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What is Curry?

For Indian cuisine, the term 'curry' has evolved over time as three distinct uses: Kari, Currey, and Curry sauce.


Kari - Definition of Curry in South India since antiquity

In Tamil, Kari means sauce. Therefore, in South India Curry is a sauce, or a gravy. The word Kari has been used since antiquity. The sauce is pungent and seasoned with a mixture of spices


Currey - Definition of Curry during British Raj

Curry is a stew made with savory pungent and aromatic spices

The first 'Currey" recipe was documented by Hanna Glasse in 1747. It was a Fowl/Rabbit stew. The recipe set the definition of Currey as a stew made with aromatic spices. In the fourth edition, she used Coriander, Black Peppercorn, Turmeric, and Ginger as curry spices


Curry sauce - Modern Definition of Curry

Curry is the sauce from an entree of meat fish fowl vegetables, made with spices, leaves, pungent herbs and seeds lightly fried in fats to extract flavors aroma and colors. The consistency of sauce may be soupy to dry (barely covering the meat and vegetables). The Curry is a catch-all name for Indian dishes made with aromatic spices.

Curry spices

The Curry does not imply a set of spices. Every cook uses his own mix of favorite spices for a given sauce, making every curry unique. The royal kitchens of Hindu Maharajas and Moslem Nawabs used up to 100 spices and herbs to make a given dish. The spice names and combinations were guarded as state secrets. Even a daughter of a Maharaja was not allowed to enter the royal kitchen, for the fear that she will disclose the secret after marriage to her husband's royal kitchen.  Nowadays a typical small common set of spices would include: Turmeric Cumin Coriander Fenugreek, and dried Ginger.


In the days gone bye, only black peppercorn was used for pungency. In certain parts of South India Kari was an old word for Black Peppercorn. The first published Currey recipe in UK by Hanna Glasse had only two spices: Black Peppercorn and Coriander seeds. In the fourth addition, Glasse updated the recipe to include Turmeric and Ginger.


After Portuguese introduced red chili peppers, almost all curries started to use fresh green and dried red chilies for pungency. The level of pungency is used as a marketing tool by Indian restaurants in UK. They have started to use Habanera and Naga Chilies for pungency. The pungency of curries varies from extremely pungent Phall curry to very mild Pasanda curry.


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