Chicken Korma vs. Tikka Masala: What Makes Them Different?

Are you new to Indian food, and want to know the difference between chicken tikka masala and chicken korma?

Chicken korma and chicken tikka masala are two popular Indian dishes made with two different “masalas” or spice blends, i.e., korma (originally “Qormā“), but the difference is more complex.

In this article, you’ll learn these primary differences in ingredients, spices, and cooking method variations between the two sauces (and dishes).

Here we come.

Key Takeaways

Chicken korma is a milder and nuttier dish, with a creamy sauce made with yogurt, poppy seeds, coconut milk, cashews, almonds, garlic, and ginger.

Chicken tikka masala is a spicier and more acidic dish, made with marinated and grilled or tandoori chicken simmered in a creamy tomato sauce made with cream, onions, turmeric, and paprika.

These differences can be quickly overviewed as follows:

FeatureChicken kormaChicken tikka masala
TasteMilder, nuttier, earthySpicier, acidic, slightly sweet, smoky
TextureCreamierDrier
Meat cutLarger cuts of meat with bone, like chicken legsSmaller boneless chicken pieces, preferably from thighs.
Cooking methodTraditionally boiled, but nowadays, chicken is often added later to a sauce made with yogurt, poppy seeds, cardamom, coconut milk, spices, and seasoningsMarinating and baking or grilling the chicken first, then simmering in a tomato-based sauce made with onions, tomatoes, seasoning, spices, paprika and turmeric
ServingTypically served with rice or naan breadServed with plain white rice or cheese naan

Knowing First, What is Masala?

Masala is

a varying blend of spices used in Indian cooking.

Merriam Webster

Masala is a spice blend. When turned into a paste, the sauce adopts its name from the masala used. Similarly, dishes are often named after their key ingredient. So, chicken korma masala can be a seasoning, sauce, or dish. The same is the case with tikka masala.

What is Chicken Korma Masala?

Chicken korma masala is a flavorful, mild southern Indian dish featuring a blend of spices and ingredients like yogurt, poppy seeds, coconut, cashews, almonds, garlic, and ginger.

This spice mix creates a nutty and creamy sauce, giving the dish its distinctive taste. The resulting dish is aromatic, with a color ranging from yellowish to pale orange. It’s commonly served with naan bread or steamed rice.

Store-bought chicken korma masala helps you recreate the original taste of chicken korma without going through the trouble of making the sauce yourself.

What is Chicken Tikka Masala?

Chicken tikka masala is Uk national, Indian cuisine-inspired dish. This moderately spicier dish is made with marinated, grilled, or baked chicken simmered in a creamy, tangy tomato sauce.

The dish begins with tandoori chicken.

A skinless bird (preferably thigh meat) is marinated in a spiced yogurt sauce. It’s then put in the oven and cooked until it’s smoky and juicy.

The chicken is simmered in a sauce of tomatoes, cream, onions, turmeric, and paprika, giving it an orange color. It has a slightly sweet and smoky flavor, making it a popular and flavorful dish.

Suppose you can’t get into the complicated process of preparing chicken tikka masala sauce/gravy. In that case, the store-bought chicken tikka masala can help you achieve the original taste right in your kitchen!

Detailed Differences Between Chicken Korma and Chicken Tikka Masala

Both chicken korma and tikka masala seem pretty similar to the untrained eye. If you don’t know the two and the ingredient list, it’s easy to mistake one for the other.

They have the exact roots in India cuisine, and they’re similar in some aspects, making you confused between the two. 

Chicken korma and tikka masala are cooked and served the same way, with naan or steamed rice.

Now, let’s go over the differences between the two in detail.

Taste  

Compared with tikka masala, chicken korma is less spicy and creamy. It has a mildly nutty, sweet, and earthy taste owing to the use of green cardamom, fired onion, yogurt, poppy seeds, coriander, and nuts in its sauce.

If you opt for a memorable Indian or Pakistani Korma Masala recipe, Indian food enthusiasts advise you to add some almonds too.

Tikka masala, in contrast, is creamier and spicier thanks to the main ingredients: tomato cream, garam masala (a mixture of ground spices), and yogurt. Thanks to turmeric and coriander, chicken tikka masala has a slightly sweet but acidic taste, though this sweetness isn’t like korma. Additionally, you also get a bit of a smokey flavor.

Texture

Despite looking similar, the texture of the two is also different compared to each other; Chicken Tikka masala is drier than korma. 

Chicken tikka masala can serve as an appetizer, whereas korma is the main course. The reason is that we braise korma, unlike chicken tikka masala.

Meat Cut 

Though this can be a point of difference, most cooks don’t always follow this recipe part. Traditionally, chefs make tikka masala with smaller boneless chicken pieces, while they make Korma with more significant cuts of meat, like chicken legs. 

Chicken Cooking Variations

To make chicken tikka, we sear them beforehand, either in the oven or directly on a grill. It helps to improve the taste and make it epic.

Traditionally, in korma, chefs boil the meat with the sauce, but nowadays, they add the meat later. It doesn’t change the taste much, but the recipe isn’t 100% authentic.

Usage Variations

Chefs use chicken tikka masala to make curry or as a rub. They also use it to make curry vegetables for a vegetarian dish or as a marinade to make chicken tikka. It’s extensively used (or abused) in many Mughlai cuisines.

However, as its name implies, korma masala is mainly used to make chicken korma. Korma has several variations, the most famous ones being vegetable korma and Navratan korma ( named after nine courtiers of Akbar, the Mughal emperor.)

Serving

Although chicken korma and chicken tikka masala look almost identical, they have a subtle taste and flavor difference. As chicken tikka masala is spicier, it works well with plain white rice or cheese naan.

Being milder and earthier, Korma works better with something like coconut rice, and we can serve it with “nan,” “Roti” Pratha, or tortillas if it has some hot flavor in addition to its potent, sweeter taste.

Similarities Between Chicken Korma Vs. Tikka Masala

As you already know, both these dishes are of Indian origin. Thus, they have many similarities, making it hard to distinguish between them. We will go over them below.

Origin story

Chicken korma and chicken tikka masala share origins influenced by Persian and Mughal cuisines. Persian culinary traditions, known for nuts and dried fruits, influenced both dishes. Mughals introduced new ingredients and techniques, including tandoor ovens, impacting korma and tikka masala.

Over time, regional variations emerged, with korma in southern India using coconut milk and cashews, while tikka masala in the north uses yogurt and tomatoes. British influence is seen in the use of cream in both dishes, introduced during colonial rule.

Meat Type

Pork and beef are forbidden in Muslim and Hindu communities in most of India. Therefore, chicken and meat have become the most common meats. Many dishes have these as their main ingredients.

Cooking styles

We cook both these dishes similarly to each other. Chicken is first marinated. Then we cook. We may fry them in a pan or grill them until it’s golden and crisp. Then, we throw the chicken into a creamy sauce, resulting in a curry.

The cooking time is also similar. You need about 45-60 minutes to prepare both dishes. Though the cooking time is impacted by factors such as the sauce and its thickness, usually, it’s a pretty accurate estimation of the time needed to cook them.

Side dishes

They serve chicken korma and chicken tikka masala with similar side dishes, mainly naan bread or steamed rice. People also consume them in surrounding countries such as Pakistan and Nepal.

Therefore, chicken korma and chicken tikka masala are both creamy and tasty. The main difference is that the latter is spicier thanks to garam masala, while the former has an earthy and nutty taste.

Sauce vs. Dry Masala

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If you’re in the market, you may have encountered two types of chicken korma and chicken tikka masalas: sauce and dry masala.

Here are some of the best dry masalas and sauces you’ll find.

Dry Korma Masala

If you use dry korma masala, you need to make the sauce yourself. The masala acts as the spices in the sauce. First, you must put some oil in the pan and let it heat up. Then add ginger, garlic, onions, and some yogurt.

Then, add the dry masala, which gives it the taste required. Shan Masala is the best quality imported masala with no added preservatives or food coloring, providing the best flavor and making it healthy!

Dry Tikka Masala

Dry tikka masala will give you the Indian touch it needs to be complete, and it’s an entirely traditional way of making chicken tikka masala. We can use it as a rub and for curry (as in our case). 

As with dry korma masala, you’ll need to make the sauce from scratch. Heat the oil in a skillet over medium heat and saute the onions. Then add ginger and garlic until you smell the aroma. Then, instead of individual spices, we add the tikka masala into the mix.

Pataks Korma Cooking Sauce

It’s also gluten-free and gives your easy korma the taste to compete even with the best restaurant serving kormas! All you need is one jar and one pack of chicken breast, and you’ll be ready to cook the best korma you’ve ever had!

Maya Kaimal Tikka Masala Sauce

This tikka masala sauce is a rich blend of tomato and Indian spices such as cumin, clove, and cinnamon, giving it a fantastic flavor that’ll be hard to distinguish from the real. Just grill or cook chicken in the oven and cook it in the sauce. Your chicken tikka masala is ready to serve.

Chefs have thoroughly tested this recipe to provide you with the best flavor – and without any hassle!

Is Chicken Korma Masala gluten-free?

Chicken korma masala is entirely gluten-free. Being gluten-free primarily depends on the ingredients used in the recipes.

Let’s look at what these are and whether they’re gluten-free.

IngredientsStatus
ChickenGluten-free
OnionGluten-free
GarlicGluten-free
GingerGluten-free
Oil/GheeGluten-free
Coconut FlourGluten-free
AlmondsGluten-free
MilkGluten-free
ButtermilkGluten-free
Tapioca Starch (used in Store-Bought) MasalaGluten-free
Herbs and SpicesGluten-free
SaltGluten-free

Is Chicken Tikka Masala gluten-free?

Chicken tikka masala is gluten-free. Like any other recipe, the gluten status depends on the recipe ingredients. Below are the details about all the ingredients. 

IngredientsStatus
ChickenGluten-free
GarlicGluten-free
GingerGluten-free
Oil/GheeGluten-free
AlmondsGluten-free
MilkGluten-free
YogurtGluten-free
CreamGluten-free
TomatoesGluten-free
LemonGluten-free
Corn starch (used in Store-Bought Masala)Gluten-free
Herbs and SpicesGluten-free
SaltGluten-free

If you’re gluten-sensitive, here you can get a gluten-free option.

Is Chicken Korma Masala Spicy?

No, chicken korma masala isn’t spicy. Despite the pungency of chilis and spices, the heat level is pretty mild, and you can tolerate it easily. The reason is cream, milk, almonds, and nuts add to the overall sweetness of the curry. Chicken korma masala is considered close to butter chicken for being a balanced mix of spicy and sweet flavors, which sometimes leads to confusion.

Final Thoughts

Chicken tikka masala and chicken korma are two distinctive India-based recipes with unique identities despite sharing similar presentations.

Hopefully, after reading through the article, you have understood the differences between the two.

Let me know how helpful this article has been for you and what you want to know more about using the comment section below.

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Saba Akbar
Saba Akbar

Hello, I'm a culinary explorer and food writer with 25 years of home kitchen expertise. This blog is a treasure trove of my insights on global cuisine, cooking tips, and expert knowledge of kitchen tools.
Besides this, as a GERD survivor, I've transformed my passion for food into a quest for food's GERD-friendliness and healthiness. I believe what you eat shapes your internal environment—join me on this lifelong journey of taste and healthiness!

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