Massaman Curry vs Panang Curry

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It’s a Friday night, and you feel like indulging in some Thai cuisine. When you walk into the restaurant, the air is filled with the smell of aromatic spices and hints of coconut. Now comes the hard part, which curry do you order? Massaman curry or Panang curry? 

Massaman curry is a much sweeter and milder type of yellow curry compared to other Thai curries. The spices that stand out are cinnamon and coriander. Panang curry is a red curry with a more citrus and zesty flavor and a nutty, thick sauce. It has a strong flavor of roasted peanuts.

Let this guide take you on an exotic trip into the history and spicy details of these two famous Thai curries.

What Is Massaman Curry?

Massaman curry, also known as Matsaman or Mussaman curry, is a famous Thai dish with strong Persian and Indian influences. 

This aromatic yellow curry has been around for centuries (since the 17th century, to be exact).

The curry is jam-packed with flavor and is complemented by an aromatic blend of spices in a creamy coconut-based sauce. Massaman curry is very rich, but as far as the heat (or burn) goes, it’s on the mild side.

Here’s a look at the ingredients used in a traditional recipe for massaman curry:

  • Meat: beef, lamb, mutton, chicken, or goat
  • Butter or ghee
  • Coconut milk
  • Almonds
  • Sultana raisins (adds a tasty sweetness)
  • Coconut or avocado oil
  • Cumin and coriander (cilantro) seed
  • Red curry paste
  • Ground cinnamon
  • Carrots
  • Nutmeg
  • Roasted peanuts
  • Lime or lemon juice

If you’re looking for some great recipes to make massaman curry at home, then check out this Spruce Eats recipe for the best massaman curry. 

They even have a recipe to make your own massaman Thai curry paste (#Delicious).

Top Tip: This delicious curry can be served on a warm bed of rice or with some crispy papadums (thin, crispy, fried flatbread).

Back to the present. Massaman curry is still a very popular dish found in most American Thai restaurants. 

The recipe has been tweaked a bit since the 17th century, and the Thai people have added some of the traditional Thai ingredients (making the curry slightly spicier and more fragrant), such as:

  • Orange juice
  • Tamarind
  • Lemongrass
  • Potatoes 
  • Kapi (fermented shrimp or krill paste)

Did you know? Traditionally, the massaman curry was only served on special occasions and religious ceremonies such as the birth of a baby or a wedding day.

What Is Panang Curry?

Panang curry (also known as Phanaeng or Phanang) is a famous thick, sweet, red Thai curry that has a fresh and zesty flavor. This fragrant curry has strong influences from India, Burma, and Malaysia.

The Panang curry recipe was first discovered in an ancient cookbook (over 126 years old) called Tamra Kap Khao, written by Maawm Sohm Jeen (one of Siam’s most esteemed singers). 

The most popular Panang curry is the pork option.

Panang curry is hot, but it’s not as spicy as other red or green curries. While you can make Panang curry at home, most people prefer to go to a local Thai restaurant because the ingredients list is very long.

Here’s a look at the ingredients used in a traditional recipe for chicken Panang curry:

  • Boneless chicken breasts or thighs
  • Tomato paste
  • Ginger or galangal (spicy root)
  • A small onion
  • Garlic
  • Soy sauce
  • Paprika
  • Fish sauce
  • Chili powder
  • Shrimp paste
  • Turmeric
  • Ground coriander (or cilantro)
  • Cinnamon
  • Nutmeg
  • Full-fat coconut milk
  • Cayenne pepper flakes
  • Ground cloves
  • Lime juice
  • Whole cumin
  • Bay leaves
  • Red bell pepper
  • Fresh basil
  • Tomatoes
  • Peanuts
  • Shallots

Top Tip: Serve your Panang curry on a bed of hot jasmine rice or with papadums. Cauliflower rice is also a healthier and tasty option as it absorbs all the flavors.

What’s the Difference Between Massaman Curry vs Panang Curry?

Let’s take a closer look at some of the differences between massaman curry and Panang curry:

Flavor and Taste

Although these two popular curries have the same base ingredients, the main difference between them is their flavor and taste. Massaman curry has a very spicy aroma as there are more ground spices (such as cumin and cardamom) in the recipe.

The curry paste is made from red chilis and is red. Massaman curry has a creamy, almost tangy sweetness thanks to the additions of tamarind and coconut milk.

Panang curry is cooked with a variety of different ingredients, but the two that really give this curry its flavor are peanuts and lime. Panang curry paste is made from ginger, chili pepper, and lemongrass.

The curry sauce is thick and has a fresh and nutty flavor that stands out. The curry has the perfect combo of sweet and salty.

Curry Origin

The origin stories for these two curries are very different. Massaman curry was discovered in the 1700s when Persian spice traders brought spices to Thailand.

Panang curry has its roots in Thailand, and the recipe was discovered in an old cookbook in the 1800s.

What Is Better: Panang or Massaman Curry?

It all depends on the type of curry you prefer. Massaman curry is better if you like a milder curry with a rich and creamy sauce. However, if you like a curry that has a more zesty flavor and is slightly warmer, then the Panang option is better.

Massaman curry was ranked first (and nicknamed the “King of Curries”) as the most delicious food in the world according to CNN’s Travel list of “The World’s 50 Best Foods.”

What Makes Massaman Curry Different?

Unlike the zesty and fresh taste of Panang curry, massaman curry uses warmer spices such as coriander and cinnamon. This makes massaman curry one of the sweetest (and milder) Thai curries available.

The curry sauce is also not as thick and nutty as the Panang curry.

My Last Foodie Thoughts 

When it comes to comfort food, curry tops the charts. Each curry is different in its own way; some are fragrant and just slightly tickle the taste buds, while others are hot and leave you sweating.

There is nothing quite like a Thai curry on a hot summer’s night or a cold winter’s day. If you want a fresh Thai curry with a zesty twist, then Panang curry will satisfy your craving and palette.

But, if you want a curry that transports you across the ages, then a massaman curry with its warm, rich, and intense flavors is definitely the one to try.

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