The curry Houses closes on October 18th

What makes Green Thai Curry paste green?


Image of Curry House

Have you ever wondered what the plants that produce all those seeds and powders in your spice rack look like? Now BPCG’s lower greenhouse has been turned into a Curry House for the summer. Here you can see a unique collection of plants that are important herbs and spices in the flavouring of all sorts of curries. You don’t usually see these in gardens but with a little help from the greenhouse we’ve been able to grow this collection in Brockwell Park.

According to Alan Davidson in the Oxford Dictionary of Food, the term ‘curry’ originates from a Tamil word ‘Kari’ meaning spiced sauce. The influence of this style of cooking extends from Bangladesh in the west to Malaysia, the Philippines and Indonesia in the east and from Nepal in the north to Sri Lanka in the South. And that’s where many of these plants come from originally.

Earliest evidence for the use of spices to flavour meat date from  around 2600 BCE. These curries were made from a paste of mustard, fennel, cumin, and tamarind – all of which you can see growing in the display.

Chilli peppers are a South American plant and weren’t introduced to India until the Portuguese established a trading post in Goa in 1510. They brought chillies along with a host of other plants as part of the Columbian Exchange. Now India is the worlds largest producer of Chillies and the heat that they give  is considered a basic ingredient of most curries. Columbus’ commercial influence changed the world’s agriculture and its food. You can see several varieties of Chillies in the display including a rare Capiscum pubescens ‘ Albertos Locoto’. We usually have named variety chilli pods for sale at 25p each.

One of the most important families represented in the Curry House is the Zingiberaceae or Gingers. These aromatic rhizomatous perennial herbs are amongst the most recent plants to evolve, but have been known for thousands of years. You may know ginger as a knobbly root but now you can see what ginger looks like above the ground. Zingiber officinale is originally from south China but now India is the largest producer. With a wide range of culinary uses this is certainly one of the most important spice crops today. We might even get it to flower…

In addition to Z. officinale the other culinary gingers you can  see are

  • Z. mioga or Myoga flowers and stem tips which are much used in Japanese and Korean cuisines.
  • Curcuma longa the rhizomes of which produce the spice Turmeric
  • Alpinia galanga which produces the S. E. Asian spice Galangal
  • Elettaria cardamomum the seed pods  are true (or green) Cardamom
  • Amomum costatum which produces Black (or Nepal) Cardamom pods
  • Boesenbergia rotunda or Fingerroot or Chinese ginger popular in Thai and Cambodian food

Generally gingers are plants of the tropical understory growing in damp shady positions. In commercial production they are often grown under shade netting. In the Curry House we’ve provided some more traditional shade in the form of a large specimen banana – Ensete ventricosum.

Many curries are served with rice and the Curry House features a small rice paddy. We’ve germinated two varieties of Oryza sativa both the ‘japonica’ or short grain rice and the ‘indica’ or long grain variety. Domesticated rice originated in China and has been known and gathered for over 8000 years. Rice formed part of the Neolithic Chinese diet and China (as well as India) are still the largest producers.

Turning to that green question the plant that provides the green in Thai curry is the Makrut Lime or Citrus hystrix a fruit native to tropical Asia. Both the fruit and the leaves of this small tree are essential to Thai, Lao, Cambodian and Vietnamese cuisines.

In the collection there’s also Cumin, Black Mustard, Fenugreek, Vietnamese Coriander, Lemon Grass, Sichuan pepper and even Coffee and Tea. BPCG has cooked up a feast for the eye and a rare experience in Lambeth and Southwark. Don’t miss this opportunity to get familiar with all those spices that you use.

The BPCG team grew most of these plants from rhizomes, tubers, corms and seed. We got Ginger from Moen’s and Turmeric and Galangal in the market in Brixton; the Taro’s and Cocoyams we bought on-line as tubers. We’ve been able to nurture them in the protected environment of the greenhouse and because our great team of volunteers weed, water, feed and repot the plants.

The Curry House is open during the garden’s usual hours and the display will run until 18th October.

We plan a ‘Curry House Cookup’ on Saturday 3rd October to find the best curry recipe from all these spices.