There is hardly anything Jamaicans love as much as curry. Traditional fare such as curried chicken and curried goat (mutton) are lunch or dinner staples in many cook shops, restaurants and homes. And even when these meats are not in our lunch order, we still want some curry gravy on the rice, please. What is it about curry that keeps us wanting more? We did some diGging and this is what we’ve found.
The main spice in curry comes from turmeric, a rhizome closely related to ginger. Turmeric is also responsible for curry’s signature yellow colour.
Curcumin is the main active ingredient in turmeric. It has powerful anti-inflammatory effects and is a very strong antioxidant. Research has shown that it has the ability to relieve gas, improve digestion, treat arthritis, halt or prevent certain cancers, improve cardiovascular health, prevent cataracts, treat multiple sclerosis, reduce the long-term effects of diabetes, decreased incidence of Alzheimer’s disease and more.
Curry came to use here in Jamaica via our Indian ancestors. Turmeric is native to southeast India. The word ‘curry’ is the anglicised form of the Tamil word kari, meaning ‘sauce.’ It is not only used to describe the spicy powder which gives dishes the characteristic colour and flavour, but the foods prepared with the powder as well. Curry powders and pastes actually contain a number of different spices. Mixes can include cumin, coriander, fenugreek, cardamom, cinnamon, clove, mustard seed, curry leaves (the plant is also native to India) and more. The most common colour is a rich golden yellow, but some curries have a greenish hue and some are red.
What kinds of foods can be curried?
If you ask the average Jamaican this question, the most common answers will be chicken, mutton, conch and shrimp. But as the success of the Westmoreland and Bigga curry festivals will attest, just about anything can be curried! This includes vegetables, fish, octopus, mangoes, jackfruit, eggs, saltfish, beans and peas, rabbit, pork, already jerked pork, breadfruit, ackee, callaloo…