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The Essential Thai Ingredient Guide

thai pantry staples

Thai cuisine gets its distinctive sweet-sour-salty-spicy flavor from a number of ingredients, including lemongrass, coconut milk, fish sauce, and fresh chiles. Luckily, most of these items can be found at a well-stocked supermarket these days (or if not, ordered online). Read on for our guide to the essential ingredients for Thai cooking. 


Curry Paste

A moist, concentrated blends of chiles, spices, and aromatics, curry paste is stirred into coconut milk or broth to make all sorts of curry dishes. There are several types of Thai curry paste, including (clockwise from top) yellow, Panang, green, and red.

Learn more about Thai curry paste


A widely used herb in Asian cuisine, lemongrass has a floral lemony scent and imparts a delicate citrusy flavor.

Learn more about lemongrass

Asian Fish Sauce

A mainstay in Thai cooking, fish sauce imparts a distinctive salty flavor and although its aroma is strongly fishy, cooking mellows it considerably.

Learn more about Asian fish sauce

Coconut Milk

An essential ingredient in Thai cuisine, coconut milk is made from blending coconut meat with hot water and squeezing out the liquid. Coconut milk is added to curries to tone and balance the spicy heat with its creamy sweetness.

Learn more about coconut milk

Wild Lime Leaves

Native to Southeast Asia, wild limes are small, bright green citrus fruits with bumpy, wrinkled skin. Their leaves give dishes a refreshing, lingering lift that is intensely floral and citrusy.

Learn more about wild lime leaves

Bird Chiles

Thai and other Asian chiles are slender and thin-walled with a very hot, nutty flavor. Fresh chiles are sometimes sold green but are more often lipstick-red.

Learn more about bird chiles


This cousin of ginger is prized in Thai cusine for its extraordinary citrus-like flavor in soups and its burst of herbal heat in curry pastes.

Learn more about galangal

Thai basil

Unlike the big-leafed green Genovese basil more common in Mediterranean cuisine, Thai basil has small, pointy leaves and purple stems and flowers. Its heady, sweet aroma has notes of anise and licorice, perfect for curries.

Learn more about Thai basil

Sriracha Sauce

A chile sauce with a ketchup-like consistency, Sriracha is made from sun-ripened chiles, garlic, sugar, salt, and vinegar, giving it a hot-sweet-sour-salty flavor profile.

Learn more about sriracha sauce

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