Why Do Some Pickle Jars Not Say the Word ‘Pickle’ on the Label?
When it comes to brined cucumbers, what’s in a name? That which we call a pickle by any other name would still taste as sour, no? Well, the internet craves a more definitive answer to that question.
On Aug. 12, TikTok user Jesse Banwell shared a curious experience he and his family had one afternoon with a jar of what he thought were pickles. In the video, which garnered over 1.4 million views, the father recalls how a simple discovery by his child led to what is now being referred to online as #Picklegate.
“So, here’s what happened,” Banwell says in his now-viral video. He added that he was making sandwiches for his kids when his youngest wanted to write down “pickles” on a piece of paper, so he looked at a jar to see how to spell it. “He couldn’t find the word on the jar anywhere. So I went and looked and sure enough, it does not say ‘pickle’ anywhere on this jar.”
After looking at his jar and lid of Claussen Kosher Dill Sandwich Slices, Banwell checked another brand of pickles in his fridge, a “huge” jar of Mt. Olive pickles he recently purchased. “And guess what? It also doesn’t say (pickle anywhere),” says Banwell, astonished.
Now on a mission, Banwell checked another well-known brand of pickles, Vlasic, to see if its jars contain those six letters, and found out they don’t either. An internet search to find the reason only pulled up a Reddit post where another person was befuddled by the word missing from a jar of Claussen Kosher Dill Spears.
“I couldn’t find any real information on why they don’t say pickles on any of the jars. I don’t think it’s a coincidence. There has to be some reason for it,” Banwell concludes. “If anybody knows, fill me in.”
One father’s question seems to have dug yet another TikTok rabbit hole for users to go down, with many folks posting under the hashtag #Picklegate.
TODAY.com has reached out to Banwell for comment.
Banwell himself has posted updates that leave viewers with more questions than definitive answers, leading folks in the TikToker’s comments and beyond to theorize about why the word “pickle” is omitted from so many briny jars of joy.
“Pickles have to have dill in the ingredients list,” theorized one commenter.
“pickle is a term used to describe preservation technique but has become common term, like kleenex for all box tissues,” posited another commenter. (They’re mostly right about that: While pickling is a process dating back to ancient times, the first recorded use of the word meaning “cucumber preserved in pickle” was in 1707.)
“To be called pickles they need to be from the Pickle Region in France,” joked yet another.
But most folks maintain a prevailing theory: That since it’s obvious that a jar of pickles contains pickles, there’s no need to reiterate what’s right in front of you.
“It says ‘pickles’ all over their websites. It might be a graphic design choice based on the fact that we all SHOULD recognize what a pickle is....,” offered one commenter.
“I have a dog that doesn’t say dog on it. Does that mean I don’t know it’s a dog?” asked another, likely while rolling their eyes.
Another TikTok with hundreds of thousands of views goes deeper into the issue. Rachel Stonecraft (@hyperfocuspod) theorizes in a Stitch with Banwell’s original video that the FDA’s Standards of Identity (SOI) holds the answer.
“SOIs are specialized guidelines that certain foods have to meet, like what ingredients a food must contain, what it may contain, proportion of ingredients and even production methods. If it doesn’t meet those standards, it cannot be labeled as that food,” she says. “That’s why nondairy ice cream can’t legally be called ice cream.”
“I saw some comments saying that maybe that they didn’t meet the standard of identity for pickles. That’s not the case, I looked up all of the regulations regarding pickles. And it’s not that they don’t meet the regulations for pickles,” says TikTok user Food Science Babe in direct opposition to Stonecraft’s theory.
While Stonecraft was right about the meaning of SOIs, she was incorrect about SOIs being the reason some pickle jars don’t have the word on them.
“FDA has not evaluated whether a particular pickle product or products satisfies labeling requirements,” an FDA spokesperson tells TODAY.com. “Federal law requires all food in packaged form to bear a statement of identity of the commodity in terms of one of the following: the name specified in or required by any applicable Federal law or regulation, if such name exists; if no such name exists, the common or usual name of the food; if neither of the preceding exist, an appropriately descriptive terms, or when the nature of the food is obvious, a fanciful name commonly used by the public for such food.”
To help us understand what that means exactly, the FDA provided TODAY.com with its Food Labeling Guidelines.
Essentially, to sell a retail product regulated by the FDA, a product label must contain these five components: a statement of identity, a statement of net content, nutrition facts, an ingredient statement with allergen labeling compliance and the name and address of manufacturer, packer or distributor. Everything from soda to salt has these on their labels.
There are so many different types of pickles: full sour pickles, sweet pickles, bread and butter pickles, gherkins, cornichons and, of course, dill pickles. Then, of course, you have all the different shapes pickles can come in, from slices to spears and more, which may be more pertinent info to provide a consumer than what we all know is a pickle in a jar. All of those descriptors, mind you, count as a statement of identity, thus meeting the FDA requirement.
Additionally, according to the USDA’s Standards for Grades of Pickles, to be considered a pickle, a product needs to be prepared entirely or predominantly from cucumbers, that “clean, sound ingredients are used that may or may not have been previously subjected to fermentation and curing in a salt brine.”
The USDA also writes that pickles are to be prepared and preserved through natural or controlled fermentation or by direct addition of vinegar to an “equilibrated pH of 4.6 or below.” According to The Savvy Pickle, which field tested seven well-known brands, all brands sold in the store had a pH of 3.91 or below, meaning that they all classify as pickles, whether or not they have the word on them.
To find out what the dill is with the brands who don’t put the word “pickle” on their jars, we went straight to the pickle pushers themselves. Here’s what they all had to say:
“At Claussen, we’re known for our signature refrigerated pickles that pack a superior cold crunch. While we meet all regulations required of pickles, we prefer to showcase our varying styles and varieties on-pack, such as fan-favorite dill spears and bread & butter slices,” a Kraft Heinz spokesperson tells TODAY.com.
“Let’s start by saying this: a pickled cucumber in America is…a pickle. Because we pack our products in a glass jar, consumers can see that the jar contains pickles,” a Mt. Olive spokesperson tells TODAY.com. “Consequently, we use the front label to focus on the variety — the cut and flavor — of the pickle inside the jar. I went back and looked at some of our older labels, and this practice has largely been true for us at least since the 1950s. As you may be aware, it’s pretty standard for other brands, too.”
Mt. Olive also notes that its Munchies Portable Pickles, which come in resealable pouches, are not in translucent or clear packaging, therefore its pickles cannot be seen by a consumer from the outside. In that case, those items do have the word “pickle” on the front label.
“When pickle lovers see the clear Vlasic jar, they know they’re getting a great tasting pickle every time,” Carolyn Goldberger, Vlasic brand manager tells TODAY.com. “Because of the wide variety of our pickle forms, we use the limited label space to clearly communicate the form and flavor inside each jar. That way consumers can easily find their favorite Vlasic. But no matter the style, it’s definitely a pickle!”
Grillo’s Pickles seems to be one of the only major pickle companies that clearly proclaim their product as pickles, so naturally, we had to ask the company why it chooses to buck the trend.
“Pickles make people smile! Why wouldn’t you want it on your label? I never really noticed that other brands didn’t use the word ‘pickle’ on their jars but for us it came naturally,” Eddie Andre, VP of brand for Grillo’s Pickles, tells TODAY.com.
“Grillo’s started selling pickles out of a wooden pickle cart so the word ‘pickle’ has always been in our vocabulary. We use to set up on the street and yell ‘Step right up, world’s best pickle, 2 spears $1’ it was a way for us to engage with people while also letting them know exactly what we were selling. That’s no different today with our jars in stores,” he continues. “We love being proud of our clean ingredients and letting people know exactly what they’re getting. We’re the pickle for pickle people, if you know you know!”
Washington, D.C. native Joseph Lamour is a lover of food: its past, its present and the science behind it. With food, you can bring opposites together to form a truly marvelous combination, and he strives to take that sentiment to heart in all that he does.#Picklegate theoriesWhat do the pickle brands have to say about all this?ClaussenMt. Olive VlasicGrillo’s Pickles