What is Curry? The Definition, Nutrition, and History

Curry powder at an open-air market
Thomas Steiner / Wikimedia Commons / Creative Commons

What is Curry?

The word 'curry' has several different meanings. It can refer to a spice or spice mixture called 'curry powder', or it may refer to the dish 'curry' cooked across many cultures and parts of the world. Curry (the dish) usually includes the spice mixture 'curry', or those spices used to make up the mixture.

Curry, one of the Most Flavorful Dishes in the World: The dish known as 'curry' is now so varied and widespread across the globe that its definition must remain very open to include numerous cuisines and cooking styles.

Curry simply means any dish which has a richly spiced sauce cooked with meat and/or vegetables. It is usually eaten with rice but may also be accompanied by bread, usually flat-breads, like roti or naan. Today curry is made in so many countries around the world that it is impossible to name them all, but here are just a few: India, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, and England.

Curry Spice, also Known as 'Curry Powder': Curry is a common spice with a golden-yellow coloring sold in most supermarket spice aisles. It is used to make a variety of curry-flavored dishes. Although it looks and sounds like just one spice, curry is actually a mixture of various eastern/Asian spices, including coriander, cumin, turmeric, ginger, cloves, and others (see: Curry Powder Ingredients: How to Make Your Own Curry Powder ). To complicate matters further, there is also a curry plant that produces curry leaves which smell and taste like curry (see: Curry Leaf Information).

This leaf is used in India in a various of curries and other dishes; however, please note that you do not need to use this spice to create good curry. In fact, most curries do not call for curry leaf, and when asked, the majority of good curry cooks in the world would not use - or possibly not even know of - this spice.

Curry Nutrition: the Goodness of Curry: Because of the many different fresh and dried spices it contains, curry can be extremely good for you. Turmeric, cumin, and coriander - the three main ingredients of most curries - are known to be anti-inflammatory and naturally cleansing agents that strengthen and detoxify our bodies. Depending on how the curry is made, there are two negatives of curry: it contains fat (how much depends on the cook), and it can contain large amounts of sodium. If you follow a good recipe at home, however, you can ensure these two components remain in balance with your dietary concerns and goals. For a list of healthy curry recipes, see Best Thai Curry Recipes, or Top 5 Indian Curry Recipes.

A Brief History of Curry: The word 'curry' comes from the word 'Kari' in the Tamil language in India, so we believe curry originated there. Interestingly, there is also evidence that English cooks were making curry as early as the late 1300's during the time of Richard II. Certainly, Christopher Columbus inadvertently helped the spread and development of curry through trade with the East. He not only brought curry to other countries, but he also transported chilies from the West to India which were then incorporated into the dish.

Before Columbus came to India, curry was not the intensely spicy dish we recognize as curry. The same is true of Thai curries, which were originally spiced with black and white peppercorns instead of chilies. Nowadays, chilies are grown around the world and have become an essential part of the dish known as 'curry'. For a list of curry recipes, see Best Thai Curry Recipes, or Top 5 Indian Curry Recipes.