What Is That Neon Green Topping On Chicago-Style Hot Dogs?

Out of all the regional hot dogs in America's hall of fame, the Chicago-style hot dog is easily one of the most recognizable. That's because it's a technicolor marvel, starting with a hot dog (usually manufactured by local purveyor Vienna Beef) that's topped with yellow mustard, chopped onions, sliced tomatoes, a pickle spear, sport peppers (which are a real type of pepper), a dash of celery salt, and a finely diced, visually arresting, neon-green condiment that sometimes baffles the eye.

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That mystery condiment is pickle relish. And there's no need to adjust the settings on your display, because our hometown version of relish really does come in that unusual color. Aside from the emerald hue, it's just your typical sweet pickle relish, but its color is one of the many things that makes a proper Chicago-style hot dog so unique. Without it, a fully-loaded Chicago-style hot dog wouldn't quite be the food icon it is today.

How Chicago's neon-green pickle relish gets its bright color

That intriguing color doesn't come from a specialty crop of mutant cucumbers grown exclusively for Chicago's hot dog market. The main manufacturer of Chicago's hot dogs, Vienna Beef, produces a neon green relish that is simply made of cucumbers and other ingredients that give the relish a sweet and tangy flavor. And that green color? It's from just a touch of blue food coloring added to the mix, which doesn't alter the taste of the final product.

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Since this is just regular old sweet pickle relish, that means you can use the stuff however you see fit, whether you're stirring it into tuna salad, incorporating it into tartar sauce, or topping a burger with it. You'll definitely notice the bright flecks of green in your food, but that just means your dish will have a little extra visual pop to it. You eat with your eyes first anyway, so just consider that a little added benefit.

Not all Chicago-style hot dogs feature neon green relish

Here's some additional information about Chicago's hot dog style that you might not know. There are sub-categories of Chicago-style hot dogs. For example, char dogs are cooked on a grill instead of being steamed. Another Chicago dog variant that has its own name is the depression dog. 

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True to their name, depression dogs have a very stripped-down set of toppings: usually just yellow mustard, onions, and sport peppers, with relish only appearing at some hot dog stands. Of those that sell depression dogs, it's not always that you'll see the neon green relish used, either. From my experience as a lifelong Chicagoan, if there's relish on a depression dog, it's usually your standard naturally-colored variety. 

But the other confusing detail about a depression dog is that the french fries rolled up with it also count as a topping; you're meant to eat everything in one big messy bite, including the spuds. 

Though you may feel suspicious of the funny hypercolored pickle relish, there's nothing to fear about it — it's just the sweet relish you're already familiar with. Consider it just a singular part of a Chicago-style hot dog's whole ensemble: bright, flashy, and with the added benefit of lending extra flavor to one of our hometown's favorite foods.

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