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You’ve likely read the word, ‘’curry’’ a lot — on menus in Indian restaurants, within recipes, at the grocery store.
However, there’s curry – the famous spice – curry leaves, and then there are the stewed dishes called curry. It can all get quite confusing. But have you ever wondered what does curry taste like and exactly what the term curry means? (And, no. Contrary to popular belief, the word curry doesn't really come from India.)
What is curry?
The word curry doesn’t refer to any one dish in particular. But rather, it is a broad term used for stewed meat, tofu, or vegetables prepared using a complex combination of spices and herbs to produce an insanely delicious Asian delicacy. Curry powder and curry leaves, on the other hand, are spices and herbs used to cook curry.
Flavorful, aromatic, rich, and creamy, you can eat curry with literally anything — with a flatbread, aka roti, or served on a bed of rice and noodles — the world is your oyster when it comes to pairing your favorite curry.
Depending on your tastebuds, you can go for a mild curry or an incredibly spicy curry, which — if I may say so — is my absolute favorite. Because let’s face it; What good is Indian food if there’s no kick to it?
What does curry taste like?
While this might sound shocking to many, curry actually has a very distinctive and floral flavor since it’s a mixture of savory and sweet spices.
Spices like cardamom, cinnamon, clove, and fenugreek add to the sweetness of curry. Moreover, spices like cumin, bay leaf, and turmeric are responsible for the bright color and earthiness of curry. Besides, spices like pepper, red chilies, and ginger bring some heat. Since there's no particular formula to making curry, the list of spices keeps changing depending on ingredient availability, place, and personal taste preferences.
If you are curious about all the ingredients available in curry, look out for curry paste, powder, or curry roux cubes — a potpourri of spice mixture that goes into making any curry — in the spice section of your grocery store.
Where does curry come from?
Besides knowing that curries can be insanely delicious, most Americans know very little about where it comes from or the enormous variety of curries worldwide.
While curry is, supposedly, Indian, the truth is there is no such word in authentic South Indian cuisine and it is basically a term historically introduced by the British. Many historians state that the term curry is actually the anglicized version of the Tamil word kari, representing a meat or vegetable dish cooked in a myriad of spices with a gravy sauce in the South of India.
And the word was likely introduced in the British Taj of India. The British Raj took a liking to spicy foods when they were deployed in India. When they came back home, they brought Indian dishes and recipes as well and adapted them to suit their taste.
Or maybe it was derived from the French word cuire, meaning "to cook”. In the 1300’s, King Richard II introduced the first English cookbook — The Forme of Cury — which was the brainchild of around 180 cooks and various philosophers. The book consisted of nearly 200 recipes, and none of them had anything in common with the Indian curry. In fact, the old English word Cury was essentially used to describe cuisine based on the old French word cuire: Meaning cooking, boiling, grilling. However, the word curry gradually became associated with stew and became a rather popular part of English vocabulary.
What are the nutritional benefits of curry?
From being a prominent part of South Asian cuisine, curry’s popularity traveled to the western world too. Whether it's eating at the Indian and Thai Curry houses, or ordering some takeaway, we all love curry. But, how exactly are curries good for our health? And if we're trying to stay healthy and lose weight, can curry be a part of our diet?
Helps reduce inflammation
For starters, the primary spices used in curry — turmeric, clove, ginger— are incredible for alleviating inflammation in your body. In fact, turmeric, particularly, has been used to treat rheumatoid arthritis for centuries.
What's more, the antioxidants in turmeric help reduce the levels of inflammatory enzymes, working as well as ibuprofen to reduce swelling and pain. Whether you suffer from painful arthritic inflammation, stomach problems, or other inflammatory diseases, the spices in curry can do wonders for helping with your symptoms.
Turmeric comes to the rescue once again. Research states that the feisty little curcumin — active compound in curry powerful cancer-fighting properties.
A study conducted on 126 people battling with colorectal cancer showed that supplementing with 1,080 mg of curcumin per day for 30 days promoted cancer cell deat and vastly decreased inflammation. Besides turmeric, other spices in curry — including, chili peppers, coriander, and cumin — may also offer potent anticancer effects.
Improves bone health
You’ll be surprised to learn that the turmeric content in curry has been studied extensively in terms of osteoporosis and bone health.
Research indicates that turmeric is wonderful for increasing the speed of bone regrowth, connectivity, and repair, while also reducing signs of bone loss by up to 50%. Meaning that eating curry can provide a powerful boost to your bone health, especially as you age.
A good digestion system means there are plenty of good bacteria floating around in your bowls and protecting you from stomach issues. And eating Curry is amazing for boosting your digestive health.
But turmeric isn't thee your tummy, including black pepper great for relieving gas and promoting stomach acid, bay leaves and cumin for helping digestion, cinnamon for soothing diarrhea and vomiting, coriander to soothe upset stomachs, and ginger for reducing nausea and preventing vomiting in pregnant women with upset stomachs, and ginger for reducing nausea and preventing vomiting in pregnant women.
Improves heart health
It's no secret that maintaining your blood pressure is key for a healthy heart. Spices like cardamom and holy basil are potent vasodilators. Meaning they can boost blood flow and improve blood vessel function that, in turn, prevents a tier of heart disease.
Studies show that individuals who consumed curry dishes 2–3 times per month to once a week had significantly lower cholesterol levels as opposed to those who consumed it less than once a month.
Since high blood pressure and high cholesterol levels are the primary risk factors for heart diseases — including, atherosclerosis, heart attacks and strokes — eating curry powder can do wonders for your heart health.
IMPORTANT NOTE: While curry is a delicious and nutritious part of our diet, it still comes with a few side effects. For starters, curry powder is a prominent anti-coagulant. Make sure you consult your doctor to eliminate any dangers of excessive bleeding if you take blood thinners.
Also, curry powder can be irritating to the gallbladder which can be super painful for those with gallstones.
Apart from these issues, add some spice to your life with a delicious curry and enjoy all the added health benefits.
How is curry used in cooking?
So, how exactly is curry used in cooking? Well, that depends on what you're intending to cook. From simple sautes, soups, stews to marinades and sauces, you can use curry powder/paste — the core ingredient of a curry — for virtually anything.
Check out this great list of 23 curry recipes.
However, a classic Indian curry have a few important elements:
Onions —Almost all curry requires frying onions till they caramelize.
Spices/Herbs — Chili/pepper for adding heat, cinnamon/cardamom/parsley for depth of flavor, turmeric/saffron for adding color.
The protein — Chicken, meat, fish/seafood (or vegetables for a vegetarian curry). Ginger and garlic are added to all.
Vegetables — This depends on your personal preferences, popular ones are potatoes, green beans, other beans or lentils.
Gravy — Water, stock, tomatoes, cream, coconut milk.
Lemon/yogurt — For adding a brightness and acidity to the curry
- Be extra generous with your spices to add flavor and texture
- Soften the onions without coloring for a lighter curry or cook it longer and caramelize for a richer, darker curry.
- As opposed to using synthetic food thickening agents, use tomatoes, almond/cashew paste, and coconut milk.
- Add a pinch of sugar for regulating the acidity and balancing your curry.
- Be patient. Cook in medium/low heat to let all the flavors marry very well.
While these are the basic components of a curry, feel free to improvise and experiment with new flavors. Check out these great curry recipes for your next dinner party.
The ultimate one pot meal
Apart from being super rich, creamy, and flavorful, curry comes with a host of wonderful nutritional benefits. What's more, there is no one-size-fit-all approach to curry. Once you master the basics of making curry, you can vary it in various ways to create a customizable dish that suits your taste buds.
And trust me, it’s so easy to pull off — requires only one pot with a ridiculously simple prep — that it’ll definitely be your go-to weeknight meal.
Frequently Asked Questions About Curry
It depends on what spices are used in the curry. For the most part, curry will have an earthy flavor and smell.
You will find most curry powders are not spicy, in fact they are mild in flavor and heat. The level of heat will depend on what spices are used in the curry.
Some of the more popular curries are: Tikka Masala, Jalfrezi, Korma, Aloo Gobi, Madras, and more.