Why Pickles Taste So Good On Sandwiches, According To Science

We've all heard that the best chicken sandwiches in the U.S. have mayonnaise and pickles on them. You likely also get thin pickle slices under the lettuce and tomato of your cheeseburger. If you get a Reuben at a deli, chances are you're getting a big crisp pickle wedge with it, too. It may seem like a random choice for a garnish, but when you take a bite of both your sandwich and pickle together, it's a surprisingly delicious combination. What exactly makes a pickle taste so much better on your sandwich than just eating it straight from the jar?

According to Real Simple, putting a few pickle slices on your sandwich actually helps "brighten" up the flavor of all the meats, cheese, and whatever other toppings you've included inside the sandwich. Not only does the somewhat sour bite of the pickle help counteract all the richness and fattiness of the meat, but the crispness of the pickle helps add some much-needed texture (aside from the melty cheese, of course). 

But why do you always seem to get a pickle with every sandwich you get, from grilled cheese sandwiches to burgers? It's not just because a pickle tastes better when paired with a sandwich. In fact, adding a few pickle slices can actually help improve the taste of your sandwich altogether thanks to the pickle's vinegary brine.

The vinegar in pickles gives it an acidic bite

As SFGate explains, slightly sour or "neutral" food and drinks help absorb certain flavors that may be overpowering your taste buds. This can be, for example, drinking milk after eating a hot pepper or lemon sorbet and celery between dinner. Vinegar, with its slightly acidic base flavor, is a commonly-used palate cleanser across many cultures, from the pickle wedge of your sauerkraut-stuffed Reuben to strips of ginger pickled in vinegar served alongside Japanese cuisine (via Escoffier Online).

According to The Kitchn, the tradition of serving pickles alongside sandwiches as a palate cleanser has roots in the Jewish deli shops of New York City. After all, if you were a butcher, you'd want your customers to fully taste your meat, wouldn't you? That's why, when you take a bite of your cheeseburger, for example, the sharp flavor of the pickle slices helps bring out the taste of the meat, cheese, and other toppings of your burger. It's also the reason why certain restaurants, like Chick-Fil-A, use pickle slices and even pickle juices in the sandwiches, as the brine helps to tenderize and flavor the meat, too (via Reader's Digest).

The next time you're ordering a Nashville Hot Chicken or even just a plain old burger, maybe take a bite of a pickle just to get the most of your meal.