Onion chutney is a type of chutney that uses onions as its primary base ingredient. Chutneys are an important part of traditional Indian culinary traditions, where they are made to accompany a variety of dishes. The word chutney is an English interpretation of the Indian word chatni, a term that is used to identify a sweet, strong, sauce, much like relish. Chutneys were made popular in the West by the British, who imported them from India as a luxury food.
The British first introduced chutney to the West in the 1600s. England and France took the concept of chutney and began developing different recipes and varieties. It became popular in the Americas, particularly in the South, where it became a common accompaniment to meat dishes.
There is no set recipe for chutneys, including onion chutney, but rather it is a traditional sauce that can have many variations. Chutneys familiarly found in food stores and markets tend to have a jelly-like consistency. These chutneys are also made as a preserve, and recipes use vinegar and sugar to prevent spoilage. In traditional culinary traditions, chutney was not made as a preserve but was intended to be eaten within a few days of preparation. It tends to have less sugar and vinegar and is of a runny consistency, more like a sauce than a jelly.
The word chatni is a term used in India that is related to the action of crushing, as many of the spices used in traditional chutneys needed to be crushed. In addition to onions, onion chutney recipes call for a variety of spices, such as cumin seeds, mustard seeds, chili powder, paprika, fresh ginger, and cloves — to name a few of the most traditional. Other commonly included ingredients include tomato paste for color, lemon juice, vinegar, sugar, salt, oil, and butter in an endless array of combinations.
Onion chutney can be made from any variety of onion, including sweet onions, white onions, red onions, shallots, green onions or a combination of different varieties. Recipes that call for red onions as the base result in a dark, rich burgundy colored chutney while white onions produce a paler result. Onion chutney recipes can be fiery hot, mildly spicy or not spicy at all, depending on individual tastes and preferences. It often is used to accompany meat, cheeses, curry dishes, and any other pairings the cook chooses to engage.