Pickle Jar - © Vlasic

Picklegate: Are Some Pickles Not Really Pickles?

The implication is clear. If it doesn’t say ‘Pickles’ on the label, are the things in the jar really pickles? TikTokker Jessie Banwell says he’s still skeptical, in spite of perfectly acceptable explanations by manufacturers. But are you convinced?

Pickle Jar Labels - © 2023 - Target

According to Delish.com, the Picklegate controversy goes back at least to 2017, when a Reddit thread posed the same questions as Banwell did in his TikToik post. But the kerfuffle didn’t really gain any traction until Banwell got into the act.

“Here’s what happened…”

“I was making some sandwiches for my kids earlier,” Banwell reported. “And my youngest wanted to write down ‘pickles’ on a piece of paper for some reason. And he went and looked at the jar to see how to spell it. And he couldn’t find the word on the jar anywhere,”

That made Banwell wonder – and us, too, for a moment – whether the product inside was really pickles at all. He checked Claussen, Mt. Olive and Vlasic pickle jars, and none of their labels contained the word ‘pickle’.

Followers responded

A number of Banwell’s followers suggested that the lack of the word ‘pickle’ on labels might indicate that the stuff in the were was not real pickles. They invoked the regulations that require manufacturers not to use a word like ‘pickle’ if their product is artificial or an ‘imitation’.

One thoughtful responder offered: “I wonder if mass-produced pickles aren’t technically pickled. As in the process of pickling. Hmmm.”

Another, more acerbic commenter pointed out: ” I have a dog that doesn’t say ‘dog’ on it. Does that mean I don’t know it’s a dog?”

Yet another mused: “Wait until people discover Velveeta isn’t cheese!”

Pickle people responded

The consensus among manufacturers is, they don’t put ‘pickle’ on the label because the label illustrations and a glance through the clear glass of the jar should be enough to inform consumers about what they’re buying.

“When pickle lovers see the clear Vlasic jar, they know they’re getting a great tasting pickle every time,” wrote Vlasic Brand Manager Carolyn Goldberger in a statement to the media.  “We use the limited label space to clearly communicate the form and flavor inside each jar. […] But no matter the style, it’s definitely a pickle!

A Mt. Olive spokesperson concurred, telling Today.com: “…we use the front label to focus on the variety — the cut and flavor — of the pickle inside the jar. I went back and looked at some of our older labels, and this practice has largely been true for us at least since the 1950s. As you may be aware, it’s pretty standard for other brands, too.”

The official definition

Wikipedia defines a pickle thus: “Pickling is the process of preserving or extending the shelf life of food by either anaerobic fermentation in brine or immersion in vinegar. The pickling procedure typically affects the food’s texture and flavor. The resulting food is called a pickle, or, to prevent ambiguity, prefaced with pickled.”

To allay any concerns or questions you may have, pickles, like any other food product, must list their ingredients on their label. And most pickles list ‘vinegar’ high on the roster.

Legal requirements fulfilled

The USDA requires that pickles be prepared and preserved through natural or controlled fermentation, or by direct addition of vinegar to an, “equilibrated pH of 4.6 or below.”

The Savvy Pickle, tested seven well-known brands, and all clocked in a pH of 3.91 or below. They were all official pickles, whether they had the word on the label or not.

And the labelling authority responded

Yes. Pickles can be pickles without declaring themselves as such on the label.

U.S. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) states that, “The statement of identity is the name of the food. It must appear on the front label.” But the FDA’s definition of ‘name’ is a bit loose: “The name established by law or regulation, or in the absence thereof, the common or usual name of the food, if the food has one, should be used as the statement of identity.”

Following that standard, words such as ‘dills’, ‘spears’, ‘halves’, and ‘chips’ are deemed sufficient to identify the product.

I think that puts the controversy to rest.

~ Maggie J.