What Is Curry?

Curry and the Spice Spectrum

Curry powder, a versatile fusion of spices and herbs, is the magic behind creating the beloved dishes known as curries. However, the term “curry” can be puzzling, as it represents both a culinary category and a spice blend type. Curries, characterized by rich flavors and thick gravies, transcend cultural boundaries and originate from India, Asia, and the Caribbean.

Origins of Curry Powder

Contrary to popular belief, curry powders were not born in Indian kitchens. Crafted to suit British tastes, these blends emerged in the 18th century to satisfy British soldiers stationed in India who had developed an affinity for the bold flavors of Indian cuisine. While curry powders can certainly carry heat from chile peppers, it’s not a necessity.

A Symphony of Flavors

The core of Indian-style curry spices draws from a palette of pungent and earthy flavors, many of which are indigenous to the Indian subcontinent. Turmeric, a vibrant yellow spice, serves as the foundation for most curry powders. Cinnamon, cardamom, and turmeric itself have deep roots in Indian culture, while other spices like chile peppers and garlic found their way into Indian cuisine through trade and conquest.

Indian Curry Spice Components

Crafting a harmonious blend of Indian curry spices requires a nuanced approach. These spices typically include:


– Kashmiri Chile Powder: Offers flavor without excessive heat, forming a peppery base.

– Fenugreek: Infuses a distinct maple-meets-butterscotch aroma and a nutty, semi-bitter taste.

– Cardamom: Minty, peppery, and citrusy, lightening earthy flavors.

– Mustard: Provides pungency and spicy undertones, contributing to heat.

– Cumin: Adds bold earthiness with lemony notes for contrast.

Additional Players in Indian Curries

Beyond the core components, other spices enhance the complexity of Indian curries:


– Black Pepper: Bold, spicy, and citrusy.

– Coriander: Sweet and citrusy with hints of pepper.

– Fennel: Offers licorice-like sweetness with lemony accents.

– Cinnamon: Imparts a woodsy, warming quality.

– Caraway: Begins sharp and bitter, evolving into a buttery flavor.

– Hot Chile Powders: Allow customization of heat and flavor.

– Ginger: Brings a peppery, sweet profile with a bold lemon finish.

– Garlic: Sharp, pungent, reminiscent of mustard.

– Star Anise: Delivers peppery, licorice-like notes with clove hints.

– Asafoetida: Introduces onion and garlic notes, enhancing umami.

Curry Powder's Global Voyage

The concept of curry extends beyond India. Asian cuisines also embrace this rich tradition with unique blends:


– Thai Curries: Lighter, sweeter, and citrus-infused, Thai curries are adapted for Western palates. Key spices include ginger, galangal, lemongrass, basil, and makrut lime.

– Staple Spices in Thai Curries: Ginger (peppery with a lemon edge), galangal (a blend of ginger and cardamom), lemongrass (tart with minty undertones), and basil (sweet and anise-like).

Curry Powder vs. Garam Masala

Garam Masala, a traditional Indian spice blend, stands in contrast to curry powders. Rooted in Ayurveda, Garam Masala boasts intense flavors without spiciness. Unlike curry powders, which were designed for British tastes, Garam Masala has a rich history in Indian culture. Its origins lie in northern India, where it served as a “warming” blend.

Cooking with Curry Powder

Indian-style curry powder shines when used in dishes that simmer or braise over low heat. It gradually infuses flavors into the dish. For optimal results, sauté curry powder with vegetables as a base and let the fragrance unfold. In Thai cooking, which features brighter ingredients, quicker cooking methods are employed, while simmering ensures flavor penetration.

A World of Flavors on Your Plate

Whether Indian-style or Thai-inspired, curry dishes promise an explosion of flavors. Their adaptability makes them suitable for various dietary preferences, from vegetarian to meat-focused. Ready-made curry powders offer an accessible route to savoring these globally beloved dishes.


In the intricate tapestry of cuisine, curry powder holds a special place as a unifying thread, bringing cultures and palates together through its diverse and captivating flavors.