I personally taste-tested a variety of yellow 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 yellow curry paste is to make your own. It’s pretty easy to do and most of the ingredients are easy to find. You can also swap the yellow curry paste for a different Thai paste such as red curry paste or panang curry paste. Laksa paste will mimic the yellow color.
I whipped up small batches of Thai curry to try out several different yellow curry paste substitutes (I was eating Thai curry for days!).
Yellow curry paste is very similar to red curry paste (more on that below!), but it’s generally not as spicy. The color comes from turmeric, and this also gives the paste a subtle earthy flavor. Finding an exact match for the flavor of yellow curry isn’t really possible because it’s so unique, but there are still lots of options. Here are the substitutes I tested and my verdicts:
|Homemade yellow curry paste||Replace in a 1:1 ratio||10/10|
|Red curry paste||Start with 3/4 the amount||8/10|
|Green curry paste||Start with 1/2 the amount||8/10|
|Laksa Paste||Start with 1/2 the amount||7/10|
|Curry powder||Start with 1/2 the amount||7/10|
|Panang curry paste||Replace in a 1:1 ratio||7/10|
|Massaman curry paste||Replace in a 1:1 ratio||7/10|
Homemade yellow curry paste
I’m all for instant alternatives, but there’s no way around it – making yellow curry paste from scratch is the best substitute. The flavor is unmatched and your kitchen will be filled with the aroma of freshly ground spices like lemongrass, and galangal.
I used RecipeTin Eats’ recipe (video above) and found it really easy to follow. There were one or two ingredients that I couldn’t find in my local grocery store, so I had to go to an Asian market, but I didn’t mind. One of the hard-to-find ingredients was galangal which you can substitute with ginger. Fenugreek was also pretty hard to find, but you can leave this out if you don’t have it.
One massive advantage of making your own curry paste is that you can customize the heat level. If you want more spice, add more chili.
How to substitute: Replace the yellow curry paste in a 1:1 ratio with your homemade version.
Red curry paste
Red curry paste is normally spicier than yellow curry and has a more robust and complex flavor profile, the taste is more chili-forward.
When you’re swapping it for yellow curry paste I would add some coconut milk to the mixture to help reduce the heat. Or you can add a spritz of lime juice to offset the spiciness.
Food52 also suggests adding some ground turmeric to mimic the earthy notes you’d get with yellow curry paste. This will also give the curry more of a yellow color (my curry was orange). If you don’t have turmeric, cumin is another spice you can add that will bring a touch of earthiness.
How to substitute: Start with 3/4 the amount or replace in a 1:1 ratio if you don’t mind spice.
Green curry paste
Green curry paste is made with fresh green chilies instead of dried red chili like yellow and red curry paste. This means it’s generally the hottest of the three curries (but this isn’t always the case – it’s very possible to also have a mild green curry).
I find green curry to be a lot more herbaceous than yellow curry, but they have a similar freshness to them. Because green curry can have a much more intense heat, I would recommend you use slightly less to start with.
A little pinch of brown sugar can also help balance out the spice and mimic the slight sweetness of yellow curry. Like with red curry, a pinch of turmeric will help add some earthiness too.
How to substitute: Start with 1/2 the amount or replace in a 1:1 ratio if you don’t mind spice.
Laksa paste isn’t a Thai ingredient, but it can come to the rescue if you need a quick substitute for yellow curry paste. The flavor will be different, but still delicious.
Laksa paste and yellow curry paste share some of the same ingredients such as lemongrass, galangal, and shrimp paste. But laksa paste leans a lot more heavily on the shrimp paste which gives it a pungent umami flavor. Some laksa paste will contain turmeric, but some won’t. If you’re buying the laksa paste, look for one with turmeric in it!
Laksa paste also has a tanginess to it that I really like – it’s definitely an exciting switch from yellow curry paste.
Pro tip: Laksa paste can be very potent so start with a small amount. You can also add more later.
How to substitute: Start with 1/2 the amount and adjust to taste.
Curry powder is a British invention aimed at making it easier to make Indian-style curries, and yellow curry paste actually has some influences from Indian cuisine which makes these ingredients an okay swap.
Yellow curry paste contains spices like cumin and coriander seed, which are also key ingredients in curry powder. They also share turmeric as an ingredient. I thought the biggest difference was the freshness level.
My yellow curry was much fresher and brighter tasting than the curry made with curry powder. The curry powder curry also wasn’t as spicy. To fix this I recommend adding some fresh chilis to the mix, along with some fresh lime juice or herbs or garnishing.
How to substitute: Start with 1/2 the amount because curry powders are more concentrated than pastes.
Panang curry paste
Panang curry paste might not give you that familiar golden color of yellow curry paste, but it comes pretty close in terms of flavor. Both curries are mild and have very similar base ingredients such as lemongrass, shrimp paste, and kaffir lime leaves.
But the key difference is the inclusion of peanuts in panang curry paste. This gives the curry a nutty undertone and an extra layer of complexity. I also found the flavor of panang curry paste to be slightly sweeter with a richer texture.
This is a perfect swap if you don’t like spice.
How to substitute: Replace yellow curry paste in a 1:1 ratio with Panang curry paste.
Massaman curry paste
Massaman curry is a fusion of Thai and Persian influences. The Persian influences mean the paste includes spices that are not typically found in other Thai curries like cardamon, cloves, and nutmeg.
These spices give it a warmer, more spiced flavor than yellow curry paste. My yellow curry was less intense and lighter.
Swapping one for the other will significantly change your dish, but both are Thai curry pastes so have similar styles. And both are really tasty!
How to substitute: Replace yellow curry paste in a 1:1 ratio with Massaman curry paste.
Substitutes To Avoid
The substitutes I’ve listed above aren’t all exact flavor matches for yellow curry paste, but they each have something that ties them together.
Some other suggestions I tried as replacements I wouldn’t recommend. For example, vindaloo paste was way too spicy and too overpowering. All I could taste was chili and it had none of the complexity of yellow curry paste. Garam masala was another option that didn’t work. The flavor was complex and warm, but it’s a finishing spice rather than something you can add at the beginning of a recipe like yellow curry paste.
Best Yellow Curry Paste Substitutes + 4 To Avoid
- 10 dried chilis,
- 1 to 4 fresh bird eye chilis
- 2 lemongrass stems
- 1 large eschalots, roughly chopped
- 2 tbsp small knob of fresh turmeric, finely grated
- 2 tbsp galangal, finely grated
- 8 cloves of garlic, roughly chopped
- 1⅓ tbsp Thai shrimp paste
- 1 tsp ground coriander
- 1 tsp ground cumin
- ¼ tsp ground cardamom
- ½ tsp fenugreek powder
- ⅛ tsp white pepper
- Roughly chop the chilies and transfer to a bowl. Discrad the seeds. Cover the chilies with boiling water and soak for 30 minutes. Drain.
- Remove the woody top half and outer layers of lemongrass. Using a microplane, grate the lemongrass.
- Place the chilis, lemongrass, and the rest of the ingredients in a jar (if using a stick blender) or in a small food processor. Blitz everything for 15 seconds on high or until smooth.
- Use immediately.