Chutneys Of India: The Sweet, Tangy, Spicy, And Salty Flavours
Image Credit: Adobestock

When I wrote an article on the pickles of India, I mentioned how It is tough to find a meal in India which is bland and boring. The variety of pickles, alongside other classical Indian accompaniments, makes Indian cuisine more interesting. Chutneys are the soul sisters of pickles, and on the dining table, they are often placed next to each other, taking the coveted spot as the centre appointment to the array of dishes placed all around them. The usage of chutneys, though, is multi-fold. Chutneys are eaten along with meals and are also used to flavour chaat items, street snacks, and sandwiches. Chutneys come in different flavours and colours, and not only do they enhance the taste of dishes, but they also add juiciness to the dishes they are added to, and they enhance their visual appeal with their colourful presence. 

All across India, different ingredients are used to prepare a variety of chutneys, some of which are common to many other Indian states, and many are unique chutneys specific to the regions they are prepared in. As a food enthusiast, you are privileged to be born in a country with many flavours, and chutneys carry most of these flavours with pride. 

North Indian Chutneys 

The Northernmost region of Kashmir is known for an expansive traditional meal called a ‘Wazwan’, which is incomplete without some authentic Kashmiri chutneys. Find a walnut chutney or an apple-raisin chutney to heighten the flavours of an authentic Kashmir meal. Chutney made with radish (Mooli) is often eaten along with Kashmiri dishes like ‘Nadru Yakhani’ or ‘Haak Saag’. Adding Walnuts is optional; however, yoghurt is added to the chutneys in Kashmir, alongside spices like dry ginger powder, Kashmiri red chillies, and heeng sauteed in mustard oil. 

Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Bihar, Haryana, Rajasthan, Gujarat, and, to be fair, the whole country is an ardent lover of spicy Mint - Coriander Chutney. Eat a thali meal in Gujarat or Rajasthan, or try a plate of Pakoda in Delhi or Uttar Pradesh, a spicy ‘Dhaniye Pudine ki Chutney’ is what you will find the patrons reordering for the most. Mint Coriander chutney, also known as ‘Hari Chutney’, is either in a thicky pasty form, with spices and garlic, and traditionally prepared on a ‘Sil Batta’, a grinding stone which has paved the way for the food processors to grind them to paste. However, the taste of grinding it over a ‘Sil Batta’ is unparalleled. This chutney is enjoyed with fried snacks as a dip and topping on chaat items like ‘Aloo Tikki’, ‘Dahi Bhalla’, etc. A runnier version of the ‘Hari Chutney’ is prepared with the addition of yoghurt. It is eaten along with onions (Raw Roundels or Vinegared) in a north Indian restaurant or a dhaba. 

‘Saunth’, a sweet and spiced chutney, is mostly made with tamarind and gets its name from added dry ginger powder (Saunth). Another interesting variant is prepared with dates, which act as a sweetener, and sugar, which is usually added to sweeten the ‘Saunth’. ‘Saunth’ is also eaten with fried snacks like ‘Kachoris’ and ‘Samosas’ and is an essential component of the chaat dishes. 

Uttarakhand’s ‘Bhaang chutney’ is prepared with cannabis seeds and is a local delicacy of the region, along with a delicious chutney made with ‘Til’ (Sesame seeds). In my Native place of Braj, Poori, or Bedai (Bedmi), is eaten with a hot and tempered ‘Methi ki Chutney’ that accompanies the spicy sabzi served along with the fried bread. In Rajasthan, ‘Lahsun Laal Mirch Ki Chutney’ is unmissable. Served along with Rajasthani Thali, or most traditionally served with ‘Bejad ki Roti’, smeared with desi ghee. Once you try this delicious, addictive chutney, you can never get enough of it. Overeating is guaranteed. 

Amritsar’s traditional dish, called the Kulcha, is served with tangy onion chutney. Mango chutney or a ‘Launji’; it is a meal accompaniment across different states of North India; however, a chutney called the ‘Chamba Chukh’ is a local delicacy which is very important to the state of Himachal Pradesh. Prepared using the ‘Chitrali’ chillies growing in the region, this hot and spicy chutney is made with red and green chillies and cooked with spices, sweeteners or even additives like nuts and seeds. ‘Amrood Chutney’, Pear Chutney, Apple Chutney, or unique chutneys prepared with flowers, like ‘Burash’, speaks volumes about the underrated but fantastic cuisine of Himachal Pradesh. 

South Indian Chutneys

‘Thogayal’, ‘Pachadi’, ‘Chamanthee’, etc., are a few names by which chutneys in south India are known. The variety of chutneys available in the southern states of India is a topic on which many chapters of Indian cuisine can be written. The term ‘Thogayal’ is used explicitly for chutneys made with grated coconut in Tamil nadu. It is undoubtedly the most popular South Indian chutney, which has travelled to the menus not just across the country but worldwide. The juicy and spicy, tempered coconut chutney is a mandatory accompaniment to tiffin items like Dosa, Idli, Uttapams, and Vadas. ‘Kara’ (Spicy) Chutneys made of Tomato, Garlic, and shallots and tempered with spices and curry leaves are commonly eaten along with traditional south Indian vegetarian dishes. It comes in many different variants. As is true with sambhar, the taste of chutneys, too, changes from one district to another. 

In Telangana and Andhra Pradesh, ‘Pachadis’ (Chutneys) are made with many different ingredients, often with spices and yoghurt. Pineapple, Gongura, coconut, cucumber, Beetroot, tomato, onion, brinjal, peanuts, bottle gourd, ridge gourd (Also popular in Udupi, Karnataka), carrot, capsicum etc., are some of the ingredients ‘Pachadis’ are made within the southern states. In Kerala, ‘Chamanthee’ (Chutney) is made with coconut in red and white versions, where chillies are added to make the red chamanthee spicy and colourful. However, the spiced chilli, onion, coriander, and garlic ‘Chamanthee’ surprised me with their flavour, as I ate many meals in small and homely Kerala messes across the state. Chutney-making skills in Kerala homes are inspirational for any culinary enthusiast. A few chutneys I ate in Kerala have inspired me to prepare them at home and, if possible, to put them on restaurant menus.

Spicy chilli chutney, Image Source: Freepik

 Other Chutneys of India

Gujarat, a food-loving state, love their chutneys too. The peanut and green chilli chutney of Rajkot (Saurashtra) is a popular chutney, which got its name from the city itself, and is called the Rajkot Chutney. A runny besan chutney is eaten along with ‘Faafda’ and ‘Gaathiya’. ‘Lassan’ (Garlic), ‘Kachi Keri’ (Raw Mango), dates and tamarind, etc., are popular chutneys in Gujarat.

In Maharashtra, drier forms of chutney are prevalent. Lahsun chutney of Maharashtra is a dry form of chilli and garlic with spices. A similar garlic-flavoured chutney makes the ‘Vada pao’ taste so delicious. ‘Shengdana chutney’ is another must-try accompaniment to Maharashtra; however, the ‘Hari mirch’ or ‘Lal Mirch ka Thecha’ is an absolute delight. 

Travelling eastward, the culinary-rich state of Bengal offers many flavours, and the chutneys of Bengal are worth relishing for palates yearning for delicious taste. Bengali Papaya chutney, also known as plastic chutney, is unique in taste and name. It is called plastic chutney for its texture which looks like melted plastic; however, it carries a fantastic taste. ‘Amrar chutney’ is a sweet and spiced chutney made with hog plums or ‘Amra’. Tomato and ‘khajur chutney’ is delicious, carrying the quintessential Bengali flavour. However, nothing speaks more of Bengali flavour than the ‘Kasundi’, a mustard chutney or sauce, which has a unique sharp taste and gives many Bengali snacks a taste to remember. One can try chutneys made with Black sesame or star fruit in Assam. Red ant chutney (Yes, you read it right), also called ‘Kai Chutney’, can be eaten in Odisha and Jharkhand and other Northeastern states. A Manipuri delicacy called ‘Eromba’ is worth a mention for being one of the more popular dishes from the northeastern states, where fermented fish (Ngari) is stirred along with mashed boiled vegetables and is considered the main traditional dish of Manipur.

Chutneys in India are many, and probably every community or even families have their special chutneys prepared using a different or unique recipe. Chutneys are easy to prepare and can include a variety of ingredients; thus, newer chutneys can be prepared with specific addition, omission, or changes in the proportion of ingredients going in them. Chutneys can be raw or can be cooked. Chutneys can be served hot as well as cold. Chutneys can be spicy, as well as sweet, and in many chutneys, it’s the yin and yang of sweetness and spice that makes it irresistible. Thus, chutneys are undoubtedly a canvas to express the different flavour profiles of each region, and it ensures we never have to eat a bland and boring meal in India until a well-made chutney is there.

Sidharth Bhan Gupta, Founder of 361 Degrees Hospitality, is a Hospitality / Food and Beverage / Restaurant Consultant, Travelling across India on a Cultural and Culinary Exploration.