Despite the common belief, curry is not the name of a single spice.
It is a name for a dish with a sauce or gravy, which is a mixture of various Indian-style spices and ingredients.
While it originated in India and is still considered the main symbol of Indian cuisine, curry dishes are popular today in various gastronomies worldwide.
In fact, curry is so prevalent in Great Britain that the curry-based Chicken Tikka Masala was proclaimed a “true British national dish” by the country’s foreign secretary back in 2001.
But if you are not familiar with Indian cuisine, you may be wondering what curry tastes like and why it is so popular.
Read our detailed guide about the aromatic spice blend.
We have included information about the different types of curry, how to use it, the most popular curry dishes, what it is made of, and more.
The Basics about Curry
Curry is the English word for “Kari,” which means relish or sauce for rice in the Tamil language. The definition of curry in English is an Indian dish, sauce, or other food seasoned with an aromatic mixture of selected spices.
Curry dishes are made with a specific blend of spices and have a vibrant taste, aroma, and texture. They are commonly made and served with rice, vegetables, meat, tofu, and just about any other ingredient.
What Does Curry Taste Like?
The flavor of curry is a unique blend of sweet and savory. It is also earthy and floral and can be mild to very hot depending on how much chili, pepper, and ginger are added to the mix. The reason for this one-of-a-kind taste is the combination of various spices in different flavor ranges.
The Indian-style curry powder is traditionally made of a combination of dried cumin, cardamom, turmeric, clove, coriander, chili peppers or flakes, black pepper, mustard, fenugreek, bay leaf, and others.
Southeast Asian curry paste is made of fresh herbs and spices, such as ginger, chilies, lemongrass, galangal, mixed with coconut milk and other ingredients.
In Japan, curry is available in curry roux cubes, which are usually sweeter, milder, and used to make a thick umami sauce.
Curry comes in different forms and ingredient combinations in Asian, African, European, and American countries. In fact, there are probably hundreds of different curries in India and other countries around the world.
Today, you can purchase ready-made curry in just about any store. The most common types of curry you can buy include curry paste, curry powder, and curry roux cubes.
Of course, you can make your own curry mix made out of dried or fresh spices and herbs too.
Here are the most common types of curry available in the American and other western markets.
Curry paste is commonly used in southeastern Asian cuisine. It is made of fresh herbs and spices such as galangal, lemongrass, chilies, and others.
The ingredients are ground and mashed together, and then coconut milk, oil, or another liquid is used for making it into a rich paste or a thinner base for various meals.
The curry powder is a blend of various dry spices, which can be added as a seasoning for Indian and many other types of dishes. It is more of all-purpose seasoning, and its contents can vary depending on the brand and your location.
While curry powder is the most common form of curry in Britain and the USA, it is not something you will find in India or other countries in the region.
This western type of curry usually contains a blend of turmeric, cardamom, mustard, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, basil, and other spices and herbs.
Curry Roux Cubes
These cubes are trendy in Japan, where they are used for making Katsu Kare, Kare Raisu, and other everyday local dishes.
The curry roux cubes are like bouillon cubes. The dehydrated and concentrated spices are sold in blocks of different sizes. When added to a dish or combined with water or another liquid, these cubes turn into a rich sauce.
The Japanese curry roux cubes are sweeter and milder than traditional curry and provide a unique umami flavor.
If you want to achieve that authentic richness, flavor, and aroma of Indian curry, the best way to do it is to prepare your own curry made of fresh herbs and spices.
You can add spices and herbs according to the availability or your personal taste. But the main ingredients to use for making homemade curry should be turmeric, coriander, cumin, cardamom, cloves, cinnamon, mustard seeds, and garam masala.
You can also make your own curry using curry leaves combined with oil and other components.
For more heat, make sure to add black pepper and chili peppers, as well as ginger.
What Makes Curry Taste As it Does?
As we mentioned already, there are hundreds of different types of curries in India and worldwide. This means that every mix has its own distinctive flavor.
The taste of the specific curry depends on the types of spices used, the ratio and amount of them added, and whether the ingredients are dried or fresh.
The Spices Used
Each spice has its own distinctive and unique flavor. Some spices are stronger than others. Some are sweeter, and others are savory. There are spicy ones, earthier, and other different ingredients.
So, the taste of the curry depends mainly on the types of spices and other ingredients added to the blend.
The Amount and Ratio of the Ingredients
The curry’s flavor, heat, and richness are affected by the amount of the different ingredients used for making it and the ratios of the various spices and herbs in the mix.
The use of fresh or dried ingredients
Curry, made of fresh herbs and spices, will have a more robust and richer flavor than a mix made of their dried versions.
Then again, dry ingredients are easier to find and use, and some of them will have more developed flavors after they have been dried or toasted.
How to Prepare a Curry Dish
While there are thousands of different curry dishes, and they can vary immensely, there are still a few basic rules for preparing curry. Here are the elements which a curry dish should include:
- Make a base – this is the first step of making a curry dish and usually consists of onions, garlic, or ginger.
- Add a mixture of spices – you can use a ready-made curry powder, paste, or roux cubes, or you can create your unique curry blend of dried or fresh spices, seeds, and herbs. Add them to the hot pan and mix and cook them together.
- Add some fat – you will need a type of fat to sauté and cook the dish and enhance the flavor of the spices.
- Choose the main ingredient – you can choose from a wide array of components. The most common proteins for curries are meat, poultry, lentils, paneer, vegetables, and others.
- Add a liquid and a thickening agent – use coconut milk, water, stock, tomato puree, yogurt, chili paste, or another ingredient that will provide the “body” for your curry dish. Cook the ingredients all together at low heat. Allow it to simmer until the curry reaches the desired thickness.
- Add some acidity – when you add some lemon, vinegar, yogurt, or another acid to the dish, you will help add some freshness and lightness.
- Adjust the heat – curry can vary from mild to very hot, so make sure to adjust the heat of your curry dish via some or more black pepper, chili, or ginger.
What Are The Most Popular Curry Dishes?
Curry has become popular all over the world. In some countries such as the UK and Japan, certain curry dishes have become staple foods.
It was the British colonialists who brought the curry to Europe and the western world.
In Great Britain, curry, and especially chicken tikka masala, has become such a popular dish that it was proclaimed as a true national dish by foreign secretary Cook back in 2001.
The most typical ingredient for UK curry dishes is turmeric.
Southern and Southeastern Asia
In these regions, the curry dishes are made with cumin, chilies, garlic, and coriander with added coconut milk. Together they create the fragrant and unique curry paste.
Middle Eastern Asia
The curry dishes popular in the middle eastern countries are most commonly dry curries. This means that the water or other liquid used for the cooking evaporates, and the meat and other main ingredients remain crusted and are infused with the different spices.
In Japan, curry dishes are among the most popular everyday meals. The main three forms of Japanese curry include kare raisu (curry rice), kare udon (curry noodles), and curry bread.
The main ingredients are meat, potatoes, carrots, onions, and the thick sweet, and mild Japanese curry sauce usually made of curry roux cubes.
In the South African area, the curry dishes utilize traditional ingredients and flavors. They do include oil as it helps enhance the aromas and taste of the spices and herbs.
In the West Indies, there are Jamaican-style and Bahamian-style curries made with chicken and added ghost pepper.
How to Use the Curry at Home?
You can use curry powder, paste, roux cubes, or make your own curry mix and use it for preparing a wide variety of dishes. You can use it as an all-purpose spice or as a base for a curry dish.
It works well when combined with garlic, onions or ginger, and can be used for making different meals, stews, soups, sauces, marinades, and more.
How to prevent spices for the curry from burning?
Remember to add some water or another liquid to the pan before adding the curry blend or the herbs, spices, and seeds of your choice. Then when you start cooking the dish, add a liquid to the meal to prevent the spices and other ingredients from burning.
Can you make the curry thicker?
Yes. You can use a thickener such as cream, coconut milk, tomato paste, nut paste, mashed potatoes, or add cornflour or another thickening agent.