How To Make Curry Spicier

Curry dishes can range in heat level from relatively mild to blisteringly hot. If you want your curry on the hotter end of the spectrum, you need to use methods and ingredients that build heat effectively without introducing unwanted flavors. There are several ways to achieve this, both with additions and subtractions to popular ingredients. Try the methods below to make curry spicier.

Add powdered chili peppers

You can use powdered chili peppers in the mix of spices that go into your curry, or you can add it to a pre-made commercial curry powder blend. Much of the heat in hot Indian or Indian-style curries comes from the use of hot peppers, and the powdered chili is one of the most convenient forms. Unlike other forms of hot pepper where the heat can vary, powdered chili peppers have a consistent heat level that gets dispersed evenly in the dish.

Your best authentic option is the kashmiri pepper though almost any hot powdered chili pepper will do. Your choices range from jalapeño powder at the low end of the Scoville scale to the moderate heat of kashmiri, and bhut jolokia (ghost pepper) powder at the higher end. Kashmiri powder is the traditional option and will give dishes are bright red color along with a strong smoky note. Kashmiri are the staple peppers in classic Indian dishes like tandoori chicken and rogan josh.

You can add chili powder at any point in the cooking process, including at the end just before you serve it.

Use fresh hot peppers

If you want bright and fruity flavors along with heat, fresh chilies are your best bet. Not only will you get an improved flavor profile, but you will also get a vibrant color as well. Fresh chilies will deliver a faster, hotter blast of heat when compared to the dried version, which is generally slower and less intense.

Use freshly ground black pepper

Most of the discussion about the heat in curries tends to center around hot peppers, but freshly ground black pepper does add to the spice levels of some curries. Vindaloo curry is one dish that gets much of its fiery flavor from black pepper.

Note that the freshly ground part is important. Pre-ground black pepper does bring some flavor but lacks the greater heat and complexity from quality peppercorns that you grind just before you add them to the dish. Use Tellicherry peppercorns for the best results in a curry.

Avoid yogurt and cream

This is addition by subtraction, so for some recipes that rely on cream this isn’t the best way to make curry spicier. But it works, so it’s definitely an option.

Dairy products like yogurt are commonly added to hot curries to tame the heat. They contain casein, which binds to the capsaicin molecules that make chili peppers hot. The casein makes it easier to wash the heat away. It is the same principle by which soap binds to grease molecules so that water can wash them away. What this means is that if you want a hotter curry, you want to minimize your use of the ingredient that tones it down.

Temper chilies in oil

Before adding the main ingredients of your curry, temper the peppers along with other spices in oil. Add the oil to the dish. Some of the capsaicin will enter into the oil. You can use this spiced oil along with fresh and/or dried chiles in your recipe to make curry spicier. The hot pepper oil brings another dimension to the spice component of the dish that you wouldn’t get from either fresh or dried pepper if you used them alone.

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UPDATE NOTICE: This post was updated on March 14, 2023 to include new content.
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