Japanese Curry Powder: Japanese Tastes With A British Touch

Curry powder is a British invention, not an Indian, even though it is made with Indian spices. It was through the British that the Japanese were introduced to curry. Contact between the two cultures occurred at the start of the 19th century, when Japan was reopened to the world after centuries of isolation. The first contact with the world outside of Japan was with the British Royal Navy. The introduction of curry gave rise to a specific category of Japanese cuisine called yoshoku, which consists of western dishes that have been modified to suit Japanese tastes.

Japanese curry is an example of this dish as it bears only a slight resemblance to the old-fashioned British curry that it imitates and almost none at all to authentic Indian cuisine.

As British food, curry was seen by the 19th and early 20th century Japanese as an exotic luxury. Curry imported from Britain was sold at a high cost and was consumed mainly by the rich. That would change after a 1931 scandal that involved cheap local curry powders being sold as expensive imported British curry powder. One side effect of the scandal was that local curry powders became more popular as people discovered that they were indistinguishable from the British version.

Japanese curry powder would be popular up until the 1950s, which is when the block style of curry would surpass it. The block style continues to be popular today as most Japanese curry is sold in block form that includes both the curry spices and a roux base.

Japanese curry powder flavor profile

The flavor profile of Japanese curry would be considered simple and bland by most who enjoy Indian food, but Japanophiles are likely to praise it for the subtlety of the flavors. Japanese curry has fewer ingredients and less flavor complexity when compared to more traditional blends like Madras curry powder. Japanese curry typically consists almost entirely of four spices: turmeric, coriander, cumin, and cardamom.

There may be several other spices as well, but the four above can comprise as much as 90 percent of the blend. This means that the flavor notes of these spices make up most of the flavor profile.

Health benefits of Japanese curry powder

While Japanese curry powder is not as intensely flavored or complex as some other curry powder blends, the spices that it does contain are known to be nutritious. The health benefits come from compounds like:

  • Minerals: You can get a significant amount of iron from the cumin that Japanese curry powder contains. Other minerals present in smaller amounts include calcium, which you can get from cardamom and turmeric as well as from cumin.
  • Vitamins: Coriander seed contains vitamin C and is one of the few dried spices with this vitamin; cardamom has a smaller amount of it. Each spice has trace amounts of various B vitamins.
  • Fiber: All of the spices used in Japanese curry powder are good sources of fiber. While this does not mean that a Japanese curry powder blend will be rich in fiber, it does mean that it will provide some of what you need.

By adding Japanese curry powder to your diet, you may be able to improve your health by treating or preventing illnesses like:

  • High cholesterol: Studies have shown that women who eat cumin daily have lower LDL cholesterol (good cholesterol) levels and higher HDL cholesterol (bad cholesterol) levels.
  • Poor digestion: All four of the major spices in Japanese curry have long been used in India as digestive aids. This benefit is due in part to their fiber content, which helps to speed up the rate at which food passes through the gut.

Common uses

Japanese curry powder is traditionally used to make beef, chicken, or pork stews that may be served with rice or udon noodles.