What Is Vegan Curry?

C. K. Lanz

Vegan curry is a variation of traditional curry that does not contain any animal or animal-derived ingredients like meat, fish, or dairy products. Curry is a generic term used to refer to a wide variety of dishes typically made with spices like turmeric and cumin, although there is no one particular ingredient associated with all curries. A curry is like a soup or stew that is often served with rice or roti or consumed on its own. Many curries are naturally vegan and require no modifications to conform to vegan dietary preferences.

Coriander is often used to flavor vegan curry.
Coriander is often used to flavor vegan curry.

A typical curry is like a hearty soup or stew, although the original Tamil word kari literally means sauce. Vegetables, meat, or a combination of the two are cooked with spices and possibly complementary gravy. Spices can include turmeric, coriander, and cumin. The gravy or sauce can be made with anything from coconut milk to ghee to a paste of tomatoes or chilies. The ingredients vary widely from region to region depending on local culinary tastes.

Curry powder.
Curry powder.

A vegan diet eschews consuming or purchasing animal products and byproducts. This includes avoiding obvious items like meat, chicken, and dairy as well as not-so-obvious products like honey and refined sugar. As honey is produced by bees, many vegans will not consume it. Additionally, many refined sugars are filtered with animal bone char or charred bones. Although the sugar does not contain charred animal bones, the substance was used in manufacture the product and therefore many vegans will opt for raw or turbinado sugar instead.

Curry spices typically include ground coriander.
Curry spices typically include ground coriander.

A vegan curry will therefore eliminate or substitute any ingredients derived from animals. Instead of chicken or shrimp, a vegan might include tofu or seitan. Ghee, or clarified butter, is not appropriate for vegans and would be either eliminated or substituted with vegan butter. Any dairy products served with a curry would also be substituted with their vegan equivalents when making a truly vegan curry.

Thai basil can add a slight licorice flavor to vegan curries.
Thai basil can add a slight licorice flavor to vegan curries.

Many curries are naturally vegan and require no modification. Vegetable curries are often vegan unless they are made with ghee, fish sauce, or some other non-obvious animal byproduct. When ordering curry at a restaurant, vegans can always ask their servers to make sure that the curry they want is free of animal products.

Tofu is a popular ingredient in vegan curry.
Tofu is a popular ingredient in vegan curry.

Recipes for vegan curry often call for coconut or some other type of nondairy milk like soy or rice milk. Vegetable stock is also a common gravy or sauce ingredient in vegan curry. Curry paste or powder is often used to add flavor, although individual spice combinations are also typical. Vegan curry ingredients, flavors, and textures can vary as widely as those of the traditional dish.

Vegan curry could include faux chicken and a coconut milk base.
Vegan curry could include faux chicken and a coconut milk base.

Curries are typical of Indian, Pakistani, and Thai cuisines. They are also commonly served in Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, and other southeast Asian countries. The popularity of curry has spread beyond the Indian subcontinent to Britain as well as Japan and Jamaica.

Many vegans are allergic or sensitive to dairy products or avoid them for ethical reasons.
Many vegans are allergic or sensitive to dairy products or avoid them for ethical reasons.

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