Did you know that yogurt is the secret ingredient to a rich, smooth, and healthy authentic Indian curry? When cooking a curry at home, recipes can call for many different creamy ingredients to use that won’t curdle when you cook them, but yogurt is considered one of the best and is infamous for curdling.
Yogurt curdles when the temperature rises too quickly, so the key is to add it in slowly to your curry on low heat. Acidic components such as lemon juice or vinegar can also cause the yogurt to curdle; add these ingredients at the end to prevent the yogurt from denaturing.
So, how do you add yogurt to a curry without it turning into a greasy and lumpy mess?
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What Causes Yogurt to Curdle in Curry and How Can I Avoid It?
Heat, salt and acid are all external components that cause the protein in yogurt to denature, thus curdling or forming curds. When the temperature of the yogurt dish rises too rapidly, a chemical reaction causes the proteins to split from the fats which results in curdling.
Similarly, when you add acidic ingredients such as lemon juice, vinegar, or tomato to your dish, it has the same effect. There are many ways to reduce the risk of curdling when adding yogurt to your curry, and we’ll explore the best ones here.
Excessive heat is the most common culprit causing yogurt to curdle. The best way to prevent this is to temper your dish. This is an age old process that many Indian cooks have used and passed on for generations.
First, make sure your yogurt is at room temperature before you add it to your recipe. When the recipe calls for you to add the yogurt to the dish, you want there to be as little temperature difference as possible to avoid the adverse chemical reaction of curdling. To do this, you need to reduce the temperature of your dish by putting it on low heat or even take it off the heat for a few minutes.
Once the temperature has cooled down, you can add the yogurt a spoonful at a time, stirring slowly until the yogurt fully integrates before adding another spoonful. Alternatively, you could do this vice versa by adding the cooled down liquid from your dish to the yogurt in a room temperature bowl, again one spoonful at a time.
After you’ve incorporated the two, you can recombine the mixture into the main dish. These tempering techniques should effectively inhibit the curdling and ensure you have a smooth and creamy texture.
Many curries call for acidic ingredients such as lime or lemon juice, tomato puree, or some type of vinegar. These ingredients are inherently acidic and are likely to cause your curry to curdle because the acid encourages the fats (also known as “curds”) to split apart from the proteins (also known as “whey”).
The best way to prevent this from happening is to combine these ingredients at the end of the cooking process so your yogurt has already been incorporated into the cooking sauce.
However, ingredients such as tomato puree might need to be added nearer the beginning so following the tempering rules we discussed above will be the most effective way to decrease the risk of curdling in your curry.
Full fat Greek yogurt is the best type of yogurt to use when cooking curries. The difference between normal full fat yogurt and Greek yogurt is the Greek yogurt has been strained so that much of the whey (or protein) has been removed.
Straining your yogurt increases the fat content relative to the protein content of the yogurt. If you don’t strain your yogurt and the whey was left in, the exposure to heat and acid would be more likely to cause it to curdle.
But since you’ve strained your yogurt, the fat contents cover, and therefore protect the protein from heat or acid; so the more fat there is, the less likely it is to curdle. Save your low/non fat yogurts for smoothies or salad dressings where they will be more appreciated and easier to incorporate.
Stabilizing is another option to help prevent curdling. If you’d prefer to use low fat yogurt or this is all you have in your refrigerator, stabilizing is an effective way to use them when cooking curry.
Stabilizing is accomplished by adding cornstarch or flour to the yogurt before adding it to your dish. Similar to the higher fat content of Greek yogurt, the cornstarch or flour binds to the proteins and acts to protect them from denaturing, and prevent your dish from curdling.
Stirring in ½ to 1 teaspoon of cornstarch or 2 teaspoons of flour per cup of yogurt is enough to do the trick. Bear in mind that if you add too much, you may inadvertently thicken your sauce, though you can always add more yogurt to balance it out and achieve just the right consistency.
Frequently Asked Questions
How to fix yogurt curdling in curry?
If you have already been slaving away over your hot stove to cook the perfect curry for your family only for it to then curdle and turn into an oily mess, fear not! Curdling does not mean it is inedible and there may be a way to save it.
First things first, remove the dish from the heat to prevent further curdling and whisk the sauce to try to dissolve the curds. If this doesn’t work, you can strain out the solid ingredients, let the liquid cool some, then add 2 tablespoons of room temperature yogurt, a teaspoon of flour, and whisk it until creamy again.
With these simple techniques, hopefully you can salvage your dish. But remember, you can always still eat your curry if it has curdled so long as you’re not concerned with the aesthetics.
Should I use Greek or Natural yogurt in curry?
Most people might think that natural yogurt was created for the health conscious crowd. In reality, natural yogurt is just the unaltered, cultured milk before all the artificial sweeteners, flavors, thickeners, and preservatives are added to make the kinds of yogurt we have all become accustomed to buying from the supermarket.
So then how does that differ from Greek yogurt? Both Greek yogurt and natural yogurt are packed with high quality nutrients and offer multiple health benefits, but you may wonder what sets them apart.
When natural yogurt is strained of its whey through a muslin or cheesecloth, that is already Greek yogurt. Greek yogurt is relatively higher in fat content than natural yogurt since the protein from the whey is removed, leaving the Greek yogurt thick and creamy.
Why do you add yogurt to curry?
There are many ways to make curry, and many alternatives to use instead of yogurt, such as heavy cream, coconut cream, cottage cheese, milk, or sour cream. These will all make slight variations of curry dishes and are generally less likely to curdle.
Yogurt’s tart, rather than sweet, taste and rich creaminess sets it apart from many of these alternatives and is the reason yogurt is considered one of the best ingredients to add to a curry. It also has less fat and calories than most types of heavy cream, making it a healthier option.
Each region in India uses very different processes and ingredients to make curries, but you’ll find yogurt is a lot more traditional in North Indian cooking, while coconut cream or coconut milk are more popular in South Indian recipes.
It very much depends on your preferred taste and perhaps what you have in the cupboard, but the beauty of alternative ingredients means there are options to suit everyone’s diet and palate.