CHUTNEY. Chutney is a term applied to a variety of spicy relishes and condiments in Indian cookery. The term itself is an anglicized form of the Hindi word chatni. In India, there is an implied understanding that these preparations are also freshly made from fresh ingredients. For example, chutneys using nutmeg are prepared only when nutmeg is in season, although chutneys can be composed of a wide variety of ingredients and thus represent many types of flavors and textures. In general, chutneys fall into two distinct categories: freshly-made preparations for immediate consumption, and cooked preparations intended to keep as long as a year, which can be grouped further according to their saltiness, sweetness, sourness, or spiciness. Many recipes combine several elements of these basic flavors, and textures range from coarsely chopped preserves to smooth sauces. Conceptually, they blur the neat distinction made in Western cooking between preserves and pickles.
Some of the most common chutneys in India are those made with mangoes, coconut, sesame, peanuts, or the ground leaves of herbs, especially mint or coriander. Chutneys are served as condiments (side dishes) at Indian meals, and historically were only eaten on special occasions such as weddings or by the rich. Since Indian independence from Great Britain in 1947, the technology of canning in glass jars has now made commercial chutneys widely available throughout the country at affordable prices. Traditional cooked chutneys made for home consumption were generally infused or slowly cooked in the hot Indian sun over a period of several days until they attained the right flavor and consistency. This method is still employed in modern India in homes which do not own stoves. In fact, many cookbooks written for Indians make no mention of stoves. For example, in Aroona Reejhsinghani's Indian Pickles and Chutneys (1977), a Keralan region chutney made from jackfruit (a relative of the breadfruit) specifies solar cooking for one week.
Indian cookbooks devoted to chutneys generally arrange the recipes according to region, since chutney styles are strikingly different in various parts of the country and among different religious groups. The various flavors and textures are of special importance to Hindus. A few of these are worth mentioning: mango, plum, apple, and apricot chutneys, and various murabbas (fruit in thick syrup) from West Bengal; garlic, sweet and sour mango, and peanut chutney from Uttar Pradesh; dry fish, shrimp, and onion chutney from Kerala; pork sepotel and shrimp ballachong from Goa; kanji, tomato and jeera chutney from Punjab; tamarind chutney from Haryana; hot mango chutney, guramba, and panchamrit from Maharashtra; chundo and hot lime chutneys from Gujarat; guava and eggplant chutneys from Himachal Pradesh; Nagaland fish chutney; and the various Jain, Parsee, and Sindhi chutneys defined by religious dietary rules. In fact, the murabbas (also written morabbas) evolved out of the Unani system of medicine and owe their origin to Indian contact with the Arab world.
The first Indian chutneys to reach the West appeared as luxury imports in England and France during the late 1600s. They were mostly mango chutneys put up in sticky syrups and shipped in ceramic pots. These luxury goods soon served as models for Western copies which appeared in cookbooks as "mangoed" fruit or vegetables. The most popular substitutes were unripe peaches or melons. However, by the nineteenth century, many chutneys were manufactured in India specifically for export to Europe, among them Lucknow Chutney (a purée of salted limes), and various brand-name chutneys like Major Grey's or Bengal Club. All of these export products were created from recipes appealing to British rather than to Indian tastes, meaning that they were generally sweet and lacked the intense flavors, saltiness, or peppery heat preferred by Indians.
See also Condiments ; Herbs and Spices ; India .
Achaya, K. T. Indian Food: A Historical Companion. Dehli: Oxford University Press, 1994.
Achaya, K. T. A Historical Dictionary of Indian Food. Dehli: Oxford University Press, 1998.
Brennan, Jennifer. Curries and Bugles: A Memoir and a Cookbook of the British Raj. New York: HarperCollins, 1990.
Cost, Bruce. Ginger East to West. Berkeley, Calif.: Aris, 1984.
Reejhsinghani, Aroona. Indian Pickles and Chutneys. Dehli: Orient, 1977.
Steel, F. A., and G. Gardiner. The Complete Indian Housekeeper and Cook. Bombay: Bombay Education Society Press, 1893.
Veerasawmy, E. P. Indian Dishes for English Tables. London: Chapman & Hall, 1902.
William Woys Weaver
chut·ney / ˈchətnē/ • n. (pl. -neys) a spicy condiment made of fruits or vegetables with vinegar, spices, and sugar, originating in India.