Thai Spices

      Much like Indian food, Thai cuisine is defined by its spices, though Thai spicing generally is milder and more focused. The food is based around the concept of perfect balance between the five flavors (hot, sweet, sour, salty, and bitter). Spicing can vary depending on the region (southern food tends to be spiciest, while other regions utilize more lime or lemongrass than heat), but the basics remain fairly constant. Nam pla, or fish paste, contributes much of the salty flavors in food, as does shrimp paste. Sweet tends to come from palm sugar and fruits like pineapple, with sour qualities from kaffir lime/citrus juices or tart fruits. The heat characteristic of Southern and hot curries usually is delivered in the form of chillies. Other frequent flavors come from lemongrass, ginger and/or galangal (a root relative of ginger which is similar in flavor), fresh basil, garlic, tamarind, and coriander. Coconut milk is also a staple and the base liquid of Thai curry dishes.

       Thai curries, or gaeng, can be equally as potent as Indian masala/curry dishes but tend to have more delicate flavors. Green curry (gaeng khieo wan, which is the spiciest) and Red curry (gaeng ped) dishes have the same spice blends (chillies, garlic, lemongrass, coriander seed, shrimp paste, galangal, cumin, coriander root, white pepper corns, kaffir lime) but green uses dried green chillies instead of fresh red. Mussaaman or Muslim curry is generally milder and has a thicker sauce than other gaeng dishes. All curries are served with rice.

Amazing Thai Herbs and Spices

Many herbs and spices used in Thai cuisine have beneficial medicinal properties. Herewith some examples.


CHILLI
"Phrik" in Thai
. Chilli is an erect, branched, shrub-like herb with fruits used as garnishing and flavoring in Thai dishes. There are many different species. All contain capsaicin, a biologically active ingredient and vitamin C, beneficial to the respiratory system, blood pressure and heart. Other therapeutic uses include being a stomachic, carminative and antiflatulence agent, and digest 



CUMIN (Cummin, Zeera)
"Yi-ra" in Thai. Cumin is a small shrubbery herb, the fruit of which contains 2 to 4 % volatile oil with a pungent odor, and which is used as a flavoring and condiment. Cumin's therapeutic properties manifest as a stomachic, bitter tonic, carminative, stimulant and astringent. 


GARLIC
"Kra-thiam" in Thai. Garlic is an annual herbaceous plant with underground bulbs comprising several cloves. Dried mature bulbs are used as aflavouring and condiment in Thai cuisine. The bulbs contain 0.1 to 0.36 % garlic oil and organic sulfur compounds. Therapeutic use are as antimicrobial, diaphoretic, diuretic, expectorant, antiflatulence and cholesterol lowering agents.



GINGER
"Khing" in Thai. Ginger is an erect plant with thickened, fleshy and aromatic rhizomes. Used in different forms as a food, flavouring and spice, Ginger rhizomes contain 1 to 2 % volatile oil. Ginger's therapeutic uses are as a carminative, antinauseant and antiflatulence agent.



GREATER GALANGA(False Galangal, Galangal)
"Kha" in Thai. Greater Galanga is an erect annual plant with aromatic, ginger-like rhizomes, and commonly used in Thai cooking as a flavouring. The approximately 0.04 volatile oil content has therapeutic uses as carminative, stomachic, antirheumatic and antimicrobial agents.


HOARY BASIL
"Maeng-lak" in Thai. Hoary Basil is an annual herbaceous plant with slightly hairy and pale green leaves, eaten either raw or used as a flavouring, and containing approximately 0.7 % volatile oil. Therapeutic benefits include the alleviation of cough symptoms, and as diaphoretic and carminative agents.



KAFFIR LIME (Leech Lime, Mauritus Papeda, Porcupine Orange)
"Ma-krut" in Tha.i The leaves, peel and juice of the Kaffir Lime are used as a flavouring in Thai cuisine. The leaves and peel contain volatile oil. The major therapeutic benefit of the juice is as an appetizer.


"KRA-CHAI" in Thai
(No Common English Name) This erect annual plant with aromatic rhizomes and yellow-brown roots, is used as a flavouring. The rhizomes contain approximately 0.8 % volatile oil. The plant has stomachache relieving and antimicrobial properties, and therapeutic benefits as an antitussive and antiflatulence agent.


LEMON GRASS (Lapine)
"Ta-khrai" in Thai. This erect annual plant resembles a coarse grey-green grass. Fresh leaves and grass are used as a flavouring. Lemongrass contains 0.2-0.4 % volatile oil. Therapeutic properties are as a diuretic, emmanagogue, antiflatulence, antiflu and antimicrobial agent. When boiled in hot water, is good for stomach ache.
An example dish where lemon grass is used is Tom Yum



LIME (Common Lime)
"Ma-nao" in Thai. Lime is used principally as a garnish for fish and meat dishes. The fruit contains Hesperidin and Naringin, scientifically proven antinflammatory flavonoids. Lime juice is used as an appetizer, and has antitussive, antiflu, stomachic and antiscorbutic properties.


MARSH MINT
"Sa-ra-nae" in Thai. The fresh leaves of this herbaceous plant are used as a flavouring and eaten raw in Thai cuisine. Volatile oil contents give the plant several therapeutic uses, including carminative, mild antiseptic, local anaesthetic, diaphoretic and digestant properties.



PEPPER
"Phrik-Thai" in Thai. Peper is a branching, perennial climbing plant from whose fruiting spikes both white and black pepper are obtained. Used as a spice and condiment, Pepper contains 2-4 % volatile oil. Therapeutic uses are as carminative, antipyretic, diaphoretic and diuretic agents.


SACRED BASIL (Holy Basil)
"Ka-phrao" in Thai. Sacred Basil is an annual herbaceous plant that resembles Sweet Basil but has narrower and oftentimes reddish-purple leaves. The fresh leaves, which are used as a flavouring, contain approximately 0.5 % volatile oil, which exhibits antimicrobial activity, specifically as a carminative, diaphoretic, expectorant and stomachic.


SHALLOT
"Hom, Hom-lek, Hom-daeng" in Thai. Shallots, or small red onions, are annual herbaceous plants. Underground bulbs comprise garlic-like cloves. Shallot bulbs contain volatile oil, and are used as flavouring or seasoning agents. Therapeutic properties include the alleviation of stomach discomfort, and as antithelmintic, antidiarroheal, expectorant, antitussive, diuretic and antiflu agents.


SWEET BASIL (Common Basil)
"Ho-ra-pha" in Thai. Sweet Basil is an annual herbaceous plant, the fresh leaves of which are either eaten raw or used as a flavouring in Thai cooking. Volatile oil content varies according to different varieties. Therapeutic properties are as carminative, diaphoretic, expectorant, digestant and stomachic agents.



TURMERIC (Curcuma, Indian Saffron, Yellow Root)
"Kha-min" in Thai. Turmeric is a member of the ginger family, and provides yellow colouring for Thai food. The rhizomes contain 3 - 4 % volatile oil with unique aromatic characteristics. Turmeric's therapeutic properties manifest as a carminative, antiflatulence and stomachic.


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