Special Thai Ingredients – What Makes Thai Food so Distinctive

Here is some information and background on some of the unique ingredients that make Thai food so very distinctive.


Ginger (khing) adds flavor to Thai cooking. And did you know that Ginger juice can help cure light fevers, a runny nose or indigestion?

Sweet Basil

Sweet basil is similar (ho-ro-pa) is similar to the variety used in Italian cooking. the oil of sweet basil can be used to make a curative drink to treat indigestion caused by eating too much meat. And fresh sweet basil makes a great natural breath freshener. Just pop a few leaves in your mouth and give them a chew. Sweet basil is also a source of betacarotene, believed to be a cancer-fighting substance.


Thai limes are smaller and almost spherical when compared to the limes found in most western supermarkets. The juice of a Thai lime is also sweeter.  The lime juice is used in many Thai dish preparations, and a fresh lime segment is often served with many fried rice dishes.


One of the most subtle, yet distinctive ingredients used in Thai cooking, this herb provides a lemony flavor and aroma, especially when cooked.  In Thai, lemongrass is called “Ta-Krai”. The oil that gives the plant its lemon aroma is a good cure for upset stomach and indigestion. Lemongrass juice or tea is a popular herbal drink in Thai traditional medicine. And did you know that lemongrass tea also makes an effective natural insect repellent that can be used to water houseplants to discourage bugs.


Galangal (kha) is a root with a similar flavor to ginger. Kha also has many popular traditional medicinal applications.


Onion is a common ingredient in many Thai dishes. It is considered a weaker version of garlic by many herbal practioners. Like garlic, onion also has a longstanding reputation as an aphrodisiac (but not necessarily proven or substantiated).


Garlic is used to add great flavor to many Thai dishes. Garlic also has a number of proven medicinal properties and is known to lower high blood pressure and cholesterol for some. Garlic can also boost the body’s immune system.

Kaffir Lime

The Kaffir lime (Ma-grood) is unusual and different from a common lime in that its skin is often very lumpy, unlike other citrus fruits with smoother skins. The kaffir lime provides a very unique flavor and the kaffir leaves are also used frequently in Thai cooking. Some people even believe that the kaffir lime wards off evil spirits (like garlic to vampires) and hang it outside the door of their house.

Chilli Peppers

Although most associated with Thai cuisine, chilles are not native to Thailand. Portuguese traders introduced chilli peppers to Thailand in the 16th centruy. Chilles provide much of the famous “heat” and “spicyness” that makes Thai food so famous and popular. In moderation, chilles are known to stimulate blood circulation and are believed to help prevent heart disease and cancer.

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