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Condiment woes: Is relish on its way out?

Despite its position as an old stand-by at ballparks and hot dog stands, relish is disappearing from restaurant menus, reports a recent New York Times article. (Credit: Thinkstock)Could relish be on the endangered condiments list?

According to a recent article in the New York Times, the most maligned of all the condiments is staring down the barrel of a gun. Or, more accurately, a hot dog bun.

Despite its position as an old stand-by at ballparks and hot dog stands, relish is disappearing from restaurant menus. Table caddies in retro diners and restaurants seem to have downsized to just ketchup and mustard (and maybe some vinegar). Fast-food joints like McDonald's and Burger King have lately vanished relish from the premises. And upscale places are more likely to serve their burgers with sundried tomato aioli or wasabi mayo alongside yam frites.

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From the New York Times:

As for relish's absence from many restaurants, blame the chunky consistency. Unlike ketchup and mustard, relish can't be easily pumped or squeezed from sealed dispensers at a table or condiment station, said Randy Garutti, the chief executive officer of Shake Shack. Leaving out an open jar of relish could lead to contamination, or just a big mess.

The future of this simple green condiment is uncertain and not many know about its history.

Pickling has been used as a method of preservation for centuries. Some sources say that pickled cucumbers date back to approximately 4000 B.C. and that relish of various stripes — such as chutneys — originated in ancient India.

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The word relish itself comes from the Old French word "reles," meaning "something remaining." Relish was literally made from remaining produce.  Vegetables were preserved in brine and other similar preparations so that they would keep over the winter.

The relish that we know best — North American relish — is made up of sweet pickles, bell peppers and onion. Most commercial relishes also include sugar.

Relish fans in the U.K. may recall the Pickle Crisis of 2004, when the Branston pickle factory was nearly destroyed by a fire and stocks were so low that some jars were going for £50 on eBay.

While it might be falling out of popular favour in restaurants, it's unlikely that this ancient condiment will be disappearing from grocery store shelves anytime soon. One thing is certain though, it won't be showing up on the World's Most Expensive Hot Dog in New York City.

Check out the video below showing how the World's Most Expensive Hot Dog is made.

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