We've all tried curry. Right?
Well, actually, no.
For many, curry and Indian food is something they have little experience of. If you are wondering 'what does curry taste like?' you aren't alone! Luckily, you've got a handy guide. Me! I can offer some excellent advice with experience in Indian restaurants and cooking.
Today I'll talk you through curry's look, texture and taste. I'll also describe the various parts and ingredients so you'll have a great handle on what curry tastes like.
What Does Curry Taste Like? | The Quick Answer
Curry tastes like a fusion of the various savory spices used in the dish. Generally, you’ll be able to detect smoky, sweet notes of cumin, the earthy taste of turmeric, all combined with the strong taste of fried onions, garlic, and ginger. It can vary, based on the spices in each particular curry.
Wait, you mean there is more than one curry taste?
My friends... There are thousands of possible curry flavour combinations.
That's what makes Indian such an interesting cuisine to try.
I'll be honest.
There is a huge range of diversity in curry. Not only are there many different types of curry. But the cooking style changes based on geographic location, types of ingredients, and even the chef's own personal interpretation of 'how' a curry should taste.
When most people think of 'curry' they think of Indian cuisine, which is what this guide will focus on predominantly.
Read on to find out exactly what curry tastes like and the things that influence all of those lovely flavours…
How Would You Describe the Taste of Curry? | A Detailed Breakdown and Guide
As with most foods, there's more to it than shovelling in a spoonful and saying, "It tastes like X".
You want a description, and the easiest way to do that is to go through a 'typical' Indian curry, including how it looks, how the curry is prepared, and the various 'building blocks' that go into making a greater whole.
Here's what you need to know…
Curry | The General Overview
Curry is a dish that is made up of a few different components. All of which are vital in determining what curry tastes like. If you wanted to think about curry in general terms, you could describe curry as a thick and spiced Indian stew, often made with either meat, vegetables or both, complete with sauce.
However, the above doesn't quite do it justice.
Curry is a complex dish that combines flavours together. Some compliment and others contrast. How they interact together is what determines the flavour of the curry.
Now that we've run through the general idea, here are the various 'building blocks' that combine to influence the flavour of curry.
The appearance of curry is as diverse as its taste. How food looks has a bearing on how you perceive it to taste, so it is worth describing curry's appearance in a little more detail.
Generally, curry is a bright and bold dish.
The use of various spices (and occasionally food colouring) tends to give it different hues.
It will be served as a mixture of sauce and chunks of your chosen 'filling' in a bowl or dish. Here's a quick rundown of what you can expect when ordering: -
- Onion-based curries tend to be brown in colour
- Tomato-based curries usually appear red
- Curries featuring chilli typically appear red in colour
- Dairy and turmeric-based curries tend to be a little yellowish in colour.
Obviously, there are subtle nuances and variations from my above list.
To make life easy, you'll find a rundown of the most common curry appearance below.
The texture of curry is as diverse as its appearance.
Most curries will be a mixture of a relatively smooth and thick gravy, interspersed with chunks of either meat or vegetables. Think of it as something thicker than soup but perhaps slightly less robust than a thick stew. If you've ever had chowder, this is about the same consistency as curry.
Again, there are variations.
Here are a few descriptions to give you a clearer picture.
- Curries, such as bhuna, are typically defined by thicker texture.
- A curry like a jalfrezi tends to be more of a 'stir fry' in texture
- A lentil curry (known as daal) will be soupier in its consistency.
Again, to help you out, I'll include a quick guide to the texture of the most commonly found curries
Check this out…
Slightly smooth with lentils
Smooth and thick
Smooth and creamy
Smooth and slightly granular with coconut
Slightly smooth with lentils
Smooth with chunky onions added
Stir fry texture
Smooth with added pepper and vegetables
Smooth with spinach-based sauce
Most curries you will try will be served with a savoury sauce.
The sauce's flavour is heavily influenced by the spices added in each particular type of curry. The sauce in curry normally starts life as a 'blank canvas' made of one, or a combination, of the following: -
- Onions – Indian chefs will use a very mildly spiced curry base gravy to form the foundation of the curry sauce. This imparts a subtle and savoury onion note to most curry dishes.
- Tomatoes are traditionally added as diluted tomato puree in curry or occasionally in chunks from a tin. It is rare to see fresh tomatoes used in restaurant curry. They take too much time to prepare and cook!
- Dairy – Some creamy curries are out there, such as korma and butter. The base for these curry sauces will normally be cream, or yoghurt, combined with coconut. They often taste very mild and slightly sweet.
Curry' Fillings' | The 'Protein' in Curry Dishes
Obviously, a curry wouldn't be very substantial if it was just a bowl of sauce. Of course, we will want to pad that curry out with a tasty filling.
The good news is there are plenty of them. Generally speaking, you'll find most curries served with one of the following fillings: -
- Chicken – chicken in curry comes in many forms. It can be served purely as big chunks of white breast meat, but more traditional Indian curries may also be served 'on the bone'.
- And it doesn't end there.
- There are variations of the type of chicken you'll find as a filling in curry. Often chefs will use marinated tandoori chicken or chicken tikka. Both add an extra layer of depth and taste to the dish.
- Lamb – Lamb, used in curry, has normally been precooked to ensure that it is tender and soft. As it is stewed, it takes on some of the flavours of the broth in which it is cooked.
- As with chicken, it isn't uncommon for curries to be served with marinated lamb tikka or tandoori lamb.
- Beef – As with lamb, you'll normally find that the beef used in curry has been precooked to ensure that it isn't tough. It is normally served in thick chunks that are pull-apart tender.
- There are plenty to choose from when looking at meat in the curry. Here's a dedicated article to explain it further.
- Seafood – Because curries often originate from coastal areas of India, it is unsurprising that most can be made with seafood. The most common ingredient is prawns (or shrimp if you are from the US). Other common variations include chunks of marinated white fish, such as cod.
- Cheese – Cheese is a curry filling? You bet! The cheese you'll find used in curry is typically paneer, which has a similar consistency to halloumi. Because it has good heat resistance, it will keep its shape as the curry cooks.
- Vegetables – Curry isn't just for meat lovers! In fact, it is ideal as a vegetarian dish. There are heaps of different vegetables that you'll find in curry. Aside from those used to make the sauce (nearly always onions and tomatoes), you'll find potatoes used predominantly as a curry filling.
- Indian chefs tend to use larger vegetables when making curry; you can see examples of them here.
Common Flavour Elements in Curry
In almost all curries, you'll find the inclusion of a couple of common ingredients that go a long way to producing the 'stereotypical' curry taste.
They are herbs used the world over.
I'm, of course, talking about garlic and ginger.
At the very start of the cooking process, the chef will normally begin building the taste of the curry on a foundation of garlic and ginger paste. In around 90% of curry recipes, the chefs add this paste to heated oil before giving it a quick fry to release all of those pungent and aromatic flavours.
You can see it right at the start of this video: -
So, we've discussed the sauce, base flavours and sauce found in curry.
But, do you want to know what really influences how curry tastes?
It's all about the spices used.
Different combinations of commonly found spices are added to the curry to produce different flavours. You can often see approximations of these 'curry powders' in supermarkets.
However, authentic Indian restaurants tend not to use premade curry powders. Instead, they will add different spices to the pan individually.
There are some set combinations that are traditionally used to produce certain well-known types of curry recipe tastes.
Below you'll find the most commonly used spices in curry, along with a brief description of the tastes and flavours that each will impart.
I'll also include a quick rundown of the spices traditionally used in each type of curry so you can get a really good handle on what the curry will taste like.
Taste and Flavour Description
Smoky, slightly bitter, pungent, slightly sweet
Earthy, bitter, warm, musky, slightly peppery
Salty, pungent, allicin, slightly sweet
Bitter, tart, floral, spicy, slightly sweet
Citrusy, zesty, earthy, sweet, aromatic
Slightly spicy, curry-like, pungent, peppery, floral
Hot, spicy, tangy, floral
Sweet, caramel, maple, bitter, tangy, burnt
Sweet, citrus, slight anise
Anise, menthol, warm, slightly spicy, bitter
Anise, liquorice, citrus
Warm, earthy, citrusy, peppery
Minty, bitter, herby, menthol
Sweet, slightly hot, slightly bitter, tart
After checking out the above, detailing some of the tastes found within curry spices, here's a quick rundown of the spices included in some common curries.
By cross-checking with the above table, you'll get a really good flavour (pun intended) of what each dish will taste like. I'll also include the main ingredient that features in the base.
Don't fancy cross-referencing flavour tables all day? No problem.
For a succinct overview, check out the column "how it tastes in three words or less' to see what each type of curry is about!
How it Tastes In Three Words or Less…
Typical Spices Included Within The Dish
Fiery and tangy
Tomato and onion
Hot and tomatoey
Tomato and onion
Sweet and Spicy
Lentil and Onion
Rich and Oniony
Tangy and Warm
Onion and Tomato
Sweet and creamy
Onion and dairy
Sweet and coconutty
Dairy and Coconut
Sweet and sour
Lentil and Onion
Rich and buttery
Onion and dairy
Tomatoey and sweet
Tomato and Onion
Strong and Oniony
Filling and rich
Rice and Onion
Acidic and hot
Onion and pepper
Hot as Sun
Tomato and Chilli
Classic Curry Taste
Tomato and Onion
Green and herby
Spinach and Onion
We can't talk about how curry tastes without discussing curry heat. We aren't talking about temperature; we are talking spice level. It is a common misconception that all curries are spicy and hot. Many, such as a nice tikka masala, are about subtle flavours instead of blistering heat.
Sure, some curries are spicy. But there is one major thing that influences how hot curry is.
The more chilli featured in your curry, the hotter it will taste. Chilli may be included in one or all of the following ways: -
- Freshly chopped chilli
- Chilli powder
- Chilli paste
Other elements, aside from chilli, can also add to the spice level of curry.
All of the following will alter how 'hot' a curry is: -
- Black pepper
- Garam masala
- Tandoori masala
Want to know more about curry spice levels?
You are in luck.
I've got a detailed guide to all of them below. Just click on the type of curry you are looking for to learn more: -
So, we've discussed the entirety of how curry tastes, right?
There are a few finishing touches that chefs will add to curries to make sure that they look (and taste) perfect.
The final flourish will be a garnish. This will subtly alter the flavour of your curry dish. Here are the most common garnishes served on top of the curry.
- Chopped Fresh Coriander – Adding chopped fresh coriander adds colour and flavour to curry dishes. The bright green flecks work well to break up even the most 'bland-looking' curry.
- Coriander tastes slightly citrusy with floral notes. However, you must be aware that some people think it tastes like soap.
- Chopped Fresh Tomatoes – This is less common, but in tomato-based curries, chefs may finish the dish with a couple of sliced red tomatoes. These give a tangy and slightly sweet taste
- Fried Onions – These aren't onions like you'd get on a hotdog. In Indian cooking, you'll find that many curries are served with a layer of deep-fried and crunchy golden onions. This imparts a strong taste and is regularly used in curries like a Dopiaza.
- Chopped Chilli – Normally reserved for medium and hotter curries, you may find that your curry is served with a thin layer of finely chopped chillis sprinkled on top of the dish. Eat with caution and watch out for the seeds, which give a really hot and spicy taste.
- A Swirl of Cream or Yoghurt – In certain curries (often tomato-based or mild dishes), you can expect to see a swirl of cream drawn lovingly across the top of your dish. This imparts a creamy texture and cools the curry down slightly.
- A 'Temper' – Many traditional curry dishes feature a 'temper'. In simple terms, these are seeds and spices fried in hot oil. This oil is then tipped over the top of the dish just before it is served. Tempers impart a nutty and crunchy flavour to curries. You'll typically see a temper served with daal
Are All Curries the Same?
No, curries are not all the same. While 'curry' may be a catch-all term, it encompasses an entire range of cooking! True, you may find places that serve singular 'curry', but this is generally an approximation of several different dishes encompassing a common 'taste'.
The taste of curry varies immensely based on several factors. These can include: -
- The chef's own interpretation of the dish
- The subjective opinion of the person eating the curry
- The spices used in each dish, and the type of curry
- The manufacturer of the spices in each dish
- How the curry is prepared and cooked
- The kitchen equipment used in making the curry
- The freshness of the ingredients
- Whether the ingredients are 'fresh' or dried
- The region from which the curry originates
- The Country from which the curry comes from
That is some list!
The above should demonstrate that there is no such thing as a 'standard' curry.
There are so many factors that go into determining how a curry tastes. If you change a single thing in the above list, you might end up with an entirely different dish!
Curry Tastes by Region | A General Taste Overview
Now, I would be remiss not to acknowledge that curry isn't just specific to Indian cuisine.
Granted, it features predominantly there, and we've gone into great depth about how Indian curry tastes. But there are other curries from different places you may encounter or want to try.
Below you'll find a brief rundown of different Countries' ideas of what curry 'is', along with a little background and a general flavour profile to give you some idea of what curry from these areas tastes like.
Typical Curries from Thailand:
- Red Thai Curry
- Green Thai Curry
- Massaman Curry
- Penang Curry
While they may share a few elements with Indian cuisines, such as a protein sauce served in a spicy sauce, Thai curries are made in an entirely different way from Indian curries.
Unlike the vast majority of Indian dishes, Thai curry relies heavily on spice pastes and coconut milk to create the sauce. The Thai spice paste is usually fairly 'wet'. It is made of herbs specific to the region, such as lemongrass, galangal, coriander root and shrimp paste.
This is fried before adding coconut milk and simmered to a slightly thicker consistency.
It shares the odd similarity with Indian curries. It often will include chilli, garlic, and elements of cumin and coriander. However, it tastes very different.
Coconut milk changes the consistency, and Thai curries are much 'looser' and dilute than Indian dishes. The coconut milk, including things like brown sugar or jaggery, will give the curry a sweet taste.
Traditionally both red and Thai green curries are significantly hotter in their standard form than Indian curries. This is due to the inclusion of heaps of freshly chopped chilli.
Typical Ingredients in Thai Curry:
- Red Thai Curry Paste
- Coconut milk
- Lime leaves
- Salty fish sauce
What Thai curry generally tastes like:
- Hot and spicy
Typical Japanese Curry:
- Katsu Curry
Curry in the modern world is an amalgamation of tastes, influences and flavours. Katsu curry is proof of this.
Seriously, it's like a study in anthropology.
You might be surprised to learn that Katsu curry has its ancestral roots in India. It was exported to Japan as a result of British colonial imperialism.
Again, while it may share a few similarities with Indian cuisine, it is cooked and tastes very different to standard 'Indian' curry.
Unlike in Indian cuisine, where the meat is cooked and served in the sauce, Katsu curry is normally cooked separately from the protein (usually chicken or pork). The protein is sliced, breaded and fried, and served with the curry sauce alongside.
Katsu curry is traditionally prepared using a roux, often store-bought. This mixture of fat and flour is fried into a thick paste before curry powder, and stock is added. The roux will thicken the mixture to produce a curry sauce with the same clumpy consistency as ketchup.
Katsu curry tastes significantly sweeter than most Indian curries. It also features a vegetable base, usually made of carrots and onions, giving it a golden orange hue.
Typical Ingredients in Katsu Curry
- Curry Powder (store bought)
What Katsu Curry Generally Tastes Like:
Typical Caribbean Curries:
- Curry Goat
- Jerk Chicken Curry
- Roti Curry
- Jamaican Curry
- Trinidad Curry
Want further evidence of colonial rule spreading curry worldwide? Look no further than the Caribbean. Curry has been part of Caribbean cuisine for about the last 180 years! This resulted from the mass immigration of an Indian populace to the Caribbean following the abolition of slavery. The Indian migrants brought their culinary skills with them and adapted recipes to use locally found ingredients.
While you'll find the islands of Trinidad and Tobago, particularly curry-heavy, Jamaica also has its own version of curry.
How does Caribbean curry taste?
Well, it's similar to Indian curry but is not the same.
You'll typically find that the meat used is different. Curry goat is a particular favourite in the Caribbean. Goat has a stronger taste than lamb.
But this isn't the only difference.
Caribbean curry is normally made using premixed curry spice powders. These powders usually feature a high percentage of allspice and have a higher proportion of turmeric powder too. As a result, it isn't uncommon to find that Caribbean curry has a distinctive yellow appearance.
The use of chilli also influences the flavour. Caribbean curry leans heavily on the inclusion of scotch bonnet peppers. These are significantly hotter than the 'bird eye' chillis normally used in most Indian cuisine. They also have a more earthy and pungent flavour.
They love marinating their meat in 'jerk' style seasonings in the Caribbean. Again, as with Caribbean curry, this features allspice, along with green onions and a sugary element.
Typical Ingredients in Caribbean Curry
- Scotch bonnet chilli
- Caribbean curry powder
What Caribbean Curry Generally Tastes Like
- Slightly Sweet
- Hot and Spicy
Typical Malaysian Curries: -
- Jungle Curry
- Yellow Curry
Take a look at Malaysia on the map.
You'll see that it is at the junction between several different regions. When you throw into the mix the fact that it sits just beside one of the world's largest ports (Singapore), it is easy to see how it has become a culinary and cultural melting pot.
Malay curries aren't all that common. The standout dish from the above list is rendang. You can consider this as a sort of curry crossed with a stew. However, that doesn't do it justice. Rendang has been voted the world's tastiest dish!
And for a good reason.
If you aren't 'in the know, ' beef rendang is made by slowly simmering tender chunks of beef in a spice mix and coconut milk… For hours.
As the beef cooks, coconut milk caramelizes into a thick and dark brown coating while also soaking into the meat.
It's well worth a try.
However, if you don't like hot food, be careful.
Rendang is made using chopped red chilli, so it is a pretty fiery customer! And 'jungle' curry is insanely hot!
Typical Ingredients in Malaysian Curry
- Coconut milk
- Red chilli
- Soy sauce
- Fish sauce
Malaysian Curry Tends to Taste: -
- Slightly acidic
South African Curry
Typical South African Curry Dishes: -
- Durban Chicken Curry
- Bunny Chow
- Cape Malay Chicken Curry
Again, South Africa represents an amalgamation of cultures and tastes. And again, this is in part down to British colonial rule. Agricultural labourers were exported from the British Raj to South Africa to work in agricultural and industrial premises. And again, they made the best of what they had and fused it with local fayre.
Bunny chow? Although there were plenty of cows in South Africa, the Indian population was averse to eating beef for religious reasons, so rabbit curry became pretty popular, along with chicken dishes.
South African curry isn't all that common in the west. Still, you occasionally might encounter it and wonder how it tastes.
Bearing in mind that the original dishes from the region were formed in times of scarcity, you'll find some similarities with Indian cuisine, but South African curry has branched off a little in its own direction.
South African curry has extensive use of curry leaves, potatoes and other vegetables.
It is much more akin to stew. However, out of my above list of alternative curry tastes, it is probably closest to what you'd think of as a 'true' Indian curry.
Durban curry features many of the same spices and tastes broadly similar to a medium curry you'd find in a takeaway. As with traditional Indian curry, it contains ginger, garlic, cumin, tomatoes, coriander and garam.
You might find it a little richer than Indian curry. South African curry is famed for using copious amounts of oil!
Typical Ingredients in South African Curry
- Curry leaf
Flavour profile of South African Curry
- Medium spiced
What Does Curry Mean?
As we are discussing what curry tastes like, we should look at the origin of the term to see if we can get any clues.
We all know what 'stew' means, right? How's about 'soup'?
All pretty straightforward?
However, the term 'curry' isn't quite as well defined.
The fact that it tastes so different from region to region might indicate that it is not as clear-cut as other types of cuisine.
There are a few theories as to what curry means.
Some have suggested that curry is an adapted and anglicized form of the Tamil word Kari. The most literal translation simply means 'sauce' or perhaps 'rice condiment'.
Others have suggested that it comes from a cultural misunderstanding. Colonial settlers would ask the local Indian population what they were eating. The response would be 'Caril', a type of fruit-based relish.
There is a theory that suggests that the word 'Khari', meaning 'salty', was used to describe the flavour of the dish more than its name (there is an Indian biscuit that still bears this taste and name).
Those old colonials didn't often get it right, even if their policies did spread curry far and wide. There is even a theory that "chimichurri", a fragrant and herby sauce, is actually a bastardized translation of "give me the curry"!
The simplest explanation is that curry is a dish created using a spiced sauce. Something like a cross between a stew and a thick soup.
Whatever its origins and variations, it tastes delicious!
Is Curry a Spice or a Dish?
Curry is most definitely a dish! People will indeed describe 'curry powder' as a spice. However, this powder is used exclusively to make the curry and little else. Curry powder is not a spice in its own right. It is normally made with a mixture of different spices.
Different combinations of spices make many different types of 'curry' tastes and flavours.
'Curry' is a catch-all term to describe a fragrant, spiced, sauce-based dish. It might use curry powder to achieve this, but not always. It's a sum of its constituent ingredients and flavours.
Speaking of which…
Is Curry a Spicy Flavor?
Curry isn't always spicy. The heat in curry comes from chilli, which might not always feature in the spice blend used to make the curry. There are plenty of mild curries out there. How spicy curry is varies based on the recipe. If in doubt, it is worth checking beforehand!
Is Curry Sweet or Spicy?
Curry can be sweet and spicy. In fact, there are lots of curries that tick both boxes! Spicy and sweet Indian curries include Pathia and Dhansak. You might want to try a Pasanda or a Korma for something sweet and less spicy.
What Does Curry Taste Like? | Final Thoughts
What does curry taste like?
In a word, amazing.
It is the perfect blend of spices, flavour and texture. The good news is that there will be a curry to suit your taste. Why not head over to my homepage and try my curry chooser. See if you can find the perfect curry! You could even learn to cook curry yourself, then you are in control of how it tastes!