Walking into a Thai restaurant is an absolute treat for your senses. Suddenly, your airways feel (more) open, colors seem brighter, and you can’t help but drool as you glance over the exotic menu.
So which curry will it be today? Red vs green vs yellow curry?
Red, green, and yellow curries have similar base ingredients. The main difference is the color and chilies used in each curry. Red curry is made with dried red chili. Green curry is made from fresh green chilies, and yellow curry is made with yellow peppers and turmeric.
Have you recently been introduced to the fragrant and exotic world of Thai curries, but you’re unsure of the differences between them? Then this detailed guide has all the details you need.
What Is Red Curry?
Red curry (traditionally known as kaeng phet) is a popular Thai curry dish that’s made from a fragrant red curry paste (kreung gaeng phet daeng.)
This aromatic and fiery curry originates from Central Thailand, and the recipe has remained the same over the years.
Herbs and roots native to the country give this curry its unique flavors. This curry has strong influences from China (the method of frying the chilies to release the flavor) and spices from India.
The red chilies were originally brought to Thailand by Portuguese missionaries.
Here’s a look at the ingredients used in a traditional recipe for Thai red curry:
- Red curry paste (gives the curry its bright red color)
- Full-fat coconut milk
- Meat: duck, beef, pork, chicken, or shrimp
- Tofu (vegetarian option)
- Green beans
- Fresh basil leaves
- Fish sauce
Thai red curry is best served with basmati or jasmine rice. A more traditional option is to make lemongrass rice, which compliments the curry’s flavors.
What Is Green Curry?
Green curry (kaeng khiao wan) is another popular Thai curry dish made from an aromatic green curry paste. This is one of the “sweeter” Thai curries, but it still packs a spicy punch.
Even though this curry is one of the most popular Thai curries, its exact origins are a mystery.
It’s believed that the curry originated in Bangkok (the capital of Thailand) after a lady-in-waiting named Khun Ying Plien Plassakornwong mentioned the recipe in a cookbook in the 1900s.
This delicious warm curry gets its vibrant color from green chilies, cilantro, and lime leaf. This is a zesty and fresh-tasting curry that has a wonderful effect on the taste buds.
Here’s a look at the ingredients used in a traditional recipe for Thai green curry:
- Green curry paste (gives the curry its vibrant green color)
- Meat: goat, chicken, beef, pork, prawns, or shrimp
- Tofu (vegan option)
- Cilantro root
- Fresh basil leaves
- Lime leaves
- Fish sauce
- Coconut milk
- Fresh green grapes (adds a burst of freshness)
- Green beans
- Aubergines (eggplant)
- Bamboo shoots
- Cumin seeds
Thai green curry is best served over a hot bowl of fragrant jasmine rice or in a roti (round flat bread). Toasted cashews and mango chutney make excellent toppings for this zesty curry.
What Is Yellow Curry?
Yellow curry (kaeng kari) is one of the milder Thai curries available and has a soft sweet taste. This fragrant Thai curry is made from yellow curry paste (nam prik gaeng karee), which gives it a lovely yellow hue.
Thai yellow curry originated from Southern Thailand, but over the years, it was heavily influenced by British naval cuisine (hence the milder flavor and less oily consistency) in the late 19th century.
One of the essential ingredients in this curry is the addition of turmeric, which enhances the yellow or golden shade.
Here’s a look at the ingredients used in a traditional recipe for Thai yellow curry:
- Yellow curry paste (made from yellow peppers)
- Meat: lamb, goat, mutton, beef, chicken, fish, or prawns
- Coconut milk
- Avocado oil
- Ground nutmeg and cinnamon
- Sultana raisins
- Lime juice
- Brown sugar
- Roasted peanuts
Thai yellow curry goes well with steamed basmati rice or egg noodles. Use toasted coconut flakes, banana chips, currants, candied ginger, or slices of avocado to give your curry a burst of color and flavor.
Differences Between Red vs Green vs Yellow Curry
Here’s a look at some of the differences between red vs green vs yellow curry:
Type of Chilli or Pepper Used
Each one of these curries uses a different type of chili or pepper to make its fragrant curry paste:
- Red curry paste is made from dried red chili powder, garlic, lemongrass, and tomato sauce to enhance the red color.
- Green curry paste is made from green chilies, cilantro, and lime leaves to enhance the green color.
- Yellow curry paste is made from yellow peppers and turmeric to give it that golden yellow color.
Flavor and Heat
All three of these curries are bursting with different flavors and heat levels. Let’s take a look at the differences:
- Red curry has a strong garlic flavor complemented by undertones of roasted peanuts. The red chilies make this spicy curry hotter than the green and yellow curries.
- Green curry has a warm creamy sauce complemented by a zesty and fresh flavor. The curry has a milder and sweeter taste than the red curry.
- Yellow curry has a welcoming and gentle heat with a savory-sweet, and spicy taste.
Which Curry Is Better: Red or Green?
This boils down to what you prefer in a curry. If you’re in the mood for something hot and spicy, then red curry is the one for you. However, don’t be fooled by the green curry’s calm coloring, as it’s also known to be hot.
Green curry is for you if you want a curry that will cleanse your palette and leave you with a slight zing and a fresh taste in your mouth.
Its flavors are more subtle, with a lot less burn than the red curry option.
Which Curry Is Hotter: Green, Red, or Yellow?
Each one of these curries has a different heat level. Of the three, red curry packs the most heat, with green curry coming in second place with a milder heat score.
The yellow curry is the mildest Thai curry.
My Last Foodie Thoughts
As you can see, there are plenty of similarities and differences between these three divine Thai curries. Depending on the type of meat and flavors you are looking for, one of these curries is sure to satisfy your curry craving.
It’s all up to whether you prefer a taste-bud-burning red curry, the zesty-green-machine curry, or the mellow-yellow curry.
Why not spice things up and give each one a try (but be sure to keep a glass of milk close by in case things get a little too hot)?