The 10 Spices Used in Thai Cooking

Thai food is characterized by a balance of four flavors: sweet, sour, salty, and spicy. Thai cooking often includes over 20 different spices that are used in the dishes.

It can be overwhelming for those who don’t know how to cook it! In this blog post, we will explore 10 of the most popular ingredients used in Thai cuisine.

1.Turmeric (Khamin chan)

One of the most popular spices in Thai cooking, it can be found in curry pastes like yellow or green curries. Turmeric also has anti-inflammatory properties.

Turmeric is a root that’s been used as both a spice and dye for centuries.

It has a rich, earthy flavor with an orange-yellow color that’s perfect for coloring curries or rice.

Turmeric is used in Thai cooking to add both a bright yellow and peppery taste to dishes like red curry with chicken or beef.

2.Cilantro (Look-pak-chee)

Bunch of Cilantro

Cilantro is a popular herb used in many cuisines, but it’s especially prevalent in Thai cooking.

It has an earthy and slightly citrus flavor that can be found in curry pastes like green or yellow curries.

This spice goes by many names including dhania (in India), cilantro (in Mexico) and Chinese parsley (among others).

It’s grown all over the world for its distinctive flavorful leaves which are used either raw or cooked into dishes to add brightness to both salty and sweet flavors.

3.Cumin  (Yee-rah)

Cumin is used in Thai dishes such as red and green curries.

It is the third most popular spice in Thai cooking, after cilantro and ginger.

It has a peppery taste with notes of citrus that make it perfect for seafood like shrimp or scallops as well as curry pastes.

Cumin seeds are roasted and ground in Thai food to add a nutty aroma with hints of pepper, and they often appear in dishes such as tom yum soup.

It is also used to flavor chai tea, which has the spice added after boiling the water for an extra burst of taste.

4.Thai Ginger (Galangal) 

Thai food is full of rich and spicy flavors. The most famous of these spices is probably galangal, which tastes kind of like a cross between ginger and cardamom to Westerners who are not used to it.

Galangal has the nickname “Thai ginger” because that’s what it looks like – fresh roots resemble fingers with knuckles on them, while dried powder may look more similar to white pepper. It also resembles turmeric in color.

It grows everywhere in Thailand during the rainy season, but don’t be fooled by this! You can find dry galangal at any Asian grocery store year-round; just keep an eye out for a bright orange or pink box.

5.Garlic (Kra-tiam)

Garlic is one of the most important spices in Thai cooking. It’s used not only to add flavor but as a cooking oil and preservative for sauces like Nam Pla (fish sauce).

It’s used in a variety of dishes from Som Tam (papaya salad), to Pad Thai, and even curry.

Garlic is also good for balancing hot spices such as chili peppers which are found in many spicy Thai dishes.

6.Black Pepper (Prik Thai dam)

Black pepper is a common ingredient in Thai cooking used for adding bold flavors to any dish it is used in.

It’s commonly found in curries such as Kao Soi or green curry, which are both popular dishes with tourists from around the world who love spicy food.

When it comes to the black pepper plant, there are two different kinds of peppercorns:

  • Tellicherry Peppers
  • Malabar peppers

The larger ones called Tellicherry Peppers come from India while the smaller Malabar peppers come from Kerala in Southern India.

Both types have an earthy taste that goes well with sauces like Nam Pla (fish sauce) for dipping fish into before eating it whole.

 7. Green Peppercorns (Prik-thai-orn)

Green peppercorns growing.

Green peppercorns in Thai food are used mainly in stir-fried dishes such as pud-kee-mao and choo-chee.

Young peppercorns might look like berries, but don’t let their innocent appearance fool you. They are super hot and spicy.

Green peppercorns are not only used in Thai cooking. They also go really well with rich, creamy sauces or as a garnish for dishes like steak tartare and an avocado salad.

8.Holy Basil (Bai ka-prow)

Thai basil is different from the common sweet basil in Western cooking. The leaves are thicker and it has a strong, peppery flavor with hints of licorice. Holy Basil is used extensively for Thai dishes like red curry or pad thai.

It’s easy enough to grow holy basil indoors during winter months if you live in colder climates by placing pots near windowsills where there is plenty of sunlight. In warmer zones, they can be grown outdoors all year round in most types of soil.

9.Cinnamon (Ob-choey)

Cinnamon is one of the most popular spices in the world. People in Thailand don’t use it as people do in Western countries.

Cinnamon can add a little bit of sweetness, but Thais mostly use it to make their soups and stews more spicy, such as pa-loe soup and braised beef stew.

It’s a great spice for adding heat to dishes that have already been cooked (as opposed to fresh raw ingredients like ginger, which is used in salads and other fresh uncooked dishes).

It can be found in any Asian market. It comes from Indonesia and Sri Lanka originally but now it is cultivated across the globe.

If you are using cinnamon sticks, try heating them up first or grinding them before cooking with them so they release their flavors into the dish more quickly than if you just throw whole pieces of cinnamon into boiling water or oil.

10. Lemongrass (Dtakrai)

Lemongrass with a slice of lemon

Lemongrass in Thai cooking is used as a flavor and not necessarily for its scent. It is often found in soups, such as tom yum soup, or braised beef stew.

It has a slightly more pronounced taste than lemon juice but it can be swapped with sour lime juice if you want to use lemongrass without all the extra steps of finding out how to cut it up properly.

You can find lemongrass at any Asian market. However, it can easily be gown at home.

To prepare fresh lemongrass: first, peel off the dry outer layers, scrape off the light green, fibrous outer layer with a paring knife, and then chop it to the desired size.

The flavor is best preserved if you add the lemongrass later in cooking rather than at the beginning of the cooking process.

It’s also common for Thai cooks to freeze or dry out their lemongrass before adding it just so that they can guarantee having its fresh taste on hand when needed.

Final Thoughts

The use of these spices and their flavors is what makes Thai cooking so special.

If you’re looking for a new cooking adventure, why not try Thai cuisine?

There are many ingredients that make up this diverse type of cuisine including turmeric, cilantro, cumin, garlic, black pepper green peppercorns basil cinnamon lemongrass.

The mixture of these flavors offers something unique to your palate – give it a taste! You won’t regret it.

We hope you have found our list of the 10 spices used in Thai cooking inspiring.

What are your favorite ingredients in Thai cooking, let us know in the comments below.

Let’ share and learn together!

Happy Cooking!

Zac & Terri Signature

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