Of all the preserves I make and judge, chutney is the one most misunderstood. A traditional chutney recipe produces a rich, even, bright colour, a thick, smooth consistency and a balanced flavour. Disappointing chutneys are generally the fault of one or more of the following, the chutney recipe, ingredients, preparation, cooking and finishing.


During the last 30 years, access to recipes for chutney has changed from chiefly print to digital sources. The later has spawned recipes that are often relishes. These are made from fruit and vegetables but their texture is different from that of a good chutney as they are chunky and crisp. Most require very little cooking, and some no cooking at all. They do not keep as long as traditional chutneys, often eaten the day they are made or refrigerated for a few weeks.

Chutney needs time to mature and is usually ready to eat if left unopened for a couple of months.

Recipes for runner bean chutney tend to make a mustard pickle, not a chutney, as they contain mustard and cornflour. Many a preserver entering a chutney class at a competition falls foul with a runner bean pickle.


Most chutneys are made from fruit, vegetables,spices, vinegar and sugar. Not all fruit and vegetables make the best chutneys. Last year, by way of preparation to teach an Autumn Preserves course I tested chutneys with Pumpkin. The results were not as good as I expected possibly because Pumpkin ( like courgettes and marrows) are uninspiring in flavour whereas Beetroot, Plums, Damsons, Gooseberries, Pears and Peppers make robust flavoured chutneys. Onions feature frequently as an ingredient. Unless minced, they benefit from cooking in a little water before being mixed with the other ingredients.


A chutney recipe includes vinegar, usually malt, cider or wine with a 5% acidity. Malt and distilled malt vinegar are popular although I prefer Sarson’s distilled malt vinegar as it seems to mature chutney more effectively than pure malt. Avoid supermarket brands of malt vinegar for any vinegar preserves. Although cheaper in price, I find them best avoided as from experience they embed a vinegar flavour into a chutney however long the jars are left to mature. A couple of years ago a friend bought some supermarket own brand for a chutney session and the results were disappointing. However, supermarket distilled malt vinegar is a useful household cleaning agent.

Sugar and Spice

I tend to use granulated, light and brown muscovado sugars in chutney. Granulated works well in red tomato chutney, preserving the rich, red colour of tomatoes. I prefer to add sugar towards the end of cooking, not at the beginning. If it is added too early the final flavour of the chutney might affected, especially if the cooking takes a number of hours.

Frequently a chutney recipe benefits from the judicial use of spices. If you like chillies, take care when adding to a chutney as their strength and personal preference varies. Aim to enhance the flavour not overwhelm it. Homemade spiced vinegar is easy to make with a mixture of cinnamon stick, whole cloves, blade of mace, whole allspice and black peppercorns.


Chutneys are best made in stages; preparing the dry ingredients, gently cooking them in vinegar until pulpy, adding the sugar and simmering to the desired consistency. During cooking, I always use plastic or silicon utensils. I do the same when tasting a jar of chutney as metal reacts with vinegar and taints the flavour. A chutney is ready when a spoon is dragged over the surface, not the base of the pan, leaving a channel of chutney. Over cooked chutney will have a dry consistency and once potted usually has air bubbles in the jar.

Jars and Lids

Pour chutney into clean, warm jars up to 5mm from the brim and seal with new vinegar resistant twist top lids. By all means re-cycle glass jars but to guarantee a seal and avoid spoilage from old lids with metal linings, always use new lids, widely available online and from cook shops.


After patiently waiting a couple of months your chutney should have a balanced flavour and be a joy to add to many savoury dishes, dips, fish, charcuterie and cheese plates.


First Preserves recipe books
Bottle Company South

September 5th, 2017|Tags: , , |