8 Essential Thai spices

Thai market
Maeklong Railway Market. A few times a day, a train runs directly through the market.

8 Essential herbs and spices for Thai Cooking

Thai cooking is known for its impressive flavour combinations. What makes Thai dishes so unique and so insatiably scrumptious is the perfect balance between sweet, sour, salty and spicy. Through these various flavour fusions a broad variety of Thai dishes can be created. The portfolio of Thai dishes may be extremely diverse but believe it or not these can be prepared with only a handful of essential ingredients. All of which we’ve included in our recipes which will guarantee that you achieve the most delicious Thai dishes from the heart of your own kitchen. And some of these ingredients can even be used outside the kitchen for alternative purposes!

Coconuts play a vital role in Thai cuisine.

1. Coconuts

Coconuts are predominantly used in Thai cooking in the form of coconut milk or cream.

It is also great if you’re looking to reduce the spice level of a dish, you can use coconut milk or cream to dilate and mellow out your dish a little. The oil drawn from coconuts can also be used as a moisturiser, and the shells can be recycled and remastered into fashionable homeware accessories like bowls or cutlery. Although don’t try this at home, this one is best left to the professionals, breaking coconut shells can be hazardous!

Tamarind is a sour-sweet fruit pod extensively used in Thai cuisine.

2. Tamarind

Tamarind adds a tangy acidic kick to Thai cooking.

It can be consumed raw but cooking it alleviates it from its purest sour form and makes it less tangy. Tamarind can be used to make various Thai soups, marinades and sauces as well as be used to make jams or pastes for desserts. Try making jam out of it and spreading it onto toast for a unique take on tamarind!

Thai Chillies
Thai chili is a staple of the cuisine and really packs a punch!

3. Bird’s Eye Chilli

Chillies provide the spicy punch in Thai cooking.

Bird’s eye chillies are one of the smallest members of the chilli family around the world and they’re also one of the hottest! If you want to make your favourite Thai dishes hotter you can add more chilli into the preparation stages of your dish or use as a garnish. Fresh chillies are usually used in Thai cooking but dried chillies also work. Spicy food is notorious for being able to clear a cold! It’s a local habit to eat spicy when someone is sick to clear their sinuses. So next time you’re feeling under the weather try sweating your germs out!

Thai lemongrass (ta krai)

4. Lemongrass Stalks

Lemongrass stalks add a subtle and distinctive lemon lime flavour to Thai cooking. It is a staple ingredient in Thai cooking and can either be consumed raw if it is finely chopped and thrown into salads, or can also be used when cooking warm dishes such as curries.

We pound our lemongrass to create our thick pastes which you can use to flavour your favourite Thai dishes! Lemongrass can also be used as a mosquito and fly repellent when it comes in oil form, then it is definitely not to be consumed!

Galangal has a spicy, peppery, and tart taste compared to ginger.

5. Galangal Roots

Galangal root is often mistaken for ginger! They have very similar appearances but ginger is definitely not a substitute for galangal as their flavours are distinctively different.

Whereas galangal has a sharp citrus and piney flavour, ginger is spicy, fresh and anything but sweet. Making galangal very difficult to replace in Thai cooking, in fact it’s one of those ingredients that you should imperatively use without substitution to get the best flavours out of your Thai dishes.

Thai sweet basil
Thai Sweet Basil, a liquorice-esque taste with hints of spiciness

6. Sweet Basil

Sweet basil has an unmistakable sweet anise flavour to it. It has a brilliantly subtle flavour that’s different to Thai basil which is bolder and would impact the balance of flavours in some dishes too much.

It has long been used for savoury dishes but recently new generation dessert chefs are getting creative and using this herb to put modern spins on classic Thai desserts.

Thai kaffir lime
Kaffir lime adds a tangy flavor to soups and curries.

7. Kaffir Lime

Kaffir limes are visibly different as they have a bumpy peel compared to the smoother surface of regular limes. They are indispensable to create that tangy and sour flavour featured in Thai cooking.

This fruit is extremely versatile, you can use the juices from the fruit (though they don’t yield much juice!), the zest from its skin and its leaves to give dishes that distinct citrus and floral fragrance.

Thai Coriander Roots
Thais use the root of the Coriander plant as a flavoring in soups and curry pastes.

8. Coriander Roots

Thai cooking show just how versatile coriander is and highlight that every part of the plant can be used.

Depending on what you’re making you can use everything from the plant, the leaves, the seeds, the roots and the stems. The roots should be added at the start of your cooking process as their harder exteriors need heat to reveal their deeper depth of flavour. Leaves are usually used to garnish dishes generously with just before being served up to the table! It’s a very common ingredient that really adds so many new levels of taste and texture to a dish, it gives you room to get creative in the kitchen!