What Is Chutney?

A Guide to Using, Making, and Storing Chutney

Plum chutney
Rob Lawson/Photolibrary/Getty Images

Chutney is a condiment of chopped fruits, vinegar, spices, and sugar cooked into a chunky spread. Although it is best known as originating in India, chutney is famous worldwide, often transformed to suit local tastes. While most chutneys are on the spicy side, it's easy to adjust the heat factor if you make it at home. Chutney is excellent with many types of meat, delicious as a spread or fruit dip, and adds a fantastic spice when used as an ingredient in recipes.

Chutney vs. Relish

Chutney and relish are two popular condiments, and the names are often interchanged. The confusion is understandable because chutneys can be savory, and relishes can be sweet. In general, chutneys have a chunky spreadable consistency much like a preserve and are usually made with fruit. On the other hand, relishes are hardly cooked, use little or no sugar, are more crunchy to the bite, and use vegetables.

What Is Chutney?

The term chutney comes from the East Indian chatni, meaning "strongly spiced." Chutneys have a fruit base, but many non-sweet vegetables can also be used. Once you get the basic concept down, you can experiment with any number of fruits or vegetables.

There are hundreds, if not thousands, of possible combinations to make this tasty condiment. The most common flavors in chutney are ginger, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, allspice, cardamom, raisin, mango, tamarind, citrus fruit, apricot, peach, coriander, mint, onion, and garlic. But those aren't the only options; there are plenty of innovative takes on chutney that use pineapple, coconut, rose hips, pumpkin, quince, plums, or carrots.

How to Make Chutney

Making your own chutney is an easy process, and it begins with selecting the fruit. Use firm-fleshed, under-ripe fruits such as green mangos, bananas, peaches, apples, nectarines, and apricots. Rhubarb and firm or under-ripe tomatoes are also good candidates. Dried fruits work particularly well in chutneys since they retain their texture yet contribute a tart flavor offset by the sugar and spices. Avoid soft fruits with delicate flavors such as raspberries and strawberries because they will cook down into more of a smooth jam and lose their flavor.

As a rule of thumb, use 6 1/2 pounds of fruit per 32 liquid ounces of vinegar and 2 pounds of sugar. Adjust the vinegar and sugar depending on the tartness and acidity of the fruit. For instance, chutney made with sweet mangoes requires less sugar, while tart apple or quince chutneys need less vinegar.

For a successful chutney, follow these recommendations:

  • Chop your fruit or veggies carefully. If they're too small, they'll become mush, and the chutney won't be unspreadable or smooth if they're cut too big,
  • Use a saucepot or Dutch oven for slow cooking processes or big batches of chutney.
  • Non-reactive pots are essential because the acid in the mixtures will react to iron, copper, and brass, causing discoloration and a metallic taste. Wooden spoons or plastic utensils are recommended for the same reasons.
  • Beware of double-dipping with a saliva-contaminated spoon. That'd be it for your chutney!

Chutney Recipes

Before creating your own, try a few tested chutney recipes to get an idea of the process, flavor balance, and ideal consistency.

How to Use Chutney

The sweet, tart, and spicy flavor of chutney complements strong-flavored meats such as wild game but also works well with beef, pork, and chicken. Chutney perks up cheeses, and sweeter versions make a fabulous spread on crackers, toast, or bagels.

  • Combine chutney with either olive oil or butter to glaze roasts. Keep in mind that the sugar in the chutney will caramelize, so add the final glaze when the meat is nearly done to avoid charring and flare-ups.
  • Make an overnight marinade for beef or poultry by mixing chutney with water and olive oil.
  • Mix chutney with cream cheese, sour cream, or crème fraîche for a cracker spread or fruit dip.
  • Create a chutney mayonnaise with store-bought or homemade mayonnaise to accent cold meats, poultry, or as a potato salad binder.

How to Store

Homemade chutney has a long shelf-life. Sterilized glass jars are best, and several storage options are available. Most chutneys will last three to four weeks in the refrigerator, even after opening the jar. For the best flavor, freeze chutney for no longer than six months using freezer-safe containers. Can the chutney for more extended storage at room temperature.