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The Six Healthiest Staple Foods in Thai Cuisine

Traditional Thai cuisine strives to incorporate five major flavors: sweet, sour, salty, bitter and spicy. While a typical meal will include a blending of these tastes, individual dishes may include all of them or may favor just one. For those who have never tried Thai food before, it has a resemblance to Chinese stir-fries and Indian curries, but with a distinctive flair all of its own.

Thai cuisine

Thai cuisine is known for blending together five tastes: sweet, sour, salty, bitter and spicy.

Fish sauce and rice -- particularly jasmine rice -- are two main ingredients in most Thai dishes, as are fragrant herbs and spices that give the food an intense, fresh flavor. Many of the popular entrees -- soups, curries and stir-fries -- are also rich in vegetables, making Thai food a healthy treat that you can enjoy with your family.

Following are six of the healthiest ingredients commonly used in Thai cooking, and don't miss the recipes at the end of the article (they're tempting enough that you may want to try one tonight!).

Coconut Milk1. Coconut Milk

Contrary to popular opinion, coconut milk is NOT the water inside a coconut (this is called coconut water or juice). Coconut milk is made from pressing the white coconut meat and mixing the resulting coconut cream with water. This rich and fragrant milk is used as a base in numerous Thai soups, curries and desserts.

Health Benefits: Coconuts are a rich source of vitamins, minerals and anti-microbial properties. They also contain compounds that may help lower bad cholesterol and boost the good kind, and support the immune system.

Turmeric2. Turmeric

Turmeric is a spice used in curries (it's also what gives curry the characteristic yellow color). It has a warm, peppery flavor with a citrus-like fragrance similar to ginger.

Health Benefits: The active ingredient in turmeric is curcumin, an anti-inflammatory that studies have found is just as effective as drugs like hydrocortisone, phenylbutazone and Motrin. It is known to protect the heart and liver, and among the many health conditions that turmeric has been found to benefit are inflammatory bowel diseases, including Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis, rheumatoid arthritis, cystic fibrosis, cancer and Alzheimer's disease.

Limes3. Limes

The sour, citrus flavor in limes and lime juice is a staple addition to many traditional Thai soups, curries and stir-fries. Kaffir lime leaves are also a crucial element in most Thai soups.

Health Benefits: Limes are, of course, an excellent source of vitamin C, but that's not all. They also contain potent antioxidant compounds that help protect your body from free radicals, have anti-cancer properties and may help protect against rheumatoid arthritis.

Basil4. Basil

Fresh basil is often used in Thai dishes not only for its unique flavor but also for its fragrance. You'll find it in Thai soups, curries and stir-fries.

Health Benefits: Compounds in basil have been found to protect DNA from radiation, protect against unwanted bacterial growth (basil has potent anti-bacterial properties), provide anti-inflammatory effects and help support heart health.

Chili Peppers5. Chili Peppers

Roasted chili paste is a staple in Thai cooking, used to flavor main dishes and dipping sauces, dress salads, and even top rice or crackers. Various versions of both green and red chili peppers are used in just about every traditional Thai dish and condiment (usually in very generous amounts).

Health Benefits: Capsaicin, the compound in chili peppers that makes them so spicy (the spicier the pepper, the more capsaicin it contains), is also incredibly healthy. It is an anti-inflammatory compound that helps with pain relief, boosts immunity, reduces cholesterol, helps prevent cancer, and helps prevent stomach ulcers by killing bacteria.

Coriander6. Coriander

Coriander (known in the West as cilantro) is a bold herb that adds intense flavor, fragrance and freshness to Thai cuisine.

Health Benefits: Coriander is a rich source of beneficial phytonutrients, flavonoids and active phenolic acid compounds that have been found to help control blood sugar, lower cholesterol and fight inflammation and free radicals.

Try Some Thai Tonight!

Whether your love Thai cuisine or are trying it for the first time, you'll be pleasantly surprised by the fresh and tasty flavors in the following Thai recipes.

Tom Yum Soup
(Serves 2)

Tom Yum soup is credited as being the most popular soup in Thailand, and it's also been studied for its ability to boost the immune system! It has an irresistible hot and sour flavor.


  • 3 cups chicken stock
  • 1 stalk lemongrass
  • 3 kaffir lime leaves (these can be found in Asian food stores)
  • 12 medium or large raw shrimp, shelled
  • 2 Tbsp. fish sauce
  • 1-2 small red or green chilies, finely sliced
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 handful of cherry tomatoes
  • 1 handful of fresh shiitake mushrooms, sliced thinly
  • 1 green and/or red bell pepper, sliced
  • 1 can coconut milk
  • wedges of lime for serving (key limes or regular limes)
  • 1/3 cup fresh coriander, roughly chopped
  • optional: additional Thai red chilies, chopped finely with seeds removed
  • optional: Thai rice noodles


  1. Pour stock into a deep cooking pot and turn heat to medium-high.
  2. Add processed lemongrass to the pot, including the parts of the lemongrass stalk you didn't slice. Boil for 5 minutes, or until fragrant.
  3. Add garlic, chili, and lime leaves to broth. Continue cooking for another 5 minutes.
  4. Add noodles (if using) and stir until broken apart. Add shrimp, mushrooms, and bell pepper, and cherry tomatoes. Cook for 5-8 minutes, or until noodles are done.
  5. Turn down the heat to low and add the coconut milk and fish sauce. Test the soup for spice and salt, adding more chilies and/or fish sauce (instead of salt) as desired.
  6. Serve in bowls with coriander sprinkled over and quarters of fresh lime on the side.


Thai Green Curry

A classic Thai dish!


  • 1 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 2 tbsp green curry paste (according to taste)
  • 1 tbsp soft dark brown sugar
  • 1-2 thick stalks lemongrass, fat ends bashed with a rolling pin (optional)
  • 1½ pounds skinless, boneless chicken, cut into chunks (use breast and/or leg meat)
  • 6-8 kaffir lime leaves, torn into pieces (if unavailable, use the grated zest of 1 lime)
  • 14fl oz coconut milk
  • good shake of Thai fish sauce or light soy sauce
  • small handful of coriander, roughly chopped
  • ½-1 lime, juice only


  1. Heat the oil in a wok or large frying pan.
  2. Add the green curry paste and sugar and cook over a fairly high heat for about a minute, stirring with the lemongrass, if using.
  3. Reduce the heat slightly and stir in the chicken pieces and lime leaves or zest until coated in the paste.
  4. Add the coconut milk, fish sauce or soy sauce and bring to a simmer, cooking for 25-30 minutes until thickened slightly.
  5. Stir in the coriander and lime juice.
  6. Check for seasoning, adding more fish sauce or soy sauce if needed.
  7. The curry is now best left to sit for a few minutes so the sauce becomes creamier.
  8. Serve with lots of fragrant Thai jasmine rice.

Source: Jo' Pratt, Nation's Favorite Food


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