South Asian pickle

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South Asian pickle
Gujarati-style mango pickle
Alternative namesAchar, pacchadi, loncha, oorugai, avakaai
Place of originIndia, Bangladesh, Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka
Region or stateIndian Subcontinent
Main ingredientsFruit (mango, plums), vegetables, or meat
Ingredients generally usedOil, chili powder, spices, mustard seeds, fennel seeds
VariationsAcar, Atchar

South Asian pickles, also known as avalehikā, pachchadi, achaar (sometimes spelled as aachaar or achar), athaanu, loncha, oorugaai, or aavakaai, is a pickled food made from a variety of vegetables and fruits preserved in brine, vinegar, edible oils, and various South Asian spices. The pickles are popular across the South Asian subcontinent, with many regional variants.


Etymology for pickles in South Asia varies regionally. The pickles are known as uppinakaayi in Kannada, avakaya in Telugu, oorugaai in Tamil, uppillittuthu in Malayalam, loncha in Marathi, athanu in Gujarati, and achaar in Hindustani (Hindi-Urdu), Nepali and Bengali.[1] Early Sanskrit and Tamil literature uses the terms avalehika, upadamzam, sandhita, and avaleha for pickles.[2]

Āchār, a loanword of Persian origin, entered popular use as the Hindustani term for pickles under the Mughal Empire.[3] In Persian, the word āchār is defined as "powdered or salted meats, pickles, or fruits, preserved in salt, vinegar, honey, or syrup".[4]


Early pickle recipes in Ayurvedic and Sangam period texts mention several varieties of pickles, including the earliest known mention of mango pickles.[2] Nalachampu, a Sanskrit epic written by Trivikrama Bhatta in 915 CE, describes pickles made from green mango, green peppercorns, long pepper, raw cardamom, lemon, lime, myrobalan, hog plum, stone apple, and fragrant manjack.[5] Early medieval cookbooks such as Lokopakara (1025 CE), Manasollasa (1130 CE), Pakadarpana (1200 CE), and Soopa Shastra (1508 CE), Kshemakutuhala (1549 CE) mentions pickle recipes that use green mango, green peppercorns, longpepper, lemons and limes, turmeric root, mango-ginger root, ginger, radish, bitter gourd, cucumber, lotus root, and bamboo shoots. The religious text Lingapurana by Gurulinga Desika (1594 CE) mentions more than fifty kinds of pickles.[6] Unique pickles made from edible flowers are also mentioned in the Ni'matnama (1500 CE) cookbook.[7]

Chili peppers were introduced to South Asia by Portuguese traders in ports controlled by the Mughal Empire on the western coast of Gujarat. It is unclear when red chili peppers came to be used in pickles as they are today, since medieval texts do not mention their use in pickles.[2] Before the introduction of chili peppers by the Portuguese, black pepper, long pepper, and Piper chaba (in both fresh and dried forms) were the main source of heat in ancient and medieval pickles.


Indian mixed pickle, containing lotus root, lemon, carrot, green mango, green chilis, and other ingredients
Achar gosht, a meat curry cooked with flavors borrowed and amalgamated from pickle

Chili peppers are the decisive ingredient in South Asian pickles,[8] though other ingredients vary by region within the Indian subcontinent. Some commonly used ingredients are limes, lemons, mangoes, ginger, and eggplants.

In India, there are two main types of pickles: pickles made with sesame or mustard oil, and pickles made without oil. Pickles without oil use salt to draw out the moisture from green mangoes or lemons to create a brine. A mixture of lemon or lime juice with salt or traditional ganne ka sirka (sugarcane vinegar) may also be used as brine.[3] In some pickles from Gujarat and Rajasthan, jaggery is used as the main preserve.

Homemade pickles are prepared in the summer. They are matured through exposure to sunlight for up to two weeks.[9] The pickle is tradtionally covered with muslin while it is maturing.[10]

Regional variations[edit]


Various kinds of pickles for sale at a shop in Kolkata, West Bengal, India
Sweet and spicy pickle made out of mango, in West Bengal, India

Despite using the same main ingredients, differences in preparation techniques and spices have led to wide variation in Indian pickles. A mango pickle from South India tastes very different from one made in North India, as the southern states prefer sesame oil and tend to produce spicier pickles, while the northern states prefer mustard oil.

The city of Panipat in Haryana is well-known as a hub for commercial achaar, and is particularly famous for pachranga (literally "five colors", prepared with five vegetables) and satranga (literally "seven colors", prepared with seven vegetables). Pachranga and satranga achaar are matured in mustard oil and whole spices with ingredients like raw mangoes, chickpeas, lotus stem, karonda, myrobalan, and limes. Pachranga achaar was first created in 1930 by Murli Dhar Dhingra in Kaloorkot, a village in the Mianwali District of what is now Pakistan. Dhingra's descendants brought the pickle to India in 1943. As of 2016, Panipat produced over 500 million (equivalent to 610 million or US$7.6 million in 2020) worth of achaar every year, supplied to local markets as well as exported to the UK, US, and Middle East.[11][12][13]

In South India, most vegetables are sun-dried with spices, taking advantage of the immensely hot and sunny climate in the region. The sun-drying process naturally preserves the vegetables, along with spices such as mustard, fenugreek seeds, chili powder, salt, asafoetida, and turmeric. To speed up the process, vegetables may be cooked before drying.

Indian spicy mango pickle

The states of Telangana and Andhra Pradesh are particularly well-known for their spicy pickles. Unripe mango with garlic and ginger (āvakāya in Telugu) and unripe tamarind with green chilies (cintakāya in Telugu) and red chillies (korivi kāram in Telugu) are a staple with everyday meals. Gooseberry (usirikāya in Telugu) and lemon (nimmakāya in Telugu) pickles are widely eaten as well.

In the state of Tamil Nadu, the mango pickle māvaḍu is a staple condiment. Māvaḍu is usually made early in the summer season, when mangoes are barely an inch long. The preservation process uses castor oil, giving the pickle a unique taste. Tamil Nadu is also known for the nārttaṅgai, which consists of unripe citrons cut into spirals and stuffed with salt, and for mōr miḷagai, which consists of sun-dried chillies stuffed with salted yogurt.

In the state of Karnataka, the tender whole mango pickle māvina uppinakāyi is made by dehydrating tender whole mangoes with salt. Appemidi or Appimidi is the mango variety which gives distinct taste to the mango pickle made Also pickles made from Gooseberry (Nelikayi), Hogplum (Ametekayi), Lemon(Nimbekayi or Limbekayi) is popular.[14] Also Udupi cuisine has unique way of making Indian pickles without any use of edible oil.

South Indians living in the coastal areas also pickle fish and meats. In Tamil Nadu, karuvāḍu is made by salting and sun-drying fish. Nettili karuvāḍu, made from anchovies, is among the more popular varieties of karuvāḍu. In Kerala, tuna and sardines are finely chopped, marinated in spices, and cooked on the stove top to make in mīn acār. While fish and shrimp pickles are eaten in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, they are not as popular as lamb and chicken pickles.

Unripe mangoes, lemon, green chilis, gundā (Cordia dichotoma), and kerda are commonly used as key ingredients in Gujarati pickles. Common Gujarati pickles include salted mango pickle made with groundnut oil and spiced with fenugreek seeds and red chili powder; hot and sweet mango pickle made with groundnut oil and jaggery, fennel seeds, dry dates (khārēk), mustard, and red chili powder; and hot and sweet mango pickle made with sugar syrup, cumin, and chili powder.

Myanmar (Burma)[edit]

The Burmese word for pickle is thanat (Burmese: သနပ်). Mango pickle (သရက်သီးသနပ်) (thayet thi thanat) is the most prevalent variety. The pickle is made with green, ripe, or dried mangoes cured in vinegar, sugar, salt, chili powder, masala, garlic, fresh chilies, and mustard seeds.[15][16] Mango pickle is commonly used as a condiment alongside curries and biryani in Burmese cuisine.[17] It is also a mainstay ingredient in a traditional Burmese curry called wet thanat hin (ဝက်သနပ်ဟင်း).[18]


Nepali pickle made of Dalle Khursani (round chilies) and Tama (fermented bamboo shoot pickle)

In Nepal, achaar (Nepali: अचार) is commonly eaten with the staple Dal-Bhat-Tarkari.[19] Many achaar factories in Nepal are women-owned or operated by women.[20][21] Nepalese achaar is made with spices such as mustard seeds, timur (Sichuan pepper), cumin powder, coriander powder, turmeric powder, and chili powder. Some of the popular varieties of achar eaten in Nepal are:

  • Lapsi achaar - Hog plum pickle (can be sweet, savoury, or both)
  • Khalpi achaar - Ripe cucumber preserved with mustard seed, oil, and spices
  • Dalle khursani achaar - Nepali round chili pickle
  • Tama achaar - Fermented bamboo pickle
  • Gundruk achaar - Fermented mustard leaves pickle
  • Mula ko achaar - Sun-dried radish and daikon preserved in oil and spices
  • Karkalo achaar - Pickled stems of Colocasisa
  • Kinema achaar - Fermented soybean pickle
  • Buff achaar - Pickled buffalo meat
  • Chicken achaar - Pickled chicken
  • Aanp ko achaar - Unripe mango pickle (can be sweet, savoury, or both)
  • Kagati ko achaar - Lemon pickle
  • Timur ko chop - Powdered Sichuan pepper with spices
  • Jhinge machha achaar - Freshwater shrimp pickle
Lasora achar, Pakistani pickle
Lasora achar, Pakistani pickle


The Sindh province of modern-day Pakistan is noted for Shikrarpuri achaar and Hyderabadi achaar. Both of these achaar varieties are commonly eaten in Pakistan and abroad.[22] Shikrarpuri achaar is believed to have originated during the 1600s in medieval India.[22] The most popular of variety of Shikarpuri achaar is a mixed pickle comprising carrots, turnips, onions, cauliflower, chickpeas, garlic, green chillies, lime, and mango.[22]

Sri Lanka[edit]

Pickles are known as acharu in Sinhala or oorugai in Tamil.[23]


In South Africa and Botswana, Indian pickles are called atchar. They are made primarily from unripe mangoes and are sometimes eaten with bread.[24][25]

See also[edit]

  • Indian relish
  • Acar – Vegetable pickle made in Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Philippines and Brunei.
  • Atchara – Pickle made from grated unripe papaya popular in the Philippines.
  • Piccalilli – British relish of chopped pickled vegetables and spices, a British variant of South Asian pickle
  • Amba (condiment) – Mango pickle condiment, an Israeli/Middle Eastern variant of South Asian pickle
  • List of Indian pickles


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  2. ^ a b c The Story of Our Food by K.T. Achaya (2003)
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  10. ^ Mango pickle recipe
  11. ^ Our desi drive-ins
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  13. ^ The road to Kashmir through Haryana
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  16. ^ "သရက်သီးသနပ် (အခြောက်) (Spicy Dry Mango Pickle)". Food Magazine Myanmar (in Burmese). Retrieved 2019-07-11.
  17. ^ "အလှူ မင်္ဂလာဆောင်တို့ရဲ့ ဇာတ်လိုက်ကျော် ဒံပေါက်". MyFood Myanmar (in Burmese). 10 May 2016. Retrieved 2019-07-11.
  18. ^ "ဝက်သားဟင်း ၄ မျိုး". We Media (in Burmese). Archived from the original on 2019-07-11. Retrieved 2019-07-11.
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  20. ^ "Nepali pickle makers come into their own". Retrieved 2022-02-24.
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  23. ^ Sri Lankan Achcharu Recipe, retrieved 2021-05-19
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  25. ^ "Pickled Vegetables" (PDF). Practical Action. 2011. Retrieved 29 November 2021.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)

Further reading[edit]