As a condiment enthusiast and amateur chef, I’m often asked about the differences between some of my favorite sauce-like companions to food – chutneys, pickles, and relishes.
While all three are tasty condiments that can add flavor and texture to dishes, they aren’t interchangeable.
There are some key distinctions between chutneys, pickles, and relishes in terms of their ingredients, texture, flavors, origins, and best uses.
In this post, I’ll walk through how to define chutneys, pickles, and relishes, compare their characteristics, give recommendations for using each type of condiment, and share some of my favorite recipes to make at home.
Comparison of Chutneys vs Pickles and Relishes
|Chutney||Spices, fruits, vegetables||Smooth, thick||Sweet, spicy, sour||India|
|Pickle||Whole vegetables or fruits||Crunchy||Sour||Various cultures|
|Relish||Mixed chopped vegetables and fruits||Smooth to chunky||Sweet-sour||North America and Europe|
Defining the Condiment Category
Chutneys, pickles, and relishes all fall under the condiment category, meaning they are sauces or seasonings used to accompany other foods. But each has their own unique traits. Here’s a quick rundown:
Chutneys originated in South Asia as flavorful condiments made from fruits, vegetables, and spices.
The ingredients are usually cooked down into a thick, sauce-like mixture incorporating spices like cumin, coriander, mustard seeds, garlic, ginger and onions.
Common additions include vinegar, sugar, salt, and chilies which provide sweet, sour, and spicy tastes.
Popular fruit chutneys feature mangoes, dates, tomatoes, and tamarind. Herb and vegetable chutneys highlight ingredients like mint, cilantro, and coconut.
The cooked down preparation gives chutneys a smooth, jam-like texture.
Pickling refers to preserving fruits and vegetables in an acidic liquid like vinegar or salt brine. This extending shelf life while adding robust, sour flavor.
Pickles can be made through fermentation which uses natural bacteria to create acid, or by quick-brining ingredients in vinegar mixtures.
Common pickling spices include garlic, peppercorn, bay leaves, and dill. The brining process maintains a crunchy texture.
Cucumbers are the most ubiquitous pickled vegetable, but carrots, peppers, green beans, and cauliflower lend themselves well to pickling too.
Relishes are made from chopped vegetables and fruits that are pickled in a vinegar solution, often with added spices and seasonings.
Relishes have a similar preservation method as pickles, but tend to use more elements mixed together, like various chopped vegetables and fruits plus mustard seeds, onions, and peppers.
They contain a sweet-sour flavor profile. The texture can range from smooth pureed relishes to coarse chunky varieties.
The most well-known relish is pickle relish which features pickled cucumbers. Other popular versions include corn relish, bell pepper relish, and fruit-based cranberry relish.
Key Differences Between the Condiments
Now that we’ve defined chutneys, pickles, and relishes, let’s dive into some of the major differences between the three condiment cousins.
The main ingredients used can clue you into which condiment you’re working with.
- Chutneys utilize more spices like cumin, cinnamon, coriander and have a thicker texture from cooking down vegetables, fruits or herbs into a sauce. Onions, garlic, and ginger are common.
- Pickles tend to focus on one main vegetable or fruit as the highlighted ingredient that is then brined to preserve it. Cucumbers are classic, but picks can also showcase carrots, cauliflower, peppers, green beans, eggs, and more.
- Relishes use a mix of multiple chopped fruits, vegetables, and spices, like relish’s signature pickle, onion, and bell pepper medley. The variety of add-ins contributes flavor.
Texture is another telling difference between the condiments.
- Chutneys have a smooth, spreadable consistency from cooking, similar to a jam or thick sauce.
- Whole or sliced pickles maintain a nice crunch from the brining process. The crisp texture is part of their appeal.
- Relish textures vary widely from smooth pureed versions to coarse chunky blends with noticeable vegetable pieces.
The predominant taste also sets each condiment type apart:
- Chutneys offer a robust mix of sweet, spicy, salty, sour, and umami. They often include sugar to balance acidity and chili for heat.
- Pickles tend to be predominantly sour from the brining liquid. Fermented pickles can have tangy, funky flavors.
- Relishes lean sweet-sour thanks to the vinegar and sugar. Additional seasonings like mustard, onions, and spices also contribute flavor.
Origins and Regions
Cultural history separates the condiments too:
- Chutneys originated in South Asian cuisines, especially Indian, where they are still most prominently used.
- Pickling extends across many cultures worldwide as a preservation method. Asia is a pickling hotspot.
- Relishes became popular condiments in North America and Europe alongside the rise of canned preserved foods.
I’ll continue diving into more differences, recommended uses, recipes, and conclusions next! Let me know if you would like me to modify or expand on anything.
How to Use Each Condiment
Now that we understand the ingredients, textures, flavors, and origins of chutneys, pickles, and relishes – how do we actually use them in the kitchen? Here are some tips for making the most of each condiment.
Cooking with Chutneys
Chutneys pair especially well with Indian dishes, adding sweet, spicy, and tart notes. Try:
- Serving a dollop of chutney as a condiment next to curries. Mango chutney is a classic pairing.
- Mixing chutney into yogurt to make a vegetable raita or condiment dip.
- Spreading chutney inside wraps or sandwiches to add moisture and flavor.
- Using fruit chutneys in cheese boards or charcuterie platters. The sweetness balances salty meats and creamy cheeses.
Pickles shine through their versatility – enjoy them:
- As a crunchy sandwich or burger topping. Dill pickles are quintessential here.
- On their own as a salty, tangy snack straight from the jar.
- Chopped up in potato salad, egg salad, chicken salad or other dishes for a pop of flavor.
- Served with antipasto, charcuterie, or cheese plates to cut through fatty flavors.
This bright condiment is tops on:
- Hot dogs – pickle relish is a classic hot dog topper.
- Burgers and sandwiches to add texture, color, and flavor.
- Meats like hot dogs, sausages, and cold cuts as a tangy contrast.
- potato salad or macaroni salad for crunch and acidity.
- Stirred into mayo to make a flavored spread.
I’ll round out the post with some recipe recommendations next.
Recipes to Try
To experience the diversity of chutneys, pickles, and relishes yourself, give these tasty recipes a try:
- Mango Chutney – the quintessential Indian fruited chutney. Sweet, spicy, and tangy.
- Cilantro Mint Chutney – a flavorful Indian herb chutney. Makes an excellent dip or sandwich spread.
- Tomato Chutney – a savory chutney perfect for curries and grilled meats.
- Bread and Butter Pickles – sweet, tangy pickle slices. Taste just like the classic jarred variety.
- Dill Pickles – crunchy, sour dill pickles. Easy to make at home.
- Quick Kimchi – fast Korean pickled Napa cabbage with a kick.
- Zucchini Relish – sweet pickle relish with shredded zucchini.
- Corn Relish – classic sweet and tangy relish with corn, peppers and onions.
- Cranberry Relish – Thanksgiving staple with cranberry, apple, and orange.
While chutneys, pickles, and relishes all add flavor as condiments, they have distinct differences when it comes to ingredients, texture, taste, and uses.
Understanding the signature characteristics of each provides you guidance on how to get the most out of these flavor boosters. Whether you want a sweet-spicy chutney, crunchy whole pickle, or chunky relish, keep these tips in mind for buying and making condiments. Then adjust your own creations to match each one’s complementing foods and flavors.
I hope this overview gives you insight into appreciating the diversity of chutneys, pickles, and relishes. Let me know in the comments if you have a favorite way to use these tasty condiments!