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Behind the Seasoning: Curry Powder - What is it? Uses & Recipes

Spoon with curry powder
Ready to explore the wide world of this beloved spice shortcut? We'll give you a crash course in curry, plus a few creative ways to use curry that you might not have thought of yet.

Curry powder might not be the most commonly used spice in your pantry, but that's about to change! We're covering everything you need to know about curry seasoning, its taste, origins, health benefits, and tasty curry recipes. 

What is Curry Powder?

First, a quick history. The word curry is believed to be a British adaptation of the Tamil word kari, which means sauce. So, essentially, a curry powder is a seasoning that you can make a sauce out of. Yeah, it's that simple.

Where does curry powder come from?

Let’s start with where curry powder doesn’t come from. Curry powder is not traditionally used in Indian cooking. Indian home cooking often involves many spices, but they are added individually. Masala dabbas, or Indian spice boxes, are common. Curry powder, as we know it, was created for British colonizers who enjoyed the flavorful spiced meals they had in India.

What are the types of curry powder?

There are a nearly endless variety of curry powder types. One way to think about it is that curry is similar to barbecue rubs in that each family or chef has their own version. While there are common curry powder ingredients, the ratios, and measurements can vary. Some cooks will add their own signature ingredients as well. Common types of curry include yellow curry, green curry, and red curry. Different regions and cuisines have unique curry blends, so you can also find Japanese curry powder, Jamaican curry powder, and (of course) Indian curry powder.

What is yellow curry powder?

Yellow curry powder is a blend of spices commonly used in Indian cuisine. The color comes from turmeric, which also adds an earthy note. We have both Mild Yellow Curry Powder and Medium Yellow Curry Powder.

What is red curry powder?

Red curry powder is also Thai but tends to be slightly milder than green curry. Our Red Thai Curry gets its color from paprika. While there are still some citrusy ingredients, it tends to have a slightly earthier, more aromatic balance of flavor. We use it to make Red Pad Thai.

What is green curry powder?

Green curry powder has its origins in Thai cuisine. Thai curries tend to have more heat, as chiles are a common ingredient. Green chiles are commonly the base of Thai Green Curry. Green curry spices also have a noticeable citrusy flavor since ingredients that are common to Asian cuisines, like lemongrass and lime leaves, are also added.

Buy Curry Powder on the left with spoon of curry powder on the right

What Does Curry Powder Taste Like?

The types of curry powder you might encounter are virtually endless. What they have in common is that they all have a rich flavor because of the variety of spices that are included. Even the most basic curry powders typically contain 7-10 different ingredients. The spices used in curry contribute different flavors. They might be mild, spicy, earthy, bittersweet, bright, or citrusy.

Is curry spicy?

The reputation curries have for being spicy is actually a common misconception. Many flavorful curries don't include chiles or contain very small amounts. So no, curries aren't always spicy. But yes, some curries do have plenty of chiles and are quite hot.

Is curry powder spicy?

As you may have figured out, whether a curry powder is spicy depends on the type of curry and the ingredients. You can always make a mild curry powder spicy by adding chiles, like cayenne. In fact, there are even sweet curry powders, like our Vietnamese Sweet Lemon Curry.

Thai Green Chicken Curry with jar of Thai Green Curry Powder on a blue tablecloth

What to Substitute for Curry Powder?

The most obvious substitute for curry powder is the spices that make up curry powder. You can also substitute different types of curry powder, like using red curry powder instead of green curry powder. Obviously, the color and taste will be slightly different, but there’s no harm in experimenting with different flavors.

What is curry powder made of?

If you want to delve into the blend of spices that make up curry blends, you'll need turmeric, ginger, mustard, cumin, and black pepper. Depending on the use or flavor you're looking for, the seasoning might include garlic, cinnamon, coriander, fenugreek, and more. You can make your own curry powder, but some of the ingredients aren't very common in many American kitchens, which is why curry powder has continued to grow in popularity.

What's the main spice in curry?

When you think of curry powder, you might picture a yellow seasoning. The color of yellow curry powder comes from Turmeric, but part of what is so great about curry powder is the balance of flavors. That means that, in most cases, there’s not one overwhelming spice. Curry spices vary by region, often incorporating local ingredients and flavors. For example, our Asian curries include bright, citrusy flavors as well as Asian spices. 

Substitutes for curry powder

If you don’t have curry powder, you can mix spices you probably already have in your pantry. Here’s an easy Indian curry powder recipe with common ingredients like coriander, cumin, and paprika.

How to make curry powder

You can find a wide range of recipes for curry powder, and the ingredients and amount will vary depending on where the recipe comes from and what the cultural influences are. Jamaican curry powder will probably include scotch bonnet chile, while Japanese curry power has mandarin orange peel and ginger, and Sri Lanka curry powder even includes rice.

What other spices, seasonings, and flavors pair well with curry powder?

Because curry powder is already a blend of flavors and ingredients, you don’t necessarily need to pair other spices with it. However, you can always customize your curry seasoning by adding more of any spice to boost that flavor. Want a curry that is a little more earthy? Add an additional pinch of cumin. What if your curry isn’t spicy enough? Add a bit of cayenne, dried chile powder, or fresh chiles to boost the heat. If your curry is too hot, add coconut milk or yogurt to your sauce.

Are There Health Benefits of Curry Powder?

The benefits of curry powder come from the spices in the curry. Turmeric is known to have anti-inflammatory properties, and other spices in curry can positively impact heart health, digestion, and more.

Where & How to Buy Curry Spices?

We carry a wide range of curry powder and curry spices from traditional seasonings from India, like Madras Curry Powder, as well as Asian-inspired curry seasonings like Cambodian Lemongrass Curry.

Five different types of curry powder spilled from jars into a circle


How to Use Curry Seasoning - Cooking Tips & More

The most common uses for curry powder are to make curry! But other curry powder uses include adding depth and curry flavor to vinaigrettes and condiments, rice and vegetable dishes, and even desserts.

How to use/cook with curry powder

Curry powder ingredients include spices with flavor compounds that are both oil and water-soluble. To maximize flavor, you might see a recipe that calls for “blooming” your spices, or sautéing/frying them briefly in oil before adding your other ingredients. Even if your recipe doesn’t specifically call for it, you might want to add this to your cooking process for the best curry flavor.

How is curry made?

Curry powder is used while cooking to add depth of flavor to a variety of dishes. If you love takeout, you might not realize how easy it can be to make your own curry. Curry flavors continue to meld and improve over time, which is why they make such great leftovers. So feel free to prepare these recipes and just (re)heat them for dinner.

  • Tikka Masala– This mild, well-known curry is a fusion of Indian cuisine and British taste. It includes tomato sauce and yogurt for creaminess and tangy flavor.
  • Thai Green Chicken Curry – Creamy coconut milk tempers the medium heat of Thai curry powder. This not-too-spicy, slightly citrusy dish is also great with tofu or seafood.
  • Chicken Vindaloo – This Indian curry has a spicy kick, often medium-hot. Our recipe features chicken and potatoes, but like most curry dishes can be customized to suit your taste.
  • Cambodian Lemongrass Chicken Curry – Like many curries, this is customizable; swap in other veggies or use tofu instead of chicken. One helpful tip, simmer but don’t boil the sauce after adding the coconut milk. This will keep your sauce thick and creamy.

How much curry powder to use?

The amount of curry powder you need to use will depend on how you’re using it. If you’re using it as a rub/seasoning, start with about 2 tsp. per pound of meat. If you’re adding it to a yogurt marinade, we suggest adding about 2 Tbsp. seasoning and 2-3 Tbsp. of lemon juice to 1 cup of yogurt. In a classic curry dish, start with ½-1 tsp per pound of protein or vegetables – generally, that will end up being 1-2 Tbsp. per dish.

How to make curry sauce with curry powder

Yes, curry powder is used to make curry. Our curry powder can be transformed into curry paste by mixing equal parts oil, water, and curry powder. The basic process of making curry involves cooking meat or vegetables, adding curry spices, then thinning it with water, coconut milk, and sometimes yogurt to create a rich sauce.

What is curry powder used for?

It’s traditionally used to create a rich, saucy dish, but because it’s a mix of spices and can have many different ingredients, there are an almost endless variety of uses.

  • Condiments: The warm spices in curry pair exceptionally well with all sorts of condiments, including ketchup and mustard. This is a great way to start experimenting with curry flavors in a familiar and approachable way. Grab some fries or hot dogs and get creative.
  • Salads: A new spice can liven up any salad. Whether you're mixing curry into a bottled dressing or making a salad or slaw from scratch, this flavor twist will surprise and delight you with every bite.
    • Sweet Potato Salad with Mango Curry Dressing: This quick and easy summer salad is full of bright fruits and vegetables. But you can also make the Mango Curry Dressing and stash it in the fridge for whatever salad you want to make!
  • Soups: Infusing a soup or broth with curry powder is a great way to boost the flavor. Adding a small amount will add layers of flavor but without tasting much like curry. It's a great "starter" technique for adding curry to your everyday cooking. You can also add more for a more distinctive curry flavor.
    • Cumin Carrot Soup: The earthy taste of both cumin and curry are a great balance for the sweetness of cooked carrots. If you like cooked carrots and you like tomato soup, you've got to try this!
    • Curried Sweet Potato Soup: This velvety and mild curry is perfect for cooler fall and winter weather. Garnish with sweet chile sauce and fresh cilantro to take it to the next level.

Curry Chicken Salad sandwich on a cutting board

Curry Powder Recipes

We’ve already given you some ideas for traditional curry recipes as well as how to add curry flavor to sauces and condiments. Here are a few other fun ways to incorporate curry into your cooking.

  • Curry Chicken Salad: This recipe is a great way to try different curry powders. The flavor will continue to deepen over time, so feel free to make it ahead of time and let it chill in the fridge for a few hours before serving.
  • Grilled Thai Beef Salad: We'll let our customer, Nina, describe this. "Everyone loves it. The marinated flank steak also makes excellent sandwiches (slice thin, serve on a French baguette with green onions, cilantro, pickled Daikon radishes, and real mayo). Absolutely delicious."
  • Curry Pickle-Brined Onions: Don't toss your pickle brine when the pickles are gone. Just add a little curry powder for an extra boost of flavor, and then use it for a batch of pickled onions.
  • Apple Cranberry Yellow Curry Chutney: The perfect combination of sweet and savory, this chutney pairs well with everything from a cheese plate to a holiday ham.

Bonus: Curry and dessert might not sound like a perfect pair but trust us, it's actually a great combination. Whether you're a chocolate lover or lean more vanilla, we've got you covered.

  • Vanilla & Curry Spiced Caramel Popcorn: A spiced-up spin on classic caramel corn, this crowd-pleasing treat will have everyone coming back for more. 
  • Kitchen Sink Blondies: Butterscotch chips, coconut flakes, and walnuts give these curry-infused desserts a sweet and slightly tropical, sophisticated twist. 


Looking for more curry seasonings? Shop our Curry Collection or Curry Favorites from Around the World.

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Savory Spice - March 6, 2024

Hi James – Curry Powder isn’t a substitute for salt & pepper and will definitely give you a much different flavor. However, it can be used to season a variety of dishes. For example, you could add curry powder into mayo/dressing when making chicken salad or add to marinades for meat when you’re looking for a little more flavor. We also have a bunch of recipes that use curry powder if you’re still not sure what to do with it. Hope that helps.

James D'Arcangelo - March 6, 2024

I’m confused about yellow curry. Can I use it like salt & pepper?

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