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How a French Cuisine Staple Became an Indian Cash Crop

No plate of French charcuterie or picnic would be complete without the cornichon (or gherkins as the Americans prefer to call it), but most Gallic food lovers would be surprised to learn that the tangy green garnish was likely grown in India. Over the past 25 years, market forces have shifted production of the crunchy pickled cucumbers consumed in France, once an all-French affair, almost entirely to growers in South Asia and eastern Europe.

But a Franco-Swiss company, Reitzel, has found a way to revive an age-old tradition in France by designing a contract that has enticed a small but growing number of local farmers. The problem with the cornichon cucumber is that it is not a hardy crop, it is expensive to grow, and it is harvested only once a year in France, compared with three times a year in India. "Gradually, manufacturers began sourcing their supplies from India," Reitzel's director Emmanuel Bois told AFP. As the market dried up, French farmers stopped growing cornichon cucumbers, he said. 

Today some 80 percent of the 60 million jars of cornichons sold each year in France contain produce from India, and around 20 percent are sourced from eastern Europe.

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