Thai food is rich in flavors of salty, sweet, sour, spicy and bitter. Thai seasonings help to fill Thai dishes with the unique characters that have given Thai food its widespread popularity.
The taste of salt comes from soy sauce, fish sauce and sea salt while sweet comes from sugar cane, palm and coconut sugars and brown sugar. The sour taste is normally derived from lime juice, kaffir lime juice, tamarind juice and young tamarind leaves commonly featured in Thai salads and soups. The taste of spicy is found from all variety of chilies, black and white pepper while the bitter taste comes from certain kind of vegetable and plants. Read more on Taste of Thai Food....
Oyster Sauce – Nam man hoi
The oyster sauce is made of sugar, salt, soy bean, wheat flour, corn starch and is flavored with oyster extract. The good quality of oyster sauce is naturally dark in color. It is excellent with all stir fry dishes with vegetable and meat.
The best quality oyster sauces should have a distinct oyster smell. Vegetarian oyster sauce made of oyster or shitake mushrooms is also available. It is best kept in the fridge after opened. Moderate amount of usage is 1 tbsp for two servings.
Soy Sauce – See-ew
Soy sauce is also known as "soya sauce". It is another choice to make your food a bit salty. It is made of pure yellow soy beans, water and salt under a fermentation process. It is widely used in vegetarian dishes or common substitution with fish sauce.
It is recommended to add soy sauce in your cooking while the food is boiled or heated as it will release its fragrant aroma. Moderate amount of usage is 1 tbsp for two serving. It can be kept at room temperature up to 12 months.
There are different soy sauces that are generally used in Thai cooking;
Black Soy Sauce - See-ew Dam has two different kinds.
- Black Sweet Soy Sauce –See-ew Dam Whan or See-ew Whan is usually dark in color, sticky, and sweet. It is suitable for stewing, soup, marinate, dips and sauces.
- Black Soy Sauce - See-ew Dam is as thick as black sweet soy sauce, but it is slightly salty and not sweet. It is suitable for stir fries, dips and sauces.
These Thai seasonings are commonly used to enhance color.
Light Soy Sauce – See-ew khao is rather thin and salty. There are two different light soy sauces;
- Light Soy Sauce Formula 1 – See-ew Khao Soot Neung is the soy sauce that is refined from the first fermentation of soy beans in salt water. Light soy sauce formula 1 is less salty than light soy sauce formula 2.
- Light Soy Sauce Formula 2 - See-ew Khao Soot Song is the light soy sauce formula 1 that continually fermented with additional salt water.
These Thai seasonings are commonly used extensively to flavor stir fries and soups.
Fish Sauce – Nam pla
A good quality fish sauce, extracted from sea salt and small sea fish like Anchovy under prolong salting and fermented processes, is mostly preferred and used in most of Thai cooking. A good quality fish sauce must look clear golden brown. Due to its strong flavor, use minimum quantity per cooking and increase as prefer. It can be kept at room temperature up to 2 years. Here are three types of fish sauce according to production process;
- Pure fish sauce made of fermented salt water fish extract with sea salt which is considered to be the best quality.
- Artificial Fish sauce that made of fermented animal but fish.
- Mixed fish sauce made of pure fish sauce and artificial fish sauce.
Palm Sugar – Nam tan tanot or Nam tan peep
Palm sugar is made of the sugary liquid released from cutting Palmyra palm tree’s bud. A bamboo container will be placed under palm tree’s bud to collect its syrup every day. Then refined to pure syrup before simmering, and stir. Palm sugar usually has a darker color, a more fragrant smoky aroma and a more complex flavor than coconut sugar.
Palm sugar is commonly used in curry dishes, dip and sauces, and Thai desserts. Palm sugar is available in various forms; blocks (usually needs to dissolve in warm water before use), powder (as shown in the picture - it is very easy for use) and paste ( it is easy for use as the powder form)
Coconut Sugar – Nam tan maproa or Nam tan peep
Coconut sugar, sugary liquid from coconut palm, has less fragrance smoky aroma and complex flavor than palm sugar. Both palm sugar and coconut sugar is often used interchangeably. It is often added in coconut creamy dessert to enhance aroma. Coconut sugar is available in the same forms as palm sugar; blocks, powder and paste.
Thai Sriracha Chili Sauce - Sauce prik
This Thai hot sauce is made of paste of chili peppers, vinegar, garlic, sugar and salt. It is similar to Chili sauce is made of Thai chilies peppers. It makes an excellent flavor for stir fried vegetables, fried rice dishes, sauces and dips.
Sweet Chili Sauce – Nam jim gai
It is known as "Nam Jim Gai" in Thai which literally means "chicken dip". It is a savory dip for all sort of BBQ meats, both fresh and deep fried spring rolls, fish cakes. It is made of pickled red chilies, sugar, water, vinegar, garlic and salt. This sweet chili sauce is rather sweet than hot. It is best served with Thai BBQ Chicken
Roasted Chili Paste – Nam prik pao
It is used in stir fry dishes, soups, salad dressing and dipping. It is the main ingredient in Tum Yum Soup It is made of roasted chilies, garlic, red onions, shrimp paste, deep dried shrimps, tamarind sauce, fish sauce and palm sugar. Roasted chili paste is available from very hot to mild and is found in most Asian stores.
Shrimp Paste – Kapi
It is made of shrimp and salt under a fermentation process. Shrimp paste is used in Thai traditional dips (Nam Prik), all curry pastes and stir fry dishes. It can be refrigerated for a long time.
Sesame Oil – Nam man nga
In Thai cooking, sesame oil, widely used in stir fry and soup dishes, is only to enhance flavor and sometime to marinade meat. Sesame oil comes from sesame seeds. A few drop of sesame oil will make such a strong flavor.
Tamarind juice – Nam Ma Kham Piek
Tamarind juice is used in many curry dishes, salad dressings, dips and sauces. Tamarind juice is also used to make a refreshing drink called "Nam Makam". The sour juice used extensively in Thai cooking is produced from tamarind paste, the brownie lump or block in a plastic bag packaging available in Asian stores.
To make tamarind juice dissolve 1 - 2 tbsp of tamarind paste or block in 1/2 cup of warm water for 5 minutes then use your fingers to squeeze the pulp in the bowl and discard the pulp. The tamarind juice should be used immediately for its optimum freshness. You can always add more water for more subtle sour.
It is better to buy a tamarind block than a ready-to-use tamarind juice in containers as it gives fresh and sour flavor more. The tamarind block can be easily kept in an airtight bag in a cool dry place for a very long time, just like other preserved dried fruits.
Thai seasonings are great condiments used to enhance different flavors. The use of each seasoning should be at minimum and increase if needed.
Cooking Thai food without Thai seasonings is also possible to do as long as you can find suitable substitutions.
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