Curry Powder

Definition, Flavor, Uses, and Availability

photo by Bethany Moncel

What Is Curry Powder?

Curry powder is a generic term for spice mixes used to flavor Indian or Southeast Asian cuisine. Although there is no standard recipe, the main components are usually cumin, coriander, and turmeric. Other common ingredients include red or black pepper, mustard, ginger, clove, cardamom, bay leaf, and fenugreek. Commercial blends are often available in mild or hot (also known as “madras”).

Curry's Flavor

Curry has a unique flavor due to the combination of both savory and sweet spices. Savory spices like cumin, turmeric, and bay leaf give the curry a deep, earthy flavor while sweet spices, like cinnamon and clove, add brightness and pep. The level of heat is determined by the type and amount of pepper used. Milder curry powders may include black pepper or ginger while hot curries usually contain red chilies or other hot peppers.

Cooking With Curry Powder

Curry powder is truly an all-purpose seasoning. It is commonly used to flavor soups, stews, sauces, marinades, meat, and vegetables. As the popularity of curry increases, creative chefs are finding more unconventional uses for the seasoning such as hamburgers, scrambled eggs, and potato salad. Because of its vibrant flavor, curry powder can even be used as a salt-free table seasoning.

Availability of Curry Powder

In authentic Indian cuisine, whole curry spices are combined and ground just prior to use in order to retain freshness and potency.

For convenience, pre-ground curry powder blends can be purchased although the flavor will not be as vibrant. Most grocery stores in the United States stock basic curry powders but they can be pricey and less than fresh. For a better value and increased freshness, look for ethnic markets. Not only will you find more varieties of curry powder but most also stock whole spices.

For a customized flavor, purchase whole spices and grind them at home using a clean coffee grinder.