Herbs & Spices

GarlicGra-tiem

GarlicGarlic is used in virtually all Thai dishes. The garlic which is found in Thailand has a stronger flavor than the western version, but all garlic can be used in Thai cooking. The garlic found in Thailand has much smaller cloves, so instead of calling for cloves in recipes, I call by teaspoon or tablespoon.

Preparation: To prepare garlic, first smash the clove with the side of the knife to break the clove somewhat. This will both release the juice and loosen the paper/skin. Then peel the skin off, and chop on a cutting board. There are 3 different sizes you can chop, depending on the recipe used. The smallest size is ‘diced’, followed by ‘chopped’, then ‘full clove’.

Storage: Garlic can be stored unrefrigerated for weeks at a time. When the the clove is brown and soft, it’s time to throw it away.

ShallotsHawm Daeng

ShallotsShallots are used in Thai cooking almost as much as garlic. The shallots which are found in Thailand are smaller than the European varieties, and are a touch more flavorful.

Preparation: To prepare shallots, first cut off the bottom (roots) and then peel off the paper skin. As with any onion, it’s best to not stand directly over the onion, so that you don’t get the onion fumes and start to cry. Keep cutting the shallot lengthwise starting from the first cut you made before. Shallots taste really yummy when cut thin.

Storage: Shallots can be stored unrefrigerated for many weeks at a time. If the bulb is soft, it’s time to buy new shallots!

ScallionsDton Hawm

ScallionsScallions (Spring Onions) are used for many different dishes in Thailand. They commonly garnish soups, are used in salads (yum), and sometimes even put into dessert (Khanom Krok).

Preparation: Wash the scallions and cut off the roots. Cut the white bottom of the scallions thin, and as you get closer to the green, cut wider pieces.

Storage: Store scallions in a plastic bag with air inside on the bottom shelf of the refrigerator. They should last at least a week if they’re not wet.

Garlic ChivesGua Chai

Garlic ChivesGarlic Chives are different than the purple flower ones you find in the West (my Grandfather used to grow them!). The leaves are flat, and not hollow and round, and the flavor is different. Garlic Chives are used in Chinese-Thai stir fries, and Thailand’s most famous dish: Pad Thai.

Storage: Store Garlic Chives sealed in the refrigerator with some air in the bag.

Holy BasilBai Ga-prao

Holy BasilThis is the type of basil which is stir fried with meat or tofu to make Pad Ga-prao, sometimes written in English as ‘stir fried with basil’. This basil is extremely difficult to find fresh outside of Thailand as it spoils fast. If you are lucky enough to find it, use it the same day you purchase it. This basil has big wide green leaves, green stems and green flowers.

Storage: This basil goes bad very fast. Keep in a plastic bag with some air inside on the bottom shelf or drawer in your refrigerator. When the leaves are black, it’s bad.

Thai BasilBai Horapa

Thai BasilThai basil is the easiest basil to get outside Thailand. This basil has medium sized green leaves, purple stem and purple flowers. It’s quite fragrant, and the smell is quite unlike the other two basils which are popular in Thailand. This basil is eaten with some curries and noodle soups.

Storage: Thai basil goes bad fast. Keep in a plastic bag with some air inside on the bottom shelf or drawer in your refrigerator. When the leaves are black, it’s bad.

Lemon BasilBai Maeng-luck

Lemon BasilLemon basil is used most often with seafood and in soup. Lemon basil has a real citrus-like smell and taste. This basil has small green leaves, green stem and white flowers.

Storage: Lemon basil goes bad fast. Keep in a plastic bag with some air inside on the bottom shelf or drawer in your refrigerator. When the leaves are black, it’s bad.

Lime LeavesBai Ma-groot

Lime LeavesLime leaves have a citrus like taste, and are used to flavor soups and curries. Lime leaves are sometimes called ‘Kaffir Lime Leaves’, but I read recently that ‘Kaffir’ is an ethnic slur in some parts of the world, so I will just call them Lime Leaves!

Storage: Keep in a bag in the refrigerator, or store sealed in the freezer for long-term storage.

LemongrassDta-Khrai

LemongrassLemongrass is a grass which has a citrus smell to it. It is used in soups such as Tom Yum, Thai curries and is sliced for use in salads (yum). The bottom part of the stalk is used, the first 1/3 to 1/2.

Storage: Keep in the refrigerator, or store sealed in the freezer.

GalangalKhaa

GalangalGalangal is the khaa in Tom Khaa. Also used in Tom Yum and curry pastes. You can not substitute ginger for galangal, or any other root. You can usually find it frozen in South East Asian groceries. Sometimes Chinese groceries carry it too — you may have to ask. Galangal is recognizable by the long pink stalks and pink tips on the root.

Storage: Keep in the refrigerator, or store sealed in the freezer.

GingerKhing

GingerGinger is used for some Chinese-Thai dishes. Peel or cut off the skin before using. Ginger is also excellent for stomach issues. If your stomach is a bit off, make yourself some ginger tea by boiling a few slices of ginger and adding a couple spoons of sugar. It’ll fix nausea too! Works better than any medicine you can buy.

Storage: Store in the refrigerator. Ginger keeps well for a very long time.

Young GingerKhing Onn

Young GingerYoung ginger is picked earlier than regular ginger and has a more subtle flavor. The skin is very light colored and thin, and can be left on for cooking. Be careful not to confuse this with galangal, as they look somewhat similar. The flavor is not the same! If you’re unsure, ask the vendor.

Storage: Store in the refrigerator. Ginger keeps well for a long time.

Finger RootGra-Chaai

Finger RootFinger Root is in the same family as galangal, but the taste is totally different. It is used in a few dishes, such as Kanom Jeen Numyaa and Gaeng Liang. It may be available frozen or in a jar in the West.

Storage: Store in the refrigerator, or sealed in the freezer for long term storage.

TurmericKhamin

TurmericTurmeric is a bright orange colored root. It adds color and flavor to certain dishes, and is mainly used in Southern Thai food. This stuff stains, and will take days or even weeks to wash off even your hands! Be careful!

Storage: Store in the refrigerator, or sealed in the freezer for long term storage.

Small Thai ChiliesPrik Kee Nuu Suan

Small ChiliesSmall chilies are hotter than the Medium chilies. The name of this chili in Thai means ‘garden mouse sh*t chili’. Not joke. Literal translation.

Storage: You can store chilies sealed in the refrigerator, or frozen in the freezer. If you are somewhere where you can’t buy them easily, you can buy a bunch and store them in the freezer. There’s not too much of a loss of flavor, and they last forever.

Medium-Sized Thai ChiliesPrik Kee Nuu

Medium ChiliesMedium-sized chilies are not as hot as small chilies, although they have the same name as the small ones. The flavor is a bit different too.

Storage: You can store chilies sealed in the refrigerator, or frozen in the freezer. If you are somewhere where you can’t buy them easily, you can buy a bunch and store them in the freezer. There’s not too much of a loss of flavor, and they last forever.

Orange ChiliesPrik Leung

Orange ChiliesOrange chilies are spicy, but not as spicy as prik kee nuu. They have a lot of flavor too. Orange chilies are used most often in “Pad Phet”. Buying these outside Thailand may be difficult. You can substitute with prik kee nuu, but the taste will be different.

Storage: You can store chilies sealed in the refrigerator, or frozen in the freezer. I tend to buy a bunch and freeze them, as I don’t notice much difference in flavor, and they last forever.

Small Dried ChiliesPrik Kee Nuu Haang

Small Dried ChiliesSmall Dried Chilies are hotter than the larger ones, but not as hot as fresh chilies. Some dishes call for dried chilies to be used instead of fresh. They are also thrown into curry pastes to give some kick. These chilies are about 2-3″ long.

Storage: Store dried chilies sealed in the cupboard. They last for a really long time if kept dry.

Big Dried ChiliesPrik Chee Faa Haang

Big Dried ChiliesThese chilies are the key ingredient in ‘Red Curry Paste’. It’s what gives that curry it’s flavor and distinctive red color. They are not very spicy at all. If you want a hotter Red Curry, you’ll need to add some small dried chilies too. These chilies are about 5-8″ long.

Storage: Store dried chilies sealed in the cupboard. They last for a really long time if kept dry.

Fresh PeppercornsPrik Thai Onn

Fresh PeppercornsWhole fresh peppercorns still on the stem are thrown into some dishes, notably ‘Phad Kee Mao’ and ‘Gaeng Paa’.

Storage: Store fresh peppercorns sealed in the refrigerator. They should last a few weeks or so.

White PeppercornsMet Prik Thai

White PeppercornsWhite pepper has a different flavor than black pepper, and really should not be substituted. The most popular brand is Nguan Soon.

Storage: Pepper can be stored in the cupboard for a really long time.

Black PeppercornsMet Prik Thai Dum

Black PeppercornsThe same black pepper you see in Western cooking.

Storage: Pepper can be stored in the cupboard for a really long time.

SaltGlua

SaltWhile Fish Sauce is the traditional ‘salty’ element in Thai cooking, salt is sometimes used. Salt is most commonly used to preserve things such as eggs and fish. Personally, I use it for a vegetarian substitute in dishes where white soy sauce doesn’t go with the flavor. I prefer the taste of sea salt. Course sea salt is also used in some curry pastes to both help grind the paste and to preserve it.

Storage: Salt can be stored in the cupboard for a really long time. Try to keep it as dry as possible.

PeanutsTua Li-song

PeanutsPeanuts are used in a few dishes. The most popular of which are Som Tum and Massaman Curry. It’s easiest to purchase pre-roasted peanuts, but make sure they are “dry-roasted” and unsalted.

Storage: Peanuts (and natural peanut butter) get a funny smell when they’re old, usually after about a month or so. If they smell funny, ditch them and get fresh ones.

CorianderPak Chee

CorianderAmericans call this herb by it’s Spanish name, Cilantro, while the English call it Coriander. It’s the same herb. Coriander has a very strong smell and taste, and I’ve found people either really love or hate it. The leaves are commonly used to garnish soups, and the roots are used in a lot of dishes. Thais use the seeds as well for some curry pastes.

Storage: Store coriander in a glass filled with water inside the fridge. If stored this way, it should last 2 weeks or so. If it comes with a rubber band or twist tie around it, remove that first for longer shelf life.

Coriander RootRaak Pak Chee

Coriander RootThais use the root of the Coriander (Cilantro) plant as a flavoring in soups and curry pastes. It may be difficult to find Coriander in the West with the roots still on. I found that in Asian groceries, or sometimes in Latin groceries you can find it with the root. Cut the root with about 1/2″ of green (like shown) and wash very very well before adding to the dish. To get even more flavor in a soup, bruise the root with a stone mortar & pestle first.

Storage: Store coriander in a bag in the refrigerator. Make sure there’s some air inside the bag, and that the coriander’s not wet. If you’re lucky, it’ll keep for up to a week. It goes bad pretty fast, so use it right away. I believe you can also freeze the roots for long term storage, but I haven’t tried it yet.

Coriander SeedsMet Pak Chee

Coriander SeedsThese are the seeds from the plant. They are bought already dried and I believe are unavailable fresh. They are commonly ground up in curry pastes.

Storage: Coriander seeds will last a long time when kept in the cupboard.

Long CorianderPak Chee Farang

Long CorianderLong Coriander is sometimes called ‘Saw Tooth Coriander’. It’s native to Central America and the Caribbean, hence why Thais call it ‘foreigner coriander’. It’s mainly used to flavor soups. If you cannot find Long Coriander, regular coriander/cilantro leaves can be used, but the flavor is different.

Storage: Store Long Coriander sealed inside the refrigerator, on the bottom shelf or in the drawer.

MintSalanae

MintMint is used in North-East (Issan) dishes such as Laap and Naam Tok and other salads.

Storage: Store Mint in a bag in the refrigerator on the bottom shelf or inside the drawers. It goes bad pretty fast, so make sure to use it right away.

Pandan LeavesBai Dtoey

Pandan LeavesPandan leaves are used for wrapping up food prior to steaming or frying, as well as giving many Thai desserts their flavor. When you see green colored desserts, likely the flavor is pandan. It’s also common to boil the leaves and use the tea as an additive to plain water. In the West, you can usually find these leaves frozen, or sometimes you can buy ‘pandan essence’ liquid in small bottles.

Storage: Pandan will last a few weeks if kept sealed in the refrigerator. Freezing it will make it lose a substantial amount of flavor.

Banana LeavesBai Dtong

Banana LeavesThe leaves of the Banana tree are used in Thai cuisine to wrap foods before steaming. The leaf gives the food a slight flavor. They are never eaten, just used as a flavoring. They are also commonly used as tablecloths at markets! If you live somewhere where there are no Banana trees to steal leaves from, you can usually buy them frozen in bags at Asian groceries.

Storage: Banana leaves can be kept in the refrigerator for a few weeks. For long term storage, you can freeze them sealed.

White Pepper PowderPrik Thai Bpon

White Pepper PowderWhite pepper has a different flavor than black pepper, and really should not be substituted. The most popular brand is Nguan Soon.

Storage: Pepper can be stored in the cupboard for a really long time.

Black Pepper PowderPrik Thai Dum Bpon

Black Pepper PowderThe same black pepper you see in Western cooking.

Storage: Pepper can be stored in the cupboard for a really long time.

Chili PowderPrik Bpon

Chili PowderChili Powder is made from dried and ground small chilies. It’s used to flavor and add spice mainly to soups and noodles.

Storage: Store chili powder sealed in the cupboard. It lasts for a really long time if kept dry.

Curry PowderPong Ga-ree

Curry PowderCurry Powder is a ground up blend of spices. It’s orange from tumeric. It’s more popular in Southern Thai cooking.

Storage: Store sealed in the cupboard. It’ll keep for a long time.

Palm SugarNaam Dtaan Bpuk

Palm SugarPalm Sugar is sugar made from boiling the sap from the fruit of the palm tree. There are two types of ‘Palm Sugar’ — sugar which comes from Coconut, and sugar which comes from Sugar Palm. Either can be used. The flavor is somewhat similar to ‘Maple Sugar Candy’. Thai curries and sweets are sweetened with this type of sugar.

Storage: Store sealed in the cupboard or refrigerator. Palm Sugar will keep for a long time.

White SugarNaam Dtaan Saay Khaaw

SugarWhite sugar is used in a lot of dishes. Use regular white cane sugar, or feel free to use the natural unbleached cane sugar (but not the ‘brown sugar’ which is used in baking).

Storage: Store in a cupboard, away from moisture. I always put my sugars in a sealed plastic box, so they don’t get too dry or wet, depending on the season.

Cinnamon SticksOpe Cheuy

Cinnamon SticksCinnamon Sticks are used whole in some Chinese-Thai dishes, such as Five Spice Tofu. It is also sometimes put into Massaman Curry. However, Cinnamon is never used in sweets like it is in the West!

Storage: Cinnamon will keep for a very long time if kept sealed in the cupboard, although the fresher it is, the more flavor it has.

Star AniseBoi Gak

Star AniseStar Anise is used in some Chinese-Thai dishes, such as Five Spice Tofu.

Storage: Star anise will keep a long time if kept sealed in the cupboard.

OnionsHua Hawm

OnionsOnions are not used as often as shallots, but they are pretty common. They are used primarily in yum (Thai salads) and some curries. They are also stir fried into some dishes.

Storage: Onions can be stored unrefrigerated for many weeks at a time. If the bulb is soft, it’s time to buy new onions.

Light Green ChiliesPrik Youak

Light Green ChiliesLight green chilies are spicy, but not as spicy as prik kee nuu. These chilies are often stir fried with pork.

Storage: You can store chilies sealed in the refrigerator, or frozen in the freezer. I tend to buy a bunch and freeze them, as I don’t notice much difference in flavor, and they last forever.

Long Thai ChiliesPrik Chee Faa

Long Thai ChiliesLong chilies aren’t very spicy, but have a nice flavor. They are most commonly used dried to make red curry paste. The name of this chili translates into English as “Chili which points to the sky”, or “sky pointing chili”. These chilies are about 4-8″ in length, about 3-4x as long as the medium-sized chili above.

Storage: You can store chilies sealed in the refrigerator, or frozen in the freezer. I tend to buy a bunch and freeze them, as I don’t notice much difference in flavor, and they last forever.

Cassia LeavesBai Gra-wan

Cassia LeavesCassia Leaves are very similar in appearance to Bay Leaves. These are dried leaves from the cassia tree, a type of cinnamon. They are primarily used in Massaman Curry. Commonly in Asian markets they are labeled “Indian Bay Leaves”.

Storage: The leaves will last months in the cupboard if kept airtight and dry.

CardamomLook Gra-Wan

CardamomCardamom seeds are used in Chinese, South East Asian and Indian cooking. They’re also used in some Western Desserts and Indian spiced tea (masala chai). A few roasted pods make a great addition to Massaman Curry. There are generally two types of cardamom, a green and very fragrant variety from India, and this brown fatter variety from China. Thais usually use the brown one.

Storage: The seeds will last months in the cupboard if kept airtight and dry.