The 4 Ingredients That Make Thai Food So Good!


Thai food is one of the most popular cuisines across the world, with its distinct ingredients and pungent flavours permeating every continent and influencing chefs from London to Lagos. Favoured for classic takeaway dishes such as pad Thai and Massaman curry and for home cooking classics like Thai green and Thai red curry, Thai cuisine is highly prized for its combination of salty, spicy, sour & sweet.


Some ingredients that are absolutely essential when cooking authentic Thai dishes are desired for their ability to bring one or more of the above flavours to a dish. Learn how Thai basil, Thai aubergine, galangal, and lemongrass became essential flavours in Thai cuisine, their origins and how to best cook with them here! 


Thai Basil

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Thai Basil - 15g
£0.49


Seasonality - Available year-round


With narrow, bright green leaves, Thai basil differs from common sweet basil in more than just looks. When mature, Thai basil develops a fresh and spicy fragrance with a stronger flavour than common basil. Often growing on reddish-purple stems, Thai basil leaves commonly gain a purple lavender like flower while their sweet yet spicy leaves have notes of anise and are well suited to infusing flavour into dishes such as broths and soups. Thai basil leaves are also far more resilient than sweet basil, retaining their shape for far longer when cooked. 


Thai Basil is native to Southeast Asia and is most popularly grown and consumed in Thailand, Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia, though its exact origin is unknown since its history of cultivation dates back approximately 5,000 years.


Use Thai basil when looking to impart a bold spicy herb flavour into your dish. If this sounds like something you like, a dish that highlights the rich layers of flavours of Thai basil is pad kra pao gai (spicy Thai basil chicken).


Thai Aubergine

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Thai Aubergine 500g
£3.69


Seasonality - Available year-round


Crunchy and slightly bitter, Thai aubergines are commonly smaller than typical purple aubergines. Though what they lack in size they more than make up for in taste, with a more concentrated flavour, Thai aubergines have an earthy taste when cooked. Green even when ripe, Thai aubergines have been an essential part of Thai cuisine for centuries due to their versatility and year round seasonality. 


Thai aubergine’s ancestry can be traced to India, where eggplant grows both wild and domestically. Due to the favourable climate and growing conditions, aubergines originally thrived in India, forming new varieties of aubergine across the nation. This eventually led to hybrids forming, especially along Asian trade routes, and so the Thai eggplant was created.


Cut in half or into cubes and use Thai aubergine as an excellent source of fibre or as a meat replacement when cooking your favourite Thai dishes!


Galangal

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Galangal Root - Single
£2.19


Seasonality - Available year-round if grown at mild temperatures. 


Sometimes nicknamed Thai ginger, galangal is a an important root from the ginger family. However, differs from ginger in some key characteristics. The main being galangal smells and tastes like pine and black pepper, without the intense ginger bite. Ginger has a spicier, sweet scent and an overwhelming flavour if not cooked. Galangal releases a mellow yellow colouring into food when cooked and is best lightly crushed or pounded as an aromatic root to add an earthy and pungent flavour. 


Originally grown in China, galangal was first harvested for cooking and medicinal purposes, popularly used to treat a range of ailments but more recently indigestion. Now grown across Southeast Asia galangal is a popular ingredient due to its broad versatility, as the rhizome can be thinly sliced and added to stir-fries, boiled into curries, cooked into satay, mixed into salads or brewed in teas!


Lemongrass

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Lemongrass 80g
£2.69


Seasonality - Freshest in Autumn, but grown year round in tropical climates.


Lemongrass has a wonderfully delicate citrus and lemon flavour, with a small kick of mint and spice. A less overwhelming flavour, lemongrass often adds a zesty aromatic nature to the dishes, sauces or teas. 


A true grass but also closely aligned with bamboo, lemongrass is perennially found in This Africa, South America, Australia and Asia, however it is especially beloved in India, China and Thailand where the grass features prominently in local cuisine.


However, as early as the 17th century, Lemongrass was used across the world due to its scent rather than taste, popularly distilled as part of the perfume industry. Lemongrass was cultivated and sold in order to be developed into scented oils to anoint the upper classes of Europe with a strong, zesty and exotic import. 


Discover more Thai ingredients and other hard-to-find groceries from Southeast Asia and the rest of the globe on Red Rickshaw now!