Thai food is based on the five basic tenets of taste as expressed in the culinary world. In reality it is shared by many other countries in that part of the world.

They are:  SWEET, SOUR, BITTER, SALTY AND SAVORY.  Any dish will fit into one or more of these categories and to achieve the authentic Thai taste certain ingredients are called for.

Fish Sauce  — Is an amber-colored liquid extracted from the fermentation of fish with sea salt. It is used as a condiment in various cuisines. Fish sauce is a staple ingredient in numerous cultures in Southeast Asia and the coastal regions of East Asia, and featured heavily in Cambodian, the Philippines, Thai, and Vietnamese cuisine.

In addition to being added to dishes during the cooking process, fish sauce is also used as a base for a dipping condiment, prepared in many different ways in each country, for fish, shrimp, pork, and chicken. In parts of southern China, it is used as an ingredient for soups and casseroles. Fish sauce, and its derivatives, impart an umami flavor to food due to their glutamate content. Soy sauce is not the same thing.

Cilantro  —  Leaves and stems too, are used in and during the cooking process of many Thai dishes. The leaves are variously referred to as coriander leaves, fresh coriander, Chinese parsley, or (in North America) cilantro.  In the US Cilantro is like parsley only on steroids and slightly more bitter.  

Coriander  —  The leaves have a different taste from the seeds, with citrus overtones. However, many people experience an unpleasant soapy taste or a rank smell and avoid the leaves. The different perceptions of the coriander leaves' taste is likely genetic, with some people having no response to the aromatic chemical that most find pleasant, while simultaneously being sensitive to certain offending unsaturated aldehydes.

The fresh leaves are an ingredient in many Indian foods (such as chutneys and salads), in Chinese and Thai dishes, in Mexican cooking, particularly in salsa and guacamole and as a garnish, and in salads in Russia and other CIS countries. 

Chopped coriander leaves are a garnish on Indian dishes such as dal. As heat diminishes their flavor, coriander leaves are often used raw or added to the dish immediately before serving. 

In Indian and Central Asian recipes, coriander leaves are used in large amounts and cooked until the flavor diminishes. The leaves spoil quickly when removed from the plant, and lose their aroma when dried or frozen.The flavorful roots and stems impart flavor as they cook.  However the Cilantro leaves, which lose flavor as they cook, are an addition at the very end of the cooking process or reserved as a garnish.


Coconut Milk   —  Coconut milk is the liquid that comes from the grated meat of a brown coconut. The colour and rich taste of the milk can be attributed to the high oil content. Most of the fat is saturated fat. Coconut milk is a very popular food ingredient used in Southeast Asia simply because it is usually redly available and fresh, however it is also canned.

Manufacturers of canned coconut milk typically combine thin and thick milk, with the addition of water as a filler. An official world standard can be found at Codex Alimentarius, STAN 240-2003.

Depending on the brand and age of the milk itself, a thicker, more paste-like consistency floats to the top of the can, and is sometimes separated and used in recipes that require coconut cream rather than coconut milk. Shaking the can prior to opening will even it out to a creamy thickness. Some brands sold in Western countries add thickening agents and/or emulsifiers to prevent the milk from separating inside the can, since the separation tends to be misinterpreted as an indicator of spoilage by people unfamiliar with coconut milk.  Once opened, cans of coconut milk must be refrigerated and are usually only good for a few days. If not, the milk can sour and spoil easily.

Lemon Grass And Kaffir Leaves  —  Lemon grass is a stalky, Southeast-Asian herb with gray-green leaves, a scallion like base and a lemony scent.  A common ingredient in Thai cuisine usually combined with Ginger and the unique Kaffir lime leaves which have a strong fragrance for which there is no substitute. Kaffir lime leaves, which are hard to digest are used much like bay leaves, are usually added whole to Thai food and removed prior to serving. 

Lemongrass is native to India and tropical Asia. It is widely used as a herb in Asian cuisine. It has a subtle citrus flavor and can be dried and powdered, or used fresh. It is commonly used in teas, soups, and curries. It is also suitable for use with poultry, fish, beef, and seafood. 

It is often used as a tea in African countries such as Togo and the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Latin American countries such as Mexico. Lemongrass oil is used as a pesticide and a preservative. Research shows that lemongrass oil has anti-fungal properties. Despite its ability to repel insects, its oil is commonly used as a "lure" to attract honey bees. "Lemongrass works conveniently as well as the pheromone created by the honeybee's nasonov gland, also known as attractant pheromones. Because of this, lemongrass oil can be used as a lure when trapping swarms or attempting to draw the attention of hived bees.

The Hot Stuff  —  Thai bird chili peppers are small, HOT, chili peppers.  They get their name because because they resemble pointed birds beaks.  They are easy to grow, even indoors and readily available if you don’t have a red thumb.  

Veggie growers have green thumbs, pepper growers have red thumbs and there is a large community.  The bird's eye chili plant is a perennial with small, tapering fruits, often two or three, at a node. The fruits are very pungent. The flowers are greenish-white or yellowish-white. 

The bird's eye chili is small, but is quite hot (piquant). It measures around 50,000–100,000 Scoville units, which is at the lower end of the range for the hotter habanero chili. The other intensifier in Thai food is white pepper and white peppercorns. 

Peppercorns are the berries of an evergreen vine native to Asia. The berries are allowed to mature to a bright red state and are then fermented for a few days. The red outside is rubbed off, resulting in white pepper with black speckles.  Ivory white pepper, simply put, imparts the subtle, sophisticated peppery taste, the basis of taste in Thai cooking. White pepper is stronger than black pepper.

Thai Curry Paste  —  Thai curry refers to dishes in Thai cuisine that are made with various types of curry paste; the term can also refer to the paste’s themselves. A Thai curry dish is made from curry paste, coconut milk or water, meat, seafood, vegetables or fruit, and herbs. Curries in Thailand mainly differ from the curries in Indian cuisine in their use of fresh ingredients such as herbs and aromatic leaves over a mix of spices.

Thai people refer to dishes that are known as “ Thai curries” in the Western world as “ Kaeng" [also written as "gaeng"]; The first Thai dictionary from 1873 or CE 2416 in the Thai Buddhist calendar defines kaeng as a watery dish to be eaten with rice and utilizing shrimp paste, onions or shallots, chillies, and garlic as essential ingredients.

Coconut milk is not included in this definition and many Thai curries, such as kaeng som and Kaeng do not feature it. Curries in Lanna (northern Thai) cuisine, with only a few exceptions, do not use coconut milk due to coconut palms not growing well, if at all, in the climate of the Thai highlands. The spiciness of Thai curries depends on the amount and kind of chilli used in the making of the paste. Even within one type of curry the spiciness can differ widely.

The word “ Curry” figures in the Thai language as “ Kari"  and refers to dishes using either an Indian-style curry powder, known as phong kari in Thailand, or to the dish called kaeng kari, an Indian-influenced curry that is made with spices that are common to Indian dishes but less often used in these Thai dishes.