What’s the difference between Chutney and Relish

What’s the Difference Between Relish and Chutney, Anyway?

Thick, sweet, chunky chutneys are perfect when served with spicy curries. And nothing beats a hearty roast beef sandwich with a delightfully sour and tangy tomato relish. But the words chutney and relish are so often used interchangeably. This can lead to social awkwardness, embarrassment or even mass panic at the dinner table. To avoid this, we’ve outlined the main differences between chutney and relish so you’ll be well-informed the next time these popular condiments land on your table.

What Is Relish?

The Oxford dictionary refers to a relish as “a piquant sauce or pickle eaten with plain food to add flavour.” It’s thought that relish came about as a way to preserve leftover vegetables to use in the colder months. A typical relish will usually include:

  • Chopped vegetable pieces
  • white vinegar
  • sugar
  • salt
  • spices such as mustard, dill seeds, turmeric, curry powder or chili

The most popular types of relishes are tomato, cucumber or pickle, Chow-Chow, piccalilli and the quintessential Gentleman’s Relish with anchovies. In the States, relishes are typically dolloped on hot dogs, heaped on hamburgers and smothered on sandwiches. It’s tart and sour or pickled in character, rather than sweet, although sweet varieties of relish certainly do exist, and plenty of people add fruit as well.

Betty's Green Tomato Relish
Betty’s Green Tomato Relish

What’s Chutney, Then?

Chutney is a thick, chunky and rather exotic type of sauce made predominantly with fruits and spices, originating in eastern India. The word comes from the Indian term chatni or chalni, the latter meaning “strongly spiced”. How to make chutney? A typical recipe includes the following ingredients:

  • Fruit pieces and/or nuts
  • Vinegar
  • sugar
  • spices such as tamarind, coriander, ginger, garlic, cumin and cardamom.

So what can you do with a chutney? Chutneys were created to go with spicy Indian curries, but plenty of people pair them with sharp cheddar cheeses and enjoy them on sandwiches, just as you would a relish. You can also serve chutney as a dipping sauce, add it to rice or top a baked potato with it.

Mango Chutney by Sameer Goyal
Mango Chutney by Sameer Goyal

Chutney vs. Relish: the Condimental Differences

If you’re still confused about the difference between chutney and relish, you can relax – so is the rest of the world. Mass confusion reigns, especially on the internet. But some fundamental differences appear to exist (these are up for debate, of course!):

  • Chutney is chunkier, softer and usually slow-cooked for longer whereas the vegetable pieces in relishes are usually still firm
  • The relish sauce is thinner in consistency and has a “pickled” or “vinegary” flavour
  • Relish tends to contain mostly vegetables, and usually only one type e.g. pickles or tomatoes, whereas chutneys contain mostly fruits, sometimes several varieties (e.g. plums and apricots)
  • Chutney is eastern Indian in origin, relish comes from England

Sweet or salty, sour and spicy, fruit-based, vegetable-based, exotic or homely: we relish all our condiments and sauces with equal gusto and have an enormous range of them for serving with curries, rice, pastas, potatoes or grilled meats.

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