Butter Chicken vs Chicken Korma: What’s the Difference?

Written By Acacia Crossley


Indian cuisine is full of rich spices, bright colours and a range of flavours that many other cuisines cannot compete with. Two of the most commonly confused dishes are butter chicken and chicken korma. Those who are not as accustomed to Indian dishes tend to confuse them.

Are these two dishes really that similar or do they deserve their own time in the spotlight? 

The most significant difference between butter chicken and chicken korma is that butter chicken uses crushed tomatoes as part of its base, giving the dish a natural sweetness. Chicken korma doesn’t typically include tomatoes, so it does not get the same sweetness. 

What is Butter Chicken?

Compared to other Indian dishes, butter dishes (also known as murgh makhani) are quite a new invention. Yet they are one of the most well-known and most-ordered Indian dishes in the world. 

The buttered part of butter chicken is the smooth, buttery curry sauce that the tender chicken is served with.

However, the sauce does not use as much butter as you would think, getting its smooth and buttery consistency from heavy cream. The butter is not added until the end of the cooking process as a finishing touch to give the sauce a wonderful richness.  

Butter Chicken

Crushed tomatoes, onion, garlic and ginger make the foundation of a butter chicken sauce mixed with only a handful of spices – garam masala, turmeric, cumin, salt, and a little chilli powder.

These choices of spice make butter chicken rich and savoury, but the foundation of the dish gives it a sharp sweetness. 

As for the chicken part of butter chicken, chicken breast is the most common meat of choice. The chicken itself is smooth and tender as it is marinated in yoghurt before being cooked. 

Is Butter Chicken the Same as Chicken Tikka Masala?

No, the two curries are not the same. Chicken tikka masala is a British invention focusing on spice, while butter chicken is creamier and richer. 

What is Chicken Korma?

Chicken korma is one of those dishes that has made its way into the British kitchen, with many families enjoying the dish at home.

This is because so long as you have the right ingredients on hand, chicken korma is a very easy dish to make for a guaranteed delicious meal. 

Originating in Mughal cuisine, chicken korma has variations across India, though it is the north Indian chicken korma that most are familiar with.

There are a few things that remain the same no matter where; for example, the word korma essentially means to braise, so authentic chicken korma will include braised chicken. In the case of chicken korma, that chicken will likely be braised in yoghurt. 

Other typical ingredients in a chicken korma include onions, nuts, garlic, and ginger. As for spices, whole spices like cumin seeds and curry leaves are used, giving the korma a rich taste with a tangy hit that is not necessarily sweet but in the same ballpark. 

Does Chicken Korma Use Tomatoes?

Contrary to popular belief, chicken korma does not traditionally use tomatoes. Some modern takes use tomatoes to give the curry a sweeter base, but in traditional recipes, that sweetness comes from the yoghurt. 

Similarities Between Butter Chicken and Chicken Korma

Some Indian dishes simply cannot be confused with each other. You wouldn’t go mistaking an onion bhaji for tandoori chicken. But with butter chicken and chicken korma, there are plenty of reasons why you might confuse the two: 

  • Chicken As Protein – As their names would suggest, butter chicken and chicken korma use chicken as the main protein in their dish. Other proteins can be used instead of chicken, such as pork or tofu, but chicken variations of the dishes remain the most popular. 
  • Ginger And Garlic Base – Every cuisine has those few ingredients that pop up in nearly every dish to help form a base flavour. In the case of Indian curries, those ingredients are copious amounts of ginger and garlic. These give the dishes a spicey, pungent, aromatic base from the get-go, guaranteeing an Indian-flavoured dish. 
Ginger and Garlic Base for Curries
  • Yoghurt – The use of yoghurt to create a smooth, slightly sweet curry sauce is not unique to butter chicken or chicken korma, though it is a factor that they share. Yoghurt helps to ensure that the curry sauces are thick enough and have the right consistency. 
  • Indian Curry Dishes – Perhaps the most obvious similarity between chicken korma and butter chicken is that they are curry dishes of Indian origin. They don’t necessarily originate in the same town or city, but have roots in the same type of cuisine. 

Differences Between Butter Chicken and Chicken Korma

Despite their similarities making them easily mistakable, butter chicken and korma are very different dishes right down to their foundations, for reasons such as:

  • Use Of Tomatoes – Many people are surprised to find that chicken korma does not traditionally include any tomato products and relies only on yoghurt for its sweetness. Butter chicken does use tomatoes, crushed tomatoes specifically, at the very base of its curry sauce. 
  • Focused Flavours – At a glance, you may think that the ingredients used in butter chicken and chicken korma are near identical. However, how they are used and highlighted in the dishes differs, creating different flavour focal points. Butter chicken is sweeter than chicken korma, while chicken korma has a spice-centric centre taste. 
  • Amount Of Dairy – Butter chicken uses a notable amount more dairy products than a chicken korma. Butter chicken uses butter to create a rich buttery finish in its sauce, and it also uses yoghurt and double cream. On the other hand, chicken korma is much more reserved in the amount of dairy it uses, sticking mainly with yoghurt.

Butter Chicken vs Chicken Korma: Which Wins?

You’re presented with two dishes, one contains butter chicken and the other contains chicken korma. Which are you opting for?

Do You Prefer Butter Chicken or Chicken Korma?

Butter Chicken and Chicken Korma FAQs

Do you have more questions about butter chicken, korma, and what sets them apart? Then check these FAQs out:

Is Butter Chicken Indian?

Yes, butter chicken is an Indian dish, originating in New Delhi. It is a relatively new dish, having been accidentally invented by chance in the 1950s.

Is Chicken Korma Indian?

Yes, it is sort of Indian. Korma simply means to braise and it is a dish that can be found across the Indian subcontinent as well as Pakistan in many forms.


Where we obtain our information and verify the facts in this article:

Tikka N Curry

The origins of butter chicken and why it has grown in popularity.

Seasoned Pioneers

The origins of chicken korma.

Cafe Delites

The ingredients of butter chicken and how to make it.

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