Indian Food: Spice for life – Chutneys & Pickles

Food Facts

Where: Throughout India
What’s it about: Spicing up or cooling down a main meal, or pickling to preserve fruit and veg in hot climate
What’s in it: Anything from mangoes, raisins to nuts, tomatoes and hot spices – the recipes a closely guarded family secret
Serving Suggestion: Sample the delicious flavour cleanly with a poppadom or dosa.

Indians crave an array of intense flavours on the same plate. Alongside their curries they like to have one or two zesty condiments to liven up the meal, cool down the heat of the main dish or sweeten the palate.

Chutney is the typical Indian relish. Whether it’s sweet, sour or tangy in taste, chutney is made from a mixture of fruits, herbs and spices. They are usually prepared from fresh ingredients, which means they need to be eaten straight away or stored in a refrigerator to preserve. Pickles, on the other hand, contain a combination of salt and a riot of spices which preserve seasonal fruits and vegetables in a piquant sauce.

Origins and History

Chatni is an East Indian umbrella term used to classify a whole range of condiments. Indians have sought ways to spice up and add variety to their cuisine for centuries, and countless varieties of chutney have developed over the course of time. Favourite recipes are guarded jealously and passed down through the generations from mother to daughter.

Pickles serve a similar function to chutneys but became more popular in areas where poor refrigeration meant that it was impossible to store condiments for more than a day. The salt and acid which gives pickles their characteristic sharpness preserves the seasonal fruits at room temperature for an indefinite period of time.

Serving Suggestion

Chutneys and pickles range in texture from the crisp and chunky to the distinctly runny. All are gelatinous to a certain extent but it depends very much on the ingredients used and the methods of preparation employed. Mangoes, raisins, coconuts, tomatoes, garlic, and onions are all popular ingredients, and making chutney is an ideal way to use up oddly shaped or small fruits.

Chutneys and pickles contain next to no fat. The have some nutritional value because of the vegetables and fruits they contain, and unless they are of the sweet variety are low in calories.

You can buy chutneys and pickles in Asian stores and supermarkets throughout the world, but they are often overly acidic and lack the rich blending of flavours that characterises good chutney. Fresh home-made condiments take some beating.

More Information

India Tastes
A good introduction to the unique and regional foods of India


The Food of India : Authentic Recipes from the Spicy Subcontinent – by Karen Anand (Editor), Jennifer Brennan (Editor), Wendy Hutton (Editor)
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