Curry Powder: Know The History Of This Anglo-Indian Spice Blend
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Britain’s love for all things ‘curry’ originates from the Colonial period when the British ruled India. Like most other colonies whose cuisines were influenced by the cultures of the countries they occupied over a period of a few decades, Anglo-Indian cuisine is also a fascinating aspect of Colonial cooking that drew many influences from Indian cooking. To make identification and relatability easier for those that followed, most vegetarian and non-vegetarian dishes were largely classified as ‘curry’. Among the usual ingredients like tomatoes and onions that constitute any typical curry, the spice blend known as curry powder was concocted to be the flavouring agent that gave ‘Indian’ food its distinct taste and colour.

Made with a medley of spices like turmeric, cardamom, black pepper, cumin and coriander seeds, cinnamon and dried ginger – curry powder does not, in essence, have a single standard recipe that is followed. The specific combination and proportions of these spices can vary widely, and curry powder can be mild or hot, depending on the amount of chili or pepper used. Utilised in a variety of savoury dishes like kedgeree, stews, curries and soups, curry powder has carved a place for itself among the various spice blends that are popular around the world.

While turmeric gives curry powder its characteristic colour, it also adds a mildly earthy and bitter flavour. Depending on the desired heat levels in the blend, red pepper or chili powder may be included to make the curry powder spicier. The history of curry powder is a fascinating journey that spans centuries and continents, as its development is closely tied to the complex history of Indian cuisine and its interactions with European and Western culinary traditions.

Image Credits: Tesco Real Food

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While the concept of ‘curry’ as a dish has ancient roots in India, dating back thousands of years, the word itself is believed to have been derived from the Tamil word ‘kari,’ which means a spiced sauce or gravy. European colonial powers, particularly the British, played a significant role in the evolution of curry as it is known today. During the colonial era, British traders, soldiers and settlers in India developed a taste for Indian dishes, and began adapting these dishes to suit their own tastes and dietary preferences, leading to the creation of British-style curries.

In an effort to make Indian-style cooking more accessible to European palates, British cooks and entrepreneurs in the 18th and 19th centuries began experimenting with spice blends that could replicate the flavours of Indian cuisine. This experimentation eventually led to the creation of what we now know as curry powder. The spice blend was a convenient way to package and sell a combination of spices that could be used to make curry-like dishes. The first commercial curry powder was produced in the United Kingdom in the late 18th century when a company called Crosse & Blackwell was credited with popularizing it in the 19th century, making it widely available in British grocery stores.

As the British colonial influence expanded around the world, the popularity of curry powder became an essential ingredient in British cuisine, along with being exported to other parts of the British Empire and beyond. Today, curry powder is used not only in British and Western cuisine but also in various international cuisines like Malaysian and Indonesian cooking. The fascinating history of the origins of this spice powder is testament to the cross-cultural exchange of culinary traditions and the adaptation of flavours to suit different palates. Dishes like the devilled eggs, laksa soup, muligatawny soup, kedgeree and lamb curries have a noticeable addition of this spice seasoning to elevate and add depth of flavour.