Fans of Asian food will tell you that massaman and panang are two of the finest curries in the world, and we would certainly agree!
These complex and flavor-filled dishes are a taste sensation, and both types of curry are now found all around the world.
But when it comes to massaman curry and panang curry, what is the difference? And which is best? Both panang and massaman curries have Thai influences, but massaman also contains warm spices of Persian origin. Panang curry has a zesty, nutty flavor, while massaman is milder with a rich, warming sauce.
The world of Asian foods is fascinating and well worth further investigation. Let’s take a look at massaman curry and panang curry and find out all about these flavor-filled dishes!
What Is Massaman Curry?
Massaman curry is often thought of as a Thai curry, but it is actually a fusion of flavors from across Asia.
The base of this curry sauce combines ingredients from across the Indian subcontinent with traditional Thai ingredients to make a fragrant and flavorsome paste.
The name “massaman” originates from the Persian word “moselman”, meaning Muslim.
It is believed that the massaman curry may be a blend of Persian cuisine with Thai and Indian influences, brought to Asia by Persian merchants.
Wherever it came from, it seems that massaman curry is now a firm favorite around the world, and it is here to stay!
Massaman curry boasts an impressive ingredient list, and it has stayed true to its Muslim roots. Like most curries, it can be made with a range of meats, most commonly chicken but also duck, beef, venison, goat, and mutton.
Pork is forbidden in Islam, so pork massaman curry would not normally be found in Muslim cultures.
The Muslim origins of the Massaman curry are evident in the range of spices used, with many included that are not normally found in other Thai curries.
These include warm, fragrant spices such as cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, star anise, cumin, and nutmeg.
These were brought to Thailand in the 17th century by traders and blended with local ingredients to form the curry paste we know and love today.
Thai influences in this recipe include cilantro seeds, lemongrass, shrimp paste, chili peppers, and garlic.
All these ingredients are formed into a thick paste that is fried with coconut cream. Meat and potatoes are then added to this flavor-packed sauce, as well as fish sauce, tamarind paste, coconut milk, sugar, and peanuts.
How Is Massaman Curry Served?
The traditional way to serve massaman curry is with a bowl of steamed rice, such as jasmine or basmati rice. At a feast or banquet, it may be served alongside other curries and spicy dishes.
An alternative way to serve massaman curry is to enjoy it on a bed of egg noodles. You can also thin down the massaman sauce to turn this dish into a rich soup.
What Is Panang Curry?
Panang curry is an authentic Thai curry with a distinctive red sauce. This leads many people to confuse panang curry with Thai red curry, but they do have some key differences.
Popular in Asian cuisine for over 100 years, the panang curry stays true to its Thai origins, with an ingredient list that is unmistakably Thai.
The curry paste used to make panang curry consists of coriander root, coriander seeds, cumin seeds, dried chili peppers, galangal, lemongrass, makrut lime zest, garlic, shallot, shrimp paste, salt, and peanuts.
Like massaman curry, this paste is fried in coconut cream to give a rich intensity to the sauce.
Thin strips of meat are then added to the sauce, along with makrut lime leaves, coconut milk, palm sugar, and fish sauce.
The most popular meat used in panang curry is sliced pork, although other types of meat are also often used. It can also be cooked with poultry, or simply with vegetables for a vegetarian option.
How Is Panang Curry Served?
The traditional way of serving panang curry in Thailand is with a bowl of jasmine or sticky rice. It is common to include vegetables in the curry, as well as chicken or another source of protein.
Panang curry is often garnished with lime wedges and a dash of hot sauce for those that like an extra kick to their curry. Alternatively, top the curry with finely chopped fresh chili peppers and a splash of coconut milk.
What Does Massaman Curry Taste Like?
Bearing in mind the impressive list of ingredients, it will come as no surprise that massaman curry has a rich and intense flavor. It is highly aromatic, with a scent that tantalizes the tastebuds long before you take the first mouthful.
The tamarind in massaman curry gives it a slight tanginess, whilst the coconut cream, coconut milk, and sugar add sweetness.
This contrasts perfectly with the combination of spices, to create a rich sauce that is packed full of flavor.
Connoisseurs of massaman curry will tell you that the best and most traditional way to cook it is with chicken and potato, and these two ingredients both carry the sauce well.
Richer meats such as duck, beef, or venison are also often used in massaman curry, but they do not allow the harmonic flavors of the sauce to shine quite as well.
What Does Panang Curry Taste Like?
Two words perfectly sum up a panang curry: zesty and nutty! This is thanks to 2 key ingredients: makrut lime leaves and peanuts.
Panang curry sauce is thick, with a sweet and salty flavor. It stands out amongst other Thai curries in that it is the only one to include peanuts in sufficient quantities to make them a major component of the dish.
The coconut cream makes panang curry smooth, rich, and sweet, with aromatic flavors courtesy of the extensive range of Thai spices included in the paste.
The fish sauce and shrimp paste add another layer of complexity, although these can be omitted for a vegan version of this dish.
Massaman Curry Vs Panang Curry – Taste Comparison
You’ll have noticed that these two classic curry recipes have many similarities: they both contain a range of Thai spices and flavorings, as well as coconut cream, fish sauce, and sugar.
This means they both have a rich, creamy flavor, with a slight hint of sweetness that pairs perfectly with the intense spices.
However, whilst massaman and panang curries have a lot in common, there are also some key differences.
Massaman curry includes a range of Persian spices, such as cumin, cinnamon, and nutmeg. This adds a whole new dimension of warmth to the flavor, which is not found in panang curry.
In contrast, panang curry contains makrut lime leaves, which give a zingy zestiness to the sauce. This cuts through the spices and creamy sauce, giving a lighter and more refreshing flavor.
We love how these two curries are based on the same simple ingredients, but just a couple of minor differences transform them into something completely different. Asian cuisine really is a form of magic!
One other thing to bear in mind is the type of meat traditionally served with each type of curry.
While it is now commonplace to find both panang and massaman curries served with many types of meat and vegetables, this was not always the case.
If you visit an authentic traditional Thai restaurant, you will find that massaman curry is normally served with chicken, while panang curry will contain thinly sliced pork strips.
Is Massaman Curry Spicy?
Massaman curry does contain some chili peppers, but these are added for warmth and flavor rather than spiciness.
This means that massaman curry is milder than other Thai curries, making it hugely popular with people who prefer a curry that doesn’t bring tears to the eyes.
The low level of heat in massaman curry means your tastebuds can better appreciate the layers of flavor created by the delicate blend of spices.
This is a curry that is intended to feel luxurious when you eat it, not one that sets your mouth on fire!
Is Panang Curry Spicy?
One of the key ingredients in panang curry is chili peppers, used to add flavor as well as heat to the dish. This means that panang curry is moderately spicy, but not too hot for the majority of curry fans.
The addition of coconut cream and coconut milk also helps to tone down the heat, giving a smooth sweetness that pairs perfectly with the chili peppers.
This means that while panang curry is spicy, it is much milder than its closest relation, the Thai red curry. So if you are a fan of red curry but can’t take the heat, opt for a panang curry next time.
Massaman Curry Vs Panang Curry – Spiciness Comparison
Fans of spicy curries may be disappointed by both the panang and massaman curry, as neither is particularly hot.
However, panang curry is spicier than massaman, as it contains a greater proportion of chili peppers. Massaman curry is very mild, perfect for anyone who dislikes a hot curry.
The great thing about mild curries is that you can always make them hotter—it is very difficult to take the heat out of a curry that is too spicy!
If you want to add a bit of a kick to your massaman or panang curry, simply garnish it with some finely sliced fresh chili peppers. Alternatively, add a dash of hot sauce such as Nam Jim Jaew chili cause.
Massaman Curry Vs Panang Curry – The Verdict
If you are a fan of Asian cuisine, you will know that no banquet is complete without a range of curries. But if you had to choose just one out of panang and massaman curry, which would it be?
Well, of course, there is no right or wrong answer here! We’d order both if we could, but which you choose will all depend on your personal taste and what you fancy on the day.
For fans of spicier curries with a zesty, nutty taste, opt for a panang curry.
If you want a mild curry with a rich, intense range of flavors, order the massaman curry.
But whatever you do, don’t forget the rice – you’ll need it to make the most of that incredible sauce!
Now we’ve got massaman and panang curry all sorted out, let’s find out everything else you need to know about Thai curries!
What is the difference between Thai red, green, and yellow curries?
Alongside massaman and panang curries, Thai red, green and yellow curries are the most popular types of spicy dishes found in Thai restaurants. While these curries all have many things in common, there are some key differences.
Green curry is normally a sweet curry, containing large amounts of coconut and lime juice. It is the hottest type of Thai curry, and the green color arises courtesy of Thai basis, eggplant, and lime leaves.
Red curry is also relatively spicy, as the color comes from large quantities of red chili peppers. There are three types of yellow curry, but all are based on a blend of turmeric to give a distinctive color.
What is the difference between Thai curry and Indian curry?
Curries are hugely popular in both Indian and Thai cuisine, but there are some key differences in how each is made and the spices that are included.
Indian curries tend to be all about rich, spicy sauces that are full of intense flavor. Creamy curries are much less common in Indian cuisine, and ghee is normally used to add richness.
In Thailand, you will struggle to find a curry that does not contain coconut cream or coconut milk.
Thai curries tend to rely on aromatic spices to create flavors, such as lemongrass and lime leaves. Indian curries are normally based on a mix of warm-flavored spices, such as cumin, cinnamon, and nutmeg.
Can vegans eat Thai curry?
If you are unable to eat animal products, then it can be a minefield trying to find a curry paste that is vegan-friendly.
The ingredient list for these complex and full-flavored pastes is often very long, and any animal or dairy products are often quite hard to identify!
The main culprit that makes Thai curry paste unsuitable for vegans is the inclusion of fish sauce or shrimp paste. Both of these are derived from aquatic creatures, and cannot be eaten by anyone eating a vegan diet.
Luckily, if you are making a Thai curry from scratch, you can swap the fish sauce or shrimp paste for a vegan-friendly alternative! Suitable substitutes include tamarind paste, soy sauce, and hoisin sauce.
What kind of rice goes with Thai curry?
If you’ve gone to the trouble of making a Thai curry from scratch, you will want to do it justice by pairing it with the right rice.
Nothing is more disappointing than when your curry turns out perfectly, but the rice is overcooked, watery, and, quite frankly, a huge letdown!
The best types of rice to pair with Thai curry are those that are light, fluffy, and slightly sticky.
In Thai cooking, you will almost always see that jasmine rice is recommended to serve with Thai curry, as it meets all these criteria. Jasmine rice is also prized for its delicate aroma and delicious flavor.
For something a bit different, try making coconut rice to serve with your next Thai curry.
Rice is a versatile ingredient that soaks up any flavors it is cooked in, and substituting a third of the cooking water with coconut milk will bring a creamy sweetness to your rice.
For an extra layer of flavor, consider adding a small amount of Thai curry paste and some finely chopped vegetables as well.