Panang Vs Red Curry — What’s The Difference?

There are countless varieties of curries available. It’s nearly impossible to follow along with! Red curry and panang curry are two curries that are particularly difficult to understand. They have a lot of the same ingredients and a similar appearance, but believe us when we say that picking the wrong one could completely ruin your night! What precisely distinguishes red curry from panang curry? The primary ingredient, peanuts, give panang its distinctively nutty, sweet, and mildly spicy flavor. It also has a very thick, creamy consistency. The use of red chilis makes red curry, on the other hand, very saucy and spicy; if you can’t handle a lot of spice, this one is not for you!

Today, we’ll examine both of these curries in more detail. We’ll compare the components that went into making them, as well as their levels of spice, color, consistency, and flavor. In the end, you will be able to quickly distinguish between the two and decide which curry suits you the best!

What Is Panang Curry?

Panang curry is one of Thailand’s top five most well-known and popular dishes. If your town has a Thai restaurant, they will almost certainly serve it. This curry came from the Thai island of Penang, hence the name. Naturally, there are traditional and modern versions of this dish. And, depending on where you are, each cook will add their own spin to it. What makes a panang curry a panang curry remains consistent across the board. It’s like lasagna: even though there are hundreds of thousands of different lasagna recipes, the basic ingredients remain the same.

A panang curry is bursting with flavor. The panang sauce provides almost all of the flavor! If you want to make panang at home, don’t use a premade sauce; instead, make it from scratch. It will give you more control over the final flavor and will be made with higher quality ingredients, giving it a better overall flavor! So, let’s dissect this dish.

Ingredients Used To Make Panang

The sauce is where a panang curry gets most of its flavor. Galangal, lemongrass, coriander, shrimp paste, soy sauce, and coconut cream are among the ingredients in the sauce. These are all essential ingredients. Then, a lot of sauces also include a variety of spices, almonds, onions, and garlic. Spices like turmeric, paprika, coriander, nutmeg, cinnamon, and chili flakes are common in panang recipes.

However, peanuts are the key component that sets panang apart. You can use fresh whole peanuts, peanut butter, or both in this dish! It distinguishes it from other varieties of Thai curry and helps to make it instantly recognizable. The peanuts add a lot of texture as well as a delicious nutty and earthy flavor.

You can also add some vegetables and meat in addition to the sauce base and peanuts. You can experiment with add-ons here. Panang typically includes bell peppers, tomatoes, chicken, or beef. However, once more, the recipes vary from family to family. The sauce provides the flavor. And as long as the essential components are present, the curry qualifies as a panang curry.


Panang curry has a strong peanut flavor. Even if you add more nuts, you cannot substitute them for any other nut. The peanuts add an earthy, nutty, and slightly sweet flavor to the dish. This is accompanied by a flavor profile that is heavily spiced and tastes like, well, curry. You’ll also be able to get some lemongrass and ginger right away (galangal). The remaining ingredients do not have a strong flavor (depending on how much you add to them).

When you add meat, the curry becomes meatier and more umami. However, tofu can be used to make a vegan panang. In most cases, this curry is quite spicy. Typically, chili powder or flakes are used instead of fresh chilies. However, the level of spiciness can be adjusted.

Texture And Consistency

Because of the coconut cream, peanuts or peanut butter, and additional vegetables, panang curry is quite thick. It’s not at all saucy like many other kinds of curry. Personally, we think this is great. It can be very challenging to eat a saucy curry, and it’s not nearly as filling. Panang is very filling and packed with various ingredients and textures. Your meal gets a delicious crunch from the peanuts alone, which ups the appeal of the whole thing.

How Panang Is Served

Panang curry, like most curries, is typically served with rice. This can be either sticky or jasmine rice. We also like to serve it with Asian flatbread on occasion. Although this is not an Indian dish, it goes well with naan, roti, or chapati. This curry is frequently garnished with lemon or lime slices, fresh basil, fresh chili slices, and lime leaves. Add a generous spoonful of coconut cream if desired.

What Is Red Curry?

In Thai cooking, one characteristic that sets one curry apart from another is color. In order to add this color, a few unchanging ingredients are used. So, for instance, you would add herbs like Thai basil, lime leaves, cilantro, or kaffir leaves to make a green Thai curry. The same goes for red curry. Chili is always added to red Thai curries in the form of flakes, powder, or paste.

It’s crucial to realize that there are many different types of red curry recipes. You can imagine the incredibly diverse flavor profiles available if the only deciding factor to make a red curry is adding red chilies! How do you determine if it really is a red curry, then? Really, there isn’t a wrong response to that. Red curry is anything that has red chilies and is bright red in color.

Ingredients Used To Make Red Curry

As previously stated, all red curries must contain some form of red chili. This can be red curry paste, red chili powder, or red chili flakes. Red curry is commonly accompanied by coconut milk, shrimp paste, soy sauce, tomato paste or fresh tomatoes, and galangal (ginger). Chicken is probably the most common meat used in this curry. Other types of meat and even seafood can be used.

And, while you can add some vegetables, it isn’t very common. Many Thai chefs only use aromatics like garlic and onion. However, it is an opportunity to experiment with texture and flavor.


Red curry has a strong spicy flavor. There is so much chili in it that it almost overpowers the other flavors. It has only faint undertones of meaty umami flavor and is not overly sweet, nutty, or meaty. You might be able to taste some of the flavors of the vegetables if you add them. This dish has a lot of spices and is very flavorful, just like panang curry (and all curries).

Texture And Consistency

This curry is extremely saucy. It doesn’t have many ingredients that give it a thick texture. As a result, it is ideal to serve with sauce-absorbing accompaniments. It also lacks a lot of texture. Vegetables can help with this as well. But, once again, it’s just a bright red sauce dish.

How Red Curry Is Served

Like most other curries, red curry is served as well. The usual accompaniments are a bowl of rice or some flatbread. In this instance, flatbread is preferred because it makes it simple to scoop up the sauces. Use coconut cream, additional finely chopped fresh chilies, or fresh basil leaves as garnish. Citrus is not served with this curry because it is already so spicy. Those tastes don’t go together.

Panang Vs Red Curry — Similarities And Differences

So, let’s get to the meat of the matter: what are the actual differences and similarities between panang and red curry? Both of these are traditional Thai curries. Many of their ingredients are interchangeable, and they are even served in the same manner. However, there are three major distinctions between them.

1. Flavor And Spiciness

It might be difficult to distinguish them visually. However, the various flavors will immediately reveal who they are. Because of the peanuts and meat, panang has an intensely nutty, earthy, and umami flavor. While red curry is almost exclusively spicy. Due to the fact that it has fewer ingredients than panang, it is significantly less sweet and has a significantly simpler flavor.

2. Color

The second characteristic is the color of the curries. You will be able to determine which is which if you arrange them side by side. However, at a street seller or on a menu without food titles, it can be difficult. They are both reddish in color. However, red curry is much richer and darker in color than panang curry. It’s mostly chills, whereas panang merely has a hint of it.

3. Consistency

Finally, as we’ve already mentioned, panang is a considerably richer variety of curry than red curry. The accompanying vegetables add extra texture, the peanuts add crunch, and the coconut cream and peanut butter give it a thicker consistency. Flatbread is required to mop up the thick red curry sauce.

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