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What Is Curry Powder?
Curry powder is a commercially available spice blend, the main ingredient of which (making up a quarter to half of the powders by weight) is usually turmeric, a South Asian rhizome with a bright yellow color and earthy flavor. British colonists developed curry powder as a mass-produced way to mimic the complex flavors found in South Indian sauces and stews.
This interpretation of Indian flavors spawned a number of unique takes on curry, including:
- Japanese curry. Curry powder was introduced to Japan via England in the nineteenth century. Japanese curry is sweet, and typically served as a roux-based sauce, similar to gravy.
- Jamaican curry. The Caribbean take on curry powder typically features allspice. Popular in Jamaican curried goat with rice.
- European ketchup. Curry-flavored ketchup is a popular condiment in Europe, where it’s eaten with sausages and french fries in Germany, Denmark, and the Netherlands.
The History of Curry Powder
Curry powder is thought to have gotten its name from “kari,” a Tamil word referring to a thin, soupy spiced sauce served with rice. Though there are other Tamil words for specific stews and seasonings, as early as the sixteenth century, European colonialists began to refer to all manner of South Indian dishes as kari and variations on that word such as “karil,” “carriel,” or “currey.”
The word “curry” is now used to describe many saucy and stew-like dishes, including Thai cuisine.
The British concept of curry powder is modeled after the practice in Indian cuisine of making spice blends, such as garam masala and kari podi. In India, these spice blends are specific to different dishes and typically made by toasting and grinding whole spices as needed. British recipes have called for pre-made “curry powder” since at least 1796, suggesting that commercial curry powder was sold at grocery stores in England as early as the late eighteenth century.
What Ingredients Are In Curry Powder?
The ingredients of curry powder vary but almost always include turmeric, which gives it a deep golden hue. In an 1885 book on Anglo-Indian cookery, Colonel Kenney-Herbert’s recipe for curry powder included “turmeric, coriander-seed, cumin-seed, fenugreek, mustard-seed, dried chillies, black pepper corns, poppy-seed, [and] dry-ginger.” As hot chillies from the Americas became more popular in India and Europe, they too were added to curry powder.
How to Make Curry Powder
To make homemade curry powder, mix together one tablespoon each ground turmeric, ground coriander seeds, and ground cumin seeds. This is the foundation of your curry powder. Next, add half a teaspoon each of any of the following: ground nutmeg, ground black peppercorns, ground mustard seeds, paprika, ground ginger, and cayenne pepper.
Feel free to mix up the types and quantities of spices in your blend, personalizing the flavors to fit your needs. Optional upgrade: grind whole spices using a spice grinder or coffee grinder, for more intense flavor.
Ideas for Using Curry Powder
Use your homemade curry powder to add color and flavor to:
- Chicken curry salad
- Vegan curried cauliflower and chickpea salad
- Lentil and coconut milk curry soup
- West African jollof rice
- Curried sauerkraut
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