“Mexicans love their escabeche – a pickled veggies dish that usually includes onions, cactus, radishes, tomatoes, carrots, or jalapenos.”
– Gustavo Arellano, in Ask a Mexican.
Escabeche refers to a jar of mixed pickled vegetables. You’ll typically find carrots and cauliflower in a jar of escabeche. There is a version of this pickled vegetable mix that is spicy, for those who enjoy eating hot, spicy food. According to the book Mexican Food: The Ultimate Cookbook, “escabeche in Mexico most commonly refers to spicy pickled vegetables.”
In Mimi Sheraton’s book entitled 1,000 Foods To Eat Before You Die: A Food Lover’s Life List, the author pointed out that escabeche – verduras en escabeche – could contain a variety of vegetables or just one vegetable.
- The name “escabeche” is already a giveaway for what kind of food this is because it means “brine” in Spanish, and pickled is “en escabeche” according to the book Professional Cooking for Canadian Chefs
- Food historians believe that carrots, a staple in making escabeche, were cultivated for the first time 1000 years ago, in present-day Afghanistan.
- Cauliflower, which is another staple in making escabeche, comes in four different colors. The green cauliflower is actually a cross between cauliflower and broccoli.
Escabeche Buying Guide
Unsure how to say it if you are looking for it in the grocery and supermarket and you want to ask the store attendant? The book Professional Cooking for Canadian Chefs helps explain how the word escabeche is pronounced: ess ka bey chay.
When buying escabeche, make sure to check the plastic seal on the lid. Check the expiration or best-before date. Check the container for any signs of damage or tampering. Check the contents inside and see if there is something unnatural or cause for concern in the color of the brine or the condition of the vegetables inside.
It is possible that jars of escabeche that are produced in small batches will not always be available, so buy enough so you have enough stock in your pantry, especially if this is a staple food or a favorite side dish at home.
The best place to have escabeche is in Mexico. If you are in Texas, we recommend visiting Mexican restaurants here because there is a good chance they have real, authentic escabeche for the customers. According to James D. Huck Jr. in his book Modern Mexico, “alongside the different types of salsa that individuals may find spread out before them on the dining table, there will likely be servings of chopped cilantro and onions, accompanies by a serving of escabeche (pickled vegetables).”
Jane Mason, in her book Mexico: The World Vegetarian, describes escabeche as “a big part of Mexican food culture” and that escabeche “appear in bowls in many restaurants for clients to nibble on while waiting for their meal.”
Escabeche Production & Farming in Texas
Making escabeche requires different ingredients like onions, carrots, cauliflower, radish, garlic, jalapeno, peppercorns, and herbs like bay leaves, oregano, marjoram, and thyme. All of these are available in Texas all year long.
There are currently several makers of commercial and artisanal or homemade escabeche sold in groceries, supermarkets, farmers markets, and online. Support your local small businesses by buying your escabeche from local producers.
Pesticides, Additives, and Chemicals:
Commercially-produced escabeche may contain any or all of the following additives:
- Alum – This is used to make the texture of the pickled vegetables crispy. This food additive is approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration.
- Sodium benzoate – This is added to improve the shelf life of escabeche.
- Sodium chloride – This is used to preserve and at the same time improve the taste of pickled vegetables in escabeche.
- Sodium nitrate and sodium nitrite – These are used to help preserve the pickled vegetables in escabeche.
The first version of the modern escabeche could be the spicy mixed vegetables made in Mesopotamia back in 2400 BCE.
Escabeche is Mexico’s take on pickling vegetables, a culinary practice that has been embraced worldwide, and the output is known by different names depending on where you are in the world.
Products sold in English-speaking countries like the US may indicate escabeche on the label if the product originated from a Spanish-speaking country like Mexico, or if the maker chose to use this term to make the product appear authentic or exotic.
In Milpa Alta, found in the southernmost region of Mexico City, a popular kind of escabeche is made by pickling cactus, according to Lesley Tellez in the book Eat Mexico: Recipes from Mexico City’s Streets, Markets and Fondas.
When you search for “escabeche”, you will find two things – the recipe that includes fish in a vinegar-based marinade, and the pickled mix vegetables. Are these two connected? Jan Davison, in the book Pickles: A Global History, gave an explanation. “The conquistadores took the pickling technique of escabeche to Central and South America in the sixteenth century. The method was not only used for game and fish as in Spain, but was adopted to pickle vegetables, using vinegar fermented from sugar cane.”
Escabeche is sold in glass or plastic bottles with a sealed lid or cover. An important part of the packaging is the label, which contains important information for the consumers, including the name of the manufacturer, expiration or best-before date, ingredients, nutritional information, storage instruction, etc.
You can snack on escabeche or have it as a side dish. It tastes great with red meat, chicken, or fish. The complex and tasty flavor of escabeche makes it a great appetizer.
Store your jar of escabeche in a dark, cool, dry place. This will keep for 5 to 6 months, but if you want to store it for longer, refrigerate your jar of escabeche.
It is easy to make escabeche. Prepare the brine by boiling water, vinegar, sugar, and salt. Add the vegetables and boil for a few minutes. Transfer the mixed vegetables to a clean jar (you can also add herbs along with peppercorn and bay leaves if you want) and let it ferment for at least a day.
When you eat escabeche, your body absorbs the vitamins and minerals stored in each vegetable used for these pickled mixed vegetables.
The vegetables found in escabeche still contain their inherent nutrients, contrary to the fears of many people that pickling results in nutrient loss; on the other hand, pickling helps preserve the vegetables and the nutrients in them.
According to Gustavo Arellano’s book Ask a Mexican, “scientific studies have shown that eating pickled products assists in digestion.”