What Is a Relish?
Whether it's scooped on a hot dog or piled on the side of your cheese plate, relish is the perfect choice for bolstering any dish with a big, bold boost of flavor. But what exactly is a relish? We're diving into a little history of the dish to answer that exact question.
What Makes a Relish?
Relish falls into the condiment category. It's a preserve that contains finely chopped vegetables, fruit, or sometimes both in a vinegar mixture. It's commonly used like a condiment, as a spread on sandwiches or stirred into sauces, but has a chunkier texture than a traditional condiment like ketchup or mustard.
Here's a breakdown of the common ingredients:
- Vegetables: Cucumber relish is the most widely popular version in the United States, but other vegetables like onions, corn, tomatoes, and more can be used. The veggies are chopped into small, equal-sized pieces that will remain intact in the finished relish.
- Fruits: While less common than vegetables, fruit can be the star of relishes too. Cranberry is a popular choice around the winter holidays, but tropical varieties like mango or pomegranate are also great for serving up with grilled chicken or fish.
- Vinegar: What separates relishes from other condiments is its acidity. This requires vinegar, which adds a bold tang to the finished product and preserves it for long-term storage. While white vinegar is the most common used, any variety will work.
- Sugar and Spices: Sugar is key to balancing out the acidity of vinegar in relishes, along with drawing moisture from the fruits and vegetables and helping them maintain a firm texture. Along with the sweet-and-sour balance, you can add a boost of flavor to your relish by also using ingredients like garlic, chiles, spices, and herbs.
Why Is It Called a Relish?
The common thought is that the word "relish" originated from the early French word "reles" which translates to "remainder" or "leftover." This could be from relishes being used to preserve leftover or excess vegetables and fruits.
Eventually the word evolved into "relish" meaning "appetizing flavor" and that title was attached to the condiment we know and love today.
Isn't Relish the Same as a Chutney or Pickle?
While the lines between a relish, chutney, and pickle are blurry, they're all their own distinct dish. Pickles, while similar in taste due to the vinegar and sugar content, are usually whole or sliced fruits and vegetables, which sets them apart from uniformly chopped relishes. And chutneys often rely on fruit, which is then cooked down until much softer and thicker than a traditional relish.