickle makes a delicious treat alongside savory foods. The slight acidity of the marinating liquid helps cut through fatty meats and fried foods, while the sweet, spice-laden candied cucumber adds a bright contrast to the plate. If you’re a fan of sweet and sour flavors, this category of pickles is one you should explore further. You’ll find that sweet pickles are perfect to add to a cheese board or any type of grazing meal because they bridge the gap between sweet and savory so well. You may need to try a few brands or recipes to find the spice profile you prefer. Fortunately, there are many variations.

Bread and butter pickles have a more standard recipe, however. They are slightly tarter than most other sweet pickles, with more pronounced salty flavors of celery and mustard seed to balance the sweet brine. Their historical origin helped create a more certain definition: so when you pick up a jar of bread and butter pickles, you’ll have a good idea of ​​the flavor inside. Whether you’re looking for the right pickle to put in your Dr. Pepper or just want the perfect accompaniment for your sandwich or roast, one of the sweet pickle types might be your new go-to for a less vinegary bite.

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