Chutney is a well-known condiment, famously associated with Indian cuisine. Saying this, its spicy, sweet, tangy flavours work brilliantly with dishes from many other cultures. Although many varieties are found in supermarkets, nothing beats homemade chutneys.
The word chutney comes from the Indian curry word ‘chatni’ – meaning crushed. Originally, ingredients were crushed by hand with a pestle and mortar to make a thick, flavoured paste. Traditionally, it was freshly made before each meal. As a result, it did not need any sugar and vinegar to preserve it.
Indian Curry chutney quickly spread around the world due to soldiers and their families in the British Colonial era. When they moved from country to country they took their love of chutney with them. It soon spread to the Caribbean and South Africa, as well as their homeland of Great Britain.
Many of the countries that were introduced to chutney were unable to source Indian ingredients, like the spices and herbs. As other cultures began to use ingredients that were available to them, chutneys began to take on different flavours; it is now thought that there are as many varieties of chutney as there are cooks making it!
Chutneys are served with almost every Indian meal; as sauces for hot dishes (particularly meats) and as relishes with curries. Every region of India has its own distinct chutney flavour. They vary immensely in flavour and can be spicy or mild, sweet or sour, chunky or thin, and can be made with vegetables or fruit – or both. Most common ingredients include mangoes, tamarind, apples, pears, lemon, garlic, tomatoes, ginger, onions, turmeric, peppers, chilli peppers, mint, coriander, cumin, fenugreek, citrus peel, raisins, sugar, and honey.
Mango chutney and tomato chutney are two of the most widely-made varieties, but all regions have different versions of chutney. Sikkim is known for its hot tomato chutney; spicy lemon chutney is popular in the Gujarat region; ‘green chutney’ – made with mint – is popular in Punjab; in West Bengal, chutney is made from apple, mango, papaya, raisins and thick syrup; Uttar Pradesh is known for its peanut chutney, made with sweet and sour mango and garlic; onion and dry fish are combined together in Kerala to make a non-vegetarian chutney; Himachal Pradesh makes a delicious aubergine chutney; in Assam, chutney is made with spinach, radish or carrots, combined with herbs and spices; in the south and west of India, coconut chutney is very popular; Kashmir is renowned for its walnut chutney -often blended with pomegranates and yoghurt; ginger chutney is widely used in Tamil and Udupi cuisine; and tamarind chutney is famous in Haryana.
The word ‘chutney’ is used to capture all of the above varieties. The same can be said for the word ‘curry’. Indian curries vary dramatically from region to region. Indian restaurants in London, such as Chutney Mary and Amaya, embrace these regional and cultural influences and have created their menus accordingly. They are a far cry from a ‘curry house’ and provide their diners with a true journey through India.