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The Essential Ingredients in Thai Curry Paste

Eight items to give your cooking true Thai flavor
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These eight fundamentals make a red curry paste called prik gaeng kua. As béchamel is to French sauces, prik gaeng kua is the “mother” paste for all Thai curries. You can use it on its own, or tailor it to fit specific curries by adding particular ingredients. For instance, adding freshly toasted coriander seeds, peppercorns, and cumin seeds makes panang curry paste. Replace the dried chiles for fresh chiles, and you’ve got green curry paste. Sub in turmeric for some of the chiles, and you’ve made yellow curry paste. Read on to learn more info about each ingredient (including where to buy).

  • Ingredient


    Lemongrass, a stiff grass native to India, is widely used as a herb in Asian cuisine. As the name suggests, it has a citrus aroma and lemony flavor. Though it's available in dried form, only fresh should be used for curry paste.
  • Ingredient


    This cousin of ginger is prized in Thai cusine for its extraordinary citrus-like flavor and its burst of herbal heat. As with lemongrass, fresh galangal is the thing to use for curry paste.

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  • Ingredient

    Dried Red Chiles

    Though there are myriad dried chiles in the market, for red Thai curry paste, use chiles that are fragrant but not overly spicy, such as Mexican guajillo, puya, New Mexico, Anaheim, or California.

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  • Ingredient

    Kaffir Lime Zest

    The thin, outer layer of bumpy peel from kaffir or wild limes, which have a fragrance unmatched by Persian limes. If you can't find the zest, you can substitute thinly sliced kaffir (or wild) lime leaves, which are a little more widely available.

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  • Ingredient

    Cilantro Root

    Cilantro root is just what it sounds like, the roots of cilantro plants. Milder in flavor and aroma than their leafy tops, cilantro roots or stems provide a delicate herbal note and a plush, moist texture. The leaves are also added for green curry pastes.
  • Ingredient

    Shrimp Paste

    Shrimp paste is made from tiny shrimp which are boiled, peeled, salted, dried, and then ground to a fine, sturdy, and very aromatic paste.

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  • Ingredient


    These these mild-mannered relatives of garlic lend some sweetness to a curry paste.
  • Ingredient


    Garlic's pungent flavor often dominate a dish but here they are in perfect balance with the chiles, galangal, lemongrass and cilantro notes.
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