What Is Relish? Your Complete Guide to This Flavorful Condiment

Relish is for more than hot dogs and burgers—and it doesn't have to be made from pickles. So, what is in relish? You can make this versatile condiment with anything grown in your garden!

You’ve seen relish at the grocery store, usually sold in jars labeled “sweet” or “dill pickle.” It’s easy to conclude that pickles define this condiment, but it turns out there’s a whole world of relish beyond the popular hot dog topper. Read on to learn what relish is and how to make it with almost any fruit or vegetable.

What Is Relish?

Relish is a preserved condiment made from finely chopped fruits or vegetables. Unlike most condiments (we’re looking at you, ketchup and mustard), relish has a chunky texture instead of a smooth consistency.

In the United States, the most common relish is made from chopped pickled cucumbers, either dill or sweet pickles. It’s used as a topping on sandwiches, burgers and hot dogs. But in other parts of the world, popular relishes are made with other ingredients. In England, piccalilli is a turmeric-spiced relish made from cauliflower and other vegetables that’s served alongside ham, sausage or toast. In El Salvador, curtido (made from cabbage, onions and carrots) is served with pupusas, while Italy has mostarda, a fruit relish that’s served with fatty or rich meats.

What do all of these relishes have in common? Vinegar. It not only preserves the fruit and vegetables, but also brings relish’s characteristic acidic tang. Without it, relish would be nothing more than a slaw or a salad!

Don’t miss our Test Kitchen-approved homemade condiment recipes.

What Is Relish Made Of?

There are three key ingredients in relish: produce (fruits, vegetables or a mixture), vinegar, and sugar. Additional ingredients are often added, including spices like mustard seed to make old-fashioned mustard pickle relish or mayonnaise to make crisp onion relish.

So what can be used to make relish? Try any fruits or vegetables that are in season, from tomatoes and corn to cranberries and apples. Once you’ve chopped the produce, bring vinegar and sugar to a boil. (A good ratio for tangy relish is 1 part vinegar to 1/2 part sugar, but you can increase the sugar to equal parts or more to create a sweet relish.) When the sugar is dissolved, add chopped fruits and vegetables, along with spices. Onion, garlic and chilies add a ton of flavor, while herbs and spices like thyme, celery seed, mustard seed or fennel seed create layers of muted flavor that allow the produce to shine.

What Does Relish Taste Like?

The taste of relish will vary depending on the ingredients used. Some are sweet while others are spicy and acidic. No matter what ingredients are used, relish should always taste fresh and tangy with bright, bold flavors and a rich, acidic aftertaste. While some relish is softer than others, pickle relish should be crunchy and textured.

Relish vs. Chutney

Chutney and relish are very similar. Like relish, chutney is made from fruits or vegetables, and it also contains vinegar, sugar and spices. The main difference between the two centers around consistency. The ingredients in relish are cooked in the spiced vinegar, but they maintain their texture and bite. Chutney, on the other hand, is usually slow-cooked until the ingredients break down and become soft. This long cooking time also tends to make chutney thicker than relish, which has a looser texture.

Wondering if your condiments really expire? Use this guide on how long condiments last to decide what can stay and what needs to go

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Lindsay D. Mattison
Lindsay is a professional chef, recipe developer, writer and developmental editor. After years of working in restaurant kitchens, she turned to writing to share her skills and experience with home cooks and food enthusiasts. She's passionate about using local, organic ingredients and teaching others how to incorporate seasonal food into their diet. Lindsay still cooks professionally for pop-up events, writes for several publications and is the co-author of two books about Ayurveda.