What is Chutney?
Chutney, pronounced "chuht-nee", refers to a family of condiments from South Asian cuisine, and just like salsa in this country, there is no right or wrong recipe - just a preferred flavor or two. While Chutneys are most often associated with India they’re also popular in Africa and the Caribbean islands. Chutneys are served with almost every meal in India, especially with curries, but also as sauces for hot dishes (typically meats). They can be fresh or cooked, and are made from a wide variety of ingredients usually from some concoction of fruits and/ or vegetables and spices. They range in flavor from sweet or sour, spicy or mild, or any combination of these, while their texture can be thin or chunky.
Some compare chutneys to a relish and others to a jam. Chutney is most often used to balance a dish and may be on the sweet and tart side or provide a spicy and hot flavor.
To add to the confusion, many times chutney is also mistakenly called a relish (and vice versa) but there are subtle differences between the two. Relishes tend to be a bit sweeter, while Chutneys are more on the savory side. Chutneys are cooked slowly, are more likely to be chunkier and have a consistency that is much like preserves while relishes are barely cooked, rarely use any sugar and are crunchier. The best rule of thumb is to think of chutneys as pickled fruit and relishes as pickled vegetables.
History of ChutneyChutney is derived from the Hindi word "caṭnī" & Northern Indian Urdu word "chaṭnī" meaning to lick.
Simple spiced chutneys originated in India and can be traced back to around 500 BC and preserving food in this manner was adopted by the Romans. Chutneys made their way to England and France sometime in the early 1600s where they were often referred to as “mangoed” fruits and sometimes as “mangoed” vegetables. The fruit versions were much more popular. Chutney recipes flourished in the English speaking world and the Brits passed on their recipes to their colonies in early America and Australia. Indian immigrants were the ones who introduced chutneys to the Caribbean region in the 17th century. Chutney is also popular throughout Africa.
Types of ChutneyEach region has a particular style that seems more popular. African chutneys are popular with bobotie (spiced minced meat baked with an egg-based topping) or boerewors braai (a sausage dish). In Britain chutneys are typically sweet and tart utilizing fresh or dried fruits. They tend to be served with both hot curries and cold foods. In the Caribbean chutneys are served with many dishes as well as dips with delicacies and starters such as samosas, poulourie (fried green pea and flour balls), aloo (potato) pies, fish cakes, shark and bake etc. Cooked mango or papaya chutneys are common, fish dishes are often served with mango chutneys. Throughout India, curry dishes are served with tamarind chutneys. Mint chutney is probably one of the most famous types of chutney served in north India. Mint is called “Pudeena” in HindiI (sometimes spelled as Pudina) and Pudeena chutney may be served with many different types of curry but may be most popular with sheekh kebabs and tandoori chicken.
In the New England region of the US cranberry chutneys are most popular, while in the southern US apple, peach and green tomato chutneys are served with chicken, ham and pork.
In the majority of chutney recipes one ingredient tends to dominate the flavor and that is how the chutney is referred to (i.e. mango chutney, apple chutney or tomato chutney). Chutneys may also be either dry or wet and citrus juice or vinegar may be used as a natural preservative. The sweet and sour flavor of chutneys works well with beef, chicken and pork. Sweeter versions perk up bagels, breakfast toast, cheese and crackers.
Most Popular Fruits, Vegetables and Spices Used in ChutneyThe most popular fruits used in chutneys are mango, cranberry, apple, peach, pear, apricot, fig, pineapple and plum.
Some of the most common types of vegetable chutneys are eggplant, tomato, onion and rhubarb.
The most frequently used spices in chutneys are allspice, cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, coriander, cumin, fennel, ginger, lemon zest, mustard seeds, nutmeg, orange zest, peppercorns and chile flakes. When using spices it is best to use whole spices, as ground spices tend to make the chutney cloudy or muddy.
How to Make ChutneyWhile there are hundreds, if not thousands of possible recipes for chutney most will start with a fruit base, although non-sweet vegetables may also be used. Once you master the basics of making chutney you can create your own versions using any number of fruits and/or vegetables.
To make the best chutney select fruits that are not completely ripe and have a firm flesh. Avoid softer fruits such as blackberries, blueberries, raspberries and strawberries as these lose their flavor, and when cooked reduce down to more of a jam texture. We’ve had great success using dried fruits, as their texture holds up well and their flavor tends to balance well with the spices and sugars. Firm eggplants, tomatoes and rhubarb work well if you prefer vegetables. Most chutney recipes call for some onion and many will also include garlic.
Some of the rules of thumb for a chutney are 1.3 lbs of fruit, 1 cup of sugar and a little over .75 cup of vinegar. If adding chile powder or whole chiles increase the sugar a bit and if using dried fruit decrease the sugar a bit.
Now that you know the basics you can begin experimenting with making some chutney to impress family and friends alike. Whether you prepare it as a pleasing fruity appetizer with cheese and crackers or make a vegetable topping for your chicken or fish, we're sure you'll have some happy mouths when it's all said and done.
Two of our favorite chutneys are Mango Chutney and Rhubarb Chutney.
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