red curry powder: a mix of Thai chiles and other spices

red curry powder
Red curry powder is a dry spice blend that includes ground red Thai chiles, lemongrass, garlic, cumin, and coriander. You can use it as a base for dishes like Thai red curry (Kaeng Phet), where the curry powder is mixed with coconut milk and shrimp paste. This gives the dish a spicy, tangy, and rich flavor profile.

What is red curry powder made of?

Red curry powder
Red curry powder

Red curry powder combines dried spices and herbs ground into a fine powder. This curry powder consists of red chili peppers, galangal (Thai ginger), lemongrass, coriander, lime leaves, and other ingredients that complement each other to give Thai dishes such as curry chicken a unique flavor.

OriginOriginates in Thailand
AppearanceRed powder, can be turned into a paste
Flavor profileA delicate balance of spiciness, sweetness, tanginess, and a hint of bitterness


Red curry powder originates in Thailand, where chefs and home cooks commonly use it for curries, soups, and stir-fried dishes. Thai curry is an essential part of the life and culture of the different regions of this Southeast Asian country. 

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The intriguing history of red curry powder started in the fourth century when Indian merchants traded with Buddhist missionaries. This interaction eventually paved the way for the evolution of curry recipes in Thailand. 

In 2002, the government pushed for labeling Thai curries red, green, and yellow. While this helped make Thai food popular across the globe, it has limited how Thai curries were seen and made.


The red curry powder gets its color from the dried red pepper in the spice blend. The Thai red curry powder is often turned into a red curry paste before cooking using your choice of liquid.

Flavor profile

Red curry powder renders a dish a delicate balance of spiciness, sweetness, tanginess, and a hint of bitterness. The heat level is medium to high, depending on the number of red chiles used in the blend. Some chefs today reduce the number of chilies they use when creating the spice blend. Instead, they use chili powder, tomato sauce, or paprika to give dishes another dimension.

Nutritional Benefits of red curry powder

Red curry powder is made from ingredients rich in beneficial nutrients. Generally, it contains antioxidants, antibacterial properties, and anti-inflammatory agents. These nutrients may vary depending on other spices included in the mix.

As noted in several studies, chili peppers are rich in Vitamins C, B6, and K. Likewise, they are loaded with potassium, copper, and beta-carotene. The capsaicin in chiles may also promote weight loss by reducing appetite and increasing the rate of fat burn.

Lemongrass in red curry powder may reportedly lower cholesterol levels and reduce inflammation. Further, the garlic in the spice blend may help lower blood pressure.

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traditional uses of red curry powder in Thai medicine and cuisine

According to an old Thai saying, all diseases can come from the food people eat, just like people from the west say, “we are what we eat.” This is why every dish in traditional Thai cuisine is considered therapeutic. Herbalists often recommend modifying your diet before prescribing more potent herbal medicines. 

The ingredients in red curry powder – from the chiles, lemongrass, galangal, lime leaves, and garlic – all have medicinal properties and have long been mainstays in traditional medicine in Thailand and other Asian countries.

A good example of food as medicine is the Thai red curry, made with Thai red curry paste, vegetables, and protein like chicken may help people with the flu or cold recover.

Another example of Thai food therapy is the popular tom yum soup – made with galangal, lime leaves, garlic, and chili – known to help remedy common cold and intestinal trouble.

Is red curry powder gluten-free?

Red curry powder is gluten-free. Most Thai red curry powders you’ll find on the market today are gluten-free, which also helps retain its intense and pure flavor. They usually don’t contain artificial flavoring, coloring, or added MSG.

What is red curry powder used for?

Red curry powder is a versatile spice blend that gives dishes an extra punch of flavor and beautiful color. Among the variants of Thai curries, red curry gives dishes a deeper and spicy-hot flavor. You can use it in traditional Thai red curry with chicken or other meat, salmon with red curry sauce, poached cod in curry sauce, red curry prawns, or Thai red curry noodles.

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What is the difference between red curry powder and yellow curry powder?

Red curry powderPrimarily red, spicy
Yellow curryBrightly colored, sweet

Red curry powder is primarily red because of the red chili peppers used to make it.

Meanwhile, the yellow curry has turmeric to thank for its bright color and earthy flavor. Both contain galangal, ginger, lemongrass, garlic, and cumin. Red curry is spicier, while yellow curry powder gives dishes sweeter notes.

What about Thai red curry powder?

Thai red curry powder consists of a specific blend of spices and herbs. When reconstituted with liquid, it becomes red curry paste used in Thai red curry and other Thai dishes. This paste provides spiciness and different complex flavors to meals.

Can I make my own red curry powder?

If you want to make your red curry powder at home, you can.

  • Toast all of the ingredients in a pan over medium-high heat
  • Stir until the pan is very hot (but avoid burning the ingredients)
  • Turn down the heat and continue stirring for about 8 to 10 minutes
  • Allow the spices to cool down, then process them in a grinder or food processor until you have a red curry powder

How to store homemade red curry powder?

Like most powdered spices, you must put your homemade red curry powder in a dry, airtight jar and keep it in a cool, dark place. This spice blend can last long, but it’s best to use it within 3 months to enjoy its potent flavor.

What can I substitute for red curry powder?

Green curry paste
Green curry paste

If you cannot find red curry powder, store-bought Thai or green curry paste is the best substitute. Generally, you can substitute 1 tablespoon of red curry powder with 1 tablespoon of curry paste. You will get almost the same taste when you use these replacements.

You can use substitutes such as paprika, chili powder, or the Indian spice garam masala following a 1.5 to 1 substitute to red curry powder ratio. However, you will notice a slightly different flavor profile when you use these ingredients.


Randell loves experimenting in the kitchen (with his family and friends as willing victims). He sees cooking as a great adventure. To enjoy that, he believes this is the recipe: a tad of creativity, a dash of courage, a pinch of humility, and a ton of love.

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