No-sugar-added pickle relish turns a hotdog into a Chicago dog

  • No-added-sugar pickle relish is one of those things best made yourself.

    No-added-sugar pickle relish is one of those things best made yourself. Courtesy of Don Mauer

By Don Mauer
Daily Herald Correspondent
Posted10/9/2019 6:00 AM

For me, since I grew up in the Chicago area, a hot dog isn't real without pickle relish (hold the ketchup, please). Relish is a necessity, even if that relish is fluorescent green (hello Fluky's and Superdawg). Relish, along with the remaining additions, makes a Chicago hot dog, a Chicago dog.

In my kitchen, sweet pickle relish isn't just for hot dogs. No. My tuna salad, and now sardine (for the Omega-3's) salad, wouldn't be the same without the addition of sweet pickle relish. It does no harm to a hamburger, either.


A few months ago, I stopped using added sugars in whatever I made or ate, which is why you haven't seen dessert recipes in a while.

Some believe sugar substitutes are just as unhealthy as sugar. My hope is they're wrong about natural sugar substitutes, like monk fruit or stevia. Sugar isn't just sweet; it's part of the complexity for why food combinations taste the way they do; think of sugar as part of flavor synergy.

Consider this: how would chocolate cake or peanut butter blondies taste if all the sugars were removed and replaced with nothing? Here's a hint: ever eat unsweetened baker's chocolate? Ugh.

A natural sugar substitute (like organic stevia) gives us the ability to match the sweet flavor of cane sugar without using cane sugar.

Last week I wanted to make a tuna salad that I could stuff into a fresh tomato. I reached for a bottle of organic pickle relish, and since I bought it before cutting sugars, I checked the label: one tablespoon delivered 15 calories and 4 sugar grams. Almost all the calories in this relish came from added sugars. Cucumbers, since they're 95-percent water, barely contributed any calories.

Searching far-and-wide for a sugar-free, organic sweet pickle relish turned up nothing. There are no-sugar-added sweet pickle relishes; they all use artificial sugar substitutes like Splenda. And, those not-organic relishes frequently contain artificial colors: yellow 5 and blue 1. Organic, sweet pickle relishes use organic sugar for sweetening.

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Since it was vital for me to use organic, sweet pickle relish without added sugars and no artificial sweetener; I had to make my own.

I found a sweet pickle relish recipe in Linda Amendt's: "Blue Ribbon Canning: Award-Winning Recipes" cookbook. A perfect place to start.

I headed to the market to get Kirby cucumbers (they're smaller than regular cucumbers) -- the authentic cucumber for making pickles.

Instead of chopping-up the Kirby's, I trimmed the ends and used my mandolin to cut them julienne and used the mandolin to julienne the onion, as well. Salting, draining and squeezing the cucumbers and onion took a while and so did simmering all the remaining ingredients. No wonder no one makes relish anymore.

How did my no-sugar-added, organic sweet relish come out? Perfect. My relish tasted better than any store-bought relish and worked great with my tuna salad. I can't wait to make some Chicago-style hot dogs with my new relish (even if it's not bright green).

Today, this column celebrates its 27th birthday. It all started back in 1992 when the food editor, Olivia Wu, gave me a shot at column-writing and Lean and Lovin' It was born. Thank you for making it possible to be right here in the Daily Herald for more than a quarter-century. I truly love writing this column, and I hope you continue to love reading it.

• Don Mauer welcomes questions, comments and recipe makeover requests. Write to him at don@

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