All About Curry Powders
All About Curry Powders
Curry powder is slowly creeping its way into the spice racks of foodies all over the country, so why not find out where it came from and how it's used around the world? Originally a combination of spices associated with Indian cooking, curry powders are also used in a variety of Asian, Indonesian, Pakistani, and Bangladeshi dishes, just to name a few.

Curry powder itself (a premade collection of spices with a distinct recipe) is an English invention.  While many people assume that Curry is an Indian spice combination, it is actually a British concoction dating back to their early involvement in the Indian spice trade in the 18th century. At the time, the local Indians would grind their spices up as they were needed for each meal enabling them to carefully select the various flavors used for each dish. The British however didn't understand the individual nuances of this process and just referred to all dishes made with spices, meat and a broth as "curry". No matter where you find curry, you are sure to get a taste of regional influences since no two curries are likely to be exactly the same.

Today, the term "curry" spans a variety of foods and preparation styles. Many limit the term to a strategic combination of herbs and spices in a sauce used to cook meats and vegetables, but technically curries can be either wet or dry. "Curry" dishes can be made with any combination of meat, poultry, fish, shellfish or vegetables. Some curry dishes are strictly vegetarian depending on the religious beliefs of the region where it is made. In this country, serious curry aficionados usually make their own blends on the fly for each meal, buying the spices whole and grinding them in a coffee grinder (or with a mortar and pestle).

Wet curries are made with a combination of sauce or gravy, yogurt, coconut milk, legume puree or stock. On the other hand, dry curries are made with very small amounts of liquid, which burn off by the time the meal is finished cooking. In this case the spices will stick to the meat and vegetables.

English Curries
The term curry stretches back to the 18th century in Great Britain where it was used in a cook book to describe a meat dish with a sauce using only black pepper and coriander seeds as flavoring. In later editions of the cook book, ingredients such as ginger and turmeric were called for. The use of hot spices we not traditionally used in English curries because of the lack of chiles use in India. Over the years, British curry recipes evolved to include a variety of ingredients including coriander, turmeric, cinnamon, cayenne, mustard, ginger, allspice and fenugreek. Since then, curry has become a major component of British cuisine, with Chicken Tikka Masala being referred to as a "true British national dish".

Indian Curry
To Americans, "Curry" is identified with Indian food and "curry powder" is believed to be the key flavoring ingredient. This is not correct as all Indian food doesn't contain a specific "curry powder". The seasoning is actually a blend of spices better known in India as garam masala. This mixture of spices is added to some dishes to enhance the dish's aroma and flavor. Just about each family uses similar basic spices but each household has its own proportions and secret ingredients so that the end result will usually vary from home to home. The better the quality of the spices used, the tastier the garam masala and the resulting dish in which it is used.

A Tradition Indian Curry, or kari, was a stew containing chicken or rabbit and a large amount of rice with a broth flavored by spices. As time went on, chiles were introduced to Indian curries, as chiles that were originally found in Mexico and South America were introduced to Asia.

Vindaloo Curry is a signature of Indian cuisine and considered to be the spiciest of Indian curries. Indigenous to the Goa region of western India, which was ruled by the Portuguese for more than four centuries, Vindaloo Curry was originally a Portuguese dish but through the years of local Indian influence it's now more thought of as an Indian curry with some spicy kick to it.

Although many Indian curries have a spicy kick to them, don't forget that they also have a very savory flavor. Madras curry is the style of curry that western tastes expect from a curry powder. But don't mistake Madras Curry for a bland curry powder as it is certainly rather complex. Many curries in India are created through tradition and the local availability of resources as opposed to restaurant or cookbook popularity. Recipes for Madras Curry are created using a combination of sweet, savory and earthy flavors resulting from a combination of the use of coconut milk, anise seed, ginger, chili powder, paprika and turmeric.

On the other side of the spectrum is sweet curry which is quickly gaining popularity. Many of these curry powders, like our Sweet Curry Powder, can be a bit more on the mild side. It is a blend which is light and mild with a bit of sweetness to it and is more of a sweet red curry than a sweet yellow curry.

Lastly, we have our Maharajah Curry Powder. This superior grade curry powder is a fantastic go to curry powder and with its gorgeous, full-bodied taste just a little goes a long way. This curry is a bit sweet but not considered hot and is ideal for adding magnificent color and unmatched flavor to seafood and chicken curries.

African Curry
African curries, especially in South Africa date back to over 250 years ago, even before British curries were created. Indians first landed in Africa at the Natal colony in the South. Durban, Africa, which is located inside the Natal colony, has the highest concentration of Indians outside of India, resulting in the development of traditional Natal curries. These curries are strongly influenced by Southern Indian dishes which consist of spiced lamb and chicken dishes which contain a large amount of ghee, a type of clarified butter traditionally made with cow's milk. Unlike traditional clarified butter, ghee is simmered with the milk solids which in turn caramelize and create a nutty taste.

One African curry is Ras el Hanout. The literal translation for Ras El Hanout is "top of the shop" and implies a mixture of the best spices a seller has to offer. This Moroccan style curry with a kick is like all curries in that it can be made with a wide variety of ingredients depending on the cook. In the past, Ras El Hanout contained small amounts of cantharides in its ingredients. Cantharides, also known as ground Spanish fly, is an irritant and poison that was mistakenly thought of as an aphrodisiac. Cantharides were later banned in many countries because of its lethal potential.

Curry from the Caribbean

You can probably guess that Indian curries have had a strong influence on the cuisine of the Caribbean, especially where large amounts of Indians settled including Trinidad and Jamaica.
Most Trinidad style curry powders tend to be a bit mild. The locals kept the main Curry ingredients but had to adapt the recipe to substitute local ingredients and the people of Trinidad have perfected their own curries based around turmeric. Due to the lack of hot chiles in the area, hot pepper sauces are often found on the dinner table to "spice" these dishes up. Even though Trinidad Curry Powder isn't hot it is still full of flavor.
Many Caribbean islands are known for their goat curries. In Jamaica, their specialty is super spicy goat curry made with peppercorns, scotch bonnet chiles, allspice and spicy mustard. Coconut milk is used in most Jamaican curries, making them more like a soup instead of a paste, and they are served with a side of white or brown rice and peas.

There are so many types of curries to create, but you have to decide on a style first! Try cooking up some Chicken Tikka Masala or some Quick and Easy Vegetable Curry. No matter what you decide, you'll be sure to get a unique flavor that was originally inspired by traditional Indian cuisine.

Related Posts
8 Healthiest Cuisines in the World
Most Popular Spices by Cuisine
The Authentic Indian Spice Guide
Pairing Wine with Spicy Food

Ready to be inspired?

Discover a rabbit hole of blogs, recipes, and spices that you won't find anywhere else