Curry Powder – The Story Behind The Birth Of a Global Spice

The word ‘curry’ has many meanings and cultural permutations.

a bowl of chicken curry made with a curry powder

It can be a type of dish, the sauce in a dish, a spice blend or even a culinary leaf!!

Curry can also be any South – Asian dish such as Thai curry, Japanese curry, Vietnamese curry none made with curry powder.

Curry Powder the birth of a global spice 1 Curry Powder the birth of a global spice

If you were to ask a non-native Indian ‘what is curry?’, I am sure almost 90% will say it’s a pre-packed spice blend in a jar found in supermarkets that are used for making Indian dishes.

Although not entirely false, this globalised ethnic spice blend has a history that strange as it may sound to you originates from England and not India.

Curry Powder the birth of a global spice 2 Curry Powder the birth of a global spice
Curry Powder the birth of a global spice 3 Curry Powder the birth of a global spice
Curry Powder the birth of a global spice 4 Curry Powder the birth of a global spice

The origins of Curry Powder

The story goes back to the 18th century British rule in India. They loved the Indian flavours and the way food was prepared.

Curry Powder the birth of a global spice 5 Curry Powder the birth of a global spice

Since Indian cuisine can be a bit complex given the variety of spices used, the cooking method and other ingredients, it was not easy to replicate the dishes as an Indian cook could.

To simplify the method of combining different types of spices that went into making an Indian dish, their solution was to select the most popularly used spices in Indian cooking and make it into a pre-blended spice mix.

Curry Powder the birth of a global spice 6 Curry Powder the birth of a global spice

This spice blend made it easy to emulate the Indian flavours into a dish without the need to fuss about with different spices or buy different spices.

As for the name, it was easy to call it ‘curry’ as in the Indian language it refers to any dish with a gravy or sauce.

Since most Indian dishes have sauce, ‘curry’ or ‘Kari’ as called in Hindi found its way in the dictionary and in the global culinary world representing Indian food.

While ‘Curry powder’ became the magic dust with Indian flavours that made cooking Indian food easy. 

This was the birth of Curry Powder, now found on every supermarket or spice shelf as the popularity grew over the years.  

Curry Powder in Indian cuisine

Although the source and inspiration of Curry powder came from India, there is little sign of ‘curry’ in Indian cuisine.

In fact, if you go to any Indian restaurant in India or abroad you won’t find curry listed on their menu. You may although find that the description of the dish may call it a curry just to explain the dish to Non-Indians.

Curry Powder the birth of a global spice 7 Curry Powder the birth of a global spice

 It is to note that what you are served are authentic Indian dishes (depending on the restaurant) which have Indian names such as Butter chicken, daal, masallam, Rogan josh, Korma, bharta, dum alu etc.

Curry Powder the birth of a global spice 8 Curry Powder the birth of a global spice

I am sure reading the names above makes no sense to you apart from the first dish which is Butter chicken.

This is because it can be easily understood that it’s some sort of a chicken dish made with butter. But this Butter chicken could well belong to any cuisine as the name is very western. So the description of the dish may read ‘marinated pieces of chicken in a spicy tomato and butter-based sauce or curry’.

This holds true for most descriptions of Indian food. Be it vegetables like peas, eggplant, potatoes everything comes under the broad umbrella of curry because it is an Indian dish.

Curry Powder the birth of a global spice 9 Curry Powder the birth of a global spice

So there is logic in naming the spice blend  ‘curry powder’ to generalise Indian food.

What makes Curry Powder 

You may see different varieties, brands and packages of this pre-packaged mix, but no two mixes are the same.

This is because it is difficult to find a mix with exactly the same type and quantity of spices.

A curry powder mix can have as many as 20 different spices in it.

Curry Powder the birth of a global spice 10 Curry Powder the birth of a global spice

Some of the most common spices included in a curry powder blend are:

turmeric, cumin, coriander, cloves, chillies, mustard seeds, bay leaves, cinnamon, cardamom,

Over and above these some blends include other spices and herbs such as

 sesame seeds, saffron, nutmeg, fennel, dried curry leaves, tamarind and more.

A general curry powder blend could include a combination of any or as many of the above spices in different quantities and proportions.

There is no one formula that fits all!!

Given the complexity of spices that goes into making a curry spice blend it’s difficult to replicate similar flavours for every blend.

My suggestion to you will be to try a few different brands and zero on to a mix that you think pleases your palate the most.

Curry Powder the birth of a global spice 11 Curry Powder the birth of a global spice

The post was written to bring you the origins of curry powder and not to put you off or undermine its existence in the culinary world.

In my personal opinion, there is no harm in trying to simplify a cuisine and make one of the most popular International dishes, if I could bring it home in a jar.

After all curry powder has all the essential characteristics of spices used in Indian food, which makes making a dish with Indian flavours much easier.

It may not be the most authentic but it’s a good change of taste.

So go ahead and enjoy the taste of India on your tables.

This guest post was written by Sunrita Dutta who likes to call herself a lazy cook with an easy style of turning bland food into bold flavours with a pinch of spice! Sunrita is an Indian cooking coach and spice blogger at www.spiceitupp.com. A blog dedicated to inspiring home cooks to overcome the worry of monotonous cooking and effortlessly introduce new flavours to everyday meals by simplifying the use of spices and make cooking fun again.

Don’t forget to pin it for later

Curry Powder the birth of a global spice 12 Curry Powder the birth of a global spice

Click to share with your friends

Scroll to Top