Thai Curry Types

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Curries in South East Asia

There are different types of curry that originated in South East Asia. Each type of curry has its own style of preparation and ingredients, as well as its own cooking method. The difference between curry types is sometimes very subtle.

The most popular type of curry eaten today in the UK is what is known as Indian curries. Indian curries developed in the Indian sub-continent over centuries, with recipes adapting and changing to suit changes in palate and the people.

But good things, especially foods, are hard to keep secret and curry foods are now eaten all over South East Asia.

In fact, curries are now eaten all over the world but South East Asia, particularly “old” India (which is now India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka), is recognised as the origin of curry cuisine.

Each country has added and changed the curry recipes, none more so than Thailand.

Thai Curry Types

Thai curries tend to be more liquid than Indian curries where the sauce often contains coconut milk as well as spices, vegetables and sometimes meat.

Another distinctive feature of Thai curries is the use of vegetables. Thai meat curries, such as beef and chicken, are just as likely to contain vegetables as well as meat.

And it is more than likely that the spicy ingredients of a Thai curry will come in the form of a paste.

A Thai curry paste in Thailand usually contains dried red chilies, coriander seeds, cumin seeds, garlic, lemongrass and shrimp paste.

Using a paste means that the cooking time of a Thai curry is usually less than that of an Indian curry because the paste contains spices that have already been roasted and ground – most Indian curries tend to need spices to be roasted and/or cooked and this takes a little extra time. Nowadays, you can buy Thai curry pastes at most supermarkets as well as the more obvious places such as Thai food shops.

Curry is a staple dish in Thailand and a lot of Thais eat a curry every day. Not only does curry taste good, it is nutritious in lots of vitamins and protein as well as being a relatively cheap meal.

There are many different types of curry eaten in Thailand but the main styles are Thai red curry, Thai green curry, Thai yellow curry, panang curry and Massaman curry.

Thai Red Curry

The red colour in a Thai red curry comes from the big red chillies that are used to create the curry base. A Thai red curry is spicier (“hotter”) than a Thai yellow curry and is more savoury that a Thai green curry.

The core ingredients in a Thai red curry paste are dried red chillies, garlic, salt, turmeric, lemon grass and shrimp paste. Most Thai red curry pastes have more ingredients than these but you will find most Thai red curry pastes have these core ingredients.

Thai Green Curry

Thai green curry is the spiciest (“hottest”) curry and is made with fresh green chillies, which gives the curry its heat.

The sweet taste of a Thai green curry comes from the coconut milk that is added to the curry.

The core ingredients in a Thai green curry paste are fresh green chillies, shallots, garlic, salt, lemon grass, coriander root, kaffir line rind and shrimp paste. As with a Thai red curry, more ingredients can often be found in a good Thai green curry paste.

Thai green curry is the most popular Thai curry.

Thai Yellow Curry

It will come as no surprise to learn that one of the core ingredients of a Thai yellow curry is turmeric, and lots of it (if you’ve ever split turmeric on your clothes then you will know what a real yellow stain is.

Other Thai yellow curry core ingredients are cumin, yellow mustard seed, kaffir lime leaves, nutmeg, lemon grass, shrimp paste, coconut cream and coconut milk. The coconut cream and milk gives a Thai yellow curry a rich flavour but the absence of lots of chillies means that a Thai yellow curry is less spicy (“hot”) than a Thai red curry or Thai green curry.

Fish is often cooked with a Thai yellow curry paste because the milder spiciness means that the more delicate fish tastes are not overwhelmed with the spicy ingredients.

Panang Curry

Panang (or Penang or Penaeng) curry is named after Penang Island, which is off the west coast of Malaysia.

A panang curry is like a Thai red curry but is less spicy (because of using fewer dried red chillies) and is a sweet taste because it contains peanuts as a core ingredient.

A panang curry will have less coconut milk than a Thai red curry or Thai green curry and, instead, contains coconut cream.

Core ingredients for a Thai panang curry paste are dried red chillies, garlic, galangal, lemon grass, shallots, kaffir lime rind, coriander root, salt, shrimp paste and peanuts.

Most Thai panang curries are really, really, hot.

Massaman Curry

A Massaman (or masaman or matsaman or mussulman) curry originated in the south of Thailand, close to the border with Malaysia where the population is mainly Muslim (mussulman is an old word for a muslim).

A Massaman curry is a thick, mild, sweet curry.

A Massaman curry usually has cardamon, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, potato and peanuts in it and a Massaman curry paste typically contains red chillies, coriander, cumin, salt, pepper, shallots, garlic, galangal, lemongrass, cloves and shrimp paste.

Other Thai Curries

The listed curry types are definitely the most commonly cooked Thai curries.

But there are lots of different types of Thai curries (and soups) that have evolved over the centuries.

Which Thai Curry Is The Hottest?

Generally speaking, the hottest Thai curry is the Thai Green curry, followed by the Thai Red curry, then the Thai Panang curry, then the Thai Massaman curry with the mildest Thai curry being the Thai Yellow curry (although the Massaman curry is sometimes milder than a Yellow curry, depending on the recipe).

Thai Curry Tastes

A Thai curry gets its spicy heat from chillies (dried or fresh), but what about the other common tastes? Sour comes from limes (juice and zest), kaffir lime leaves, tamarind and lemongrass. Salty comes from shrimp paste or fish sauce. Sweet comes from coconut milk, coconut cream and sugar. A Thai curry will often have several different tastes in it.

Thai Curry Recipes

There are lots of Thai curry recipes on the Curry Focus website, some of which use curry pastes and some which do not use curry pastes. And there are also recipes for making Thai curry pastes.

The following shows some of the more popular Thai curry recipes.

Recipe Uses a Paste?
Thai Red Beef Curry Yes – Red
Thai Red Chicken Curry Yes – Red
Green Chicken Curry No
Thai Green Beef Curry (version 1) No
Thai Green Chicken Curry No
Beef Penang Curry Yes – Panang
Thai Coconut and Vegetable Curry Yes – Massaman
Beef Massaman Curry Yes – Massaman
Chicken Massaman Curry Yes – Massaman
Massaman Chickpea Curry Yes – Massaman
Massaman Chicken Curry No

And the following shows some Thai curry paste recipes.

Thai Green Curry Paste
Thai Massaman Curry Paste
Thai Red Curry Paste

Why make your own paste? Well, the commercial pastes that are available may not be exactly what you like. They may be close, but not perfect. If you make your own paste then you can adjust the ingredients to suit what you like. For example, if you like a strong lime taste then you could add more lime juice. Developing your own Thai curry paste recipe can be trial and error but the results can be worth the effort.

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