Thai green curry is a popular dish that is found on many restaurant menus. With its aromatic green curry paste, coconut milk base, and medley of vegetables, it can make for a delicious vegan meal. Many grocery stores now offer convenient frozen or shelf-stable versions of Thai green curry that busy home cooks can prepare in minutes. But are these instant curries actually vegan? Let’s take a look at one popular brand – Trader Joe’s Thai Green Curry – and investigate the ingredients to determine if it’s suitable for a plant-based diet.
Examining the Ingredients
The first step in assessing whether a packaged food product is vegan is to carefully read the ingredients list. Here are the ingredients listed for Trader Joe’s Thai Green Curry:
- Coconut Milk
- Bamboo Shoots
- Green Beans
- Kaffir Lime Leaves
- Lemon Grass
- Vegetable Oil
- Thai Green Curry Paste (Green Chili Peppers, Garlic, Lemongrass, Galangal, Kaffir Lime, Cilantro, Cumin, Coriander)
- Fish Sauce
- Lime Juice Concentrate
- Xanthan Gum
- Guar Gum
At first glance, this ingredients list looks mostly vegan, containing lots of plant-based items like coconut milk, vegetables, and Thai herbs and spices. However, two ingredients stand out as not vegan – fish sauce and xanthan gum.
Fish sauce, a staple seasoning in Southeast Asian cuisines, is made from fermented fish. Some brands use anchovies while others use mackerel, plankton or even shrimp. Regardless of the type, fish sauce is decidedly not vegan. The fish sauce in Trader Joe’s Thai Green Curry is used to provide a savory, umami flavor to the dish. But it means the curry isn’t suitable for those following a vegan diet.
Xanthan gum is a thickener and stabilizer used in many packaged foods. It helps to bind ingredients together and create the right consistency. Xanthan gum is commonly included in gluten-free products as a wheat substitute. But most commercial xanthan gum is made from corn sugar that is fermented by a bacterium called Xanthomonas campestris. The bacteria eat the sugars and secrete the xanthan gum. Since this process involves a living organism, xanthan gum is generally not considered vegan.
Some vegan-friendly xanthan gums made from plant cellulose without bacteria are available. But it’s unclear if Trader Joe’s uses one of these vegan versions or the more common non-vegan type in their Thai Green Curry.
Contacting the Company
When an ingredients list leaves some doubt about whether a food is vegan, the next step is to contact the manufacturer directly. Many companies have customer service lines and representatives who can answer questions about sourcing, manufacturing processes, and potential cross-contamination issues.
I called the Trader Joe’s Customer Relations department and spoke to a helpful representative. She researched the Thai Green Curry and confirmed that both the fish sauce and xanthan gum used are not vegan. So unfortunately, Trader Joe’s Thai Green Curry is not dairy-free or vegan.
While Trader Joe’s Thai Green Curry isn’t suitable for vegans, there are some store-bought frozen curry options that are vegan-friendly:
Taste Republic Thai Green Curry
Taste Republic is a vegan brand that makes frozen Thai curries including green, red, panang and massaman. Their Thai Green Curry contains tofu, vegetables and Thai herbs and spices in a coconut milk base. It’s dairy-free, plant-based and contains no fish sauce. Taste Republic products are sold at many major grocery chains.
Maya Kaimal Thai Green Curry
Maya Kaimal uses only plant-based ingredients to create authentic Thai curries. Their frozen Thai Green Curry has bamboo shoots, eggplant and peppers in a sauce made of lemongrass, chilies and coconut milk. It’s 100% vegan.
Amy’s Thai Green Curry
Amy’s Kitchen is known for its vegetarian frozen meals, but many of Amy’s products are also vegan. That includes their Thai Green Curry which contains veggies, tofu and Thai spices simmered in coconut milk. It’s dairy-free and suitable for vegans.
Homemade Vegan Thai Green Curry
Of course, the best way to ensure your Thai green curry is completely plant-based is to make it yourself. It only takes about 30 minutes of active prep time. Here’s a simple recipe:
- 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
- 1 yellow onion, diced
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 tablespoon fresh ginger, minced
- 2-3 green Thai chilies, sliced
- 1 15oz can coconut milk
- 1-2 lime leaves
- 1 tablespoon lemon grass, minced
- 1 cup fresh basil leaves
- 1 cup eggplant, sliced
- 1 cup bamboo shoots, sliced
- 1 cup green beans, ends trimmed
- 1 cup red bell pepper, sliced
- 2 tablespoons Thai green curry paste
- 1-2 teaspoons sugar
- 1 tablespoon soy sauce or tamari
- Salt to taste
- Rice noodles or jasmine rice
- Fresh basil, cilantro or mint leaves for garnish
- Heat oil in a large skillet or wok over medium heat. Add onion and cook 2-3 minutes until translucent. Add garlic, ginger and chilies. Cook 1 minute more.
- Add coconut milk, lime leaves, lemongrass and Thai basil leaves. Bring to a simmer.
- Stir in eggplant, bamboo shoots, green beans and red pepper. Cook for 5 minutes.
- Add Thai green curry paste, sugar and soy sauce. Simmer curry for 10-15 minutes until vegetables are tender.
- Season to taste with salt.
- Serve curry over rice noodles or jasmine rice. Garnish with fresh herbs.
By making your own vegan Thai green curry at home, you can customize the ingredients and flavors exactly how you like. Experiment with adding different vegetables like potatoes, peas or broccoli. And spice it up with extra chili peppers or curry paste for more heat. Homemade always tastes better!
When reviewing packaged foods for vegan-friendliness, carefully checking the ingredients list and contacting the manufacturer is important. For Trader Joe’s Thai Green Curry, both the fish sauce and questionable xanthan gum mean it’s unfortunately not vegan.
Luckily there are some store-bought vegan Thai curry options available from brands like Taste Republic, Maya Kaimal and Amy’s Kitchen. And homemade Thai green curry is simple to whip up, allowing you to make it as spicy or mild as you prefer and add whatever veggies you have on hand. With so many alternatives, you can definitely enjoy vegan Thai green curry regardless of Trader Joe’s ingredients.