Red To Panang: Exploring The Flavours Of Thai Curry

Thai cuisine holds a significant place in the culinary world, known for its bold flavours and vibrant colours. At the heart of this renowned cuisine lies Thai curry, a celebrated dish that showcases a harmonious blend of ingredients. Thai curry captivates with its complex flavours, combining creamy coconut milk, fragrant herbs, fiery chilli peppers, meat, seafood, vegetables, or fruit, and a medley of spices.

With variations like red, green, yellow, Massaman, and Panang curry, each offering a unique flavour profile, Thai curry caters to diverse preferences. Unlike Indian curries, Thai curries prioritise the use of herbs and aromatic leaves over a mix of spices. The spiciness of Thai curries varies based on the amount and type of chilli used in the paste.

History And Origin Of Thai Curry

Thai curry boasts a fascinating history that showcases the cultural influences and evolution of Thai cuisine over the centuries. While pinpointing its exact origins is challenging, Thai curry is a product of indigenous Thai ingredients blending with external influences.

The roots of Thai curry can be traced back to the ancient Kingdom of Ayutthaya (14th–18th centuries), where trade and cultural exchange flourished. Indian immigrants and traders introduced spices and curry concepts, which Thai cooks adapted by incorporating local ingredients like lemongrass and galangal. This fusion resulted in the creation of distinct Thai curry variations.

Moreover, regional influences within Thailand further diversified Thai curry. Each region developed its own unique curry style, shaped by available ingredients and local customs. For example, the southern region gave rise to the aromatic and rich Massaman curry, while the northern region contributed Khao Soi with its blend of spices and noodles.

One significant influence on Thai curry was the introduction of chilli peppers. Chilli peppers, native to the Americas, were brought to Thailand by Portuguese traders in the 16th century. The addition of chilli peppers gave Thai curry its characteristic spiciness and added a new dimension of flavour to the dish.

Regional Variations Of Thai Curry

Thai cuisine is renowned for its diverse regional variations of curry, each offering a unique flavour profile and culinary experience. Here are some prominent regional variations of Thai curry:

    Red Curry (Kaeng Phet)

Known for its vibrant red colour, red curry packs a spicy punch. It combines red chilli peppers, garlic, shallots, lemongrass, and other aromatic herbs with proteins like chicken, beef, or shrimp. The curry paste is simmered in coconut milk, creating a creamy and spicy dish. 

    Green Curry (Kaeng Khiao Wan)

Green curry is a balance of heat and fresh herbal flavour. It gets its distinctive green hue from green chilli peppers and Thai basil leaves. The curry paste, featuring ingredients like green chilies, lemongrass, and galangal, is cooked with coconut milk, resulting in a fragrant and slightly sweeter curry. 

    Yellow Curry (Kaeng Kari)

Known for its milder and subtly spiced flavour, yellow curry incorporates turmeric and curry powder, giving it a vibrant yellow colour. It combines potatoes, onions, and proteins like chicken or tofu in a creamy coconut milk base, offering a comforting and aromatic curry. 

    Massaman Curry (Kaeng Massaman)

Hailing from the southern region of Thailand, Massaman curry has Malay and Indian influences. It features a rich and complex flavour profile with a blend of spices such as cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, and nutmeg. Massaman curry often includes tender chunks of beef, potatoes, and peanuts, resulting in a hearty and flavourful curry.

    Panang Curry (Kaeng Phanaeng)

Panang curry is known for its thick and rich consistency. It is made with a paste that includes roasted peanuts, chilli peppers, and fragrant spices. Panang curry is often prepared with beef or chicken, accompanied by kaffir lime leaves and Thai basil, resulting in a creamy and aromatic dish. 

When enjoying Thai curry, there are various accompaniments that elevate the overall dining experience. Jasmine rice, with its fragrant and fluffy texture, serves as a classic and neutral base, allowing the bold flavours of the curry to shine. Sticky rice, alternatively, provides a slightly chewy and sweet contrast to the curry.

The curries are also paired with noodles and vibrant Fresh herbs like Thai basil leaves, cilantro, and mint add brightness and herbal notes to each bite. Condiments such as fish sauce, lime wedges, palm sugar, and chilli flakes offer the opportunity to customise the flavours according to individual preferences. These accompaniments enhance the taste, balance the flavours, and provide an additional layer of complexity to the already enticing Thai curry.

Ingredients and Spices 

The herbs and spices used in authentic Thai curry are integral to creating its distinctive and authentic flavour profile. These ingredients combine harmoniously to produce the vibrant and complex taste that Thai curry is renowned for.

Lemongrass contributes a refreshing citrusy note, infusing the dish with a zesty aroma. Galangal, with its spicy and slightly floral taste, adds depth and warmth to the curry.

Kaffir lime leaves lend a citrusy and aromatic flavour, enhancing the overall fragrance of the dish.

Thai basil brings a subtle sweetness and anise-like aroma to the curry, complementing the other flavours perfectly. Additionally, the combination of chilli peppers and dried spices, such as coriander seeds and cumin, provides the characteristic heat and earthiness that Thai curry is known for. Together, these herbs and spices create a symphony of flavours, taking your taste buds on an authentic Thai culinary journey.

Red Thai Curry With Shrimp

Here's a detailed recipe for making authentic Thai curry:


    2 tablespoons of vegetable oil

    2 tablespoons Thai curry paste (red)

    1 can (14 oz) coconut milk

    1 cup of chicken or vegetable broth

    1 pound of shrimp (cut into bite-sized pieces)

    1 cup mixed vegetables (such as bell peppers, bamboo shoots, eggplant, or baby corn)

    2 teaspoons of fish sauce

    1 teaspoon palm sugar or brown sugar (optional)

    Fresh Thai basil leaves or cilantro for garnish

    Lime wedges for serving

For the curry paste:

    3–4 dried red chilli peppers, soaked in hot water for 15 minutes, and de-seeded

    2 shallots, peeled and roughly chopped

    4 cloves of garlic, peeled

    1 stalk of lemongrass, white part only, sliced

    1 thumb-sized piece of galangal or ginger, peeled and sliced

    1 teaspoon shrimp paste (optional)

    1 tablespoon of coriander seeds

    1 teaspoon cumin seeds

    1 teaspoon black peppercorns

    1 teaspoon salt


    If making your own curry paste, start by grinding the dried red chilli peppers, shallots, garlic, lemongrass, galangal or ginger, shrimp paste (if using), coriander seeds, cumin seeds, black peppercorns, and salt together in a mortar and pestle or a food processor until you have a smooth paste. 

    Heat the vegetable oil in a large skillet or wok over medium heat. Add the curry paste and cook for 1-2 minutes, stirring constantly to release the flavours.

    Pour in the coconut milk and chicken or vegetable broth, stirring well to combine with the curry paste. Bring the mixture to a simmer. 

    Add the chicken, beef, shrimp, or tofu to the skillet and cook until the protein is almost fully cooked through, about 5-7 minutes. 

    Add the mixed vegetables to the skillet and continue cooking for another 3–5 minutes until the vegetables are tender-crisp. 

    Season the curry with fish sauce and palm sugar or brown sugar (if desired), adjusting the flavours to your taste. 

    Remove the skillet from the heat and let the curry rest for a few minutes to allow the flavours to meld together.

    Serve the authentic Thai curry over steamed jasmine rice or sticky rice. Garnish with fresh Thai basil leaves or cilantro, and serve with lime wedges on the side for squeezing over the curry.

Enjoy your homemade authentic Thai curry, savouring the harmonious blend of flavours and spices!