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In 1959, British Scientists Carefully Perfected the Pickled Onion

It was all for the “notoriously fickle pickle-fancying public.”

Step into an onion laboratory in 1959, where researchers bustle about to create the perfect pickled onion. A group of scientists at the British Food Manufacturing Industries Research Association in Surrey, England peels tubfuls of the vegetable, carefully pours vinegar in jars, and tests the flavor of the brine.  

“The reason for this research is on matter of national prestige, for nearly all the best pickling onions come from abroad, mainly Holland and Egypt,” says the narrator of the video above, archived by British Pathé. “Why, pray, shouldn’t the cold roast beef of old England be served with English pickled onions?”

The laboratory boasted an array of impressive machinery to study the small white bulbs, including a large revolving drum that peeled the onions without causing the researchers to turn into a crying mess. Researchers in tweed suits pasteurized the jars, evaluated samples under microscopes, and analyzed the ‘onion liqueur’ in the jars.  

But even with all the sophisticated tests and data analysis, the true seal of approval on whether an onion was been properly pickled came down to a panel of taste judges.

“Although this research may not seem to be of world shaking importance,” says the narrator, “it is as well to remember that the scientists engaged in it have a truly breathtaking responsibility to the public.”

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