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 .)