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Does Indian Pickle Go Bad? (Not quickly, but here’s how to know)

Indian pickle, also known as achar, has been a part of Indian culture and history for 4,000 years. But for those of you, like me, that have an old jar in the pantry or refrigerator, you’ve probably wondered does Indian pickle go bad?

Indian pickle is a type of fermented food. It will last for at least 2 years unopened. Once opened, it can last about 1 year refrigerated. But you can keep it at room temperature (in direct sunlight is often preferred) for about a month. Keep a layer of oil over the pickle & always use a clean, dry spoon to serve it.

But that’s just a quick glimpse into the delicious world of Indian pickle. So let’s dig in a little further.

Indian pickle, which is also sometimes labeled relish (probably mostly for the US shoppers) is generally made with oil, vinegar, lemon juice, sugar, or water. They are often similar to relish or chutney and can be made from mangoes, gooseberries, and limes.

Savory Indian pickles can be made from cabbage, cauliflower, green beans, and other vegetables. But my favorite, by far, is garlic pickle.

If you’ve purchased a jar of Indian pickle some time ago (hopefully not 4,000 years ago), you may be wondering if it’s gone bad.

How do you even know if Indian pickle has gone bad?

Just keep reading to find out!

How long does Indian pickle last once opened?

Once it’s been opened, Indian pickle lasts about a month if it is NOT refrigerated. With refrigeration, however, it will last about a year.  (source and source)

Indian pickle, like most canned goods like jam, will last a very long time unopened. Opening it exposes the pickle to oxygen and moisture. Two things that encourage bacteria growth.

Refrigeration helps keep the pickle dry and cool, slowing bacteria growth.

One thing you can do to ensure the long lifespan of refrigerated pickle once opened is to top off with a little oil after using a clean, dry spoon to get some of the pickle onto your plate.

The oil acts as an antibacterial barrier, and as long as all the fruits or vegetables are below the oil, it should stay fresh and not spoil. Traditionally Indian pickle is made with mustard oil, but a neutral vegetable oil you have on hand probably works just fine.

If it’s not already in a glass jar, you should consider transferring your Indian pickle to one. Plastic will leach into the pickle, causing it to change the flavor. Glass doesn’t leach at all, so you won’t have a taste differential whatsoever.

Another item that has a long shelf life when unopened, but a short shelf life once it’s been opened is Thai curry paste.

Thai curry paste will last three or more years, but once it’s been opened, it should be used within two weeks.

Just read this recent article on my site to read all about the shelf life of this popular Thai condiment.

How can you tell if Indian pickle has gone bad?

As long as Indian pickle is cooked, packaged, and handled properly it will last a very long time.

Understandably, you are worried about it going bad if you have had your Indian pickle for several years. Sometimes you may open a jar of pickle and put them in the fridge and then forget about them.

If you find them later in the back of the fridge, there are a few things you can look out for to ensure that they have not spoiled.

A few signs that indicate spoiled pickles include:

  • Domed lid of the jar (meaning it looks inflated)
  • Black or brown mold growth on the pickle
  • Pickles that simply look unusual
  • Unusual odor or taste

As I mentioned in the section above, as long as the fruit or vegetable in your pickle is below the level of the oil, it’s unlikely to go bad anytime soon.

So it’s always a good idea to top off with a neutral oil like vegetable oil each time you use it. That way, the fruits or vegetables inside the jar will stay below the level of the oil. That ensures the pickle doesn’t come into contact with the air. That’s where bacteria growth can start.

If you’ve examined your pickles and you still aren’t sure if they are good, you should throw them out.

We have a saying around my house – “When in doubt, throw it out.” It’s better to be safe than to get sick by eating spoiled food.

Do I need to refrigerate Indian pickles?

If they haven’t been opened, Indian pickles don’t require refrigeration. Simply storing the airtight, unopened jar in a cool, dry place will be enough to keep them fresh for a long time.

Your kitchen pantry is a perfect place for unopened jars.

If you’re making fresh Indian pickle, that does usually call for it to be left at room temperature for a few days first. But to maximize the shelf life, I would refrigerate it after that unless you’re canning it in a mason jar.

For something to spoil, it needs to be colonized by bacteria or fungus spores. A high concentration of salt or sugar tends to be inhospitable to bacteria and fungi growth, slowing the growth.

The invention of pickling was done as a preservation method when refrigeration was not available.

However, modern methods are different. While the salt, vinegar, and oil will keep them safe for a while, they will likely go bad at room temperature after a month. Especially considering they are accessed periodically by hands and utensils.

So, once you open them, Indian pickles should be refrigerated. This will keep them fresh longer and inhibit the growth of bacteria and fungus. But there are some Indian chefs who swear by leaving theirs in a sealed jar on a shelf that gets a lot of sun.

So the choice is yours. I’ve always refrigerated mine.

How to preserve mango pickle for a long time

To increase the lifespan of a jar of mango pickle, keep it refrigerated with the lid tightly secured. You can also add additional oil and/or vinegar to ensure that the ingredients are always below the surface of the liquid.

Pickling, in and of itself, is a preservation method.

The lifespan of food by fermentation in brine or immersion in vinegar will naturally be lengthened. But the best method may be to make your own.

Here are the steps involved to make mango pickle using dried mango. Using dried mango ensures a longer lifespan. Then below, we’ll get into some steps to maximize the lifespan:

1. Make sure your mangoes are thoroughly dried

It takes time, but drying mangoes is easily done in the sun.

Start by cutting the mango into pieces. Then fill a clean glass jar with the mango pieces and cover with sea salt and 1 tablespoon powdered turmeric. Seal the jar and shake it so the salt is distributed evenly around the mango.

Leave the jar of mangoes in the sun for about 3 days. Shake the container well two or three times per day.

After 3 days, take the mango pieces out of the jar and spread them on a clean cotton towel. Keep them in the sun for another three days, rotating them regularly. After three days, bring them inside to finish the process.

The mangoes will need to be left in the open for about ten days. After ten days of air drying, the mangoes will be ready for storage or pickling. The pieces will be soft and have a salty, sour flavor. Reserve any water left in the jar from drying the mangoes.

By drying the mangos before pickling, the decaying process will be delayed.

Alternately, of course, you can buy dried mango, but ideally, look for one without added sugar or salt or preservatives like sulfur dioxide. That way you can completely control the ingredients.

2. Assemble the dried spices

Get 2 tablespoons each of dried fennel powder, fenugreek powder, and yellow mustard powder. You can grind your own or buy it powdered.

Have 1/2 teaspoon asafoetida (sometimes called heng) ready, and 1 tablespoon more of the powdered turmeric.

3. Heat the oil

Heat 1 cup mustard oil in a skillet or pot. Mustard oil is great as it helps act as a preservative but also imparts great flavor too.

Can’t find mustard oil? Adding 1 teaspoon dried mustard to 2 tablespoons vegetable oil is a decent alternative. So for 1 cup of vegetable oil, that’s 8 teaspoons of mustard powder.

Once the oil is hot (but not boiling) turn off the heat.

4. Add the spices

First, add the asafoetida, and stir. Then add the turmeric and stir. Finally, add the remaining spices.

5. Add the mango strips and remaining water from the jar

Add the mango strips and any of the sour water remaining from the jar you dried them in. Mix everything thoroughly.

Add to a mason jar and make sure the oil completely covers the mango. You can refrigerate or keep it on a window sill in direct sunlight to maximize shelf life.

Recipe inspired by –

However, to make your mango pickle last longer, there are a few things you can do:

  1. Fill small jars with mango pickle and refrigerate. This way, instead of opening the same big jar of mango pickle every time, you are just opening a small jar. This keeps the other jars fresh longer as they are not exposed to as much moisture.
  2. Keep the pickle highly salty. Even saltier than needed. The pickles will absorb the salt, keeping them naturally preserved.
  3. Add lots of vinegar. This will add flavor and increase preservation.
  4. Refrigerate the pickle, just as you would refrigerate other condiments like mustard after opening

Be sure to use a clean, dry spoon when you serve your pickle. Introducing excess moisture will speed up the decay process, making it go bad faster.

It’s also important to use clean, sterile packing materials. Unclean packing materials could promote quicker growth of bacteria and fungus.

How long do Indian pickles last unopened?

The shelf-life of unopened Indian pickle depends largely on the type of fruit or vegetable used to make the pickle. It also depends on the other ingredients used.

Indian pickles are typically made using lots of oil and salt. They are also typically, well, pickled, which is a type of fermentation. As a result, if it hasn’t been opened, you can expect it to taste fresh and delicious for one to two years. Pickles that contain mustard seeds and fenugreek seeds will last a long time, too.

It is also dependant on how the pickle is stored. Indian pickles should be stored in a cool, dry place for the longest shelf life.

Additionally, once it’s been opened, you should always use a clean, dry spoon for serving. Wet or dirty spoons can introduce contaminants.

If you like Indian pickle, you probably like Indian curry, too.

You’ve probably heard of Thai curry. Did you know that Indian curry and Thai curry are very different?

Just read this recent article on my site to learn about the surprising differences between Indian and Thai curry.

Final thoughts

Indian pickles have a wide range of flavors and textures. They are generally made with oil, vinegar, or lemon juice. These are all-natural preservatives, making pickles last a long time.

In this article, we talked about Indian pickle and how long it lasts both unopened and after it’s been opened.

We also talked about how to make mango pickle last longer and whether you need to refrigerate your Indian pickle.

Indian pickles should not be confused with regular cucumber pickles. Indian pickles are often made into a fresh relish or chutney.

Just like you wouldn’t want to confuse Indian pickles with cucumber pickles, you should confuse canned coconut milk with coconut milk in the carton.

Read this recent article to learn about the differences between canned coconut milk and coconut milk from the carton.

Just click the link to read it on my site.

What is your favorite kind of Indian pickle?

Photos which require attribution:

Brinjal Pickle – Patak’s orginal [SIC] by Gordon Joly, Goosebumps! by Public.Resource.Org, and Lemon Pickle 16 by Lenore Edman are licensed under CC2.0

Jeff Campbell