What Does Chicken Tikka Masala Taste Like?

Perhaps you’ve heard descriptions of its rich, creamy sauce, the tender, smoky chicken, and the symphony of spices that dance on your palate with each bite. How do all these basics come together to create a dish loved by millions around the globe? What does Chicken Tikka Masala taste like, and is it spicy?

Chicken Tikka Masala is a flavorful dish with a smoky, creamy, sweet, tangy, and mildly spicy taste. The smokiness comes from chargrilled chicken, while the creaminess is due to tomato and heavy cream sauce.

The sauce also balances sweetness and tanginess with mild heat from spices like chili powder. Earthy spices, ginger, and garlic add depth, creating a complex and satisfying flavor profile that makes this dish quite delicious when paired with rice.

Taste Profile Of Chicken Tikka Masala

what does chicken tikka masala taste like

The unique taste of Chicken Tikka Masala can be attributed to its distinct ingredients and preparation method.

Smoky Flavor: The chicken is typically marinated in plain yogurt and spices, then chargrilled, giving it a smoky flavor, a key characteristic of the dish.

Rich and Creamy Texture: The sauce, or Masala, is made with tomatoes and cream, lending a rich and creamy texture to the dish. This creaminess balances the spices and adds a luxurious feel to every bite.

Sweetness, Tanginess, and Mild Heat: The dish is known for its perfect balance of sweetness and tanginess, with a hint of heat. The sweetness comes from the caramelization of onions and tomatoes, while the tanginess comes from tomatoes and yogurt. The heat is derived from the use of spices like chili powder, but it’s usually mild, making the dish palatable to a wide range of spice tolerances.

Earthy Spices, Ginger, and Garlic: The dish gets its complex flavor profile from a blend of earthy spices like turmeric, coriander, and cumin. Adding ginger and garlic adds a layer of pungency and warmth, enhancing the dish’s overall flavor.

Comparison With Other Indian Dishes

In this section, I’ll compare Chicken Tikka Masala with other popular Indian dishes, namely Curry and Butter Chicken.

chicken tikka masala curry comparisons

Comparison with Curry

“Curry” refers to a broad spectrum of dishes hailing from the Indian subcontinent, each distinguished by a multifaceted blend of spices and herbs. This mix typically encompasses ground turmeric, cumin, coriander, ginger, and either fresh or dried chilies.

Chicken Tikka Masala, while also using a blend of spices, is distinct in its use of chargrilled chicken and a creamy tomato-based sauce.

While both dishes are rich in flavor, Chicken Tikka Masala tends to be creamier and less spicy than most curries.

Comparison with Butter Chicken

Butter Chicken (Murgh Makhani) is another popular Indian dish resembling Chicken Tikka Masala. Both dishes feature marinated, grilled chicken in a creamy tomato sauce.

However, Butter Chicken is typically creamier and sweeter, with a buttery flavor that sets it apart. On the other hand, Chicken Tikka Masala has a more balanced flavor profile with a bit more tang and heat.

Ingredients That Influence The Taste

The taste of Chicken Tikka Masala is heavily influenced by its key ingredients. In this section, we delve into the role of these ingredients in shaping the dish’s unique flavor profile.

Tomato and Heavy Cream

The sauce is primarily made of tomatoes and cream. Tomatoes lend a tangy flavor and a rich red color to the sauce. They also add a natural sweetness that balances the heat from the spices.

The cream, on the other hand, contributes to the rich and velvety texture of the sauce. It also helps mellow down the spices, making the dish more palatable to those who prefer milder flavors.

Traditional Indian Spices

The spices used in Chicken Tikka Masala play a crucial role in defining its taste. Ginger adds a warm and zesty flavor, while turmeric imparts a mild aroma and a beautiful golden color. Coriander and cumin lend an earthy flavor, which is a characteristic of many Indian dishes.

When used in the right proportions, these spices create a blend of complex and satisfying flavors.

Paprika and Turmeric

Paprika and turmeric are two spices that significantly influence the taste and color of Chicken Tikka Masala. Paprika, made from ground sweet red pepper pods, provides a sweet-spicy flavor and a vibrant red color.

Conversely, turmeric has a warm, bitter flavor and gives the dish its characteristic golden hue. These spices not only enhance the taste but also contribute to the visual appeal of the dish.


I can’t forget how chicken plays a pivotal role in defining its taste. Marinated in a mixture of yogurt and spice, the chicken is chargrilled, imparting a distinct smoky flavor that is characteristic of the dish.

The succulent, tender chicken pieces absorb the marinade flavors, adding depth to the overall taste. Furthermore, the chicken adds a satisfying texture in contrast to the creamy sauce, enhancing the eating experience.

So, the chicken is not just a protein addition but a significant contributor to the complex and delightful taste overall.

The Variations In Taste

Like many other dishes, Chicken Tikka Masala can have taste variations based on different preparation methods and ingredient proportions. The beauty lies in its versatility, allowing for taste variations while maintaining its core flavor profile.

Variations Based on Preparation Methods

The method of cooking can significantly influence the taste of Chicken Tikka Masala.

For instance, grilling the chicken over charcoal can impart a smoky flavor that enhances the overall taste. Similarly, the type of cooking fat used (butter, ghee, or oil) can also affect the flavor profile and richness of the dish.

Tomatoey or Sweet Versions

Some versions of Chicken Tikka Masala might taste more tomatoey if more tomatoes are used in the sauce. This can result in a tangier and slightly acidic flavor.

On the other hand, some versions might be sweeter. This could be due to adding sugar or using sweetened yogurt in the marinade or sauce. The type of tomatoes used can also influence the sweetness.

Here are some recipes and side dishes that complement the dish beautifully, creating a well-rounded meal showcasing the best Indian cuisine.

Basmati Rice: This long-grained rice is a staple in Indian cuisine. Its subtle flavor and fluffy texture make it the perfect canvas for the robust Chicken Tikka Masala. The rice absorbs the sauce, enhancing its taste with every bite.

Naan Bread: This soft and fluffy Indian bread is another excellent accompaniment. It’s perfect for scooping up the creamy sauce and the tender pieces of chicken. You can also try variations like garlic naan or butter naan for added flavor.

Cucumber Raita: This refreshing yogurt-based side dish helps balance the richness of the Chicken Tikka Masala. The cool, creamy raita, with its bits of crunchy cucumber and a hint of mint, provides a refreshing contrast to the spicy and tangy flavors of the main dish.

Vegetable Biryani: This fragrant, spiced rice dish loaded with vegetables can be great. The spices in the biryani complement the flavors in the Masala, while the vegetables add a different texture to the meal.

Saag Paneer: This creamy spinach and paneer (Indian cheese) dish adds a vegetarian element to the meal. The mild flavors of the paneer and spinach contrast the bold flavors of the Chicken Tikka Masala.

Mango Chutney: This condiment is sweet and tangy and a delightful addition to any Indian meal. The sweetness of the mango chutney provides a nice counterpoint to the spiciness.

Indian Salad: A simple salad with cucumber, tomato, onion, and lemon juice can provide a refreshing and crunchy contrast to the rich Chicken Tikka Masala.

My Tasty Thoughts

Chicken Tikka Masala, at its core, is a dish of roasted marinated chunks of chicken (Chicken Tikka) in a spiced curry sauce (Masala).

This Indian dish has gained immense popularity in the United Kingdom, where it is often called a “national dish.” It’s a staple in many Indian restaurants and a shining example of the rich flavors that Indian food offers.

Paired with basmati rice, garnished with fresh cilantro, and a chunk of naan bread, for me, is a meal that embodies the essence of Indian cuisine.

Its complex, deep rich flavors are extremely satisfying. Whether you’re cooking it at home with coconut milk as a dairy-free alternative or enjoying it at your favorite Indian restaurant, Chicken Tikka Masala is a dish that’s sure to leave you craving for more.

About Justin Micheal

Hey, I’m Justin and the home cook behind Food Meets Flavor. I have a passion for cooking and making food delicious. So, I started this blog to help others understand what different types of food taste like and how to make everyday meals taste even better.