I Would Relish Your Condiments About This Chutney

(See Bourbon Cranberry Orange Relish)

A man takes his son and fiance to dinner. The evening is going pleasantly, and the conversation is unhurried and comfortable. As they eat the father notices that his soon to be daughter-in-law hasn’t touched any of the relishes or chutney’s.

The father asks, “Are you going to use condiments?”

His son’s fiance blushes violently, and his son gasps.

Looking at his father he chides, “Dad! She’s a Catholic!”

I kind of get the confusion. It’s like trying to define art or pornography. I can’t tell you what it is, but I know it when I see it. What the dictionary says about condiments is nearly useless if you are looking for precise. A condiment is: “something used to enhance the flavor of food; especially : a pungent seasoning” according to the Merriam Webster Dictionary online. But like all things, if you dig enough, and in the right direction, you’re going to find answers.

Etymology gives us those answers. Condiment comes from the Latin, condire, which means to season, pickle or preserve. It is a variant of the word condere, which means to put away or store. Now we’re getting somewhere! Not sure where it is we’re getting to, but I like the direction. It thinks right. It plays right in the imagination. Back in the long ago, a lot of foods they ate, we would chuck out because it tastes spoiled. Our ancestors just put strong flavored things on it to mask the off putting flavors. A little fermented fish would go a long way to covering up the scent of slightly spoiled meat.

A condiment is a flavoring, used in relatively small quantities, that has been preserved, or is by its nature preserved. I think this definition covers sauces, pickles, relishes, chutneys, salt and some spices and some herbs. It doesn’t include salsas or fresh chutneys. The problem is that when I think of classes I’ve taken in college, I can hear those professors asking, “Fine. Fine. But what about the fresh herbs? And when does a dried herb become an ingredient rather than a condiment? What about the same line of thought regarding spices? Mr. Simonson, I do believe your definition of condiment fails the test.” I hated Philosophy and Freshman English classes. Scarred the hell out of me for life. If a philosophy professor can make the argument that 2+2 doesn’t necessarily always equal 4, then I guess I can take the opposite tack and be happy with my nearly precise definition of a condiment.

We’ve talked about several condiments already, mustard and ketchup. Mustard and Ketchup are both sauce type condiments. They can also be used as ingredients in recipes. For instance, mustard can be used in a sauce for pan fried chicken breasts. Now I would like to consider Relishes and Chutneys.

The maddening thing about relishes and chutneys is that they can’t be clearly defined. Part of the problem is the East-West divide. Like so many things, the food originated in the East, and came to common usage in the West, but with changes. Chutney comes from the Hindi word,caṭnī or chatni (चटनी) which can mean a number of things: sauce, kitchen herb, chutney, dip. salad dressing. The word relish comes from the Old French, reles, which meant, “something remaining, that which is left behind.” It came to mean a pleasing aftertaste. In English the word relish retained that meaning and also took on the meaning for a condiment that can scarcely be differentiated from a chutney. In Hindi the word for relish is svaad (स्वाद), and it has more to do with gustation (reles) than with chutney.

I was able to give a definition for condiment earlier in this post, but I really don’t see how to do that for relishes or chutneys. I would suggest that we Westerners consider the following for clarification:

Condiments

  1. Pickles (Fruit or Vegetables, Hot or Mild)

  • Sweet

  • Sour

  1. Chutneys/Relishes (Fruits and/or Vegetables, Fresh or Cooked, Hot or Mild)

  • Sweet

  • Savory

  • Sour

  1. Sauces/Spreads

  • Ketchups

  • Mustards

  • Mayonnaise

  • Salad Dressings

  • Sundries (Marmite, Nut Butters, Gentleman’s Relish)

  • Dips

  1. Dry Seasonings

  • Salts

  • Sugars

  • Spices

  • Herbs

I don’t know about you, but I like things to be tidy, language-wise. It leaves me feeling unsure and under confident when my language is letting me down. Definitions are important. Words derive power from their meanings. I feel a bit better about the world of condiments now, because I understand better what they are. Sadly, I think an Englishman or Canadian reading this would disagree, as would a person from India. At least the above list will serve an American well. Although, I did forget about jellies. Where would you put jellies? Aww… Jam it!

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2 thoughts on “I Would Relish Your Condiments About This Chutney

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