Massaman Curry vs Panang Curry: Differences

Massaman Curry vs Panang Curry: Differences & Similarities
9 min reading time

There is a vast variety of curries and all types of Curries are tasty but Asian dishes take all the credit when it comes to the greatest curry dishes of all time. Massaman curry and Panang curry are two Asian curry dishes. Both of these curries have a delicious taste but there are a lot of differences in their recipes.

In this article, we have listed the differences between Penang curry and Massaman curry. The main difference between these two varieties of Thai curries is that Massaman curry can not be prepared with pork, but you can add pork to the recipe of Panang curry. Also, sometimes, Massaman curry is made with nutmeg, which is an unusual ingredient for preparing Thai curries and is not at all used in Panang curry.

What is Massaman Curry?

Massaman Curry is a traditional food of India and Malay which is rich with so many Indian spices. The most used spices in this dish are cardamom, cloves, nutmeg, coriander, cumin, and cinnamon.

It’s Indo-Thai fusion food that is cooked with different aromatics like galangal, lemongrass and garlic. All these things give an explosive curry sensation with a punch of sweetness.

Massaman Curry is also known as a Muslim curry. The reason is that you can’t use pork in this dish. You can only use either beef or lamb.

1. What Does Massaman Curry Taste Like?

Unlike Panang curry, Massaman curry is way thicker and milder. You will find it milder than most Thai curries. Massaman curry is a bit tangy and tremendously luxurious to taste.

It also has a harmonic and sweet flavor, unlike other Thai dishes in terms of spices. The tanginess comes from the tamarind in this dish. Overall, Massaman curry is full of rich, tangy, sweet and mild flavor with a thick texture.

2. Is Massaman Curry Spicy?

Not, really! Massaman curry is quite mild and isn’t spicy. In fact, you will taste a perfect blend of sweet and aromatic flavor which represents both Indian and Thai cultures.

What is Panang Curry?

Have you ever tried red curry? If yes, you might think that both the Panang curry and Red curry are the same because they look the same. But, the main difference is its taste. It is a famous Malaysian curry. It comes with a smooth, sweet and creamy texture.

Panang curry is basically a variation of red curry which is made with curry paste, fish sauce, basil leaves, kaffir lime leaves and coconut cream. But, you can add chicken and vegetables, as well.

1. What Does Panang Curry Taste Like?

Do you like Asian food with strong and nutty flavor? Then you are going to love Panang curry. It is a dish with a thick nutty flavor along with sweetness and salty flavor. You will get the taste of roasted ground peanuts, as well.

As peanut butter is used in this dish, this is way sweeter than any other curry. So, this is a new dish with amazing taste and cultural background. But, if you are a vegetarian, don’t forget to ask the chef to make Panang curry without fish sauce. YOu can add different non-vegetarian ingredients in that case. 

2. What is The Texture of Panang Curry?

Panang curry is way thicker than any other regular curry. As I said before, coconut cream in this dish makes it thicker and makes it less soupy.

It also comes with crankiness due to the peanuts, onions, basil, bamboo shoots and bell peppers.

3. Is Panang curry spicy?

Yes, a bit. As I said before, Panang curry is a kind of red curry. So, it is a bit spicy due to the added chilli pepper in the dish. But, when it’s time to compare other dishes, it’s not that much spicy.

Massaman Curry Vs Panang Curry: Differences

Difference in Origin

Massaman curry originated from southern Thailand, which is very close to the border with Malaysia.

But its main flavors emerge from spices associated with India,  like cardamom, coriander, cumin, cloves, nutmeg, and cinnamon. This curry is prepared by the fusion of Indian spices. Also, Thai aromatics such as galangal, lemongrass, and garlic are used in massaman curry. All these aromatics and spices generate an explosion of flavors on tasting.

Massaman curry is primarily identified as a curry inspired by Islam, because it is made with beef or lamb, instead of pork as pork is prohibited in Islam. This curry is also a part of Thai cuisine.

On the other hand, Panang curry is a type of red curry that originates from Penang, a state in Malaysia. The reflection of the place of origin of Panang curry can be seen in its name as well.  This curry is made from Panang curry paste, fish sauce, basil leaves, kaffir lime leaves, and coconut cream. Some people even add chicken and vegetables to it.

Panang curry is assumed to have reached Thailand from Laos. The very first variety of Panang curry was introduced way back in 1890.

Massaman Curry vs Panang Curry: Differences

Difference in Spice Level

Panang curry is a type of red curry that is less spicy when compared to other Thai curries but it is quite spicier than the massaman curry. The spiciness in panang curry comes from the red chili pepper added to the paste.

Massaman curry is a variant of yellow curry that is mild, rich in aromatics and has a tangy taste. Massaman curry is not as spicy as panang curry or other Thai curries. It is sweet and aromatic as it is a blend of all ingredients (sweet and tangy) from both Indian and Thai seasonings.

Difference In The Taste

Massaman curry is an aromatic curry with a tangy, delightful taste. This curry is sweet and is not as spicy as other Thai curries. The secret to the tanginess of Massaman curry is the tamarind present in the dish.

On the other hand, Panang curry has a spicy yet salty taste. All this goodness in panang curry comes with the addition of a combination of ingredients like coriander, shallot, garlic, shrimp paste, white pepper, and salt.

Difference In The Texture

The addition of peanuts or even a small scoop of peanut butter makes a huge difference in the flavor and taste; it raises the aroma of Panang curry to a whole different level.

The coconut cream added to Panang Curry gives it a smooth, thick, and less soupy texture. It also gets a crunchy texture from the presence of peanuts, onions, basil, bamboo shoots. Bell peppers are also added to panang curry to give it a soft as well as crispy texture.

Overall, the ingredients of Panang curry give it a dense, smooth consistency and a pleasant aroma.

Massaman curry is usually thicker than Panang curry. This curry is milder than other Thai curries and has a sweeter taste.

Difference In Pastes Used

In both of these curry dishes, a paste made with spices and other ingredients is added to enhance the taste.

But, Panang curry paste has no Indian spice as an ingredient (except cumin), it contains shrimp paste, garlic, shallots, a good amount of red chili pepper, and sometimes roasted peanuts. Massaman curry, on the other hand, is a blend of all the spices from India and Thailand. Massaman curry paste includes dried red chilies, cloves, shallots, galangal, garlic, cumin, white pepper, lemongrass, and other aromatic condiments.

Difference In The Ingredients Used

In the recipe for Panang curry, red curry paste is often used and it contains coriander, garlic, lemongrass, red chili pepper, garlic, shallots, and kaffir lime leaves. This combination of the ingredients gives immense pleasure to the palate. Other ingredients that are used to prepare Panang curry paste include kaffir lime rind, lemongrass, coriander root, shrimp paste, salt, and white pepper.

Massaman Curry vs Panang Curry

A lot of western chefs add peanuts in the recipe of Panang curry to improve the zest and taste, but traditionally in Thailand,  peanuts are not used in Panang curry.

On the other hand, Massaman curry paste takes peanuts as its base and adding a pinch of Indian spices like cinnamon, cardamom, and cloves make it more delicious.

Difference In The Type or Variant Of Curry

Massaman curry is a variant of yellow curry, but of course, a sweeter variant of it, different from typical Thai yellow curry.

On the other hand, Panang curry is a sweeter variant of typical red curry, see our post about the difference between Panang curry and red curry if you’re interested.

How Are They Similar?

There are truly some similarities that you will find after knowing details about these curries. First of all, I found similarities in the base ingredients of these two dishes.

When you make Panang curry paste and Massaman curry paste, you will find that so many ingredients are common. In both curries, I found similarities as you need peanuts and the same number of red chillies. 

Massaman Curry vs Panang Curry: Which is Better?

Basically, the taste of food varies from person to person. It depends on the taste buds who will eat the food and the expertise of the chef as well.

Some people love Penang curry the most whereas some people prefer the Massaman curry more than anything. So, it’s tough to judge both of these curries.

However, I can describe the foods how they actually look. Well, Penang curry is way thicker than Massaman curry. It is also spicier and hotter than Massaman curry paste. But, Massaman curry is sweeter.

Both of these curries are yummy, healthy, and delicious with some differences in taste.  But, you can use any of these two curries as a substitute for another.

Where Can You Buy These Curries?

Both of these curries are from Thailand and Malaysian Cuisine. You will find it anywhere in Thailand and Malaysia. You will find them in any intercontinental restaurants in foreign countries.

If you don’t get these foods readily in your nearest restaurant, you can buy the ingredients and make the Penang curry and the Massaman curry very easily. You can make these dishes more delicious by adding homemade pastes.

Final thoughts

For Asian cuisine lovers, curries are a very important part of their meal. If you like your curry spicy, creamy and with a little touch of sweetness then the Panang curry is for you.

On the other hand, if you prefer something which is thick in texture, mild, aromatic, and is tangy yet sweet, your best choice would be the Massaman curry. Give your taste buds an exquisite delight!

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  • Diego

    Finally, someone explains the difference between Massaman and Panang! Great article, ChefD!

  • Leo

    Massaman curry is my comfort food. Thanks for highlighting its uniqueness.

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