Indian Chutneys - everything you need to know

What are Indian Chutneys? Where did they come from? And what's the difference between Indian chutneys and Indian pickles huh? Oh young curious spicy one, fret not, these long-asked questions have simple answers and we shall enlighten you here today.

Cheeky Food Co is an artisan producer of Indian condiments so we should be quite well qualified to give you the lo-down on traditional Indian food!
To read more about traditional Indian food, read my blog post here.

Now the interesting thing about chutney is how it has evolved over time. It might surprise you to know that most famous chutneys we know today are not really Indian at all, but Anglo-Indian creations... 

The First Indian Chutney

You see it all started a long time ago in India, about 500BC in fact, when the first chutneys were believed to have produced. These were very simple and slightly spiced preserves, while their preparation was more similar to making pickles. These Indian chutneys most probably would have involved simply a single ingredient (e.g. coconut, tamarind, mint and cucumber) a few spices and some jaggery (unrefined Indian sugar). However we know they must have been absolutely delicious even then as the word chutney comes from the Hindi word chatni, meaning 'to lick,' and instantly I imagine the traders of Ancient Indian ports licking clean their spoons covered in sweet tamarind chutney. The first recipes for chutney are not so well documented, but we know these grew and adapted over time, giving birth to some of the popular chutneys we see in Indian restaurants today such as green tomato chutney, onion chutney, peanut chutney, and cucumber and yoghurt chutney. 

The British Effect...

However when you think to chutneys, I am sure straight away visions of apple, mangoes and other fruits come into mind, and also the sweet grannies selling their jars at independent markets. Well it may surprise you, but preserves like mango chutney and apple chutney are actually much more like jams than traditional Indian preparations. They are Anglo-Indian creations, developed during the British empires colonial rule, most probably by army officers and their wives abroad. In fact you can see one of the first printed recipes in the Victorian housekeeping bible written by Mrs. Beeton in the mid-19th century. Her chutneys, like others of the time and still now today, cook portions of seasonal fruit in vinegar with equal weight of sugar. Vinegar is not used traditionally in Indian cooking so this style of chutney is not always actually particularly to our liking! The vinegar can cause a sharp taste in the preserve and make the flavour slightly one-dimensional (we believe...). That's why at Cheeky Food Co we have worked hard to develop a no-vinegar version of one of the world's most beloved preserves; mango chutney. It also uses natural sugar, jaggery, and this all combines to make a much more developed flavour, see it here

Common Indian Chutneys

The most common traditional Indian chutneys today are tamarind chutney, coriander and mint chutney, coconut chutney, and tomato chutney. The tamarind chutney is the only one of these that acts as a preserve and will last a long time... Good thing too (as it is so gosh darn delicious)! We make ours with natural Indian jaggery and our secret spice mix, make sure to check it out. The Coriander and mint, coconut, and tomato chutney instead are often made fresh by combining with a few spices, and will only store a week or so. They are often served with dosas and pakoras, and add fragrance and liveliness to every bite. They are truly delicious and we've put chutney recipes for a tomato chutney below along with a handful of other popular chutney recipes. However we don't disclose any chutney recipes for our own products as they are top secret naturally... 

Chutney and Pickle

Alright so we cleared up the difference between the ways the West and the Indians do it, but where does it a pickle stand in all of this eh? Well Indian Pickles are a whole other kettle of fish. These are markedly savoury preserves, often quite spicy (or at least since the 15th century when the chilli plant was brought to India!), and are served with chapatis, rice and Indian vegetable and dal preparations. We make them by preparing the fruit/vegetable and by cutting or cooking it (or both). Then we infuse hot oil with the family's signature spice mix, and pour it over your prepared ingredient.
Simple in theory, but try chopping 1000s of mangoes every mango season and then tell us how it is in practice! Pickles are at the heart of every Indian home, and deciding who has the best pickles can be quite a political discussion. In fact we wrote all about pickle politics here. While many families claim to have the best products, we at Cheeky have to say that... well... after growing up making them every year with  Grannie, and now making them in small batches all year round for hungry spice-loving customers, that we may just have the edge in the competition! Check out our array of pickles here and get stuck in.
You can also read about some really unusual Indian pickles here.

Chutney Recipes



  • Posted by Dr. Kanit Su on

    very useful chutney history and chili and point of political pickles

Leave a comment