Sitting in the hot Indian sun for a week it sits slowly collecting the juices of sweet mangoes, aromatic onions, bright turmeric, and brown sugar while vinegar slowly churns these ingredients into a thick relish. This is a simplified version of how chutney is traditionally made. In fact many Indian cookbooks do not even mention using a stove. A more industrialized version of making chutney though replaces the sun with a stove and a week of solar cooking with two hours of simmering. The time consuming condiment was originally reserved for special ceremonies such as weddings and limited to the upper class. Time has changed a lot of things though for chutney, including it’s name. Chutney is an anglicized version of the Hindu word chanti. Like any good condiment you can never get enough and chutney is the USA's version of ketchup, you can find it anywhere and put it on anything.
Most condiments only come in one variety or very few. Now chutney, however, chutney comes in many delicious forms (all worth giving a try) and are representative of the region they hail from. Indian cookbooks regularly organize their chutney list by region. Murabbas come from West Bengal and are characterized by fruit in thick syrup giving us the famous mango chutney as well as plum, apple and apricot chutneys. Garlic and peanut chutneys come from Uttar Pradesh and dry fish, shrimp and onion chutneys hail from Kerala. Beyond this list there are many, many more chutneys from all parts of India that will make your mouth water just by hearing their name.
Chutney, for those of you who haven’t had the pleasure of trying it, is much like a jam. It can be chunky or smooth and overlaps the ideas of pickling and preserving fruit. Chutney being a great way to preserve excess fruit made it easy to transport resulting in its international presence today. Back in the 17th century when England was busy colonizing the world, englishmen were enjoying the exotic teas and cuisine of India. Somewhere between installing their own government and trying not to get their breeches in a bunch they discovered the tasty topping that is chutney. The English began to preserve their own surplus of fruit as chutney so they had something to munch on during their long boat ride back to the island. The British even added their own spin on it, incorporating lime juice for its preservative properties and adding another layer of flavor to the mix.
When the British brought chutney back to their island it became incredibly popular. Major Grey, which is probably just a fictional marketing character, is credited with bringing chutney to Great Britain. Mango chutney was one of the first and most popular chutneys to be brought back to the UK and became known as Major Grey’s chutney. This popularity even replaced the term chutney with “mangoed fruit” for some time. When it first hit British soil the delectable condiment was reserved for the more “worldly” aristocracy but slowly spread to the other classes. The colonists didn’t just bring chutney back home to Europe but also to other colonies in the Caribbean and the Americas. Chutney, like a growing puddle began to inch its way into all four corners of the globe.
Chutney can now be found anywhere and with its variety of options and flavors can suit anyone’s palate. Whether you crave something sweet and sour, citrusy and fresh or so spicy that it is too hot to handle anyone can find a type of chutney they enjoy.
Come and enjoy this new exciting bite, chutney by chef Todd Webster at the South Beach Food Tour
By Editor Corinne Nobili