Butter Chicken vs Chicken Curry: What’s the Difference?

When looking for curry recipes or checking out a new curry restaurant menu, it can be very overwhelming to figure out the difference between all the dishes. Even when you narrow it down to the chicken section, there are so many dishes, and it’s hard to tell the difference. So, butter chicken vs chicken curry: what’s the difference?

Short Answer: 

Chicken curry is a general term for all forms of chicken curry from all locations, while butter chicken is a specific type of curry from India.

The differences may be subtle, but each chicken curry is unique in its own way, and we are here to teach you the difference.

In this article, we will deep dive into chicken curry and butter chicken to help you finally figure out the difference.

Read on to find out more.

image of Cooking Chicken Curry with Potato

What is Chicken Curry?

Chicken curry is the general term for all curries that contain chicken. [*]

There are so many different kinds of curry from other countries that go by particular names. This dish made its way all over the world through colonialism, so many regions have created their own versions of chicken curry. 

Chicken curry originated on the Indian sub-continent, spreading to Southeast Asia, the Caribbean, Japan, and Great Britain.

If you are looking at an Indian or Asian food menu, you will likely see ‘chicken curry’ as the title for a section that consists of a few different varieties of chicken curry.

These variations on chicken curry do have a little in common. Most of them have a tomato and onion base, but the spicing will vary, with turmeric, cumin, cardamom, coriander, and cinnamon being the predominant spices.

Most Indian chicken curries use coconut milk as a thickener.

Whatever version you are enjoying, it will likely be served alongside rice or roti.

Here are a few examples of chicken curries from different countries:

  • Thai green curry- Thailand
  • Butter chicken- India
  • Tikka masala- United Kingdom
  • Cape Malay curry- South Africa
  • Chicken kasha- Bengal
  • Kari sach moan- Cambodia
  • Gaeng Gai- Thailand
  • Ginataang manok- Filipines
image of Cooking Butter Chicken

What is Butter Chicken?

Butter chicken is a specific type of chicken curry that originated in Amritsar, India. [*]

This dish contains a specific marinade and spice blend that set it apart from other chicken curries.

Butter chicken has become popular all over the world because of its creamy texture, sweet flavor, and mild spiciness that make it very approachable, especially for those new to curries. 

There are a few elements that set butter chicken apart. The most important is ghee, an Indian clarified butter, which is where the curry gets its name.

Other than that, butter chicken features a yogurt-based marinade that makes the chicken very tender.  It has a tomato, onion, ginger, garlic, and tomato base and is finished with heavy cream.

The spice blend consists of garam masala, cumin, coriander, and red chili powder.

Butter Chicken vs. Chicken Curry: What’s the Difference?

Now that we’ve gone into details about what each of these dishes is let’s directly compare them to one another:

  • Butter chicken is chicken curry, but not all chicken curries are butter chicken.
  • Butter chicken is a specific dish that originates from Amritsar in India, while chicken curries can come from all over the world.
  • Both butter chicken and chicken curry contain spices and chili.
  • Butter chicken contains specific ingredients that give it its name; chicken curry can be made of any combination of ingredients.
  • Some chicken curries are not specific to one region and are made using a premixed curry powder.


What does butter chicken taste like?

Butter chicken is creamy with a sweet flavor and a mild spice level. 
The chicken is tender from the yogurt marinade, deep in flavor from the crushed tomatoes, and creamy from the heavy cream that finishes it off.

What curry is similar to butter chicken?

While they have distinct differences, the curry closest to butter chicken is tikka masala.
Tikka masala is a dish that was created in the United Kingdom by Bangladeshi immigrants and has a deep, spicy flavor. 

Is butter chicken very spicy?

While butter chicken has some spice to it, it is considered to be a milder curry.


So, what have we learned after looking at all the details about these curries?

  • Chicken curry is a general term for all chicken curries found across the world.
  • Butter chicken is a specific type of chicken curry from India.
  • All butter chicken is chicken curry, but not all chicken curry is butter chicken.

We hope this has helped clear up your confusion and made you feel a bit more confident the next time you peruse the chicken section of your local curry restaurant.

Learn more: What is the difference between butter chicken and chicken tikka masala?

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