Herbs & Spices in Thai Cuisine

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Basils – There are 3 species of basil that are very aromatic herbs. They are American basil or Hoary basil (Kom Ko Kha), Basil or Sweet basil (horapha) and Holy basil (Kaphrao Khon). These 3 species are mainly found in Southeast Asia and also only the common basil (Sweet basil) is cultivated throughout the world. In Thai cuisine, these 3 species are widely used. The Hoary basil is delicate and has a citrus fragrant and is used in soups, salads and seafood dishes. The Sweet basil has a fragrant of aniseed and liquorice flavor. It is used in curries, relishes and seafood dishes. The Holy basil has a reminiscent of cloves and is also used in hot and spicy stir-fries and seafood dishes.

Cardamom (Luk Kravan) – It is also called as Bastard cardamom, Ceylon cardamom, Cluster cardamom. It is mainly comes whole dried fruit and is used as a spice for cooking. In Asian cooking, this spice is used in rice, vegetables, curries, meat and also used in flavoring beverages like tea and coffee and baked goods. It is not commonly used in Thai dishes except the Mussaman (Muslim) curry dish.
Chinese Keys (khao Chae) – It is also known as Finger root, Tropical crocus and Resurrection lily. Its name say a lot as it refers to the roots which resemble the keys the ancient Chinese used. Chinese Keys originate from Java and Sumatra, Indonesia. It has a highly aromatic scent and the tuberous roots are used as a spicy flavoring for food and pickles. The Chinese keys give a peppery and camphor-like flavor to dishes. It is also useful in Thai curry pastes and also an important ingredient to a dish called “Jungle Curry (Gaeng bpa moo)”.
Chili and Bird pepper (Phrik, Phrik Khii nuu) – It is also known as Capsicum, Cayenne pepper and pepper.  Both species, ripe or unripe chili is used fresh, dried or pickled and processed. Raw chili slices in soy or fish sauce are eaten with various cooked dishes. The chilies are finger-length chilies and cultivated in many varieties in red, green and yellow colors. Bird peppers, literally means ‘mouse dropping chilies’ are smaller but viciously pungent chilies.
Cinnamon (Suramarit) – The three species are Indonesian Cassia, Chinese Cassia and Vietnamese Cassia. They are all evergreen, aromatic shrubs with smooth bark. You can get them in bark or ground or liquid form. It is used mostly in curries such as “Gaeng Mussaman”.
Citron (Manao-Khwai) – The fruit of this shrub is an oval to oblong shaped berry and similar to an orange or pomelo. The exterior of the peel is rough and covered with tiny bumps, green color when unripe and yellow when ripe. The peel is very fragrant and very thick. In Thai cooking, the juice and zest of the citron are used.
Clove (Kan Phu) – It is highly priced by the Chinese in the olden days. In Southeast Asia, the clove was used more as a traditional medicine. In Thai cooking, it is used sparingly because of the strong perfumery scent. So the cloves are used mainly in the Mussaman (Muslin) curries.
Coriander (Phakom) – It is also known as cilantro and Chinese parsley. The dried coriander fruits are used as a spice. The fresh whole plants and leaves are used as a culinary herb or vegetable. The leaf and the roots of the coriander are essential to Thai cuisine. The fresh leaves are very often used as garnishes in salads, fried and stir-fried dishes and soups.
Cumin (Thian Kao/Yira) – It is also known as Roman caraway. This spice is used throughout the world. Cumin is often confused with the caraway because of look alike, but the caraway is more curved than the cumin.
Garlic (Krathiam) – It comes in a tight cluster of bulbs and each called a clove. Garlic is an universal ingredient in Thai cuisine. A large quantity of garlic is used in the red and green Thai curry pastes. It is also often used in the combination with ginger, coriander, peppercorns in chicken and pork dishes. Garlic is also used medicinally to lower blood sugar and cholesterol level. The dried bulbs are easily purchased from the market.
Galangal (Kha) – It is a ginger and grows from a rhizome. It is hard, fibrous, shiny light red or pale yellow and fragrant. Galangal is used as a spice and the scent is very difficult to describe but quite resembles a mixture of pepper and common ginger. It is used fresh and should stored in the vegetable drawer of the refrigerator. Galangal plays a great part in the “Tom Kha” soup and also an essential spice in the Thai curry pastes.
Ginger (Khing Klaeng) – There are three main products – fresh ginger, dried ginger or powdered ginger and preserved ginger. Fresh ginger can be eaten raw and also used as flavoring. In the Thai cooking, it is used mainly to counter pungent meat and poultry smells and to remove strong fishy odors in seafood.
Kaffir lime (Magrut) – Fresh kaffir lime leaves are from a very thorny shrub. When the leaves are torn or crushed it give out a smelling distinctively of citronella. The fruit of this shrub is extremely wrinkly or bumpy and is bitter and slightly fragrant. These leaves are feature widely in Thai cuisine.
Lemon grass (Khrai) – It is also known as Citronella. The lemon-scented grass is a very important in Thai cooking. Only the freshly white portion of the stalk is used, bruised and left to boil in curries and soups or sliced and sprinkled in tangy salads. Fresh steams are available all the time in Chinese/Asian grocery market.
Mint (Bai saranae) – The fresh fragrant leaves are used mainly as a condiment. In Thai cooking, mint is used mostly in salads and is also used in combination with coriander (cilantro) or basil leaves as a garnish.
Onions (Hom-huayai) – The common names are bulb onion and common onion. This bulb is quite similar to shallot bulb except that it is larger and has a coarser leaves. There are many different shape, size and color onions depending on the cultivated variety. Onion is also used as food, seasonings and spice. The bulb can be used raw, cooked or pickled. Shallots are preferred to onions in Thai cooking.
Pepper (Phrik-Thai) – The 3 kinds of pepper are: the green peppercorns, white peppercorns and black peppercorns. You can purchase them in whole or ground from any Asian/Chinese stores or supermarkets. In Thai cooking, black peppers are rarely used in most dishes. White peppers are commonly used as a seasoning and fresh peppercorns are used in stir-fries and curries.
Sawtooth coriander (Phakchi-farang) – It is commonly used in Vietnamese cuisine. The aromatic leaves smell like of coriander and used fresh to flavor rice, soups, fish dishes, stews, salads and curries. The leaves are very tender, young, fresh leaves are eaten raw or cooked. In Thai cooking, it is used mainly in salads and soups. It can be substituted with coriander (cilantro) leaves.
Screwpine (Bai-toey/Bai toey-hom) – It is also commonly known as Pandan. These leaves are used throughout Southeast Asia in cooking. The screwpine leaves are used extensively in desserts, rice and soups. In the Thai cuisine, screwpine leaves are mainly used to flavor rice and desserts. The leaves are also used as a wrapper in food to cook.
Shallot (hom-daeng or hom-lek) – It is also called potato onion and multiplier onion. This plant consists of bunch of bulbs which grow together. The shallot is shaped like a pear with a flat conical stem at the base; and narrow at the tip of the bulb. Shallot has a antibacterial properties that also used in traditional medicine for healing wound and reducing fevers. This bulb is used as food, seasoning and spice because of it pungency. It is mainly used as a spice for seafood and meats. It can be fried or pickled. Shallots are the essential ingredients in Thai chili paste and sauces.
Spring onion (hom-chin) – It has a similar structure as shallot or onion, except that the bulb are narrow and oblong in shape and passing into the green portion of the hollow leaves. The white region is usually eaten as a vegetable and also stir-fry with fish and chicken. The hollow leaves are sliced into short pieces and used as garnish in soup, salads and many other dishes. The Chinese believe that this plant can improve the functioning of internal organs, improve eyesight, improve recovery of wounds and sores, headaches and aid indigestion. It is also known as Scallion or bunching onion and green onion.
Tamarind (Bakham somkham) – It is also known as Indian date or Sweet tamarind. Tamarind pulp is sold in blocks wrapped in cellophane. To use the pulps you need to add warm water and soak for 30 seconds. Strain and remove the fiber and seeds, the tamarind water will be used as souring agents in Thai cooking.
Touch ginger (Kaalaa) – It is also known as Ginger bud, Nicola flower buds, Philippine waxflower and just to name a few. It has a pleasantly and subtly fragrant bracts of the young inflorescence are used as a flavoring ingredient in curries and vegetables. The young inflorescence is added to the very popular southern Thai rice salad (Khao yam) and the Rojak ( Mix fruit/vegetable salad in Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia food.
Turmeric (Khamin) – It is from a ginger family. The main use of this species is the rhizome which is used as a culinary spice. It is available in fresh or powdered form. Turmeric is commonly used in Southern Thai cooking such as yellow curry or Mussaman (Muslim) curry.
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