The History and Journey of Curry

Curry features in the cuisine of almost every culture.  A curry is a spicy recipe but the types of spices and herbs are used are different in each culture. Curry powder itself is not a single spice but a blend of different spices. However, this golden coloured spice is most often associated with Indian cuisine.

Curry’s Early Beginnings
The origins of curry go a long way back to 1700 BC Mesopotamia. The earliest known recipe for meat in spicy sauce with bread appeared written in cuniform on tablets found near Babylon.

Curry connoisseurs seem to concur that the word originated from India and was adapted and adopted by the British Raj. These aficionados attribute its origins to the Tamil word ‘kari’ meaning spiced sauce and was later anglicized into “curry”.  Alan Davidson wrote this as a fact in his Oxford Companion to Food and referenced the accounts from a Dutch traveller in 1598 referring to a dish called ‘Carriel’. He also referred to a Portuguese cookery book from the 17th century called ‘Atre do Cozinha’ with chilli-based curry powder called ‘caril’.

The word curry has a different meaning in the Western world from India. In India, curry refers to a gravy or stew dish usually containing the Indian spice mix with ginger, chili, cumin, coriander, turmeric, and sometimes onion and garlic, but it can consist of many other ingredients. Different curry ingredients are regional and there are actually more mild curry recipes than hot ones.

Although we usually think of curry with hot and spicy peppers, the original Indian curry did not have any peppers in it since chili peppers or red peppers were not native to India. It wasn’t until Columbus brought chili seeds back from the new world and they were traded to India did they make their way into Indian cooking to become part of the spicy curries we know today.

Curry’s English Start
Interestingly enough, on closer inspection, there are hints that the word curry has English origins. While use of curry probably originated in India, it was used in England as early as the 1300’s and probably even earlier.

In the time of Richard I there was a revolution in English cooking. In the better-off kitchens, cooks were regularly using ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, galingale, cubebs, coriander, cumin, cardamom and aniseed, resulting in highly spiced cooking very similar to India.

Subsequently, in Richard II’s reign (1377-1399), the first real English cookery book was written. Richard employed 200 cooks who with the help of others produced a work with 196 recipes in 1390 called ‘The Forme of Cury’. ‘Cury’ was the Old English word for cooking derived from the French ‘cuire’ - to cook, boil, grill - hence cuisine.

Curry’s long history and its adaptation into different cuisines has created variations of a dish with a plethora of tastes and colours. When we think of curry, we often conjure up the picture of a dish which is golden yellow colour and full of pungent spice but remember, curry can be mild or spicy hot and come in a variety of colours. Any curry dish is an intricate balanced blend of spices which lends it the delicate and highly sophisticated taste that we all love.