Everything You Suppose You Knew About Curry Is Likely Wrong

If you’re a curry fan, you may have noticed the word “curry” refers to a great many ranges of foodstuffs. It can get very confusing.

There are curry foliages. Then there’s 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, it’s time you know what’s what when it comes to all things curry. We’re going to start with the basics: the leaves.

What are curry foliages?

bdspn via Getty Images A bunch of fresh curry leaves from the curry leaf tree.

Curry leaves are an herb cultivated from the curry foliage 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 induce you think of curry, but it is in fact not edible .)

Curry leaves belong to the citrus fruit family. The foliages are glossy green and have a very powerful fragrance. There’s a citrus quality to them, naturally, but also something else that’s both bitter and sweet. There are many ways to cook with curry leaves, but they are often used in a similar fashion to bay foliages — though they’re 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 “youre starting” cooking with curry foliages, you’ll never look back. And they are not a substitute for curry powder. Which leaves us with another question…

What is curry powder?

vikif via Getty Images A bright yellow heap of curry powder.

Curry powder can be a lot of different things. Actually, that’s 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 build 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 isn’t a spice mixture 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 word curry for Indian cook is also British in origin — they lumped all the savory, spiced Indian dishes into one category called curries. You can’t go to India and order a curry — it merely doesn’t exist. The British term curry was likely derived from the word Kari, which is the word for sauce in Tamil, a South Indian speech.

So, what are “curries?”

Curries are what happened when the Brits devised the word 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 an expression of the results 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 dish of meat, vegetables and gravy served with rice. In Thailand, curry has incorporated many of the nation’s regional ingredients — such as fiery chiles and coconut milk — and it is more soup-like. In Jamaica, they’re most well known for their goat curry that uses allspice and pimento. And in India, curries don’t exist.( But if you were to order a Malai Kofta, Matar Paneer, or Dum Aloo, you’d get what you probably think of as a curry .)

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