Thai red curry paste is a key ingredient in several recipes and gives Thai cuisine an authentic touch. There might be occasions when you want or need red curry paste substitutes for your recipe. Ideally, you’d want a substitute that can closely replicate the taste, flavor, and texture.
Still, it is important to expect some changes and accept that the flavor of the finished dish will see at least some changes.
Let’s look at the top alternatives to Thai red curry paste for your recipe.
Top Substitutes For Red Curry Paste
1. Yellow Curry Paste
There are three popular types of Thai curry pastes: yellow curry paste, red curry, and green curry. Apart from the color, the pastes differ in varying degrees in pungency and flavor. Yellow curry paste is not as pungent as red curry, plus there is an obvious difference in flavor.
It’s possible to use this paste as a 1:1 replacement for red curry paste. Adding a pit of red chilies and tomato paste could help with the color as well as the pungency. Although, yellow curry paste is a great pick if you want something that’s not as spicy as red paste.
2. Curry Powder
Curry powder is an interesting option. It’s easily available and can be a decent way to replace red curry paste. This is especially true if you live in the west and don’t have easy access to traditional Asian cuisine and ingredients. Curry powder is a British invention designed to follow the taste notes of Indian curry.
As such, it won’t quite replicate the flavor or pungency of the red curry paste. Yet, it will be a decent option for the Western palate and one that is readily available. Besides, there’s always the option to add chili or additional spices to the curry powder and enhance its flavor and taste.
3. Chili Powder
Chili powder is a simplistic solution to pick. And it’s an acceptable option when you want the heat from the red curry paste, but not the other ingredients. That said, this is a last-ditch pick when there are no other alternatives available.
Adding a bit of chili powder will add the heat and a tinge of red color that usually comes with red curry paste. It won’t (and can’t) bring the amazing complex flavors and texture that red curry paste brings to a recipe. It shouldn’t be the first choice, but if you’re in a fix, it could very well save the dish.
4. Harissa Paste
As substitutions go, harissa paste makes for a good choice to replace red curry paste. Harissa is a popular ingredient in North African cuisine, where it has functions similar to those of red curry paste in Thai cuisine.
Although it’s worth noting that Harissa is hotter and spicier in comparison to the red curry paste. It also contains more oil, which isn’t a problem in most recipes, but something to keep in mind when choosing a substitute.
5. Chili Paste
This is a simple substitute. Chili paste is hot and spicy and lacks the flavor complexity that red curry paste has. However, if you’re in a fix, this paste will add the heat and the color that your recipe needs.
You could perhaps flavor it up with some spices like small quantities of garlic, ginger, lemon zest, or lime juice. Chili paste is usually quite spicy and high in heat. However, it is possible to find milder versions that don’t pack so much heat.
Mild chili paste is likely to still be spicier than the red curry paste but it can make for a better substitute.
6. Massaman Curry Paste
Massaman Curry Paste is well received in Thai cuisine. It’s a delicious paste that really amps up the flavor of several recipes. The base, or the most basic ingredient of the Massaman Curry Paste is the red curry paste. Then it has several added herbs and spices, which give it its own distinctive flavor.
Since it uses a generous quantity of red curry paste, it is possible to use Massaman paste as a substitute. It will add the same color and texture to the recipe. However, the presence of other ingredients, herbs, and spices, does alter the flavor. So, expect a change of flavor in your recipe.
7. Laksa Paste
Popular in Malaysia and Thailand, laksa paste can be a suitable alternative to red curry paste. Laksa and red curry paste have a similar consistency, color, origin, and share several ingredients.
So, the substitution works for texture, color, and to some degree, the flavor. Although, there is bound to be a slight change in taste, it isn’t egregious, and won’t overpower the original and intended flavors of a recipe.
Generally speaking, red curry paste is likely to have more chili than laksa paste. To balance it with the substitution, add some red chili powder to laksa paste.
8. Garlic With Tomato Paste
Tomato paste provides a good consistency and color, allowing it to be an acceptable substitute. However, just tomato paste alone will be too bland to work as a replacement. Adding some garlic should make it relatively more flavorful and add some heat.
It still won’t have the same flavors, but the garlic and tomato paste combo will make an acceptable replacement. Conventionally, you can add half a spoon of garlic paste to two spoons of tomato paste. Feel free to vary the amount as per your taste and convenience.
9. Tomato Paste With Red Pepper Flakes
Mixing tomato paste with red pepper flakes (or even just chili powder or chili paste) will make an acceptable, though not ideal substitution for Thai red curry paste. This will be a straight up chili combo, so it won’t have the same flavors, but it does offer a good match for color and consistency.
10. Vindaloo Paste
Vindaloo is an Indian recipe famous for its spiciness and taste. One of the key ingredients of this recipe – and one that contributes the most to its flavor is the red paste or curry. That spicy and delicious red curry that forms the vindaloo paste can also be a good choice to replace red curry paste.
The color and consistency are quite similar to the red curry paste, but the flavor and spiciness are different. Vindaloo paste is spicier than red curry paste and also has plenty of other spices, herbs, and ingredients to give it a different flavor.
Using vindaloo paste will affect the overall flavor of your recipe. But depending on your taste buds, it might actually be a good thing!
11. Turmeric And Chili Paste Combo
Combining chili paste with turmeric powder may work as a substition for red curry paste. Again, this is a basic substitution, so it’s not ideal, but it’s something to use in a pinch. In this replacement, the chili paste provides the color, consistency, and heat to work as a substitute.
Turmeric powder helps to slightly mellow the spiciness of chili paste, while also adding a nice touch of flavor. Both of these are conventionally included in a red curry paste recipe, so the flavor is slightly similar. Yet, the absence of other ingredients makes this combo only a shadow of the flavors that the curry paste brings.
12. Garlic With Chili Sauce
Garlic with chili sauce is a decent substitute to use when you’re in a fix. This combo brings heat, color, consistency, and some flavor as the alternative. Chili sauce usually contains more ingredients than just chilies, so it does bring some flavors for the replacement. Adding garlic helps to make the overall flavor seem to be more in-line with the red curry paste.
A Simple And Quick DIY Red Curry Paste Recipe
You know what’s the best substition for red curry paste? Not substituting it at all!
We are used to the convenience of grabbing ingredients right out of a box. But there is some good in making your own ingredients for a fresher, better outlook. You could even customize it to your own preference to get the red curry paste you want.
It isn’t all that difficult, though you will need a long list of ingredients and a little bit of elbow grease. Here’s what you need:
- Spicy red peppers – 4 (Thai peppers work best, but you can choose by preference)
- Garlic cloves (chopped) – 4
- Ginger (chopped) – 1 tbsp
- Lemongrass (trimmed) – 2 stalks
- Tomato paste – 2 tsp
- Sugar – 1 tsp
- Salt (preferably sea salt) – ½ tsp
- Lime juice – 2 tbsp
- Oil (neutral flavor) – 2 tbsp (something like grapeseed oil or canola oil is okay)
You can add some more flavor and complexity with other ingredients. For example, you could also add some onion, fish sauce, black pepper, turmeric powder, and shrimp paste.
Once you have all the ingredients, put them in a blender and run it till there’s a smooth paste. If it appears to have too much liquid, it’s okay to strain it. In most cases, this shouldn’t be necessary.
Choosing What Works Best For Your Recipe
Thai red curry paste is the heart and soul of several recipes. Yet, it’s not entirely unique. With some culinary deftness, you can find excellent red curry paste substitutes that can get the job done without a hitch. The list here includes some of the best alternatives, and also a few options that can keep a recipe going if you find yourself in a fix.