Powering up plates and defining food habits globally, the humble curry powder sits pretty on many a kitchen shelf. A meal in a pot, a gourmet table spectacle or a curry-in-a-hurry, a dash of this wonderful condiment adds interesting flavour. It may be the most common term used in south east Asian kitchens, but curry powder can denote a rather complex line-up of spices to make a single blend. Most homes have their own family recipes of the powder and some prefer to keep it a family secret that is passed from one generation to the other.
The curry powder took the commercial route with people in the UK queuing up at supermarkets to pick a pack to lend flavour to the dishes they wanted to rustle up. Alex Toft Nielsen of Denmark has fond memories of his favourite Danish meatball curry, which had a hint of curry powder that his mother prepared. He regrets ‘not getting to have it quite often’ as his father disliked the dish. Nielsen says, “My natural love for food made me work as a chef at the Danish Embassy in Kathmandu, Nepal. Here I was reintroduced to curry in the form of dal-bhat-tarkari, a combination of lentils, rice and vegetables. Of course, during my travels in younger days, I have tasted different forms of curry like the Massaman curry and the famous Thai green and red curries.”
It was, however, on a trip to India that Nielsen got introduced to more spices in Kerala. “Back home, I was working as a product developer in the food and beverage industry. I got this idea of developing a single curry powder which was better than the varieties of curry powders at supermarket shelves. So, I started the ‘World’s Best Curry Powder Project’. One would generally think of curry powder as a product from the UK as the Britishers have championed its use. But the truth is, it is a product of India and exported to the UK. Curry, in India, means a dish built up with the use of different masalas and cooking techniques. It is eaten globally. The more I think about curry, the more I believe that it is a worldwide concept, a phenomenon,” says the chef.
What started as a project in 2011, materialised three years later. In 2014, Nielsen was finally able to develop CP44, the final curry powder after making many blends. “It gets the name CP44 because of the 44 ingredients it is made of,” reveals Nielsen. “While testing and researching I studied all curry powders available in the market to know what it means to different consumers and companies. One thing I realised during this research was that the label ‘premium curry powder’ doesn’t necessarily mean the best curry powder. All efforts go into the packaging and marketing of the product. My aim was to develop a yellow curry powder that could be used as a flavour enhancer for a dish with just a sprinkle or, if used in copious quantities, it could be used to make the entire dish. My inspiration was the Tabasco sauce, a simple yet good product that you will find in every kitchens. An international taste panel was identified for CP44 and samples were sent. The feedback thus generated has been an essential part of the development process of our curry powder,” says Alex. While he was reluctant to reveal all the spices used to make CP44, Nielsen gives out a few names of spices used and places from which they have been sourced. “Besides Kashmiri red chillies, it has two kinds of chillies from Mexico. Turmeric and tamarind have been brought in from Maharashtra. The curry leaves that have been used are organic and sourced from Uttarakhand and pepper comes from Kerala. Long pepper from Indonesia and saffron from Iran are also used,” says Nielsen .
What made Nielsen choose CP44 from the various blends he made during the process? Is it because CP44 is ‘more potent than normal curry powders available in the market? Or, there was a certain kick and a more powerful taste than others and the chilli level was not high and hence it suited all palates’? Nielsen concludes by saying, “It has been a long research and learning process. I would want consumers to be experimental and innovative with the product. I want people to use it with open minds and buy as well as use good ingredients.”