Monday, April 13, 2009

Curry Powder


Sara asked about curry powder.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with curry powder. It has been safely used for many centuries, following time honoured and well proven practices.

But what if those practices are not followed?

First, let's look at what curry powder is. It is the ground mixture of spices, seeds of a variety of plants. Seeds that have been exposed to the environment. There is nothing abnormal in that but, because of their origin, the seeds that go into curry powder will bring with them a variety of organisms from the environment. Notably Salmonella.

Now, how is curry traditionally prepared? You heat oil in a pan and cook the powder in this oil. Ostensibly to 'bring out the flavour' but, by a happy coincidence, it also sterilises the powder. You then add meat, vegetables, whatever and continue with making your curry.

What happens if you deviate from this long proven, survival enhancing, cooking practice? What if you are a new age cook and make a curried pasta salad where you just mix the warm (!) pasta, mayonnaise, vegetables, cream and curry powder and stir? Nothing much if you eat it straight away. But bacteria will double roughly every 20min at room temperature; what if you make your salad early and leave it for a few hours before eating? Not a good idea - the salad is warm, moist and protein rich - happy times for the bacteria.

Because of the risk, spices are one of the few things that are permitted to be irradiated to sterilise them. But this does not teach people safe handling practices for a potentially dangerous food. People will just be ignorant of the dangers and at risk from spices that are not irradiated.


  1. Aha! Just like sprouts, there's actually a real reason for cooking the curry powder. I love learning about this kind of thing: the wisdom of the ages handed down for generations, but now getting lost due to the non-communality of our "communities"...

  2. This is such good advice! Thank you.

  3. Wooh, good information. And I presume that it also applies to whole spices so I'm going to be really careful from now on (I sometimes use "uncooked" spices mixed in yoghurt to make dips...).

  4. Cool! I never knew that! Not only that, I've never put the curry powder into the oil to start things off. However I do put the curry into the pan long before it is ready to be served so it would be, if not sterilized, damn uncomfortably hot.

  5. Lee, there is an award for you at sixtyfivewhatnow.

  6. I grew up in India, so this was a familiar sight for me. And the aroma of fresh spices is amazing.

  7. Thank you for this post, I never thought about dried spices as a potential source of food poisoning before. Would this apply to dried herbs (ie leaves, not seeds) as well?


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