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Top Spices Around the World: Thailand

25 June 2024

Thai cuisine is known for its intense flavours and exciting heat—characteristics resulting from the wide range of spices and herbs used by Thai chefs. These spices and herbs are also used in various ways, including crushed into curry pastes or fried in stir-fries. Unlocking Thai flavours is impossible without these powerful ingredients.

In this article, we will explore 15 of Thailand’s top spices and herbs. To learn how to incorporate any of these spices into your product offerings, contact the food experts at Hela Spice.

The Top Thai Spices and Herbs

1. Lemongrass

Lemongrass is one of the most popular ingredients in Thai cuisine. It’s commonly found in soups, curry pastes, broths, stir-fries, and marinades. Unsurprisingly, lemongrass has a distinct lemon-like flavour, although this is accompanied by a minty zing. Its aroma is citrusy (like lemon and lime) and sweet. 

Lemongrass is typically minced, crushed, or chopped into tiny pieces. 

2. Galangal (kha)

As a member of the ginger family, galangal looks a lot like ginger but has a fairly similar flavour. However, it has a much more complex and mild flavour than its ginger cousin. Galangal has a hot, clean taste with a citrusy and earthy aroma.

Galangal is a foundational ingredient in Thailand’s famous Tom Kha Gai soup. It also appears in other traditional Thai soups and curries.

3. Dried red chillies (prik-haeng)

Thai cuisine isn’t afraid of a little heat. Rather, heat and spice are defining characteristics of Thai cooking. Dried chillies, consequently, play a vital role.

There are many varieties of chillies, each with its own level of heat and spiciness. That being said, bird’s eye chilli and spur chilli are most commonly used in Thailand. These spicy and earthy dried chillies are used in nearly everything, including soups, curries, stir-fries, dipping sauces, and salads.

4. Thai basil (holy basil)

Thai basil, also known as holy basil, is another essential ingredient in Thai cuisine. It’s the main ingredient in pad kra pao, which is a world-famous dish combining basil and chicken.

This herb has a distinctive flavour with notes of licorice and spice. Its leaves are flatter than Western basil and, crucially, sturdier. This enables them to hold up when exposed to high cooking temperatures. As a result, Thai basil frequently appears on top of soups and curries for an aromatic kick.

5. Kaffir lime leaves

Kaffir lime leaves (called “makrut” in Thai) are the Thai equivalent of bay leaves. Whole leaves are added to Thai curries, soups, and stir-fries, although they should be removed before eating the dish. They can also be cut into thin slivers and added to spice pastes.

Kaffir limes are incredibly zesty with a tangy aroma. The juice is used to add a sour flavour to dishes, particularly fish and meat dishes.

6. Coriander

In Thai cooking, all parts of the coriander plant are used. This includes the leaves, stems, seeds, and roots.

The leaves and stems are used in curry pastes, salads, and as a garnish. Meanwhile, the root is grinded in a mortar to make a flavourful and aromatic paste that serves as the base for soups, curries, stews, and marinades. Many classic Thai soups owe their distinctive flavours to coriander root.

Coriander seeds, with their earthy and nutty flavour, appear in marinades and pastes. The seed’s unique aroma and slight heat make for a tasty addition to a range of dishes. Panang and massaman curries taste the way they do because of the presence of coriander seeds.

7. Turmeric

Every boldly yellow Thai dish owes its colouring to turmeric. This vibrant yellow-orange root is a staple in many traditional dishes, including Thai soups and curries. These include, for example, Kai Tom Khamin (turmeric chicken soup), Kua Gling (Southern Thai minced pork/chicken with turmeric), and Khao Soi (Northern Thai curry noodle).

In addition to its unique colour, turmeric has an earthy and pungent smell. It can be used as a ground powder or cooked raw.

8. Garlic (kra-tiam)

Garlic is another extremely popular ingredient in Thai cooking. You find it in every stir-fry, curry, and soup. Soup bases, curry pastes, and marinade bases always include crushed ginger. It can also be deep-fried and added as a topping. 

In Thai cuisine, garlic is crushed, chopped, pasted, dried, and even eaten raw. 

9. Cumin seeds (yee-rah)

Thai cuisine uses cumin seeds to give curry pastes a tangy and complex flavour. Dried cumin seeds are roasted, pounded, and then mixed into the paste. They’re an essential part of red, green, and yellow curry. It’s also found in many other Thai sauces.

10. Ginger (khing)

Ginger also appears in Thai dishes. It’s used in much the same way as in traditional Chinese cooking; for example, as a topping in congee, on steamed fish, or in Chinese vinegar-based sauces. Its spicy taste transforms fish dishes, resulting in enhanced flavour and a reduced “fishy” smell.

11. Fingerroot (krachai)

Fingerroot (or krachai) is another rhizome, related to ginger and turmeric. As you may have guessed, the roots look like fingers. Its slight medicinal flavour appears in dishes like Khanom Jin, as well as some curries.

12. Green peppercorns (prik-thai-orn)

Green peppercorn appears in Thai stir-fried dishes, like pad-kee-mao and choo-chee. They have a mild peppery flavour, a bright taste, and are very aromatic. In Thai cuisine, they can be used whole or chopped. Black and white peppercorns are also used.

13. Shallots

In Thai cooking, shallots and garlic go hand in hand. They’re both essential components of curry paste. Shallots are also blended into fish sauces and chilli sauces, or fried to be garnished over finished dishes. It can also be used as a raw garnish for a potent onion flavour.

14. Cinnamon (ob-choey)

Cinnamon is another common spice in Thai cuisine. It’s commonly used in garnishes and curries to add complexity. With a little bit of cinnamon, dishes gain a delightful combination of spiciness and sweetness. Cinnamon can also help with heat exhaustion.

15. Tamarind

Tamarind is a sweet and sour fruit that adds sourness to Thai dishes. It’s present in Thai soups, curry pastes, and desserts.

Your Expert Food Product Development Company in North America

The expert use of spices and herbs is the secret to unlocking mouth-watering flavours. This is one of Hela Spice’s many specialties.

Our food product development company uses the highest-quality ingredients and state-of-the-art technology to create signature seasoning blends and best-selling food products. If you want to incorporate Thai flavours into your product line, our culinary experts are ready to assist you.

To learn more about our food product development company, visit our website or contact us here.

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