Like other traditional spice blends, curry is highly subject to variation. It differs from region to region based on local tastes. The curry that you would get in a Chinese restaurant is different from the curry that you would get in a British curry house. Similarly, there differences between Jamaican curry powder and so-called Indian curry powder despite the fact that they have significant similarities. If you are trying to choose between them, consider the comparison in this SPICEography Showdown post.
What are the flavor differences between Jamaican curry powder and Indian curry powder?
The first major difference between Jamaican curry powder and its Indian counterpart is the fact that Jamaican curry powder is actually Jamaican. While there are differences between the various brands’ products, they are all formulated to suit Jamaican flavor preferences. In comparison, Indian curry powders like Madras curry powder are not actually Indian spice blends even though they do use Indian spices. Indians in India do not eat curry powder. Madras curry powder and other Indian curry powders are British inventions and are a British representation of Indian flavors.
The fact that these spice blends are made for people from somewhat (but not entirely) different food cultures means that they have different flavor profiles. For example, Jamaican curry powder may include allspice. Allspice also shows up in another Jamaican classic: jerk pork. Jamaican curry powder will also usually have less heat since the heat is usually added separately in the form of fresh chili peppers. Indian curry powders like Madras curry powder will have red pepper included in the powder itself. Madras is made in the South Asian style.
Jamaican curry powder has a different appearance than that of Indian curry powder. Because fresh Jamaican curry dishes usually have fresh spices added to them, Jamaican curry powder is typically heavier on the turmeric in proportion to the other spices. As a result, most blends are a bright yellow. Madras curry powder and other Indian curry powders may have more of a red tint because of the chili pepper in them.
Can you use Jamaican curry powder in place of Indian curry powder and vice versa?
Both are curry powders with many of the same ingredients, so they will provide very similar results. Even so, you will need to enhance Jamaican curry powder’s milder flavor with added chile pepper if you want to use it in place of a hotter Indian curry. Indian curry can be used as a substitute for the Jamaican variant as long as you are mindful of the heat. If you do not want a hot curry, you will have to take steps to make it milder. You can do this by adding dairy or coconut milk to neutralize the capsaicin that makes it hot. You will also need to add allspice since it does not usually show up in Indian curry powder blends.
When should you use Jamaican curry powder and when should you use Indian curry powder?
Use Jamaican curry powder for Jamaican curry dishes like curried goat that will utilize additional herbs and spices such as scallions, scotch bonnet chilies and garlic.
Use Madras curry powder and other Indian curry powders in traditional British curry dishes like mulligatawny soup. You can also use it in any other dishes that require a curry powder and where you may want the extra heat.