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Jan 26, 2011 12:36 PM

Curry: red, green, yellow. What's the difference?

Can anyone give me a pretty simple explanation of the difference between each of the curry pastes? At our Asian market they come in little tubs side-by-side but with no explanation. Sometime back I bought a green one because DW coesn't like hot things and I thought that that might be the key. Then a couple of days ago I heard a recipe for something cooked in red curry. I happened to be in TJ's the next day, saw a bottle of red curry sauce so I picked that up.

But we like curry, and would like to know which "color" is to be used for what food (poultry, seafood, meat, vegetables?), or in what ather appropriate manor.

As always, thank you for the help.

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  1. Typically the Thai products list the percentages of various ingredients.

    1. If you Google on recipes for Thai red or green curry, you should get a sense of the different ingredients and what protein they might work best with. Havnt come across yellow curry pastes.

      It may depend on where you are in the world but, where I am, there'd be a requirement for the tubs to list ingredients.

      1. I've used all types for all kinds of food. I prefer green curry with shrimp, pork, or chicken, yellow with chicken or veggies, and red with pork or shrimp, but honestly it's just preference.

        The last green curry paste I bought was absolutely SCREAMING hot, so don't go by the color as an indication of spiciness! The first ingredient was green chiles!

        Obviously, the difference is going to be in what spices are included -- in green curry you're likely to have things like lemongrass, cilantro, etc., in yellow, turmeric, coriander, etc., and in red, often tamarind, red chiles, etc. All of them go well with coconut milk, in my opinion.

        Is there a brand you can find at your local asian market? Ours (and most others IME) carry the Maesri brand which is pretty consistent. Their Masaman curry is quite nice, very delicious with the normal coconut milk, chicken, potatoes, onions, carrots, and peanuts.

        1. Mmmmm, Thai curries, my favorite!!

          My personal impression of tastes and what goes with what....

          Yellow -- for the most part I avoid yellow as it doesn't hold the same enjoyment from the complexity of flavors that the others have. I was told by a teacher in a cooking class that yellow Thai curry is more of a spin off of traditional Indian curry. Mostly used with Chicken though.

          Green -- as mentioned above, mostly used with white meats, chicken or pork. Fish and/or shellfish would work, as well as vegetarian. One interesting thing with Thai curries, they can be mild or blazingly hot -- to me (who loves spicy) I don't find the base curry hot at all. Green curries are one of my favorites -- I make a pork curry with the small globe Thai eggplants and fresh peas that's amazing. :-P

          Red Curries have also been a favorite of mine. I've made chicken, pork, pumpkin, beef, and shrimp as the main focus. I've also eaten red curry duck in a restaurant, and it was fantastic. There was a recipe I clipped a long time ago for a red curry risotto that was a bit of work but sooooo good. Hmm, I may try to make that this weekend.

          Panang curry is probably my favorite. It has peanuts in the base and is usually served with beef.

          All of the above curries are made with coconut milk in Thai cooking. There is also a "country style" curry which is made without coconut milk, but I love coconut milk so much that I've never gone there.

          My curry paste of choice (haven't ever tried to make my own) is Mae Ploy.

          Good luck and enjoy!!!

          5 Replies
          1. re: stomsf

            Thanks. Now that was helpful, giving me a sense of which might work well with what.

            1. re: stomsf


              Would you mind sharing the two recipes you mentioned above- the red curry risotto and the green curry with eggplant and peas. They sound yummy!

              1. re: stomsf

                I'm going to my first Thai restaurant tonight! Thanks for the advice!

                1. re: stomsf

                  Very good descriptions.

                  I might add that massaman comes from the word Muslim and denotes that influence in that it has more "sweet" Middle Eastern spices such as cinnamon.

                  Panang is also my favorite with its thick peanutty mouth feel (I always add more peanut butter to my panang curry) but I like it best with chicken.

                  I've used lots of Mae Ploy and Maesri pastes but have also enjoyed discovering more brands at the Asian market and from which is a wonderful Thai food website.

                2. Red curry paste is the basis for many other dishes besides curries. You can find it in fish cakes, peanut sauce, sausages, etc. It is the most versatile in terms of proteins it pairs with, though it is especially good with duck, shrimp and pork. Its color comes from dried red chilies and the paste itself has more onions and garlic giving it a more savory flavor that contrasts well with sweet additions like lychee, pineapples and basil.

                  Green curry gets its color from the fresh green chilies used in the paste, giving it a fresher vegetal flavor. It pairs well with white meat and seafood and firm vegetables that compliment its sweet flavor.

                  Yellow curry is an interpretation of Indian curry with turmeric, coriander and cumin. The flavor is not quite as pronounced as in an Indian curry and is balanced out by the fragrance of lemongrass. Goes well with chicken or beef and mild vegetables like potatoes, baby corn and the like.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: JungMann

                    Now that's worth printing out and sticking in the recipe box.

                    Thanks JM.