What Is Chutney?

What is chutney, exactly? There’s jams, jellies, preserves, marmalades, and various other spreads and side dishes that are similar but slightly different from chutney. Chutney is its own unique thing that has been reinterpreted and reimagined in the various places it’s enjoyed. What is chutney? What is chutney made of? What is chutney used for? All of these questions and more will be answered as we chow down on some chutney.

What is chutney?

Chutney is a chunky spread or condiment, made with slow-cooked fruits and sometimes vegetables, vinegar, spices, and sugar. That’s pretty broad, but, “What’s chutney?” is a pretty broad question. It’s kind of like jam except chunkier and with less pectin. Chutneys were originally associated with Indian cuisine, but have spread in popularity across the United Kingdom, the UK, South Africa, and the rest of the world. Chutney as a category can encompass both sweet and savory spreads that can be served fresh or preserved. Generally speaking, many chutneys in India are fresh, acidic condiments that are served to undercut spicy main dishes. British and other chutneys are often chunky, sweet preserves. 

What is chutney made of?

I hope you’re not looking for a definitive list of chutney ingredients, because the options are nearly limitless. The word “chutney” comes from the East Indian word “chatni,” meaning “strongly spiced.” India is a huge place, so Indian chutney can run the gamut of ingredients like tamarind, coconut, mint, peanut, mango, onion, yogurt, peanuts, and more. What are Indian chutneys used for? They’re used as a condiment to provide a balance to the meal. Typical British and British-inspired chutneys are usually fruit based and add vinegar or sugar for that sharp, bright contrast. Those sweeter chutneys are often used for a spread, a dip, a marinade, or an accompaniment for meats and cheese

In the U.S., chutney has sort of become one of those menu buzzwords that places use when they want preserves or jams to sound fancier. You know those places where you go out to brunch and it’s pretty much the usual fare, but then you see there’s some kind of bread served with chutney and you’re like “Ooh! Chutney!” But that’s the great thing about chutney. It can be made in so many different ways so you can use it in many different situations. 

So, how do you eat chutney? 

Throw it in a spicy curry to balance it, or use it as a side. It makes a great marinade for lamb and poultry dishes. Put it on a cheese plate. South African apricot chutney or classic British apple chutney are great additions to a hard cheese. You can mix it with cream cheese and serve it as a spread at your next cream cheese party. Or just put some chutney out on a table and tell everyone to use it as a dip. It will make everything taste better! Just make sure to let everyone know they are not supposed to take a dip or skinny dip in the chutney. I learned that one the hard way.

About the Author

Will Morgan

Will Morgan, a freelance contributor to Sporked, is an L.A. based writer, actor, and sketch comedy guy. Originally from Houston, TX, he strongly believes in the superiority of breakfast tacos to breakfast burritos. Will traveled the world as one of those people that did yoyo shows at elementary school assemblies, always making a point to find local and regional foods to explore in whatever place he was, even in rinky-dink towns like Tilsonberg, ON. Will spends his birthdays at Benihana’s. Let him know if can make it.

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