Why must I cook Patak's Curry Paste?
July 5, 2006 1:00 PM   Subscribe

Why must I cook Patak's Curry Paste?

Patak's Curry Paste comes with this warning on the jar in capital letters: "It is important that this product is prepared as directed in the usage instructions and must not be consumed uncooked." The instructions call for about 20 minutes of simmering.

None of the ingredients leap out at me as clearly needing cooking: vegetable oil, salt, coriander, turmeric, water, concentrated tomato puree, chilli, ground ginger, garlic powder, corn flour, tamarind, spices, acetic acid, sugar, citric acid, lactic acid.

When I'm lazy, I like to throw some curry paste on leftover rice and just microwave it, rather than cooking it properly. Am I taking my life in my hands?

(I know there are better ways to eat Indian-style food, so no need to detour down the cuisine side of this topic, thanks!)
posted by Yogurt to Health & Fitness (18 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Presumably because the ingredients are raw and there is no way of Patak guaranteeing that they are organism-free. Spices are bought in bulk and all sorts of things end up in them.

(But I have consumed Patak's curry paste raw on many occasions and suffered no harm! It is very good on cheese).
posted by unSane at 1:11 PM on July 5, 2006

It's possible that the paste could contain bacterial spores that need to be killed via heat.

Alternatively, maybe it just tastes awful unless the ingredients are heated and the paste company doesn't want its customers to get a bad impression.

Frankly, it's kind of a weird instruction to see in a food like that. I could see requiring refrigeration after opening, maybe, but it seems like they would just pasteurize the stuff at the factory after jarring if spores were an issue.

Depending on how hot the stuff gets when you microwave it, that could be a viable alternative. What you might do is see how hot it gets after 20 minutes of simmering and compare that to how hot is it after your customary amount of microwaving. If they're pretty similar, you're probably safe.
posted by jedicus at 1:13 PM on July 5, 2006

jedicus writes "Depending on how hot the stuff gets when you microwave it, that could be a viable alternative. What you might do is see how hot it gets after 20 minutes of simmering and compare that to how hot is it after your customary amount of microwaving. If they're pretty similar, you're probably safe."

I'm not sure why they want you to simmer it, but there are a bunch of different little nasties that only die after prolonged exposure to heat, so just getting it to a certain temperature may not be enough.
posted by OmieWise at 1:17 PM on July 5, 2006

Wow. I never noticed that little warning on the label before. I've been using it in cold chicken salads and other stuff for years.
posted by Thorzdad at 1:42 PM on July 5, 2006

Maybe it's a holdover to the old days of canning foods at home, when you were always warned to boil your home-canned non-acidic foods for 15 - 20 minutes after opening the jar. I can't find anything about it online now, but I swear when I was a kid we had several instruction booklets from various state ag extensions that said this re-boiling is NECESSARY and you could DIE if you skip it! (Back in the 1960s and '70s, most home canning was done in a boiling water bath, not under pressure, so the temperature wouldn't get high enough to reliably kill all the nasties. These are anaerobes like C. botulinum, which are generally inhibited or killed by oxygen. 15-20 minutes of vigorous boiling will re-introduce enough O2 into the system to kill the anaerobes at this temperature.)

Why a commercial outfit like Patak's would recommend this is a bit of a puzzle, but maybe they're just playing it safe? Maybe their equipment occasionally glitches? Or maybe there used to be some regulations in India or the UK (or wherever they manufacture) that stipulate this because in the 1930s, let's say, there were outbreaks of botulism from improperly canned commercial foods, so all canners had to put this warning on their label, and Patak's never revised their labels?

Sounds more like a legal CYA move than a culinary hint to me.
posted by Quietgal at 1:59 PM on July 5, 2006

Here's their contact page; why not ask them?
posted by languagehat at 2:50 PM on July 5, 2006

I can't find this on Google...but I remember watching a Thai or Indian cooking show where the host said something about some curry paste ingredients needing cooking for safety reasons. I believe it had to do with a risk of gastro-intestinal upset or infection. However, I can't find a citation for this. Maybe someone should just email Patak's.
posted by acoutu at 2:54 PM on July 5, 2006

Response by poster: I'll e-mail them and let everyone know. But that's way less fun than Ask Metafilter!
posted by Yogurt at 4:01 PM on July 5, 2006

I'll e-mail them and let everyone know.

Depends on what kind of answer you want. It's going to be safer for them to tell you to cook it, because cooking food kills potential contaminants. Even if it's not really necessary, they may still tell you it's necessary, just to cover their asses in the rare case of spoilage or a quality lapse which might otherwise expose them to a liability lawsuit for making someone sick.
posted by scarabic at 6:05 PM on July 5, 2006

That's interesting. My Australian jar says that Patak's makes a great marinade 50/50 with yoghurt, and suggests cooking the marinaded things on the barbeque / grill. I doubt a chicken skewer would get 20 minutes of heat, although perhaps the high temperature compensates.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 6:51 PM on July 5, 2006

I have always wondered this! And have always been scared of not cooking it! I anxiously await the result of the email to Patak's!
posted by Kololo at 7:00 PM on July 5, 2006

A lot of people don't know this, but a tamarind is actually a small monkey. So...
posted by kookoobirdz at 7:01 PM on July 5, 2006

I can't tell if you're serious but, a tamarind^ is actually a fruit, while some small monkeys are tamarins^.
posted by Zetetics at 10:16 PM on July 5, 2006

Mmm. Monkey paste.
posted by nebulawindphone at 4:58 AM on July 6, 2006

Best answer: I expected a CYA answer too, but I'm pleased to say the answer is that cooking the paste is recommended for reasons of taste and possibily stomach sensitivity. Here's the full e-mail from Pataks:

Thanks for your interest in Patak's products.

The major ingredients of Curry Pastes are raw spices and vegetable oil. The mixture in a jar is a "raw" product - it's supposed to be cooked (=thermally processed) in order for spices to reach "full capacity" of taste and be really edible - from majority of consumers perspective.

You can eat Curry Paste uncooked. But in this case your eating enjoyment is not guaranteed (though it's a matter of personal preferences - some people use curry pastes as dips) and consequences depend on your stomach's tolerance to concentrated vegetable oil and raw spices. Other than that the product is safe cooked or uncooked.

The message on Patak's Curry Paste jars is supposed to give majority of people a right direction and ensure positive experience with the product.

I hope this answers your question.

I wish you to continue enjoying Patak's Pastes.

posted by Yogurt at 8:39 AM on July 6, 2006 [3 favorites]

That email notwithstanding, that looks a lot to me like legal boilerplate. If someone eats the stuff uncooked and gets sick, the company is covered.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 11:17 AM on July 6, 2006

I've looked more closely at my Australian Patak's jar, and I see that it contains this small print: IT IS IMPORTANT THAT THIS PRODUCT IS NOT CONSUMED UNCOOKED. I'm with Steven C. Den Beste - seems like legal boilerplate, and quite contrary to the "it just tastes better that way" e-mail.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 10:20 PM on July 6, 2006

Response by poster: Well, if you're trying to protect your company's legal position, you probably shouldn't let your representatives say "the product is safe cooked or uncooked." And really, jarred foods that are safe to eat uncooked are hardly cutting edge technology. So I'm pleased to take Patak's at their word.

However, it was the stern phrasing that got me to ask the question.
posted by Yogurt at 8:22 AM on July 9, 2006

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