Although a quick answer would be nice, this one requires a deep dive into the world of curry.
There are so many variations and types of curry that span different cultures and geographies, so even this article will not be able to fully encapsulate the intricacies of the term.
From Japanese curries to Indian curries to Thai curries and beyond, each type can taste completely different from the next depending on the base, veggies, and spices that are utilized.
Before we look at the curries and how they differ from region to region and culture to culture, I want to provide a disclaimer that I am not a cultural expert on curries.
I have completed extensive research in order to provide the best information possible, but, as with any food and culture conversation, I cannot speak for any of the peoples or cultures from which these delicacies come.
So with that in mind, let’s take a look at the many flavors and aromas of some of the tasty curries this world has to offer.
What Does Curry Taste Like?
As I’ve mentioned, one can’t answer this question in simple terms. The answer requires specificity.
Even if you asked “What does Thai Curry taste like?” I would respond with “Which kind?” Within one country there are many ways to prepare a dish, depending on the region.
Furthermore, one region’s curry might taste different from another region’s curry. Thus, the question that seems so simple has a complex answer.
We can talk about some of the ingredients that are commonly used in many of the curry types. For example, most curries have some type of vegetable in them, whether that be potatoes, carrots, eggplant, beans, broccoli, bamboo, peppers, etc. In terms of flavors, a majority of curries use spices and herbs that combine to produce a rich, flavorful palette.
Such spices and herbs include, but are not limited to, cardamon, coriander, cloves, thyme, sage, cinnamon, fenugreek, allspice – the list goes on.
Now that you know that the scope of curry is vast, we can look at some more specifics. You’ll get a better feel for just how vast the curry category is.
Indian vs Thai vs Japanese Curry
In terms of what we’ll call The Big Three, Indian, Thai, and Japanese curries each have their own characteristics that set them apart from one another.
Here’s a chart to give you the basics of their differences:
Though the chart gives a basic overview of the differences between the curries, there are still many ingredients, for example, that aren’t included in the chart, or ones that aren’t always used together. In many curries, various meats are included, like chicken, lamb, and beef, but many are also vegetarian.
Again: This chart gives an overview; it’s not meant to say that, for example, there is galangal and Thai basil in each and every Thai curry. Ingredients can be mixed and matched depending on the variation of curry being made!
What Does Indian Curry Taste Like?
There are many Indian curries, so it’s hard to say what they taste like as a whole, but we’ll go over some of the specific types and their flavor-profiles below!
As a tomato-based curry with yogurt, tikka masala has a balance of acid and base that creates a rich, creamy flavor. The addition of turmeric, cumin, coriander, and ginger lends a spicy, sweet taste.
With both lentils and veggies in a goat meat base, Dhanasak curry combines Persian and Gujarati cuisine. It has a tangy, acidic flavor from the addition of tomatoes and pineapple.
Heavier in cardamom and cinnamon, Korma is more on the flavorful side of spicy as opposed to the heat-intense side of spicy. It’s rich and zesty from the cream and butter.
Saag has both crushed and seeded coriander. It offers a citrusy flavor that’s bitter yet tasty. The use of greens offers a rich veggie taste that isn’t too heat-centric.
What Does Thai Curry Taste Like?
What Does Red Curry Taste Like?
Red curry is generally a medium-spice level curry. It contains red chillies that give it a kick, as well as red bell pepper, lemongrass, ginger, coriander, and cumin. These ingredients combine to give red curry its savory, spicy flavor with a bit of sweetness from the pepper.
What Does Green Curry Taste Like?
Green curry can be quite spicy, but it depends on the ratio of ingredients. The cilantro, Thai basil, and kaffir lime leaves offer a bright green color, as well as a more subtle flavor than that of red curry. Mixed with green chillies, lemongrass, ginger, garlic, shallots, and fish sauce, the ingredients create a refreshing, salty-sweet flavor.
What Does Yellow Curry Taste Like?
Yellow curry gets its color from turmeric and curry powder, so it generally has a milder, sweeter flavor than the others. The ingredients include coriander, ginger, cumin, lemongrass, and galangal, as well as chillies, either red or yellow. It still has the Thai flavor, but with a hint of turmeric that the others lack.
What Does Panang Curry Taste Like?
Panang is a rich red curry with peanuts. Thus, it has a nuttier flavor than the others. It’s still rich and creamy, containing similar ingredients such as coriander, garlic, lemongrass, chillies, and ginger, amongst others. It is named for the island of Panang in Malaysia, so it’s slightly different from the previous three Thai curries, with a somewhat thicker texture.
What Does Massaman Curry Taste Like?
Massaman curry is less intense in heat and has a warm spice profile. With cinnamon, cardamom, and cloves, it offers a heavy spice flavor. Like Panang curry, it has influences from Malaysia, as well as India. The spice profile shows the mix of the cultures from which it stems.
What Does Japanese Curry Taste Like?
Japanese curry, or karē, is a mild, slightly sweet curry with heavy emphasis on the umami flavor profile. Along with the fenugreek, cinnamon, coriander, cumin, cardamon, cloves, sage, thyme, etc. (Japanese curry has a lot of the spices and herbs associated with other curries, such as Indian curries), it usually contains carrots, potatoes, onions, and oftentimes meat.
Japanese curry has a roux base, which means it contains flour. The roux gives it a thick consistency.
Other Frequently Asked Questions
What Does Curry Chicken Taste Like?
Many cultures make curry with chicken. An Indian version would be heavy with the flavors of coriander, cumin, turmeric, fennel, pepper, mustard, and cinnamon. A Jamaican version would have allspice, thyme, ginger, garlic, onion, and Scotch bonnet peppers. Thai curry with chicken would feature the classic chillies, lemongrass, ginger, and coriander that are found in most Thai curries. Thus, Curry Chicken does not have a singular taste.
What Does Curry Powder Taste Like?
Curry powder contains turmeric, coriander, cumin, black pepper, chili powder, and ginger, though it can also contain fenugreek, garlic, fennel, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, or caraway. Thus, the taste of curry powder changes depending on which spices are in it, as well as the amount of each. Most curry powders have a rich, complex flavor.
What Does Curry Leaf Taste Like?
Curry leaves taste somewhat like Thai basil or Kaffir lime leaves mixed with a bitter, allium-like (think garlic and onion) taste.
What Does Curry Goat Taste Like?
Jamaican goat curry has similar qualities to Indian curry, with the addition of Scotch bonnet peppers, Bouillon pepper, and tomato paste. The Bouillon adds a meaty flavor to match the lamb while the Scotch bonnet gives the dish an extra kick.
What Does Irish Curry Sauce Taste Like?
Irish curry sauce is much sweeter and less spicy than Indian curry, though it’s inspired by Indian curry. It contains paprika and mustard seed as well as curry powder, providing a depth of flavor without spiciness.
What Does Malaysian Curry Taste Like?
Malaysian curry is often similar to Thai curry in its ingredients. Malay curry has a smokier flavor than other curries.
As we have seen from the research, there are many different types of curry that differ from culture to culture and region to region. Food is a personal and cultural concept, and there is no one way to define a dish that varies depending on how each person/family/region/culture makes it. One restaurant's Thai green curry might be spicier than another restaurant’s. Likewise, one family might make their curry spice with more cardamon and less coriander. There’s no one-size fits all in the world of curry.
So get out in the world and try them all! Whether you’re a curry connoisseur or a newbie, there’s always something else to try. There is so much variation that no one curry will taste exactly like the next.
And though there’s no way to say “what curry tastes like,” we can look at the common components and spices to help you figure out which ones might be more up your alley than others.
Do you have a favorite curry? Did you grow up with it or find it later in life? We’d love to hear your curry stories! And if you have anything to add to this topic, please feel free to do so down below!