Here are some of the herbs and spices essential to Thai cooking. The proper combination of all these ingredients is regarded as an art in Thai cuisine, one that requires both skill and time.
Three types of this annual herbaceous plant are commonly used. Fresh leaves of sweet basil (horapha) are eaten raw as garnish or used as a flavouring. It is good for the digestion and for the stomach generally. Sacred or holy basil (kaphrao) is an important flavouring and it is also good for the digestion and is a diuretic. Hoary basic (maenglak) has a slightly hairly appearance and its pale green leaves are also used in a garnish or as a flavouring. It is a diarrhoretic and good for easing cough symptoms.
Bird Chilli (Phrik kee nuu):
The smallest and the hottest of the chillies, he ones to avoid of you are unused to fiery food. All chillies stimulate the circulation and are said to help in the prevention of heart diseases and cancer. Other therapeutic uses are as an antiflatulence agent and a digestive.
Cinnamon (Ob choei):
The cinnamon found in Thailand is the bark of the cassia tree. It is used as a flavouring in many meat dishes, notably in massamam curry. Cinnamon and cassia extracts have been used madically to treat gastrointestinal problems and as a specific for diarrhea, and it has antibacterial properties.
Coriander (Phak chee):
This is one of the most widely used herbs, its leaves added to innumerable dishes for their distinctive perfume. The roots are pounded together with garlic and black pepper to make a seasoning, while the seeds are both a seasoning and an aromatic ingredient. Cooks regard coriander as one of the most vesatile spices.Although sometimes eaten alone, the seeds often are used as a spice or an added ingredient in other foods.
A member of the ginger family with a slightly bitter flavour, it is commonly used in Thai coking as a flavouring. The oil content has the therapeutic uses as an antirheumatic and antimicrobial agent and is good for the digestive system.
Garlic, either whole doves, crushed or in garlic oil, is found in almost every Thai dish, with dried mature bulbes are used as a flavouring and a condiment. Its therapeutic uses are as an antimicrobial, diuretic and an expectorant. It reduces flatulence and may lower choleseterol.
Ginger has over 400 members in its family. It is easily grated and eaten raw or cooked in many Asian cuisines. It is helpful in easing nausea and flatulence.
Kaffir lime leaf (Bai makrut):
These fleshy green leaves have a unique flavour and are finely shredded and added to salads, or torn and added to soups and curries. In folk medicine, the juice of kaffir lime is recommended for brushing the teeth as it is said to promote gum health. The rind is an ingredient in blood tonics and is known to have beneficial properties for the digestive system.
Lime is used principally as a garnish for fish and meat dishes. The fruit contains the anti-inflammatory flavonoids hesperidin and naringin. Lime juice stimulates the appetite and is good for treating coughs and flu. There are several species of citrus trees whose fruits are called limes, including the Key lime, Persian lime, kaffir lime, and desert lime. Limes are a good source of vitamin C, and are often used to accent the flavours of foods and beverages.
Lemongrass is indispensable for tom yam and also makes a refreshing and comforting drink. Only the base of the plant is used; the green, leafy part is discarded. It can be finely chopped and eaten, but older stalks may be used only as a flavoring. It aids digestion and is known as a diurectic, antiflatulent and antimicrobial agent.
Mint (Bai saranae):
The fresh leaves of this herbaceous plant are used as a garnish and a flavouring. The volatile oil content gives the plant several therapeutic uses, notably as a mild antiseptic with digestive properties.The plants are frequently aromatic in all parts and include many widely used culinary herbs, such as basil, mint, rosemary, sage, savory, marjoram, oregano, hyssop, thyme, lavender, and perilla. Some are shrubs, trees (such as teak), or, rarely, vines.
Pandanus leaf (Bai toei):
These long narrow leaves are used for flavouring and as a pale, green colouring. They are also used to wrap food for cooking. They have a cooling effect and are said to be good for treating internal inflammations, urinary infections, colds, coughs, measles, bleeding gums and skin diseases.Pandanus trees are of cultural, health, and economic importance in the Pacific, second only to coconut on atolls.
Pepper (Prik thai):
Both black and white pepper are used in countless dishes as a spice and condiment. It is carminative, antipyretic, and diuretic.
Rich in protein and in flavour, the seeds and oil are used as flavouring. The oil has several medical and pharmaceutical applications. It is soothing, a mild laxative and a powerful antioxidant. The seeds and fresh leaves may be used as a poultice.
Shallots (Hom daeng):
Shallots, small red onions, contain a volatile oil, and are used for flavouring and seasoning. They alleviate stomach discomfort and cough symptoms, and are an antidiarrhoeal, expectorant, diuretic and antiflu agent.The shallot was formerly classified as a separate species, A. ascalonicum, a name now considered a synonym of the currently accepted name.The genus Allium, which includes onions and garlic as well as shallots, is now classified in the plant family Amaryllidaceae, but was formerly considered to belong to the separate family Alliaceae.
Spring onions (Ton hom):
These green onions are eaten raw with fried rice dishes and used for garnishing soups and salads. They provide a more subtle flavour for many savoury dishes and are rich in vitamins A and C and calcium.The spring onions does not form bulbs even when mature, and is grown in the West almost exclusively as a scallion or salad onion, although in Asia this species is of primary importance and used both fresh and in cooking.
Turmeric is a member of the ginger family, providing aromatic qualities and yellow colouring for Thai food. Turmeric has a mild, spicy flavour and is good for the digestive system.