Kitchen Tips

Know Your Thai Spices

If you’re fond of Thai cuisine, or you’re just looking to cook a traditional Thai meal, knowing your Thai spices is critical. Each spice adds a different flavour and lends a different texture to a dish, and to mix them up would be a disservice to any food, let alone Thai food. And that’s where we come in, because at Asian Inspirations, our core philosophy revolves around ‘authentic food and authentic cooking’. In this section, we demystify all the Thai spices and herbs, so you’ll know exactly what to stock up your kitchen with the next time.

Thai spices 2

Photo courtesy of sriram bala used under the Creative Commons Licence

Essential Thai Spices:


There are close to 10-12 types of chillies that are used in Thai cooking. Each of them, varies in size, colour and spice levels. They are used as both ingredients and as well as decorations while plating food.


These little red onions are used in practically every Thai dish. They add a slight sweetness along with pungency to any dish. In fact, Thais are so fond of shallots that shallots are even served as a light salad snack when thinly sliced and paired with cucumber, chillies, sugar and vinegar. They are also readily available deep fried to be used as garnishes and to add flavour to dishes.


This is one ingredient without which most Thai cooking would be incomplete. Thinly sliced, or hand-ground in a pestle and mortar, ginger adds aroma, flavour and a hint of zing to any dish – whether it’s a curry, stir fry or soup.


Both sweet basil and Thai basil are used in Thai cooking. Sweet basil is used largely for flavouring as a garnish while Thai basil adds flavour and aroma when used in cooking. Sweet basil is most commonly used in hot and spicy dishes with meat in them.


Lemongrass is a core ingredient in Thai cuisine. The lower part of the stalk is used for to lend its citrusy aromatic flavour, but if ground to a fine paste, it can be used in curries and soups as well.

Kaffir Lime Leaves

Although it is similar to lemon zest, kaffir lime leaves, when added at the end of cooking a dish, add zing and zest to any dish. It is critical not to cook the leaves though, because the flavour dissipates quickly when added to oil.


Zest and zing are a big part of Thai food and therefore the last must-have ingredient in your Thai kitchen is mint. The leaves are used as a vegetable in Thai cooking, while it can be used to flavour a salad or as a garnish for a dish. Mint leaves can also be served as a side dish with other salad vegetables.

Now that you know the most important ingredients in a Thai kitchen, we say you first go shopping and then indulge in the culinary haven that is Thai cuisine. Check out our most popular Thai recipes here.


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