When I stir-fry veggies, I have noticed that using curry powder gives a different result than other spices.

I follow these steps:

  1. in a wok pan, I pour sesame oil. Enough to cover the bottom
  2. add the spice to the oil.
  3. heat the oil until warm on high heat
  4. add the chopped veggies and stir frequently for about 5 minutes, then lower the heat and keep stirring for about 5 more minutes.

I have used different spices so far: chopped dried chili, anis seeds, ground paprika, cumin seeds, curry powder. With all the spices the results have been fairly similar, except that with curry powder.

When I use curry powder the veggies get charred marks even though they are far from being done.

Is this to be expected with curry powder, or am I doing something wrong?

3 Answers 3


I suspect you're seeing charred spices stuck to the veg.

A lot of stir frying advice assumes you want the veg lightly cooked, not softened very much. In that case you may well want to add the spice before the veg so the spice spends long enough in contact with the hot oil.

If you want to soften the veg a bit more, adding the veg to the hot oil, cooking a bit, then adding spices, will mean that the spices don't burn before the veg is to your liking.

This is what I tend to do because I like onion in particular quite well cooked, and my stove isn't great for high heat, especially in a wok. So I start the onion, then add other veg, then spices, nuts/tofu, garlic, and finally any other liquid (no meat in my case), in that order.

I'd like to understand the reason why your curry powder chars, and the first thing that occurs to me is that it's powder, unlike your other spices—except the paprika. Whole spices will behave differently. It's possible that you're using more curry powder than paprika, so more is staying in contact with the hot bottom of the pan. It's possible that paprika doesn't char as easily as something in the curry powder. But I wonder if the curry powder sticks more to the bottom of the pan by forming a thicker pas. Paprika seems to wet well with oil, and disperse into it, so you've got a liquid that stirs easily. That seems to be less the case with some of the ingredients common in curry powder. My suspicion is that it's a combination of easier charring and more time spent on the bottom of the pan.

  • 2
    Another good option for the more resilient veggies is to steam them a bit before frying. That will also cause them to provide a bit more moisture when they're added to the wok, which counteracts any burning but helps further veggie-softening. Jul 19 at 21:46
  • @leftaroundabout good idea. I've never tried it but lightly microwaving a late addition (or something starting from frozen) probably has a similar effect, and I've done that.
    – Chris H
    Jul 20 at 8:12
  • Behaviour might vary depending on whether the powder is added to cold or hot oil. If the oil is cold the powder will disperse and at least some will contact (and possibly stick to) the bottom of the pan, while if it's sprinkled onto hot oil I'd expect its moisture content to fragment each grain rapidly and disperse the flavour into the oil. Of course, it might also be that "curry powder" isn't the best choice for this technique... Jul 20 at 15:04

Adding powdered spice before even heating the oil is almost certainly going to result in burnt spices, so I believe this is what you are seeing when you refer to "charred marks" on your vegetables. Typically you would only add spices so early in stir frying when using whole spices (or possibly lightly crushed), as they can withstand the heat better and get "roasted" rather than burnt.

I would add the curry powder just after adding the veg, stir frying the veg very briefly then sprinkling the spices over the top and mixing well.

Also, this wasn't what you asked, but I would also recommend using a different oil for stir frying, something with a neutral taste and high smoke point. Sesame oil is typically used for finishing a stir fried dish rather than for actually frying the foods, although there are some exceptions to this (it is more common when lower temperatures are used). High temperature frying tends to dull the flavour of sesame oil.


You toast your whole spices in the oil first. The whole spices are for a lack of a better word, raw. Toasting them releases all the oils and tannins and activates the flavours.

Then you add your onions and when they have fried in the oil-spice mixture for a couple of minutes then you add your powdered spices.

The powdered spices then infuses with the onion. What you can then do is add some roughly chopped tomatoes. As you cook you tomatoes down they mash and you then have what South Africans would call Braai Relish.

This then forms the base of all different types of curries. You can add chick peas for a Chana Dhal. You can add beans of whatever type for a nice bean curry or whatever meat you like.

The powdered spices are already toasted and will burn easily if added to just hot oil. Whole Spices are fine. Then the onions, then the powdered spices, then the tomatoes. When the tomatoes have reduced into the consistency of mash you add whatever protein you like, plant based or animal based..

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