Why is my Thai curry bitter? (7+ common mistakes)

In this blog post, we will answer the following question: Why is my Thai curry bitter? We will talk about the most common mistakes that can ruin a good curry. We will teach you how to avoid and fix them.

Why is my Thai curry bitter?

Your Thai curry tastes bitter because you burned the spices, the onion, or the garlic. This is the most common mistake made by beginners. So, be very careful when adding the spices to the pan, either ground or grained. But above all, be cautious with the first ones that are more delicate. 

How do I prevent the spices from burning? Well, there are three ways:

  1. The flame should be on low when you add the spices; 
  2. Add more oil to the pan;
  3. And most importantly, always have liquid on hand to “refresh” the spices. Add water, very little by little, and continue cooking, allowing the oil to rise to the surface. You can use water, tomato liquid, thin coconut milk, or broth. 

If you don’t feel safe, it is best to add the tomatoes to the sauce and the spices. This way, they won’t burn, and your curry won’t taste bitter.

In Thai cooking, you generally want to have robust flavors and a balance of the primary flavors: bitter, sweet, salty, sour, and umami. So maybe your problem isn’t so much having a strong bitter taste (which is not appreciated as much in Western cooking as Thai cooking), but a relative lack of the other primary flavors?

I would suggest that you may be mostly missing the salt and umami because you have not used any fermented fish sauce (which is generally very salty) for seasoning, or fermented shrimp paste (“gapi,” which provides the umami taste). One teaspoon of salt is not much for your Thai curry.  You can find up to 25% salt in commercial curry pastes.

Other reasons why your Thai curry is bitter and how to fix them:  

  • Don’t use lime juice in the curry paste, but use a little lime zest. However, it is okay to use lime juice to the season while the curry is cooking. I usually use a little more than a teaspoon, maybe two or three. But it all depends on the balance of the dish – as a general rule of thumb, add (palm) sugar for sweetness, fish sauce for salt, and lime juice for acidity, until you can taste all the essential flavors, without any overwhelming you or others.
  • Do not include the coriander leaves and the top of the stems in the curry paste, just the roots and the bottom (about an inch) of the stems. You can use the leaves to decorate the plate.
  • Don’t use chives in pasta, as they are a poor substitute for shallots; they are also best used to garnish the dish.
  • Use galangal instead of ginger, if you can find it.

Common mistakes that can ruin a Thai curry

These are the six most common mistakes when making a Thai curry:

  1. My curry doesn’t taste the same as in a restaurant.

The reason why this happens is that you have not followed the logical order of cooking or you didn’t use enough spices. The secret to a perfect curry is to add a good amount of spices. Do not be afraid. If it’s two heaped tablespoons, that’s two heaped tablespoons.

Our advice: 

  • Be generous with spices. 
  • Bring the curry to life by making a “Tarka,” a sauce added at the end of cooking. 
  • Season with balance and finish the curry. Curry does not live on salt alone. Also, sugar, lime, yogurt, coriander.
  1. My curry tastes raw. 

This can happen for two reasons:  You have not cooked the ingredients properly; the onion, garlic, and ginger are raw. OR you have thrown the spices into the pot too late or without deep frying. 

Our advice:

  •  There is only one: Never be in a rush when making a curry. It is a stew and therefore needs time. Fry the vegetables well, until the onion is toasted and the garlic and ginger smell cooked. Saute the spices. Allow the whole to cook for the necessary time. The oil must “risen to the surface.”
  1. My curry is too liquid.

Let’s start with the assumption that curry does not have to be dense. What’s more, many Thais, South Indians or Sri Lankans are more of a soup than a stew. But being liquid does not mean watery or unblocked curries. It is a problem of little cooking or a poor choice of ingredients.

Our advice: 

  • Do not bind the curry with cornstarch, so the creaminess is provided. Make a thick sauce with plenty of onion. 
  • Add yogurt or coconut milk. 
  • Add tomatoes and tomato paste. 
  • Make a paste of almonds or cashews. 
  1. My curry is too thick.

Thick curries where you can stick a spoon in? A problem that happens very often. At least that’s what it seems to me when I see our native youtubers. A very thick curry means a very heavy stew, and, as soon as it cools, inedible. 

The problem lies in using undiluted coconut milk. Throughout Asia, the coconut milk used for cooking is very slightly creamy, almost whitish water. The cream is only used at the end, and in very little quantity, to flavor the dish.

Our advice:

  •  Always mix 1 part of canned coconut milk with 2 parts of water or broth. If you want the curry to taste more like coconut milk, add a couple of tablespoons of coconut cream at the end.
  1. My curry has no color. 

Yes, it happens sometimes. While the curries cooked in Thailand have intense and vibrant colors, the ones we see on our TV shows always have a milky color, typical of hospital food. There are 3 reasons for this; 1. Lack of spices and chili powder. 2. Tons of coconut milk. 3. Unbroken onions.

Our advice:

  •  More spices, less coconut milk, well-toasted onions. Oh, and the magic trick: Kashmiri chili powder, which is slightly itchy, has a deep and beautiful color. If not, you can use paprika to add color.
  1. My curry is gritty. 

That means you have ground the spices very badly. Whether in a hurry or carelessness, the fact is that you have left them as if they were the sand in a children’s park.

Our advice:

  •  Spend more time and grind the spices well. Until they are like flour, you can sift the powder with a fine sieve and grind the coarsest thing again if you want.

Other FAQs about Curry which you may be interested in.

Do you use stock in Curry?

Do you add water to curry paste?

Do curry spices go out of date?

The bottom line

There is an infinite number of curry recipes. Thailand’s size and the wide variety of ingredients they use make the number of curry varieties grow exponentially. Make sure you follow our tips and avoid the common mistakes that beginners usually make when cooking curry. 

If you have any comments or questions on the content, please let us know!