Is Yellow Curry Spicy?

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Yellow curry is an extremely flavorful curry that we have come to know and love. But depending on where you are, you may not even have heard about this dish!

Unfortunately, yellow curry lives under the shadow of its siblings, Thai green and red curry. For that reason, now many people are familiar with its flavor. So, today we explore a little bit more about this dish.

What most people want to know though is whether or not yellow curry is spicy? The short answer is that it is very relative. Different people have different tolerances and opinions on spiciness. What we can say is that it is one of the milder curries out there and it doesn’t contain nearly as many chilies as red or green Thai curries.

In this packed article, we will look at the many aspects that go into making a yellow Thai curry.

From the spices used to create the flavor, to ingredients added directly inside, and finally what it is served with. We will look at exactly what makes it hot and how spicy it really is!

What Is Yellow Curry?

Curry is an extremely broad category of dishes. Well, not necessarily dishes, because they are all a type of curry. But the flavor profiles used are extremely wide and exceptionally versatile.

You get thousands of different curries! Many of them even use the same ingredients but in a different ratio. Something as simple as that can change the entire flavor profile of the dish.

When you research the exact term “yellow curry”, the first type of curry that comes up is a Thai one.

Now, we have to mention that yellow curry is also a term used to describe many different curries made with turmeric to give them a yellow color.

The term also refers to a yellow curry powder of Indian origin.

This curry powder is essentially the generic name used in Western countries that aren’t as familiar with the many different types and flavors. Naturally, the Indian curry powder spice blend differs from the one used in Thai cuisine.

What Is Thai Yellow Curry?

Thai yellow curry is arguably the most well-known type of yellow curry in the world. It forms part of the three major types of Thai curry. The dish the locals (in the West) usually refer to when talking about a yellow curry is Kaeng Kari. 

In Southern Thailand, yellow curry refers to a dish called Kaeng som, which translates to “sour curry”. 

This curry is made with spices including cumin, turmeric, coriander, garlic, ginger, bay leaf, lemongrass, fenugreek, cayenne pepper, mace, and cinnamon.

As compared to other Thai curries, it contains a lot fewer chilies, making it less spicy.

Yellow Thai curry has a much milder flavor as compared to many, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t flavorful. This curry, as you can tell from the spice list above, is quite tasty and aromatic. 

The reason for it not being as spicy is because of the British military influence during the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Ingredients Used For Yellow Curry

So, as we have mentioned, several spices go into this curry mixture. However, the curry doesn’t just contain spices.

Coconut milk is often added to help give a creamy consistency to the dish. Palm sugar can also be incorporated to help balance the spiciness.

Yellow Thai curry is served with either a chicken or beef side dish (or main dish). At other times, the chicken or beef is directly incorporated into the dish itself

Starchy vegetables can also be added directly to the dish. But, in traditional Thai style, it is more often served as a side. Potatoes are exceptionally popular as it is also one of the more affordable vegetables.

Other meats that this curry is often served with (or made with) include duck, shrimp, or fish. Tofu is also a popular vegan protein alternative. 

As with most curries, this one is often also served with rice or round rice noodles called Khanom chin.

When we look at traditional Southern yellow Thai curries, it has a sour flavor usually thanks to an acidic cream. It also has a lighter color and is a lot spicier than the previously mentioned yellow curry.

Spice Level Comparison

When compared to many other Thai curries (and other Asian curries in general) yellow Thai curry is one of the mildest in flavor.

Now naturally, the term “mild” is extremely relative. To someone who regularly has curry, mild means virtually no spice. But, to someone who has never had curry before, mild is tear-inducing and they instantly break out in a sweat.

Furthermore, even the region you are in will dictate how spicy “mild” is. For example, in India itself, a “no-spice” curry is extremely hot.

But in the Cape Malay cuisine in South Africa (which is a blend of South African and Indian cuisine) the “no-spice” option doesn’t even have any chilies, chili powders, or Cayenne peppers included.

So, if you have never had curry before or are still relatively new to these dishes, a yellow Thai curry will be a good starting point to simply test your spice level.

It does contain some chilies, but they are well-balanced with coconut milk and other sweeter spices.

But, it isn’t nearly as spicy as green Thai curry or red Thai curry. Both of these use fresh chili paste in the recipe which makes it extremely hot. 

How To Reduce The Spiciness of Yellow Curry

If you are buying pre-made yellow Thai curry from a restaurant or vendor, you can gauge the spiciness by asking what type of chili they used.

If they used chili paste or fresh chilies, it is going to be hot. But, if they used a dry chili or chili powder, then it will be slightly less spicy.

You can also ask them what their opinion is on the spiciness level, but again, their tolerance is probably a lot higher than yours. To them, “not spicy” is just not spicy enough for their liking!

If you have bought a curry or are making one at home, you can reduce the spiciness level by adding more coconut milk or coconut cream to the mix.

You can also add yogurt, cream, or sour cream. All of these will balance out the chili.

Other options you can try include adding more cooked vegetables (that will match the flavor of the curry), balancing the flavor with an acidic ingredient, or adding sweetness like sugar or ketchup.

When making any of these changes, always make sure to add amounts in smaller quantities first. You don’t want to overdo the adjustment and completely ruin the dish.

How To Add Spice To Yellow Thai Curry

Adding spiciness to a curry may seem easy. But yellow curry is so unique that it isn’t as straightforward.

The best way to add spiciness to a yellow curry is to add yellow chilies. They aren’t always easy to find as most shops only have red and green chilies available. But, they are the best options.

Otherwise, look for a yellow curry paste. Both of these will probably be available at an Asian food market.

If you cannot find any of these, you can also add other chilies, chili powder, chili flakes, paste, or dried chilies. You can even use hot sauce! The freshest and concentrated options are much spicier than the powder and flakes.

Again, only make small adjustments at a time. Eating too much hot food that you aren’t used to can cause you to become seriously ill.

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