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The History of Pickles, Cleopatra’s Go-To Beauty Secret

The food has been popular around the world for thousands of years

Andrew Martin
4 min readAug 7, 2021


Tangy with undertones that can range from sweet to savory and sour, pickles are a preserve that has evolved as a snack and side dish over their many years in existence. In fact, they go so far back in popularity and age that they were a favored food of some of the greatest kings and queens of history .

The word pickle is Dutch in origin, as their “pekel” translates to “brine.” Meanwhile, gherkin, a popular name for a cucumber pickle, is another Dutch word that means cucumber.

Although most commonly found in the form of a cucumber, a pickle can be any number of fruits, vegetables or proteins that have been fermented in a salty brine (most often vinegar) for some period of time. It’s an excellent way to not only add flavor to blander produce but also give it much longer shelf life.

It is thought that pickled cucumbers goes back at least 3,000–4,000 years. Dueling claims argue that they first appeared as a food for workers toiling on China’s Great Wall, which was completed around the seventh century B.C. They may have also existed during the time of the Tigris Valley of ancient Mesopotamia by way of India, which at around 2,030 B.C. would date them significantly earlier than the Chinese origin.

Legendary Egyptian queen Cleopatra was known for her love of pickles. She even believed they contributed to her health and her beauty, which was so revered that it has persisted through the years. Philosopher Aristotle even echoed the queen’s belief that pickles were essential to a person’s vitality.

Cleopatra’s consort, Julius Caesar, was one in a line of Roman emperors who included pickles among the rations provided to troops. Given the size that the Roman Empire grew to, perhaps they had a positive impact.

Pickles found their way to the Americas with the arrival of Christopher Columbus in 1492. He considered the briny food an essential item in his ship’s galley because of their durability and their impact in helping prevent his sailors from contacting scurvy because of a vitamin deficiency. When he started planning a return to Europe from the Caribbean, he grew cucumbers in Haiti…



Andrew Martin

Dabbler in history, investing & writing. Master’s degree in baseball history. Passionate about history, diversity, culture, sports, investing and crypto.