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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 importfood.com 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.

                  2. Red curry with bbq duck, bamboo shoots, lychee, and sweet bell peppers, garnished with extra dash of coconut milk and thai basil. So good.

                    1. what is the difference between thai curry paste in a jar and thai curry sauce in a jar?

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: suzyrose1

                        The sauce is already mixed with the coconut milk. All you need to do is add vegetables and protein, but you sacrifice control and quality for that convenience.

                      2. And can any of them be used to make massaman curry, my favorite?

                        3 Replies
                        1. re: Lixer

                          I think Massaman Curry has a paste all it;s own.

                          1. re: stomsf


                            Canned paste or fresh made paste allows you to make a myriad of dishes but just usually meaning you need to add the canned coconut milk,and obviously all the other intricate bits to make it it's own unique dish.

                            I prefer Maesri paste, but use Mae Ploy as well.

                            For sweet chili sauce, I prefer Mae Ploy tho...

                          2. re: Lixer

                            Massaman is different from the others. I've never had yellow, but I usually use red, green, and panang. While I like red best, all are interchangeable. Massaman is good for those who may not like the regular curry pastes...Massaman curries are sweeter and have all those great peanuts (I use coarse natural peanut butter when I make it). I find that its great for kids too.

                          3. Curry paste is far superior to jar, both in quality and in price. A small size of Aroy-D curry paste sells here for 2.50-3.00. And is enough for 10 or so batches.

                            Also, after much testing, I've found never skimp on the coconut milk quality, and that coconut cream is ideal.


                            And adding a tablespoon of fish sauce and palm sugar near the end is vital to get the right flavour. Or brown sugar if you cant find palm sugar.

                            Tastes exactly or better than restaurant curries, since a lot of thai places use this exact product.

                            2 Replies
                            1. re: LawnGnome

                              Excellent advice! DH and I went to Thailand this year and attended a cooking course in Chiang Mai. Adding fish sauce and palm sugar to taste is exactly how to get the dish to taste authentic. +1 on the coconut cream also.

                              For red curry we picked up a few packages of sour curry paste in Bangkok. Not sure what makes it sour - maybe tamarind paste? Anyway, it's right up there with Penang curry, IMHO.

                              1. re: rosepoint

                                Tamarind is the Traditional ingredient that make Sour Curry Paste (Kaeng Som, แกงส้ม) sour.

                            2. Yellow curry with tofu, onions and red pepper is a nice combination. And if you fry the tofu first, it holds together better and absorbs sauce nicely.

                              1. Yellow curry is similar to Indian curry and mild. Mussleman curry is very mild (and means Muslim curry). Penang curry is a little hotter. Red curry is hot. Green curry is the hottest of all. I use Penang mostly. It has a bite but is not overwhelming like the green curry can sometimes be.

                                1. The basic principle of Thai cuisine is sweet (palm sugar), sour (tamarind paste) and salt (fish sauce). There are distinct kinds of curry paste (look in the store and you'll see all the different types). The skill comes with mixing the ingredients skillfully, often with coconut cream/milk. Even non-curry dishes use this sweet/sour/salt principle.