A chutney is roughly described a fruit or vegetable compote. This can be spicy, sweet, sour, fruity, tart or salty. Originally from India, Chutney is now well-known around the world. In addition to compotes-like chutneys, there are also thin and creamy versions. There really is something for every taste!
Chutney - far more than a spicy jam
The chutney has its origins in the Indian cuisine. There it is the epitome of many different sauces, pastes, relishes and the like - in English one would most likely be able to summarize it under the term "dip". Popularity in Europe was gained by the chutneys through the English influence in India. So, the spicy chutneys were probably brought by sea to the United Kingdom and there they found their way to the kitchens. As early as the 17th century, chutneys were brought to England in the form of luxury goods as "Mangoed Fruits" or "Mangoed Vegetable" (based on the often-used mango ingredient). In the 18th century, the first commercially produced chutneys were offered. At this time, the term "chutney" had also prevailed - because initially this was considered "derogatory" or as a concept of the working class.
The rest of Europe reached the chutneys, however, only after most recipes were "Europeanized" - by the English standards. The Anglo-Indian chutney did not have that much to do with the Indian versions at the time, but perhaps that was just the way forward for the now-popular original Indian-influenced chutney creations available on our markets.
Chutneys in Indian cuisine - different than what you think
Anyone holding a chutney in the supermarket is almost certainly in the hands of the Anglo-Indian version. And that is in a sense the opposite of its origin. It was as simple as it was tasteful: to have a seasoning sauce or seasoning paste or a dip for a dish. As a rule, the Indian chutney is not so much about shelf life, but about the uniquely aromatic taste. Indian chutneys were and are made from everything the market had to offer - from tomatoes to yoghurt and cucumbers to all sorts of fruits. These are enriched with abundant spices to a paste or sauce and are usually kept so that they should be consumed after a short time. Sugar, for example, is found in the fewest Indian chutneys - and if at all, then only to soften the acid from another ingredient.
Fighting Acid - Fighting for Conservation
Curbing the acidity of the ingredients used - such as sour apples, certain types of sour plum or rhubarb - were also the first aspirations of Anglo-Indian chutney cuisine. Since in England, of course, domestic ingredients were preferred to the expensive imported ones, they oriented themselves, similar to the traditional English jam kitchen on the same principle: sour fruits with the addition of sugar increased the shelf life, provided by a natural preservation. For example, if sweeter fruit where used, it was added to malt vinegar to maintain a nourish taste, with added sugar. This finally laid the foundation for commercial English chutney production, but with the addition of comparatively large amounts of sugar (and vinegar) much of the original character of the chutneys has been lost.
Big production vs. Kitchen
As far as recipes are concerned, the "housewife’s recipes" of the Englishmen were naturally the first to succeed in conquering the German market as well, although in comparison to the "island" there was rather sparing use of the more exotic spices. Cinnamon, cilantro, onion, paprika, apple and sesame, to name only one example, sounded a bit too experimental for the German lady of the kitchen. Nevertheless, small chutney kitchens have for decades been welcome and well-frequented guests at local markets and sales events. Not without reason: the exotic food in all its richness of facets lures already - especially offered in small jars that are also well presented.
The Internet as a breaker of the taste limits
The big break in thinking about well-known cooking habits came, as in so many other areas, with the Internet. Of course, the easy international exchange of information did not stop at cooking recipes and kitchen habits. In this way, the Indian kitchen not only experienced a boom within the European home kitchen like no other, but also paved the way for many Indian restaurants, which in addition to the exotic-looking choice of spice and the theme of vegan naturally benefited. With these two developments in the background, the Europeans now seem to have discovered the Indian cuisine away from classic curry dishes - and to love them. For example, apart from other classic dips such as herbal quark, salsa and tzatziki, a colorful selection of different chutneys can no longer be missed at parties.
Fruity, "vegetable", fresh: variety on the table!
Even in India, however, there is no "unified" line, of which what should and what should not include a chutney. Depending on the region, however, there are some favorites that are prepared there very often.
Tomato chutneys, chilli chutneys, onion chutneys and ginger chutneys as well as coriander chutneys are very common across the country. But also peanut, cucumber, carrot, spinach and even fish or shrimp find their way into Indian chutneys. Also popular are the potato chutneys in India - which are superficially considered to be most likely associated with German cuisine.
Most Germans, in turn, are likely to enjoy the yoghurt-based dips - chutneys in India - flavored with, for example, mint and coriander. Also, a restaurant classic are sweet-sour tamarind chutneys that are often served along with a yogurt chutney and a mango chilli chutney as an appetizer along with papadams (a type of flatbread).
Concepts - taste as a language that unites
While in Germany, as already mentioned, chutneys would most likely be grouped under the term "dip", many other "dips" of Western cuisine in India would be on a menu as a chutney: whether hot sauce or classic salsa, whether guacamole or French mustard sauce. Recalling the "original", which was ultimately a (short-term) preservation, respectively on the English version of the original, can be seen here a truly international cuisine. The reason is simple: around 500 BC, the method was established in the Indian region to make these foods more durable by preparing a chutney. Both the Romans and later the British Empire adopted this method of preservation, but later replaced it with better cooling methods and other preservation options. When, on the other way, the Spaniards, who brought chilli to Europe through Columbus's colonization of South America, they found their way to India, the chutneys later found their way back to England. In the end, the chutney is Indian-English-Spanish-South American-multi-cultural-eating-enjoyment.
Chutney classics that you should try:
In addition to what the Indian restaurants offer, there are three absolute chutney classics that you should absolutely try. Apple-mango (chilli) chutney, tomato (chilli) chutney and plum (chilli) chutney. The former and the latter are probably the most traditional English-influenced chutneys, tomato chutney is one of the most popular in India. Are you looking for fruity-fiery chutneys? Then you should definitely try the chutney from Gitte's Magic Pot. These are of course completely natural and made without artificial additives. Let yourself be enchanted!
Text by Nico Jäkel