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Updated by Joanna James on Jun 23, 2019
Headline for 10 Essential Ingredients of Thai Cooking - Kitchen must-haves for Everything that's Thai
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10 Essential Ingredients of Thai Cooking - Kitchen must-haves for Everything that's Thai

Thai cuisine is commonly known for its perfect marriage of flavours. If you're a beginner at Thai cookery, here are 10 essential ingredients for whipping up authentic Thai meals.


Onions and garlic

You'll find this useful ingredient in several dishes such as vegetable salsas and salads like Thai yam where they're grilled, chopped or sliced finely for a nice bit of crunch. Its trusty companion is almost always a pod of garlic which is chopped up well and thrown into a sizzling pan of oil for a burst of flavour.


Fresh herbs

A variety of fresh herbs can be added into almost any Thai dish. There's cilantro, Thai basil and mint for starters but almost all Thai herbs make their way into curries, rice dishes and salads. The herbs not only add a wonderful colour to the meal but also work well with spices to bring together flavours and cleanse the palate.



A touch of lime to your succulent meat dishes, yummy fried rice and fresh salads does well to wake up the taste buds. In Thai cooking, not much goes to waste since even the leaves of the lime are used as an ingredient. However, given that the leaves cannot always be found on hand that easily, you can always substitute them with some lime zest. Grate them into curries and soups and get the same bloomy citrus flavour.


Black pepper

An interesting tidbit of history is the fact that way before chilli took the spotlight as the searing flame in Thai cuisine, it was in fact pepper which resided there before. Today, when grilling meat like chicken or beef, the classic marinades are often used and they usually include pepper as the key ingredient.


Thai fish sauce

This special sauce has a name in the traditional tongue. It is known as "Nam Pla". Nam Pla is pretty much a brine from fermented fish which has an expected sharp taste. Though simple, the typical Thai flavours are massively enhanced by its addition into the hot pot. This is a rather salty concoction so it is best to use it sparingly.



Thai food needs a really spicy flavour and some intense heat. It usually gets that from cayenne chilli which is either of the fresh or dried variety. Curries use the cayenne chilli while the sauces and stir-fries use flaming Thai "bird" chilli. In case you're hard on your luck to find this chilli, jalapeno chilli and Serrano usually works extremely well.



Ever wanted to know how to make that sticky rice eaten like a piece of bread? A Koh Phangan Cooking Class at a hotel such as Rasananda Koh Phangan Villas would be the ideal thing to perfect this wonderful staple dish. The main ingredient is Jasmine rice grown in Central Thailand. However, if whole grains are more your speed then definitely go for brown Jasmine or otherwise black sticky rice to achieve the same effect.


Coconut milk

The milking of the coconut is a tiresome process but the product even sweeter. Fresh coconut milk is such an integral part of any Thai curry. You can use it straight from the can which is evidently more convenient for you in the kitchen. The milk adds amazing flavour to the dish and keeps your curry light and creamy.



For sour taste, add a bit of vinegar, more particularly unseasoned rice vinegar. It works just as well as lime and helps to really lift the sauces and dressings. Dips like "Nam Jim" which is poured over chicken depend on the sourness from the vinegar to be the real winners they are at the dinner table. If you don't have rice vinegar, just use the cider option.


Curry paste

Pros make their own but if you want to save all the time and effort, it is perfectly respectable to pick up a ready-made paste in the jar for your hot and delectable home-made Thai curries. You'll find any of these at the supermarket whether it be the red curry paste or green curry paste you're looking for.