Thai cuisine is known for its use of fresh herbs and spices to make unique flavors and tastes that can’t be found in any other type of food around the world. This is the main reason why Thai food is widely acknowledged to be one of the best cuisines in the world. In this article, you’ll be going on a journey to see a few of the most common types of herbs and spices used in Thai cooking so that you can better understand the fundamental elements of the cuisine. With that said, let’s get to it!
Basil (horapha, ka prao)
The basil family is one of the most common herbs in Thai cooking, as it’s put in almost every dish. You will find some sort of basil in all sorts of food, including soups, curries, and even stir-fries. Horapha and ka prao are the most common types of basils, as some dishes are designed crafted around the aromas and flavors of these herbs. For example, the famous pad ka prao is minced meat stir-fried with chilies, garlic, and topped with ka prao. Horapha, on the other hand, is mostly eaten fresh or used as a topping for green curry.
Cinnamon (ob choei)
While cinnamon isn’t very commonly found in stir-fries and desserts, it’s an essential part of many Thai soups. Most dark soups you will see in Thailand have cinnamon as their main ingredient. If you’re looking to replicate an authentic soup dish such as kang pa loh or boat noodles soup, be sure to add a hint of cinnamon in the soup base.
Thai Chilli (prik khi nu)
Thai chili, known to locals as prik khi nu, is a spicy pepper with a distinct greenish flavor. It’s one of the most common ingredients in Thai cuisines. You will be able to spot them being used in just about every dish, whether it’s a soup, stir-fry, or even a sauce.
Chilli (Prik chi fa)
Prik chi fa is a type of chili that’s not very spicy, so it’s typically used for garnish and to add a little bit of flavor. If you see long slices of red chili on top of your curry, it’s most likely prik chi fa, and it’s typically not spicy at all.
Another common spice in Thai cooking is cloves. Cloves are most often seen in southern Thai dishes as they inherited much of the culinary heritage from Indian and Middle Eastern cuisine. That being said, cloves are used in some soups and curries as well, so don’t be surprised if you find a couple of them floating in your massaman.
Coriander root (rak phak chee)
Unlike in western cooking, Thai people use the root of coriander as a base for soup and meat marinade. The aromatic flavors and a hint of bitterness make coriander roots an amazing addition to any deep-fried dish, as the flavorful oil will help bring out the natural taste of any protein you add.
Cumin is generously used in many curries around Thailand. It’s typically ground and mixed in with curry paste before being fried in hot oil and diluted with coconut cream.
Galangal is related to ginger and ginseng and is the base of a famous white soup -- tom kha gai. It’s typically ground and boiled before it is made into curry paste.
If you look at any Thai food dish, chances are there’s some garlic in it. Thai people love garlic, which explains why there’s so much of it in their cuisine. It’s used in soups, curries, fried foods, and even in some sweets!
Ginger is usually grated and mixed with curry paste or sliced into thin strips to use as toppings for Chinese congee. In the northeast, fresh young ginger slices are usually served with a type of herbal sausage called “sai krok ee san.” It’s also used to marinate grilled and fried chicken.
Lastly, krachai is another common ingredient in Thai cooking. There’s no English name for this ginger-like plant. You can find krachai in most fish curries and it’s also commonly served raw along with other vegetables as a side dish.