A World of flavors: A Historical Journey Through Jams, Jellies & Chutney

A World of flavors: A Historical Journey Through Jams, Jellies & Chutney

You must have tried jams, jellies, and chutneys as a part of your daily breakfast or evening snacks on toast, paranthas, cookies, or oatmeal. But have you given any thought to where all of these preserves originate? Who made them up? Where did they originally come from? The history of jams, jellies, and chutneys begins with the history of food preservation.

Reasons to preserve food:

  • The need to save food for extended periods of time in order to use it when it is scarce
  • Seasonality of agriculture and hence food was another reason why preservation was necessary
  • Variety in taste across the year was of high importance for human palettes.

The origins food preservation:

  • Drying, which removes moisture from food by subjecting it to pressure, sunlight, and smoke? There is evidence that food was actively dried in Middle Eastern and Asian cultures as early as 12000 BC.
  • The usage of salt emerged later in prehistory. Salt is transported over numerous salt roads—trade routes overland and by river—starting in the Bronze Age (3200 BCE to 600 BCE).
  • Evidence of the usage of honey, which has no moisture, as a preservation strategy dates back 8000 years in rock paintings. Similarly, sugar and honey syrups were employed as preservatives. Dates and figs in syrup were the first candies, followed by other fruits like quince combined with honey, dried and packaged into jars in ancient Greece. By combining the quince and honey in a cooking process, the Romans enhanced the process and created PRESERVES!

Beginning of Jam Production in the Food Preserving Era

The credit for the contribution goes to Marcus Gavius Apicius, who lived in Rome in the fourth century AD. De Re Coquinaria (The Art of Cooking), his earliest known cookbook, contains over 500 recipes, including instructions for making jam, which is offered as a dessert at the end of a meal.

 Sugar as a sweetener in jams

Sugarcanes were domesticated by the natives of New Guinea in the South Pacific 10,000 years ago, and they were later planted in India, where farmers in the Ganga Delta mastered the art of turning the delicious cane juice into crystallised sugar. Later, during his invasion of India, Dalius the Great (549–485 B.C.), brought sugarcane back to Persia, which subsequently became the world's most productive manufacturer of sugar. Only when western Europeans discovered sugar in the 11th century did crusaders talk about how delightful the new spice was when they returned home. In England, sugar was first mentioned in writing in 1099. According to a document from 1319 CE, sugar was exclusively available to the wealthy in London since it cost "two shillings a pound," or $50 per pound in modern currency.

The Introduction of Chutney

A relish created with seasonal fruits and herbs was frequently the traditional Indian chutney. The original use of chutneys can be dated back to 500 BC. Initially chutneys were used for making pickles and were applied to uncooked fruits. During the colonial era, the British introduced it (along with curry dishes) to their island, and afterwards to their other colonial holdings, such as South Africa and the Caribbean Islands.

Throughout this protracted voyage, the idea evolved until Major Grey's Chutney, commercially produced mango chutney, was adopted as the nation of Britain's national condiment. Major Grey was a colonial British commander who, most likely in myth liked curries and prepared his own chutney to go with them. The fruit (often mangos, apples, or pears), onions, and raisins in these commercially produced cooked chutneys are typically boiled with vinegar, brown sugar, and spices for around two hours.

In India, chutneys are served with nearly every meal, particularly as relishes with curries and as sauces for savoury meals (especially meats). They come in a wide range of flavours and can be consumed raw or cooked. They can be thin or chunky, sweet, sour, spicy, mild, or any combination of these flavours. They can be made with either fruits, vegetables, or both. Some of the components include mangoes, apples, tamarind, lemon, tomato, vinegar, sugar, honey, garlic, ginger, mint, turmeric, cinnamon, hot chilies and many other spices

Add-on information

  • The word Jelly comes from the French word gelée, meaning “congeal or gel”.
  • The word Jam came in 18th century English from the word meaning to “press tightly”.
  • The word Chutneys originated from the Sanskrit word chaatni— which means “to lick.”

 Author - Priyanka Kataria 

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