Gluten Free

Is Chicken Tikka Masala Dairy Free?

Very few chicken dishes like chicken biryani and desserts like tiramisu get me as excited as chicken tikka masala. Once I set my eyes on a plate of chicken tikka masala creamy sauce with some basmati rice and naan bread, I became enchanted instantly.

I have made lots of Indian friends over the years, and I have tried all their curries and most of their dishes, and I can never get tired of trying them or making them. They are always distinct for their loads of spices, which always blend with both rice and bread. And I always wonder; how did they come about it? But while this chicken tikka masala dish is a flavorful dish everyone should try, is it safe for lactose intolerant individuals? Here is everything you need to know.

Chicken tikka masala facts

Chicken tikka masala is made from boneless roasted chunks of chicken, luxuriously marinated in a creamy curry. These chickens are usually skinless and doused in a mixture of yogurt and Indian spices before they are roasted in a cylindrical clay oven or a tandoor. The chicken is brushed with clarified butter while cooking to enhance the flavor.

Once the chicken is cooked to taste, the roasted chunks are placed in a thick orange-colored curry sauce derived from numerous ingredients like cream, pureed tomatoes, coriander, coconut cream, and spices. Breads like freshly baked naan or paratha and basmati rice are always an option to pair with this luscious sauce.

Sometimes, chicken dishes like butter chicken may be confused with chicken tikka masala as they have similar flavors and appearances, but they are not the same. You need to have eaten the two multiple times to tell the difference. I usually differentiate chicken tikka masala from the boneless chicken used in its recipe, but I have equally seen boneless butter chicken on restaurant menus. The only difference I can make use of nowadays is that butter chicken is creamier as more butter is used.

Is chicken tikka masala bad for you?

The nutritional component of chicken tikka masala depends on the recipe used. However, a 225-gram bowl of chicken tikka masala contains  270 calories, 17 grams of protein, 8 grams of fat, and 31  grams of carbs, according to the United States Department of Agriculture.

A typical recipe of chicken tikka masala made with clarified butter, whole milk yogurt, and heavy cream is likely to have 680+ calories per serving. On average, an active male needs between 2000 and 2800 calories daily to maintain his weight, while an active woman will need between 1800 and 2200 calories daily. Consuming a bowl of chicken tikka masala made with the aforementioned ingredients will use up 24 to 38% of your daily calorie value.

A serving of chicken tikka masala supplies 81% of your daily fat needs (53 grams) if you follow a 2000-calorie-per-day diet. Most of these fats are usually saturated (28 grams) and could place you at risk of heart disease over time.

Chicken tikka masala could equally increase your cholesterol levels, as a serving boasts over 230 mg of cholesterol. While research has confirmed that cholesterol found in food may not have much effect on your blood cholesterol levels, you still need to exercise caution when having this dish, keeping in mind that your daily cholesterol intake is capped at 300 milligrams.

Further, the sodium content of this dish is pretty high. A serving of chicken tikka masala contains over 1400 mg of sodium, which is over 59% of your daily value. Sodium, in moderate amounts, is important for conducting nerve impulses, maintaining a proper balance between minerals and water, and relaxing and contracting muscles, but when eaten out of proportion, it will place you at risk of high blood pressure, stroke, and heart disease.

Despite the downsides, chicken tikka masala offers benefits such as 38 grams of protein, and 3 grams of dietary fiber, which could regulate your cholesterol and blood sugar spikes while also offering numerous vitamins, minerals, and anti-inflammatory properties. Moderation is key to enjoying this meal safely. Plus, you could swap out the basmati rice for brown rice, reduce the amount of cream and ghee, and increase the amount of tomatoes and onions to make it more healthy.

Is Chicken Tikka Masala Dairy Free?

Traditional chicken tikka masala is not dairy-free as it is made with both cream and ghee, which contains dairy-inducing amounts, and is sometimes marinated in a dairy-containing yogurt, making the dish not suitable for lactose-intolerant individuals.

This dish can be made dairy-free by substituting the cream for coconut, almond, or cashew cream. For the marinade, dairy-free yogurt should be used. The spices are usually dairy-free. When I intend to dine out, I make inquiries and discuss my dietary needs beforehand, so I don’t get those embarrassing symptoms outside. Ideally, I make the dish at home.

Here’s a table listing common sources of dairy in chicken tikka masala:

Source of Dairy Role in Chicken Tikka Masala
Yogurt Used in the marinade for chicken
Cream Added to the sauce for richness and texture
Ghee (Clarified Butter) Used for cooking spices and chicken
Paneer (Indian cheese) Sometimes added as a component

Other chicken dishes you could enjoy that don’t contain dairy

Here are some chicken dishes you could order at restaurants without worrying about if they contain dairy:

Jerk Chicken

A typical jerk chicken recipe is dairy-free. Jerk chicken is a Jamaican way of preparing chicken, and it is famous for its flavorful and spicy marinade that is traditionally made with spices like thyme, allspice, ginger, garlic, and scotch bonnet peppers. Dairy products are not needed in any step of this chicken. However, it is a great idea to always inquire about what was used in making the dish, to be on the safer side.

Sesame Chicken

Traditional sesame chicken doesn’t contain dairy, as it is made from pieces of chicken coated in a batter that consists of eggs, cornstarch, soy sauce, and other seasonings before being fried until crispy and then tossed into a savory sesame sauce.

Final thoughts

Chicken tikka masala contains dairy in most cases as it is usually marinated in yogurt (which sometimes contains dairy), and its sauce is made with cream and clarified butter, which contains dairy, making this chicken dish not safe for you if you don’t tolerate lactose well. You could still enjoy a diary-free version if you substitute the dairy-containing ingredients for non-dairy-containing ingredients.

Cortiso Davids

My culinary adventure began at an early age when I would stand on a chair to help my mom stir pancake batter. Over the years, I've honed my skills and knowledge, drawing inspiration from family recipes, celebrated chefs, and the vibrant food cultures that make our world so diverse and fascinating.

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