Panang Curry vs Red Curry – What’s the Difference?

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Panang curry and red curry are two incredibly popular Thai curries. Characterized by the rich red color and bold flavors both of these dishes are classics of Thai cuisine. 

Because these two curries are so similar, many people believe that red curry is the same as panang curry. Although they are alike in many ways, there are several key differences between these Thai curries. 

So, what’s the difference between panang curry vs red curry? The main difference between red curry and panang curry is in their taste profile and spiciness level. Red curry has a bold and spicy flavor profile thanks to the use of red chiles. On the other hand, panang curry has a mellow, nutty flavor, thanks to peanuts, and almost no spice. 

This article takes a closer look at panang curry and red curry. Keep reading to learn which of these two curries suits your tastes. 

What is Panang Curry?

Panang curry, also known as phanaeng or phanang curry, is one of the best-known Thai curries. As its name suggests, panang curry originated on the island of Penang. 

Panang curry is a type of red Thai curry. It has a thick, creamy consistency and a mild, nutty, and sweet flavor.

There are many versions of panang curry. Some versions are more traditional, and others are more modern. 

This dish’s complex and tasty flavor comes from panang curry paste. The paste is made from:

  • Dried chili peppers
  • Galangal (ginger)
  • Lemongrass
  • Makrtu lime zest
  • Coriander root
  • Coriander seeds
  • Cumin seeds
  • Garlic
  • Shallot
  • Shrimp paste
  • Salt
  • Peanuts

The panang curry paste is combined with other ingredients, including makrut lime leaves, coconut cream, palm sugar, fish sauce, and meat cut into strips to create panang curry. This dish is typically made with thick coconut cream that accounts for a rich and creamy consistency. 

What is Red Curry?

Red curry is a popular Thai dish made from a red curry paste cooked in coconut milk. Meat such as chicken, pork, beef, duck, or shrimp are added to the sauce. A vegetarian version of red curry is made with tofu instead of meat.

The red curry paste, which is the base for this dish is made from several ingredients, including:

  • Red chili peppers
  • Garlic
  • Shallots
  • Galangal (ginger)
  • Shrimp paste
  • Salt
  • Makrut lime leaves
  • Coriander root
  • Coriander seeds
  • Cumin seeds
  • Peppercorns
  • Lemongrass

To make red curry, the red curry paste is cooked in a pot with cooking oil in which coconut milk is added. Then, the bite-sized pieces of meat or tofu are added to the curry sauce.

Red curry typically has a soup-like consistency and is served in a bowl with rice as a side dish.

Difference between Panang Curry vs Red Curry

Although panang curry and red curry are made using many of the same ingredients and look similar, they aren’t the same. Take a look at the main differences between these two dishes:

1. Spiciness

The spiciness level is the biggest difference between these two iconic Thai dishes. The red curry paste is made from red chili peppers increasing the spiciness level of red curry. On the other hand, the panang curry isn’t spicy at all.

Some Thai chefs use many fresh chili peppers to achieve the desired red color and spiciness level of the red curry dish. Red curry is often so hot and isn’t recommended to people who aren’t used to eating spicy food.

2. Flavor 

Red curry and panang curry taste nothing alike. The combination of spices and peanuts gives panang curry a mildly sweet, nutty, and earthy flavor. 

On the other hand, the red curry is just spicy. The chili peppers overpower the flavors of all other ingredients used to make red curry.

3. Color

Panang curry and red curry are technically red in color. But when these two dishes are placed side by side, you’ll notice a difference in the shade of red.

Panang curry has a lighter red color, and sometimes even appears pink. Red curry, on the other hand, comes in a much deeper and brighter shade of red, mostly due to the use of red chili peppers.

4. Consistency

Red curry and panang curry also differ in texture. Panang curry typically has a thicker and richer texture than red curry. This is mainly because panang curry is made with coconut cream which is much thicker and creamier than coconut milk used to make red curry.

Red curry has a thin, soup-like consistency that pairs well with rice. 

What is Hotter Red or Panang Curry?

Red curry is hotter and spicier than panang curry. Red curry is made using large amounts of chili peppers and is the spiciest of all Thai curries. 

What Makes Panang Curry Different?

Panang curry and red curry are made using many of the same ingredients. But panang curry is more aromatic and flavorful than red curry because it contains peanuts. Thanks to peanuts, panang curry has a mild, earthy, and sweet flavor and a thick consistency.


Panang curry and red curry are among the most popular dishes of the Thai cuisine. These curries have a similar color and are made using many of the same ingredients. But, they aren’t the same.

Red curry and panang curry differ in several ways. Pink or reddish in color, the panang curry has a rich and thick consistency and makes a hearty meal. Made using various spices, panang curry has a mild, sweet, and earthy flavor of roasted peanuts. 

Brightly red in color, the red curry is intensely hot and has a thin, soup-like consistency. Red curry is traditionally the hottest of all Thai curries and is served with steamed rice. 

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