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  • What’s in a Label?

  • When my doctor told me I had to reduce my sodium intake or risk a stroke, the first thing that came to mind was, “No, I can’t give up my garlic sour pickles and Italian dressing!” My favorite pickle is the Ba-Tampte Garlic Pickle and according to the label, each pickle has a whopping 590 mg of sodium. The Recommended Daily Allowance for sodium is 2,000 mg per day. So one of these pickles is about 1/4 of the RDA of sodium. And who can eat just one pickle, right?

    However, something just didn’t seem right. After some research, I learned that the values on nutrition labels are derived mathematically. You add up the nutrient values for each ingredient in a recipe, then divide the totals by your serving size, and voila, you get the amount of whatever nutrient is per serving. I even bought the cookbook program that uses the government nutrient values and formulas to calculate the values of whatever recipe you put together so I can calculate the amount of sodium in some of my favorite dishes. It has also been useful in experimenting to see how I can lower it.

    So I did the math (and confirmed with a former pickle maker for a large pickle brand) that the nutrient labels on pickles (or any marinated/brined product: pepper rings, olives, etc) make the assumption that you are going to consume a portion of the brine as well. I mean are you really going to drink the brine? I think not.

    The absolute definitive way to determine how much sodium is in a pickle is to send it off to a lab and have them spin it down into mush and run it through a spectral analyzer (watch Bones much?). So I contacted a lab and they wanted $1,800 to make mush out of a pickle. I just about had a stroke.

    So, back to the math (OK kids, you REALLY do need to learn that algebra!). My batch of pickles used 28 cucumbers. According to the label on the pickling salt box there is 590 mg of sodium in 1/4 tsp of salt. That means my brine solution contains 35,400 mg of sodium. Using a salinity tester, I measured the percent salinity of the brine right when I made it (15%). Fourteen days later, after the cucumbers have turned into pickles, I measured the brine again (12%).  Using algebra, I came up with 253 mg of sodium per pickle. I hear my high school math teacher saying, “Show your work!” So here it is:

    15/35,400 = 12/x
    15x = 424,800
    x = 28,320

    35,400 – 28,320 = 7,080mg sodium absorbed into all of the pickles

    7,080 / 28 = 253 mg sodium per pickle.

    Done.

    I would assume that the Ba-Tampte pickles have less sodium then advertised, but unless they tell me their salt-to-water ratio and how many pickles come out of that brine batch, I’ll never know for sure. For now, I will stick with my own tasty garlic sours I’ve made. Ooo, they’re so good!

    And yes, I made a Zesty Italian Dressing with only 3 mg of sodium per 2 oz serving (and the only reason it had that much in it was due to adding a thickening agent [xanthan gum] because I don’t like runny dressing). And I made banana pickle rings with about 59 mg sodium per 1 oz serving.

    I’ve been told numerous times I should make pickles by the barrel and dressing by the gallon. What should I call it? Gary’s Own? LOL.

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