I’ve personally taste-tested a variety of red curry paste substitutes to find the best one for every cooking occasion.
Whether you’re on the hunt for the closest flavor match, in need of a last-minute pantry swap, or want a substitute that fits your diet, I’ve got the answers.
The best substitute for red curry paste is to make your own, and it’s not as hard as you think! If you don’t mind changing your dish’s appearance, yellow curry paste will give you the closest match in terms of heat and flavor. Green curry paste is milder and more herbal.
I made different batches of kale and sweet potato curry (my fave veggie curry option) to put several red curry paste substitutes to the test.
Red curry paste is the flavor base for several Thai dishes. It starts with a similar set of ingredients as green curry paste, but it uses dried red chilis instead of fresh ones. This small change gives red curry paste a more robust, spicy flavor .
Here are the substitutes I tested and my verdicts:
|Homemade red curry paste
|Yellow curry paste
|Green curry paste
|Panang curry paste
|Nice with seafood
|Madras curry paste
Homemade red curry paste
Let’s face it, nothing comes close to the taste of homemade red curry paste! And you’d be surprised how easy it is to make.
You might need to make a trip to an Asian grocery store to gather some of the more obscure ingredients like kaffir lime, galangal, and coriander roots. But the detour is worth it – this homemade paste made my curry taste exactly the same as my usual Thai takeaway.
Once you have all your ingredients ready, all that’s left is to grind them together. No cooking, no fuss.
If you’re the type who likes their curry on the gentler side, give this recipe from Minimalist Baker a shot. They cleverly use bell peppers to temper the chilis’ heat.
And if you’re vegan, no worries! Swap the shrimp paste for miso or doenjang paste.
How to substitute: replace red curry paste in a 1:1 ratio with homemade red curry paste.
Yellow curry paste
If you’re fine with a slight color change, yellow curry paste is a great stand-in for red curry paste.
It’s made with similar base of ingredients to red curry paste, including dried chilis. But it also has turmeric, which gave my curry a gorgeous golden color.
I also loved the earthy notes the turmeric added to my curry.
The spice level of yellow curry paste can differ, but it’s generally slightly milder than red curry. This is easily fixed though by adding a few more chilis to the mix! Or a pinch of chili powder.
How to substitute: replace red curry paste in a 1:1 ratio with yellow curry paste.
Green curry paste
Green curry paste is another Thai staple you can use in place of red curry paste if you’re looking to switch things up.
It has the same base ingredients as red and yellow curry paste, but it’s a lot more herbal in flavor and focuses less on spice. So it’s ideal for spice-hating guests.
Obviously the color will e very different though!
How to substitute: replace red curry paste in a 1:1 ratio with green curry paste.
Panang curry paste
Thai cuisine is full of curry pastes and panang is one that deserves more love!
It echoes the vivid hue of the red curry and shares key ingredients like lemongrass, shrimp paste, and the citrusy kaffir limes.
But it brings a unique touch to the table with the addition of crushed peanuts, which helps add more depth and complexity to your dishes.
And in terms of heat, Panang has a milder heat than red curry paste.
But you can always mix some freshly chopped chilies to ramp up the heat further if you want.
How to substitute: replace red curry paste in a 1:1 ratio with Panang curry paste.
Laksa paste may not have Thai roots, but it can stand for red curry paste in a pinch.
It’s got the core ingredients of red curry paste, like lemongrass, galangal, dried chiles, and shrimp paste. And will bring the same rich, red color.
But additions like tangy tamarind and nutty cashews help temper the heat a bit, resulting in a milder flavor. Psst… these flavors go really well with seafood, so if you’re making a fish curry definitely try it out!
How to substitute: replace red curry paste in a 1:1 ratio with Laksa paste.
Madras curry paste
This Indian curry paste may seem like a curveball because we’re stepping away from the realm of Asian cuisine, but bear with me.
This paste uses dried chilis as a base, mirroring the heat you’d get from red curry paste.
But instead of Thai staples like lemongrass, shallots, and kaffir lime, Madras curry paste packs a punch with a range of warm, earthy spices like paprika, turmeric, and cumin.
The distinct blend of flavors might be different, but they’ll still create a rich and tasty paste that’s every bit as flavorful as a red curry.
How to substitute: replace red curry paste in a 1:1 ratio with Madras curry paste.
Other substitutes to consider
The suggestions above were my top picks for red curry paste substitutes, but here are a couple more options that are worth a shot:
- Harissa paste – this is a chili paste so it’s not a perfect match for red curry paste. But it will bought a prominent heat to mu curry, with a deep, smoky twist. Try mixing it with a bit of shrimp paste and ginger to take its flavor closer to red curry paste.
- Vindaloo paste – this is a good option if you want something extra spicy. It typically uses a blend of fresh and dried chilies, giving it an extra fiery bite that might just blow your socks off!
- Curry powder – if you’re really stuck, curry powder can save the day. It won’t have the same depth as red curry paste. But you’ll get a decent curry you can
Substitutes to avoid
Although many of the suggestions above are not an exact match for red curry paste, there were also alternatives that still missed the mark for me.
Chili powder, chili crisp, or even a combo of tomato paste + red pepper flakes as substitutes for red curry paste were frequently suggested, but these options only bring heat and are not flavorful enough to work as a base for curry alone.
BEST Red Curry Paste Substitutes + 3 To Avoid
- mortar and pestle OR food processor
- 3 tsp white peppercorns
- ½ tsp cumin powder
- ½ tsp coriander powder
- 8 dry red spur chilies,
- ½ tsp salt
- 10 to 14 small cloves of garlic
- 5 small shallots
- 1 tbsp finely sliced lemongrass
- 1 tbsp finely sliced coriander roots
- 1 tbsp finely sliced galangal
- rind of ½ kaffir lime
- ½ tsp shrimp paste
- If using a mortar and pestle, add the white peppercorns and pound until fine. Add the cumin and coriander and mix all thoroughly. Set aside the dry mixture.
- Soak the chilies in hot water to rehydrate them. Cut off their stems and chop them into 1-cm pieces. You can take out the seeds if you prefer.
- Add the chopped chilies into the mortar with ½ tsp salt and start pounding. Keep pounding until most of the chilies look like a paste.
- Toss the rest of the fresh ingredients with the chilies and pound again until everything is incorporated into a vibrant, buttery paste. Add in the ground spices and mix well. Add the shrimp paste and mix again.
- If using a food processor, simply combine all the ingredients and blitz until smooth.
- Use immediately or store in a lidded jar.