History And Origin of Lip-Smacking Chutney
Image Credit: Chutney (Picture Courtesy: Pixabay)

Chutneys are a cardinal part of every meal in my house. Whether it is the simple and famous coriander chutney, the tangy tomato one, the healthiest peanuts chutney, or the coconut one, at least one of these should be on the dining table for the eating to begin. Well, this may not be the situation in every Indian household but many especially those nestled in the southern part of India would relate to my house’s culinary situation. In fact, chutney is also one of the most sought-after side dishes for Bengalis. Can you blame them? Such is the charm of chutneys’ bursting flavours. It can make or break any meal. 

Origin of Chutney

The simplicity of our humble chutney suggests that it is one of the oldest dishes that we humans consume. It has derived its name from the Sanskrit word ‘chaatni’ meaning ‘to lick.’ The origin of this flavor bomb dates back to the 17th century. Legend has that once Mughal emperor Shah Jahan fell ill and to treat him, his hakim (doctor) asked him to eat something light, flavourful, nutritious, and easy to digest. That’s when the royal cooks invented chaat and chutney which used to be served together with the latter drizzled over the former.

However, food historian Pushpesh Pant, in his interview with The Indian Express had said that chutney was “most likely invented by our hunting-gathering ancestors maybe even before cooking transformed our eating habits.” Similar to pickles, chutney has evolved and taken over our palates over the years. 

It is believed that chutney in its original form is a significant part of subaltern cuisine in India. In old times, indigenous flora and fauna used to be the ingredients for the preparation of chutney owing to a lack of water and fertile land. In addition, it used to be treated as a primary source of nutrients like protein and carbohydrates apart from serving as a condiment complimenting a meal. 

Another important thing to know is that chutney is associated with deeply rooted misogyny in India. As per old patriarchal tradition, women in India eat after men in the family are done with the meal. By that time, not much remains to eat for the ladies except for staples like rice and roti. While looking for a sustainable solution to this problem, women started making chutneys with ingredients easily available at home. So, the thing we use as a side dish and flavor enhancer, serves as a necessity for most women.