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What is Chutney?

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Salmon with Mango Chutney, Photo courtesy of the Virginia Chutney Company

This past Thanksgiving, my sister-in-law Laura contributed a knock-out cranberry chutney to the table which had us all ooh-ing and aah-ing. And that got me thinking. What exactly is chutney? After all, if you go to an Indian restaurant, India being essentially the area where the word chutney originated, you’ll see a wide range of condiments using that term: some yogurt based, some smooth and thin or quasi-dry and chunky, some sweet, spicy, or tart. What is chutney?

For answers, I turned to Clare Turner of The Virginia Chutney Company, who has been bottling batches of her spicy, sweet/savory fruit blends for ten years now and just opened a new cannery earlier this year in Washington, Virginia. Her accent is hard to trace until you learn that she grew up in East Africa before moving to the Caribbean (where she met her British husband Neville), then to America, eating and making chutneys along the way. Now she and her family run a thriving business. Her Spicy Plum Chutney won her an award for Best Condiment in this year’s Fancy Food Show (the Oscars of the specialty food world).

Per Clare, chutneys are a savory jam-like condiment, using fruit and sugar as a base but slow cooked with savory ingredients like vinegar, spices, onion, garlic, or mustard seed. Chutneys are best used to jazz up meats, or spread on cheese and crackers or bread. But most importantly, they reflect their region. A Caribbean pairing might be mango chutney on fish. An Indian pairing might be tamarind chutney on curry. A Virginia pairing might be her balsamic fig chutney on local ham, sweet peach on chicken, or spicy plum on pork.

That said, just pop open a jar for your own holiday table and watch people’s eyes light up as the sweet and savory goodness hits their palate. Happy Holidays!