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Apart from fruit and/or vegetables, the main ingredients of pickles, chutneys and sauces are vinegar, sugar, spices and sometimes salt and dried fruit.

Vinegar should be of good quality and containing at least 5% acetic acid (branded vinegars contain 5–7%), but draught vinegar usually has a lower acetic acid content. Malt vinegar has a strong flavour and colour, and white vinegar has a better appearance in clear pickles and spiced fruit. Wine vinegar and cider vinegar are more expensive but have a better flavour for more delicate preserves. When spiced vinegar is specified, this can be prepared beforehand (see recipe).

Sugar is needed for many pickles, and granulated sugar will not add colouring. Demerara and soft brown sugar give both colour and flavour to chutneys and sauces.

Dried fruits give richness, colour and sweetness to chutney. Raisins and sultanas are most commonly used, but dates and apricots are both delicious in chutney.

Spices are very important in pickling and give great individuality to recipes. Ground spices are suitable for chutneys and sauces as they blend in easily and flavouring can be adjusted to suit family tastes. They will however make vinegar cloudy and should not be used for preparing spiced vinegar, or for making clear pickles or spiced fruits. Whole spices should be tied in a piece of muslin which can be suspended in the pan, and it is best to crush the spices lightly with a weight first to release their flavour. Whether spices are whole or ground, they should always be fresh, as they can taste stale after long storage.

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