14 Feb 2023

Chatni - India's Culinary Legacy & Its Importance

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The greatest meals or snacks can sometimes be incomplete without a chatni (chutney) to accompany them. The word ‘chaatni’ or chutney actually comes from the Hindi word ‘chaat’ which means to ‘lick’ making the literal meaning of the word to be ‘something that’s finger-licking good’! 

We have all seen our mothers and grandmothers make fresh & yummy chatni at home. However, how much do we know about how this tradition started? As chatni tingles your taste buds, we’ll tell you the tales of its origins to ring your brain too!

Red sauce made with black peperrs, red chillis basil, cilantro, garlic, etc.

When did we start making chatni?

Chatni purportedly originated in India more than 2000 years ago. We would traditionally use heavy stone grinders to grind fresh ingredients such as mint leaves, coriander leaves, onions, garlic, coconut, peppers and chillies together. Chutneys, traditionally, were made fresh and consumed with meals to add taste as well as aid digestion.

The traditional silbatta - grinding stones used to make chatni

However, as time passed, we started to use various spices and salts to turn these pastes into preserves. When Europeans came to India, they adopted these techniques to create the modern forms of these preserves and chutneys. However, the Europeans introduced heavy use of vinegar and sugars to make the Chatni or chutney to make it sweet. People, therefore, often use it as a digestive after meals to cleanse the palate and aid the gut.

What Food Historians Say About Chatni

Many food historians have spoken at length about how the use of chutneys solved many purposes for the common folk. The Bengali Culinary expert Pragnyasundari Devi says, “however grand a thali, it will still be incomplete without chatni and something crispy to accompany the food. It was created for the ultimate satisfaction of the palate.”

Green chutneys are made with different ingredients such as mint, celery, coriander, etc

Pritha Sen, a food historian, also adds, “The chatni came as a boon for many people during times of drought and food shortage. Chutney required fewer ingredients and had a longer shelf life. It also made the daily bread or chapati/roti palatable. It could help feed a large number of people in a smaller amount. Chatnis also added much-needed moisture to food that was largely dry or carbohydrate-based.”

There's a different green chatni recipe in different parts of India. Ingredients like raw mango, coriander, mint, green chillies, lentils and coconuts etc are major ingredients

There even goes folklore that chutneys became quite popular during the reign of Shah Jahan. He once fell ill, and so, his ‘vaid’ advised him to consume something that was tangy, easy to digest, and made from fresh ingredients. This is how the green mint/coriander chatni became popular and a household relish.

Different Types of Chutneys in India

Throughout the expanse of the Indian subcontinent, regional recipes of chatni differ from each other. They are made with different ingredients using a variety of techniques, influenced largely by the availability and tradition in that area. In Kashmir, you have the Chetein which is made with walnuts, while in Himachal Pradesh you have the Chamba Chukh made from chillies.

coconut chatni - popular southern indian recipe

Many different types of chutney are prepared in the Southern states of India. People use various locally sourced ingredients such as Coconut, lentils, curry leaves, and fresh mint leaves. The use of seasonal fruits is also prevalent in many chatni recipes of Orissa, Gujarat, and North India use ripe and unripe mangoes. It is also a way to preserve these fruits.

Some chatni recipes are so good that people from all regions enjoy them across the country. These include the green mint/coriander chatni, the sweet imli (tamarind) chatni usually accompanied by fried foods, etc. The dry garlic chatni of Maharashtra, popularly eaten with the Vada Pavs, is a great example. 

Read this blog traditional festive Pongal meals of Southern India. And also, if you want to order ingredients to make chatni at home, use Milkbasket – India’s trusted online grocery shopping app.

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