Kool-Aid Pickles

Due to popular demand and the fact that we love trying weird foods and candies, The A.V. Club will now regularly feature “Taste Tests.” Feel free to suggest disgusting and/or delicious new edibles for future installments: E-mail us at tastetest@theonion.com.

Ever since the earliest days of Taste Test, The A.V. Club Taste Test labs have been fielding the occasional e-mail from readers saying things like “I’ve heard pickles marinated in Kool-Aid are a popular regional treat in the South. You should Taste Test those!” Naturally, we here at the labs were far too clever to be deceived in such a manner. “Pshaw,” we pshawed, dismissively waving an airy hand at those e-mails. “Pull the other one, for it hath bells on. You aren’t getting us to eat some made-up bullshit. Next you’ll be trying to convince us that people in Louisiana totally eat pickled pig lips as a bar food. Suuuuure.”

And for a long time, that was that. We get a lot of suggestions, and the calls for us to try Kool-Aid pickles only came once every few months or so, and we didn’t give them much thought. Oh, don’t get us wrong—if someone had actually commercially manufactured a Kool-Aid pickle and that had come to our attention, we would have tried it. But we didn’t feel the need to make any ourselves. While Genevieve’s Nutriloaf experiment proved popular among readers (though definitely not among tasters), and Chang has won some disgusted respect for his periodic “Let’s mix everything from this Taste Test into a bowl, nuke it, add Bacon Salt, and see how it tastes” challenges, we usually don’t feel the need to make up gross or weird foods to try. Virtually any kitchen holds the potential for innumerable disgusting mix-and-match propositions; there’s just no specific impetus for us to, say, blend up a batch of chocolate-chip-and-maple-syrup-tuna-salad to see if it really is as gross as it sounds.

But then we discovered that the Grey Lady herself, The New York Times, had legitimized the Kool-Aid pickle phenomenon with a really interesting story on how they’d become part of the community economy in small Delta-region towns, with the locals whipping up batches in their homes and selling them to children, or bringing them to community fundraisers, or marketing them handmade out of local convenience stores. Most damning for us, the article explained exactly how to made Kool-Aid pickles. Which meant we were out of excuses.

So I bottled up three batches and stuck them in the office fridge to marinate. It works like this: You take a bottle of dill pickles, drain off all the brine, and half-fill the jar with water. Add a packet of Kool-Aid—I tried cherry (a.k.a. “red flavor”), lemon-lime, and grape—and half a cup of sugar. Stir thoroughly, cram the pickles back into the bottle, and return to the fridge to marinate for at least a week. (Ours sat for three weeks before we got around to this Taste Test. We figured it’d give them more time to become Kool-Aidy.)

When we pulled them out of the fridge, we noticed something odd right away: Nearly all of the Kool-Aid color had absorbed into the pickle rinds, leaving the fluid around them almost clear. The cherry pickles were now bright red, the lemon-lime pickles were now vivid science-experiment green. But the grape pickles weren’t purple, even though the purple had gone out of the Kool-Aid around them. In fact, there was barely a trace of it on the pickles or in the water. We’re presuming someone stole it.

Taste: As frightening or weird as Kool-Aid pickles may sound, they turned out to be a pretty big hit, even among non-pickle fans. It’s fairly easy to see why. The sugar and the vinegar counteract each other and all but cancel each other out, leaving behind essentially a fruity, sweet, tangy, highly crunchy cucumber. The results were neither as tart as pickles nor as mouth-puckeringly sugary as Kool-Aid, but had a pleasant hint of both. Think of Greek cucumber salad in mild vinegar and water, with fruit essence added. The cherry flavor tasted like artificial cherry, the lemon-lime tasted gently, crisply sweet-and-sour. Only the grape—easily the least popular flavor—didn’t blend well with the pickle profile. Somehow the grape flavor wound up going rank, not so much sour as a spoiled taste that dominated over everything else.


Office reactions:

  • “People seriously eat pickles dipped in Kool-Aid? Wait, let me guess… this is popular in the South, right? Ugh.”
  • “I want to smell it! Huh. Not what I expected. It smells a lot like pickles and a very little bit like something else, but I don’t know what.”
  • “You’re gonna get Jun’s hands all over your pickle! Wait, that didn’t sound good at all.”
  • “That’s so good!”
  • ” What a weird mix of flavors!”
  • “Surprisingly not terrible at all!”
  • “This really does taste like a pickle popsicle.”
  • “I don’t taste the grape at all in the grape ones. I just taste badness.”
  • “The grape one just tastes like a stale pickle.”
  • “Yeah, it tastes like medicine.” “Not Dimetapp again.”
  • “The red ones are awesome. They taste like jelly beans.”
  • “I think the lemon-lime is most successful, personally.”
  • “It’s like a Gatorade pickle.”
  • “These could be excellent frozen.” “It’d be Pickle Sickles all over again, except sweet.” “Yeah, just throw them on a stick and freeze…”
  • “That is very odd. But tasty!”
  • “The cherry’s really good. It could actually use even more Kool-Aid flavor.” 
  • “This is like Otter Pops gone wrong.”
  • “That kind of makes me want to drink Kool-Aid. I haven’t had Kool-Aid in a long time.”
  • “I didn’t think I was going to like these at all, but I’m a convert. I have officially drunk the Kool-Aid of Kool-Aid pickles.”
  • [Slipping sheepishly back into the kitchen after the rest of the Taste Testers had cleared out.] “Can I have some more of those? I’m from the South originally, and I haven’t had these in forever. I really miss them.”

Where to get them: Make ’em yourself. If you have extra, you can sell them to neighborhood kids, if you’re living in an area that accepts such things as a legitimate part of the community’s local color, instead of an indication that you’re a crazy person trying to poison children, or lure them in for unsavory, non-Kool-Aid-related reasons.

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