Tuesday, 15 April 2008

Thai Herb & Spices


Thai food is currently enjoying an international vogue. There are numerous Thai restaurants all over the world in big like such as Los Angeles, Tokyo , New York, Paris and many others. The following are some essential herbs and spices used in Thai cooking. The proper combination of all these ingredients is regarded as a big art in Thailand, one that requires both skill and time. The preparation of a single sauce can take hours of grinding, tasting and delicate adjustment until the exact balance of flavours is archived. Only then, can the true glory of Thai cooking be fully appreciated.

Basil (horapha, kaphrao, maenglak)

Horapha, kaphrao, maenglak are varities of sweet basil. Horapha is used here as a vegetable and for flavouring. Fresh leaves can be chewed as a breath freshener. Kaphrao leaves are narrower and often tinged with reddish purple. It releases its aroma and flavour only when cooked and is used with fish, beef and chicken. Maenglak leaves are slightly hairy and paler green than horapha. It is sometimes called lemon-scented basil but definitely has a peppery taste when chewed; it is used as a vegetable and for flavouring.

Cinnamon (ob choei)

From the bark of a tree, the type of cinnamon used in Thailand is of only one kind, that from the Cassia tree. It is used in meat dishes and particulary in massaman curry as garnish.

Chili, bird (phrik khi nu)

The smallest of the chilies, of which the kind called phrik khi nu suan is the hottest. Take care when chopping them, and do not rub your eyes. Chilies stimulate blood circulation and are reputed to help prevent heart disease and cancer.

Chili (phrik chi fa)

Phrik chi fa are finger size, growing 9-12 centimatres in length, and either yellow , red or green. Not as hot as the bird chili. There is no discernable difference between the colours.

Citron (som sa)

Citron (Citrus medica var limetta) is a round dark green fruit. Its thick , very aromatic skin is much used for flavouring. Sour orange juice and orange peel would make the best substitute.

Clover (kanphlu)

Clover (Eugenia aromatica) are the dried flowerbuds of an evergreen tree native to the Molucca islands. They are almost as expensive as saffron because crops often fail, because they are much used in Western cooking and because the oil is antiseptic. Cloves are used in massaman curry and to chew as a relief for toothache.

Coriander (phak chee)

The leaves are often choosen for decoration, with stem and roots for seasoning. Heavily used in Asian kitchens, the Thai kitchen is the only one to use the roots as well.

Cumin (yira)

Seeds look like caraway and fennel, but taste quite different and have to be heated to release their aroma. Only cumin is used in Thai cooking, mainly in the making of curry pastes.

Galangal (kha)

Resembling an upturned claw, this member of the ginger family is a pale pink rhizome with a subtle citrus flavour. I t is usually added in large pieces to impart flavour to fish or chicken stock, or used in making curry pastes. Fresh young ginger can be substituted, but you will not end up with the same flavour.

Garlic (krathiam)

Thailand is literally overflowing with garlic plants. Whole cloves, smashed garlic and garlic oil are used in almost every Thai dish.

Ginger (Khing)

Easily grated, khing is eaten raw or cooked and is used widely in many Asian Cuisines. Young ginger pounded with a little salt, pepper and garlic is good too as a marinate for chicken or beef. Ginger is acknowledged to improve digestion and to counter-act nausea and vomiting.


No English common name for krachai (Kaempferia pandurata). The tubers of this ginger look like a bunch of yellow brown fingers. Krachai is always added to fish curries , and peeled and served as a raw vegetable with the popular summer rice dish, khao chae.

Kaffir lime leaf (bai makrut)

From the kaffir lime, which has virtually no juice, these fleshy green and glossy leaves resemble a figure eight. Imparting a unique flavour, they can be finely shredded and added to salads, or torn and added to soups and curries.

Lime (manao)

The whole fruit is used. It is an eccellent source of vitamin C and are used to enhance the flavour of chili-hot condiments, as well as create some very special salads and desserts ,and adorn most dishes as a condiment.

Lemongrass (takhrai)

Young tender lemongrass stalks can be finely chopped and eaten, but older stalks should be cut into 3-5 centimetres lengths and bruised before being added only as a flavouring agent. It is indispensable for tom yam. Lemongrass oil will sooth an upset stomach and indigestion.

Mace (dok chan)

The orange outer covering of nutmeg, the fruit of an evergreen tree native to Indonesia. Mace (Myristica fragrans) is used in the making of massaman curry.

Mint (bai saranae)

This mint (Mentha arvensis) is similar to the mint used for mint sauce in England and is used in Thai food as a vegetable and a flavouring.

Nutmeg (luk chan)

The nut is enclosed in a very hard brown shell. It is used in the making of massaman curry paste.

Pandanus leaf (bai toei)

Long narrow green leaves of a hernaceous plant used for flavouring and colour.

Pepper (prik thai)

Black , white and green peppercorn types. Black is milder and more aromatic than white. Green peppercorns have a special taste all their own and are available all year round but are best towards the end of the rainy season. Used as flavouring.

Sesame (nga)

Identical to sesame seeds the world over. In Thai cooking sesame seeds are used for oil and for flavouring. This tiny seeds are rich in protein.

Shallot (hom daeng)

These smell, zesty , Thaired onions are sweet and aromatic. An essential ingredient in many Thai dishes because of their taste and appearance, they can be substituted with European shallots, small red onions or small brown onions.

Spring onions (ton hom)

These green onions (Allium fistulosom) are used for garnishing soups and salads and as vegetables.

Turmeric (khamin)

These small, bright orange roots are used for the colouring in yellow curries. White turmeric, a different type, is used as a raw vegetable and resembles ginger. It tastes only slightly peppery and has a pleasant tang.