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Madras Curry Powder vs Curry: What’s the Difference?

Lisa Price
Last Updated on
by Lisa Price

Curry powder is a rich and flavorful spice blend that embodies various cuisines, including Indian and Thai cuisine. What you might not realize is that it’s an umbrella term that covers more than the spicy and savory tastes you’re familiar with.

Curry ingredients can vary widely from one region to another and between brands, creating vastly different palettes, from earthy and herbal to spicy and deep. If you’re interested in learning more about curry, keep reading!

Difference Between Madras Curry Powder and Curry

The main difference between Madras curry powder and curry powder is that Madras curry powder has a spicy, herbaceous and citrusy flavor palette while curry powder can have a variety of flavor palettes ranging from herby and citrusy to warm and heavy, depending on the curry powder.

  • Madras curry powder will be orange or red due to the peppers and chilies in it, and curry powder can range from yellow to brown, depending on the ingredients
  • Madras curry powder has a spicy kick with a citrusy and light base; curry powder can vary in flavor depending on the type
  • Madras curry powder is commonly made with cumin, coriander, cardamom, and other light and aromatic spices, while curry can have these ingredients as well as others like cinnamon and star anise

Madras Curry Powder vs Curry Comparison Table

Madras Curry PowderCurry Powder
Spicy, citrusy, herbaceous flavorVarious flavor palettes
Orange or red in colorYellow, orange, red, or brown in color
Base is cumin, coriander, cardamomBase is variable

Can You Substitute Madras Curry Powder for Curry Powder?

Whether or not you can substitute Madras curry powder for curry powder in a dish depends on the flavor palette you’re interested in your final dish having.

If you want it to have the flavors of a warmer curry, like garam masala, you’re better off looking for a curry with cinnamon, nutmeg, and star anise high on the ingredients list.

If you want a spicy and citrusy curry dish, Madras curry powder will be a great substitute for curry powder, using the same amount the recipe states.

When you’re looking for a Madras curry powder substitute, look for curry powders with cumin, coriander, cardamom, and fenugreek closer to the top of the ingredients list to create the same herbaceous and citrusy base.

You may need to add your cayenne or chili powder to give it the signature spice of Madras curry powder. You can substitute curry powder for the same amount of Madras curry powder once you’ve added your chili powder.

What is Madras Curry Powder?

Madras Curry Powder

Madras curry powder is a spicy curry powder with a flavor palette originating in southern India. Its base is similar to other curry powders you can find in your local grocery store or Asian market.

The more prevalent spicy ingredients make Madras curry powder stand out from other curry powders you might buy. Madras curries have cayenne pepper, Kashmiri chilies, or chili powders as additional ingredients to create their signature spiciness.

Common Hot Spices in Madras Curry Powder

Cayenne pepper is probably the spice you’re most familiar with out of the three. It’s a spicy pepper in the capsicum family, related to peppers, tomatoes, and eggplant.

Cayenne peppers are loaded with vitamins c, a, and B6, making them great for bone health, immune health, and vision.

The high capsaicin content also helps lower blood sugar. You can typically find this hot pepper powdered, making it easy to add to your curry powder.

Kashmiri chilies are probably the least spicy of these options, with a Scoville Heat Unit rating of only 1000-2000. That means that the average Kashmiri chili is somewhere between a poblano and a jalapeno in spice level.

Kashmiri chili powder is used to intensify the coloring of curries, adding a powerful redness without creating an overpowering spiciness. These mild peppers can be found dried and powdered.

Chili powder might be the most complicated of the spices we’re discussing to explain. While others, like cayenne pepper or cumin, are simply derived from one plant, chili powder is often a blend of different peppers.

Chili powder can vary widely in heat levels and taste from one brand to another. Common peppers in chili powder include Ancho chilies, New Mexico chilies, and Cascabel chilies, and chili powder can consist of other spices like cumin and paprika.

How to use Madras Curry Powder

Madras curry powder is incredibly versatile and can be used in numerous dishes. Traditionally, you would add it into vegetarian dishes like vegetable stews and rice to give them an intense, rich flavor.

If you’re interested in experimenting, consider adding it to vinegar or buttermilk to create a marinade for your favorite meat or a dressing for your salad!

What is Curry Powder?

Curry Powder
What is Curry Powder?

You might think that curry powder is a common ingredient in Southeast Asian cooking, but that isn’t true. Curry powder was invented by the British and is a blend of ground spices made to simulate traditional curry sauce flavors found in these regions, and includes flavorful spices like:

  • Turmeric
  • Cardamom
  • Fenugreek
  • Cumin
  • Coriander, and many others!

Curry ingredients and quantities are different from one area to the next. Still, they can be drastically different from one household to the next in countries where curries are a part of everyday cooking, as each family can have their own recipes for the same curries.

Curry powders, or “masala,” can vary just as much, and you can find dozens of recipes online to make your own or find a brand you like.

Common Ingredients

Turmeric is a common base for curries and creates the signature orange or yellow color you probably imagine when you think of your favorite curry. It is related to ginger, and its flavor is naturally somewhat bitter, earthy, and can be peppery.

Beyond its flavor offerings, turmeric also has excellent health benefits like aiding digestion, reducing inflammation, and improving liver function. It even provides vitamins and nutrients like manganese and potassium!

If you’re familiar with Latin American or Southeast Asian cuisine, you’re no stranger to cumin. Cumin is an herb related to parsley. As a spice, its seeds are often ground to a fine powder, with or without a light toasting beforehand.

The flavor palette of cumin is heavy, earthy, and warm, with a hint of nuttiness and citrus that makes it a unique addition to any curry. It bolsters and intensifies spicy elements as well as warm notes like cinnamon.

Coriander is the seed of the cilantro plant. Unlike its herb sibling, coriander doesn’t have a potentially soapy taste. Instead, these seeds offer an herbaceous, lemony, floral aroma and flavor that adds depth to curries.

It also provides several naturally occurring antioxidants, which help with inflammation.

A common ingredient of Middle Eastern and Indian cuisine, fenugreek is a clover-like herb and seed that adds a bit of a licorice note to dishes and a rich sweetness like brown sugar or maple syrup.

It also has numerous health benefits, including lowering cholesterol, easing heartburn, and decreasing inflammation. A tablespoon of fenugreek has 20% of your daily iron needs as a tremendous nutritional bonus!

Curries of northern India tend to be warm and savory without a spicy component. For these curries, cinnamon, cardamom, clove, and star anise offer a warm, rounded flavor and are classic components that provide the area’s unique flavor profile.

These are usually toasted together in a dry pan to activate their flavors before being ground down and added to ingredients like ginger to season meats, like lamb.

Southern Indian curries tend to be spicy and contrast these warmer flavor profiles with lighter, citrusy notes while adding sharper ingredients like vinegar and onion.

These ingredients intensify the spicy peppers’ flavor that makes southern Indian curries unique and add robust flavor to the commonly vegetarian dishes found in the area.

How to use Curry Powder

Curry powder is used in everything, from soups and stews to marinades and sauces! You can easily add it to anything by just sprinkling it on top or mixing it with the liquid of your choice.

A few tablespoons in breadcrumbs can intensify your next battered and fried dish, or you can use it as a dry rub for ribs.

You could even add a little to your next batch of chicken soup for a rich new flavor palette. The possibilities are limitless!

Wrap Up

Curry powder can have a variety of ingredients, from light and herbaceous spices like coriander to warm, heavy spices like cinnamon, which build a robust and unique flavor palette.

Madras curry powder stands out from the crowd with a lighter, more citrusy base and spicy peppers added to give it a rich red color and its signature heat.

While you can find your favorite Madras curry powder at a local ethnic food store, you can also make your own with a bit of work.

We hope this article helps you navigate the complexities of curry powders, whether you’re shopping for a premade blend or ready to try making your own!

About Lisa Price
Lisa Price
Lisa is Food Champ's resident fitness enthusiast and nutrition expert. She holds a nutrition degree in her home state of Florida and works for a large health system to ensure sound nutrition and dietetics information is passed on to all members.
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