Thai food is widely regarded as one of the most exciting and delicious cuisine options, and the fresh flavors and incredible complexity of the spices and vegetable flavors are some of the most recognizable aspects of Thai cuisine.
But, if you've ordered both Thai and Indian curries, you might have noticed some key differences. Indian curries are often in the same range of yellow-orange to bright red, and don't look that different until you taste them to see the different flavors. Thai curry, on the other hand, comes in a bright red or green color, and it’s even called red and green curry on menus! While there are also yellow Thai curries, those curries are often less popular, which means that not all Thai restaurants include them on their menu.
What is responsible for the different colors? How do these curries taste? How are they made?
|Red Curry||Green Curry|
|Origin||Central Thailand||Central Thailand|
|Flavors||Chili powder, dried chilies, ginger or galangal, and other aromatic spices.||Cilantro, kaffir lime leaves, basil, and other herby flavors. Bright vegetable flavors.|
|Spice Level||Hot – the spiciest Thai curries are red curries.||More mild – while green curry can still be very hot, it’s generally milder than other Thai curry.|
|Other ingredients||Lots of veggies, a wide range of proteins, and coconut milk.||Coconut milk, a range of protein options, herbs, leafy greens, lemongrass, fresh basil, fresh lime wedges.|
What is Red Curry
Thailand is the country that has the distinction of being the only Southeast Asian country that completely escaped Western colonization. That means that the foods and cuisines of this country are the least impacted by Western cuisine and taste.
One of the ways this shows up is in Thai curries, which are often more richly flavored, significantly spicier, and often use more ingredients than other curries.
Red curry is the spicy king of curries. Thai red curries come in a lot of different forms, including a beef curry that is commonly called the King of Curry by Thai chefs.
Red curries get their color from the bright red chilies, fresh and dried, used in Thai curry. While you can make your curry paste, most people use a pre-made curry paste here in the United States, which is a blend of red chilies, shrimp paste (sometimes), and aromatic herbs and spices.
Unlike Indian curries, Thai curries also tend to have minimal use of tomatoes. Remember, tomatoes are a New World food. So, while Thai cuisine has incorporated tomatoes and other New World foods into some recipes, it’s not as common in Thai cuisine as other cuisines.
Different Types of Red Curry
There are a few different kinds of red curry, and actually, you can customize your red curries significantly. The red chilies, coconut milk, and protein are the main ingredients, but the vegetables and spices can be pretty variable.
Massaman Curry: Massaman curry is the King of Curry, and usually made with thin strips of beef instead of other proteins. This curry also tastes more like many Indian curries thanks to the addition of cinnamon and cardamom, but without the turmeric that can be included in red Indian curries.
Panang Curry: This curry is another red curry, but adds ground peanuts or other ground nuts and sometimes whole nuts to give it a slightly sweeter taste, along with a lot of additional umami.
Panang curry is somewhere halfway between a typical red curry and yellow curries, but they’re worth mentioning here.
How Do You Make Red Curry?
Traditional red curries start by grinding the spices and chilies together to make a curry paste, including blooming the flavors of those spices and chilies in hot oils, along with other steps.
Creating a handmade curry paste can take hours, and requires a motor and pestle or other special grinding equipment. Shrimp paste is another traditional curry paste ingredient, but is omitted from a lot of store-bought curry pastes because of allergies.
Once you have curry paste, you can start prepping the other ingredients, including vegetables, protein, and coconut milk. Additional spices are usually added to stir fry with the vegetables and protein. Then curry paste is added, and then the coconut milk is added and simmered to thicken.
While typically made as a stir fry, you can also make curry in an instant pot or crock pot.
Delicious Red Curry Ingredients
There are a lot of different ingredients you can play with in red curry. Onions, butternut squash, yams, sweet potatoes, bell peppers, broccoli, cauliflower, bamboo shoots, pumpkin, and beansprouts are all fantastic options.
Protein options include pork, beef, tofu, and lots of different kinds of fish. One note though, fish and shellfish protein should be added toward the end of cooking, while beef and pork should be added closer to the beginning.
Great Red Curry Recipes You Should Try
For a delicious savory red curry, Food Network has a fantastic recipe that uses fresh mushrooms and green beans to create a nutritious and understated version of Thai red curry.
Or, if you want to learn more cooking techniques and the option of different vegetables, and more tips on how to customize your finished curry, The Woks Of Life has a fantastic red curry recipe.
What Is Green Curry?
Thai green curry is very similar to red curry, but green curry uses green chilies to fresh green chilies. This curry also tends to have leafy greens and a lot more green herbs which help make the green color. The flavors are a bit different.
Not all of the ingredients are green, and green curries also often have a red chili as a garnish. Coriander roots are a critical ingredient here. If you’re looking for coriander roots in the store, remember, coriander and cilantro are just different names for different parts of the same plant. Coriander is the dried seeds of the plant, and the roots often have a more coriander taste, while the leaves and stems are cilantro.
Like red curry, green curry is made from a paste, but green curry often calls for more herbs and spices to be added whole or chopped in addition to the paste.
Different Styles Of Green Curry
Unlike red curries, green curry doesn't have as many well-known variations. Like some of the other dishes we've talked about, green curry is more down to different recipes rather than fully distinct styles of curry.
Green curry is often made with fish since the herby flavors pair well with white fish and shellfish.
However, pork, beef, and other proteins are also an option.
Different versions of green curry also come from access to different ingredients. For example, galangal, a ginger relative that’s more traditional in a lot of Thai dishes, can be hard to find in Western grocery stores.
Even different kinds of leafy greens, and access to things like kaffir lime leaves, can lead to a very different set of flavors. These differences haven’t been standardized into distinct styles, but they do still mean that there are many different kinds of green curry out there.
How Do You Make Green Curry?
Green curry is made very similarly to red curry, often in a stir fry style, but occasionally in crock pots and other slow boil methods.
However, the key to a great green curry is about when you add the different ingredients, pair them with the spices and herbs, and how much of each flavor you want to bring out in your curry.
For instance, lemongrass, spinach, galangal, kaffir lime leaves, and basil can all be brought out as flavors depending on when you add them, and how much of each ingredient you add.
The goal is to thoroughly cook each ingredient, without overcooking or letting any one of these very strong flavors overwhelm the others. At the end, just like red curry, you’ll mix in a healthy dose of coconut milk and simmer briefly to thicken.
Green Curry Ingredients and Toppings To Experiment With
All of the ingredients that can be in red curry can also be in green curry. However, the additional herby flavors can make green curry compatible with other vegetables, including asparagus, green beans, eggplant, snap peas, broccoli, bamboo shoots, bean sprouts, water chestnuts, cashews, bak choi, lotus, and other vegetables.
There are a lot of options, and you can choose 2-5 vegetables for your curry, and mix up different vegetables to get different flavors.
Top Green Curry Recipes You’re Sure To Love
The Spruce Eats has a scrumptious Thai Green Chicken curry that is a great introduction to making Thai green curry and gives you a good base to experiment with until you have your own perfect curry.
Looking for a plant-based version of green curry? Rainbow Plant Life has you covered with a vegan Thai Green Curry that also helps explain why this dish works so well as a plant-based main.
Wrapping Up: What are the key differences between Red and Green Curry?
There are a lot of little differences between red curries and green curries, but the biggest one is the predominant color of the chilies used to create the curry paste. Vegetables, herby spices, and other ingredients can contribute to the colors, while also balancing out the different flavors in each curry.
Whether you're looking for a meaty savory spicey meal or a plant-based, balanced, milder taste, or anything in-between, there is a delicious Thai curry for you!
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Q1: Which is healthier, red curry or green curry?
Ultimately it depends on preparation, but green curry often has more vegetables, leafy greens, and low-calorie high nutrient additions than red curry. However, a vegetable-heavy red curry can be just as healthy and nutritious.
Portion size, the addition of vegetables, and how much coconut milk is involved in the sauce all have a huge impact on the health of these dishes.
Q2: Is Thai green curry spicier than red?
It can be, but most of the time green curry isn’t as spicy as red. That’s because red curry relies more on the chilies to develop flavor, while green curries can be made with fewer chilies and more leafy greens and herbs that don’t add heat.
Q3: What is the mildest Thai curry?
Green curry is often the mildest, but different regions can actually make green curry the spiciest. Yellow curries are probably the safest option if you are sensitive to spice, and you can always customize to make these curries less spicy than traditional.
Q4: Which Thai curry is best for beginners?
Opinions differ on this, especially since different regions of Thailand can have different spice levels for each color of curry. Panang curry is a good option since the addition of nuts helps to add fat and protein to mellow out the spices. Red curry is often considered a good beginner curry, prepared mild, since you can add more coconut milk, honey, or other sweeteners to temper the spice without significantly changing the flavors.