If you visit Thailand or even your local Thai restaurant, chances are, you’ll see both massaman and panang curry listed on the menu. But what are the differences (and similarities) between these two popular dishes?
The main difference between massaman curry and panang curry is the flavour. Massaman has Muslim and Persian influences, so it includes common Persian spices. This gives massaman a warmer, more fragrant taste.
What is Massaman Curry?
Although massaman is usually associated with Thai cuisine, it is actually a culmination of influences from across the world. Massaman contains influences from Thailand, India, Persia and the Muslim population of Thailand.
Massaman means Muslim. It comes from Moselman, the Persian word for Muslim.
It’s rare for Thai curries to use the range of spices you’ll find in massaman curry. Ground cumin, coriander, cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, star anise and nutmeg, are all common spices in massaman curry.
Most massaman curries contain a meat item, coconut milk, peanuts, chillies, cinnamon, kaffir lime leaves, tamarind paste, lime, fish sauce and massaman curry paste.
To make a massaman curry paste, the following must be combined into a paste: Peanuts, chillies, garlic, shallots, galangal, lemongrass, coriander, cumin, nutmeg, cinnamon, cloves, cardamom, shrimp paste and fish sauce.
What is Panang Curry?
Panang curry is one of the most popular and well-known curries in Thailand. Like most curries in Thailand, the base is made from a punchy, fragrant curry paste. The paste for panang is like most red curry pastes with the addition of peanuts.
A panang curry is usually made up of a protein or meat item along with peanuts, shallots, ginger, garlic, coconut milk and a panang curry paste.
To make a panang curry paste, the following need to be ground into a paste using a pestle and mortar: Chillies, lemongrass, galangal, lime zest, coriander, garlic, shallot, shrimp paste and peanuts.
Differences Between Massaman Curry and Panang Curry
A handful of elements make massaman curry and panang curry different dishes. Here are those:
- Origins – Panang curry is thought to have been invented in Thailand in the last 1800s. Massman, on the other hand, is from the 1600s after Persian spice traders bought the main massaman spices to Thailand.
- Meat – Although chicken, duck, lamb and mutton can be used in both curries, because Islam heavily influences massaman curry, it will rarely use pork unlike panang curry.
- Underlying Flavour – The primary flavours might be similar, but the underlying tones differ. Massaman curry uses many more ground spices such as cumin and coriander to give it a warm undertone that’s not as common in panang curry.
Similarities Between Massaman Curry and Panang Curry
They might be different dishes, but several things link these two curries together:
- Country of Association – Although both don’t have their roots solely in Thailand, massaman and panang curries are associated with Thai food, and most Thai restaurants will serve both.
- Appearance – From afar, it can be pretty challenging to determine what type of curry is in front of you. Both curries are flavoured with red chillies, which gives them a red-orange hue.
- Base Ingredients – Both massaman and panang curries will use the same base ingredients, including coconut milk, galangal, ginger, garlic, chillies, lemongrass, fish sauce and shallots.
- Serving – Both curries are usually served with jasmine or sticky rice and are both eaten as you would eat most curries.
- Peanuts – One of the main reasons people get massaman and panang curry confused is that they are red curries with added peanuts to give it a nutty undertone.
- Texture – Unsurprisingly, because both curries are made with a similar paste with coconut milk added, the textures of both curries will be roughly the same.
Massaman Curry vs Panang Curry: Which Wins?
It’s time to make a decision… If you had to pick one of these two curries, which would you go for? It’s massaman curry vs panang curry:
Do You Prefer Massaman or Panang?
Massaman Curry and Panang Curry FAQs
Do you still have questions about massaman, panang and how these two curries differ, then check these FAQs out:
Massaman curry is heavily influenced by the Muslim population in Thailand. Pork is forbidden in Islam, so it is rare to find pork used in massaman curry.
Panang curry will be a little sweeter than massaman curry because a massaman has a lot of added warm spices to balance out the sweetness.
Panang and massaman curries tend to have fairly similar heat levels. It’s not easy to say that one curry is hotter than the other as they can both use the same base red curry paste.
Lewis is the founder and editor of Let’s Foodie alongside other food-related platforms including FreezeIt and SubstituteIt. He launched Let’s Foodie to provide aspiring cooks with one place to get the answers to some of the most commonly asked cooking questions.