Butter Chicken vs Tikka Masala: What’s the Difference?

Written By Acacia Crossley


Fan of Indian food? Then you’ll know all about Butter Chicken and Tikka Masala. While they share some similarities, they do have some unique attributes to ensure they are different from one another.

Butter Chicken is known for its rich, creamy texture and mild spice level, while Tikka Masala is distinguished by its slightly tangier taste and often has a more pronounced spice level. Both dishes use marinated chicken, but the preparation and seasoning profiles set them apart.

What is Butter Chicken?

Butter Chicken, also known as Murgh Makhani, is a North Indian dish that has become a worldwide phenomenon.

Its creamy and velvety tomato sauce, made rich with butter and cream, is what sets this apart from any other curry.

The chicken is typically marinated in yoghurt and spices before being cooked and then simmered in the sauce. The dish is known for its mild spices and subtle flavours, making it a favourite among those who prefer less heat in their food.

What Does Butter Chicken Taste Like?

Butter chicken has a rich, creamy taste with a mild blend of spices. It features a slightly sweet and tangy flavour from tomatoes, enriched with butter and cream, and subtly spiced with garam masala, turmeric, and other mild spices. The chicken is typically marinated in yoghurt and spices, adding to its tender, flavourful profile.

What is Tikka Masala?

Chicken Tikka Masala, often just referred to as Tikka Masala, is a dish composed of grilled or roasted chunks of chicken coated in a creamy, spicy Masala tomato sauce.

Unlike Butter Chicken, Tikka Masala often includes a variety of ground spices and can have a slightly tangy flavour.

The dish is believed to have originated in the UK, created by South Asian cooks, and represents a fusion of Indian flavours with Western culinary preferences.

Similarities Between Butter Chicken and Tikka Masala

From the photos alone, it’s clear that these dishes look pretty similar. But, this is not the only similarity they share:

  • Main Ingredient: Both dishes feature marinated, grilled chicken as their primary ingredient.
  • Creaminess: Despite differences in their recipes, both dishes have a creamy texture, a hallmark of North Indian cuisine.
  • Global Popularity: Both Butter Chicken and Tikka Masala enjoy international acclaim and are often featured in Indian restaurants around the world.
  • Serving Style: Typically, both dishes are served with Indian bread like naan or rice, making them complete, hearty meals.

Differences Between Butter Chicken and Tikka Masala

Of course, these two curries exist independently and stand on their own as dishes. So, how exactly do they differ?

  • Sauce Base: Butter Chicken has a sauce that is predominantly made from tomatoes, cream, and butter, creating a rich and smooth texture. Tikka Masala’s sauce is typically tangier and may include more tomato paste and spices.
  • Spice Level: Generally, Butter Chicken is milder compared to Tikka Masala. The latter often incorporates a more robust mix of spices, resulting in a bit more heat and complexity.
  • Origins: Butter Chicken originated in Delhi, India, as a way to use leftover tandoori chicken. Tikka Masala, on the other hand, is believed to have been invented in the UK, adapting Indian cooking methods to suit local tastes.
  • Colour and Consistency: The colour of Butter Chicken is usually a lighter orange due to the higher cream content, while Tikka Masala often has a deeper red-orange hue, indicating a higher proportion of tomatoes and spices.
Is Butter Chicken or Tikka Masala Spicier?

Butter chicken is generally milder, focusing on a creamy, buttery flavour. Tikka masala, while also creamy, often has a spicier profile due to its use of various spices like cumin, coriander, and chilli powder. However, the spiciness can vary depending on the recipe or restaurant.

Butter Chicken vs Tikka Masala: Which Wins?

If you had to pick one bowl of curry to enjoy and one to avoid, which are you voting for? It’s butter chicken vs tikka masala:

Do You Prefer Butter Chicken or Tikka Masala?

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