January 4, 2010

Thai Herbs and Spices

I know that sometimes it is a pain to get hold of certain ingredients for cooking Asian food, especially if you don't have access to markets etc. However, I've been told that England is the best place outside of Asia to get hold of ingredients, albeit a bit more expensive. If you're struggling, perhaps check out your local Chinese or Thai restaurants to find out where they source their stuff...

Anyway, here are a few pointers about the different herbs and spices used for different Thai cuisine - plus a couple of pics for your reference - so you can check out what you're looking for and some possible alternatives.

This is basically a mix of everything you'll find below...

Betle Nut Leaf

Used mostly for chewing (some variants can get you high so I'm told), but also as an appetiser (see Mieng Kam).


A member of the ginger family, turmeric is used a lot in curries, but has also been known to sooth mosie bites and spots! If using powder form, double up quantities (for example half a teaspoon of fresh turmeric = 1 teaspoon powdered turmeric).

Ginger Root

Included in curries amongst other dishes, ginger root is good for getting rid of bloated stomachs.

A good tip I came across was if you are using a pan or wok which has perhaps lost it's non-stick surface, then begin by frying ginger in the pan before adding your fish or meat, as it stops it sticking to the pan.

Kaffir Lime

Mostly it's the skin that is used from the Kaffir Lime itself - it's amazingly fragrant and comes in many sizes. For this reason you only need to use a small amount when cooking.

Kaffir Lime Leaves

As you can see, the kaffir lime leaves grow as double leaves - I'm not sure why, but it is so. A good substitute if you can't find the fresh stuff, the leaves are usually used in curry paste and as decoration. NB As with ginger root, if using powdered form double the quantities.


Of course we all know there are many varieties of chilli around that come in powdered, dried and fresh forms. Common Thai chillies include 'Finger' chilli, which is often used for curry paste and 'Birds Eye' chilli, which is used for soups and salad. As the saying goes, the smaller the chilli the spicier the outcome!


Sometimes after chopping chilli you can forget that your hands are covered in the stuff and if like me you've ended up rubbing your eye afterwards, it is not a nice feeling! After preparing chilli, to get rid of the smell and spice, wash your hands with a teaspoon of salt and liquid soap.

If you do get some in your eye, don't use water to wash it out as this will just move it around. Instead use milk or oil, as the chilli will stick to the fat, removing it from the eye. I know it sounds weird, but I've tried the milk one myself, and it works a treat.


The leaves of the lemon grass are predominantly used for tea, flavours for soups and paste, as well as in marinades. The root however is used for everything else, and I mean everything! Use only the thick, bottom third of the root for cooking.


Another member of the ginger family, galangal is sometimes referred to as 'sweet ginger' because of its smell, when actually it still creates a spicy taste to your dish. Fresh is preferred to powder, and it can be sliced and kept sealed in the freezer for a few months.

Garlic Chives

I'm not sure how easy this is to come across outside of Asia, as I've not actually cooked with it before. It's used for spring rolls and pad thai (rather than spring onion, which alters the flavour of the dish and should be avoided).

Hot Basil Leaf

Used in stir fries to create a strong, sharp flavours.

Sweet Basil Leaf/Thai Sweet Basil

Often used as a garnish, as well as in curry pastes (red or green) or eaten fresh with salads.

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