Curry paste adds big, bright, powerful flavors to dishes.

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There's a pretty good chance that you have curry powder among the spices in your pantry, but it's less likely that there's a jar of curry paste. Nonetheless, this staple in Thai cooking can be an incredibly simple way to add tons of bright, powerful flavors to a dish with little to no effort. Here's what you need to know before you add it to your kitchen repertoire.

What is curry paste?

While curry powder is a blend of dried, ground spices that you can often find between the cumin and dill in the spice aisle at the supermarket, curry paste is like a turbocharged version. It features many of the same spices, such as turmeric, coriander, chili powder, and cumin, then adds in oil, garlic, lemongrass, galangal (or Thai ginger) and some chilies, the latter being the ingredient that gives curry paste its distinct color and flavor.

Are there different kinds of curry paste?

As far as Thai curry pastes go, there are three main types: red, yellow, and green, all of which start with the same base ingredients. Traditional red curry paste can feature up to 20 different dried chilies, among them bird's eye chilies and Thai long chilies. Green curry paste features many of the same chilies as red but in their fresh state (as opposed to dried), plus cilantro and kaffir lime leaves to give it a vibrant, green color. Meanwhile, yellow curry paste gets its color from fresh turmeric and curry powder.

Red, yellow, and green curry paste
Credit: Meredith

What does curry paste taste like?

The spiciest option, red curry paste is rich and fiery. Green curry paste is often considered the most popular of the three because it offers a mild, balanced flavor that is both rich and herbaceous. Yellow curry paste is heartwarming and slightly sweet and its spiciness can vary depending on the types of chilies used.

How is curry paste used?

The most common use for curry paste is, unsurprisingly, in curries. To make one, you typically add the curry paste to a skillet, followed by the protein or veggies, then a liquid such as stock or coconut milk. The mixture is then simmered slowly until the sauce is thick and fragrant and everything is cooked through and is usually served over rice. However, you can bring curry paste's deep flavor to a variety of recipes. You can use it in a marinade or as a rub for chicken, fish, or beef. Mixing it with vinegar or yogurt will result in a tasty salad dressing. What's more, adding curry paste at the beginning of cooking can help you build flavor in soups and stews.

What should I look for when buying curry paste?

You'll find curry paste in the international aisle at most supermarkets—Thai Kitchen (which makes green and red curry paste) is the brand that is most widely available. It can be stored in the cupboard until you open it, then it should move to the fridge. As far as flavors, each brand will likely have a slightly different recipe, so experimentation is the best way to find the recipe that suits your taste. If you have a shellfish allergy, make sure you check the ingredients list, since many curry pastes are made with shrimp paste.

Thai Red Curry Paste
Credit: Buckwheat Queen

Make your own Thai Red Curry Paste.

What about Indian curry?

Next to Thai, curry is most prevalent in Indian cooking. It's true that an Indian curry may look similar to a Thai curry upon serving, but the cooking process is different. Thai curry starts with curry paste and is commonly thickened with coconut milk. Meanwhile, Indian curry begins with a base of tomatoes and onions that have been cooked down, followed by the addition of a variety of dried spices that transform it into a curry, and finally thickened with yogurt or cream. If you'd like to give Indian curry a go, try this Indian Chicken Curry.

Ready to cook with curry paste? Try this Thai Green Curry Chicken, this Vegan Keto-Friendly Thai Yellow Curry or this Red Curry Flank Steak.

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