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Massaman Curry Vs. Panang Curry: Differences & Similarities

Good food, they say, is a good mood. With good food comes great preparation, the right ingredients and most importantly, culture.

When it comes to the greatest curry dishes of all time, Asian dishes take it all! Massaman curry and Panang curry are two dishes that you should give a try if you are a lover of Asian food.

In this article, we’ll learn what both dishes are and their differences. Let’s jump right to it!

Massaman Curry Vs. Panang Curry: 1-minute Summary

Here is a summary of the differences between Massaman curry and Panang curry:

  • Panang curry is a variant of red curry that is less spicy, thick(when compared with other red curries), but richer, creamier, with coconutty undertones.
  • Massaman curry is a variant of yellow curry that is mild, rich, aromatic with a tangy taste and thick texture.
  • Panang curry is spicy but in comparison with other red curries, it’s not as spicy. The spiciness is from the red chili pepper in the paste.
  • Massaman curry is not spicy when compared with Panang curry. But it is sweet, tangy and rich.

Further reading: Best Massaman Curry Paste & Panang Curry Paste to Buy

What is Massaman Curry?

Massaman curry originates from India and Malay, so its main flavors are born from spices associated with India,  like cardamom, coriander, cumin, cloves, nutmeg and cinnamon.

chicken massaman curry
Chicken Massaman Curry

It’s a fusion of Indian spice mashed up with Thai aromatics used in curry (galangal, lemongrass and garlic) to give one explosive curry sensation of sweetness!

Massaman curry is a Muslim Thai curry. It is a Muslim curry because Pork which is an ingredient in Panang curry is forbidden in Muslim culture so it’s made with either beef or lamb.

What Does Massaman Curry Taste Like?

Just like Panang curry, Massaman curry is also thick but it is milder than most Thai curry dishes. It is an aromatic curry with a tangy, luxurious taste that is harmonic, sweet and isn’t as spicy as other Thai curries. The secret to the tanginess of Massaman curry is in the tamarind present in the dish.

Overall, Massaman curry has a rich, tangy, mild, sweet and thick texture.

Now, let’s talk about the degree of spiciness of Massaman.

Is Massaman Curry Spicy?

Simply put, Massaman curry is mild, it is not as spicy as other curries. Yet, it is sweet and aromatic as it’s a blend of all ingredients sweet and tasty from both Indian and Thai cultures.

What is Panang Curry?

If you are familiar with red curry, then you might confuse it with Panang curry. They look alike but the difference is in the taste.

chicken panang curry
Panang Chicken Curry

Panang curry is a type of red curry that originates from Penang, in Malaysia. It’s made from Panang curry paste, fish sauce, basil leaves, kaffir lime leaves and coconut cream. Someone even add chicken and vegetables to it.

The coconut cream in Panang curry gives it a smooth, sweet, creamy and not-so-dry taste. Let’s discuss more on the taste of Panang curry.

What Does Panang Curry Taste Like?

If you love Asian food with a more robust taste, then you’d love Panang curry.

Panang curry has a sweet, yet salty, thick nutty flavor, spruced with the taste of roasted ground peanuts. All this goodness is a result of a variety of ingredients like coriander, shallot, garlic, shrimp paste, white pepper and salt.

Panang curry is a lot sweeter than most curry, the addition of peanuts or even a scoop of peanut butter makes a huge difference in the flavor and taste it gives Panang curry a whole new curry “vibe”. Making sweet, sweeter!

A key thing to note is that Panang curry is prepared in fish sauce. So, if you are a vegetarian, be sure to leave out the fish sauce if you are preparing it yourself, and if you are eating at a restaurant, be sure to have it mentioned to the chef to leave out the fish sauce and other non-vegetarian ingredients.

What is The Texture of Panang Curry?

The coconut cream added to Panang Curry gives it a thicker, less soupy texture. It also has a crunchy feel from the presence of peanuts, onions, basil, bamboo shoots and bell peppers are also present to give it both a soft and crispy texture.

Overall, the ingredients of Panang curry give it consistency and aroma that’s smooth and yummy.

Now that we have seen what Panang curry is and what it tastes like, let’s get the same insight on Massaman curry.

Is Panang curry spicy?

Yes, it is. Panang curry is a variant of red curry, one of the characteristics of red curry is its spice, because of the presence of chili peppers.

So, yes,  Panang curry is spicy but when compared to other red curry or even green curry it’s not as spicy but it is richer and creamier.

A great thing about curry dishes and their comparisons is that there is always a similarity even though they are different. For Massaman and Panang curries, let’s see what these similarities and differences are.

Read also: Thai Red vs Green vs Yellow Curry: Key Differences to Know

Similarities & Differences Between Massaman and Panang Curry


  • Color: sometimes the color of both curries might be similar if the chili concentration in Panang curry is not so much.
  • Similar texture: they are both delectable curry delicacies. Both of them have a smooth and thick consistency and can contain coconuts and peanuts.



For these curry dishes, the paste makes the taste.

Panang curry paste has no Indian spice as an ingredient (except cumin), it’s more of roasted peanuts and shrimp paste. Massaman curry on the other hand is a blend of all spices good from India and Thailand.


Another difference is the ingredient.

In recipes for Panang curry, red curry paste is often used and it contains coriander, garlic, lemongrass, red chili pepper,  garlic, shallots and kaffir lime leaves; which creates a mind-blowing sensation.

On the other hand, Massaman curry paste takes those ingredients as its base and makes it sweeter by adding a full dash of Indian spices like cinnamon,  cardamom and cloves.

Type or Variant of Curry

Massaman curry is a variant of yellow curry, but of course, a sweeter variant of it, different from typical Thai yellow curry.

On the other hand, Panang curry is a sweeter variant of typical red curry, see our post about the difference between Panang curry and red curry if you’re interested.

Final Thoughts

For Asian cuisine lovers, curries are a definite part of their meal. If you like your curries spicy, yet sweet and thick then the Panang curry is for you.

On the other hand, if you prefer something mild, aromatic, tangy yet sweet, your best choice is the Massaman curry. Give your taste buds and exquisite delight!

I’m Jennifer Schlette, a Registered Dietitian and Integrative Nutrition Health Coach. I love cooking, reading, and my kids! Here you’ll find the healthiest recipes & substitutions for your cooking. Enjoy, and be well, friends!

2 thoughts on “Massaman Curry Vs. Panang Curry: Differences & Similarities”
  1. Thank you for this comparison article. I love both Panang and Massaman. I struggle to choose at times. Lol


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