If youre a curry fan, you may have noticed the termcurry refers to a great many varieties of foodstuffs. It can get very confusing.
There are curry leaves. Then theres curry, the famous spice. And then curry is also the general name of a type of stewed dish.
So before you enjoy another bowl of Thai curry soup or use another teaspoon of curry powder, its time you know whats what when it comes to all things curry. Were going to start with the basics: the leaves.
What are curry leaves?
Curry leaves are an herb cultivated from the curry leaf tree (Murraya koenigii) and are largely used in South Indian cuisine. Do not confuse them with curry powder, which is a mixture of ground spices that may or may not contain ground curry leaves. And do not confuse the curry leaf tree with the curry plant. (The curry plant might make you think of curry, but it is in fact not edible.)
Curry leaves belong to the citrus fruit family. The leaves are glossy green and have a very powerful aroma. Theres a citrus quality to them, naturally, but also something else thats both bitter and sweet. There are many ways to cook with curry leaves, but they are often used in a similar fashion to bay leavesthough theyre often first fried in oil to release their flavor.
You can find curry leaves at Indian and Asian food markets. Fresh leaves can be stored in the freezer, too. Just know: once you start cooking with curry leaves, youll never look back. And they are not a substitute for curry powder. Which leaves us with another question…
What is curry powder?
Curry powder can be a lot of different things. Actually, thats exactly what it is: curry powder is a combination of a bunch of spices. A quick search for curry powder will result in pages of recipes for how to make your own. It can range from five ingredients to more than 10, and it can include spices such as: cumin, coriander, turmeric, ginger, dry mustard, fenugreek and black pepper.
The idea of curry powder is a British one. (It resembles the North Indian spice mix garam masala, but it isnt a spice mix most Indian cooks would recognize.) British manufacturers came up with curry powder in an attempt to create a ready-made flavor that could recreate the flavors of South India that British colonists came to love.
In fact, the term curry for Indian cooking is also British in origin they lumped all the savory, spiced Indian dishes into one category called curries. You cant go to India and order a curry it just doesnt exist. The British word curry was likely derived from the word Kari, which is the word for sauce in Tamil, a South Indian language.
So, what are curries?
Curries are what happened when the Brits invented the term and introduced it to the rest of the world. It was first used to refer to a meat or vegetable dish cooked in a spiced gravy and served with rice. As a result of trade this dish was introduced to the rest of the world and each country that adopted it made it their own.
In Japan, a curry is often a mild, sweet dishof meat, vegetables and gravy served with rice. In Thailand, curry has incorporated many of the nations regional ingredients such as fiery chiles and coconut milk and it is more soup-like. In Jamaica, theyre most famous for their goat currythat uses allspice and pimento. And in India, curries dont exist. (But if you were to order a Malai Kofta, Matar Paneer, or Dum Aloo, youd get what you probably think of as a curry.)