Thai Ingredients Glossary
:: Sauce & Paste
Black Soy Sauce
Black soy sauce is almost black in color and is thick like a light syrup. It is sweet, almost like molasses. It adds sweetness as well as saltiness to rice and noodle dishes, soups and stir-fried dishes. A good black soy is made by the Kwong Hung Seng company of Thailand - the bottle has a dragon fly logo on the label.
Black Sweet Soy Sauce
Black Sweet Soy Sauce is rich, thick like ketchup, and dark. It is used mainly for making sweet Thai snacks. A good sweet black soy sauce is made by the Kwong Hung Seng company of Thailand - the bottle has a dragon fly logo on the label.
Fish sauce is called "nam pla" in Thailand. The name basically means "fish water." Fish sauce is made from fermented small whole fish. The length of fermentation should be between 12 - 18 months. If it is less than 12 months, it will have less protien and a strong fishy smell. If it is more than 18 months, the color will be very light and the essence of the fish will be too far removed. Fish sauce can be categorized into 3 types based on manufacturing processes.
- Real fish sauce - fermented whole fish with salt. According to the Thai Ministry of Public Health, real fish sauce must have a total nitrogen content of more than 4 grams per liter.
- Non-fish fish sauce that is not made from fish - this type of fish sauce is usually made from shell fish like shrimp, clam, crabs and squid.
- Mixed fish sauce - made through a process of using either real fish sauce or non-fish fish sauce and diluting it with salt water, food additives, sugar, msg, etc.
First grade fish sauce must have the following qualities:
- the label must have the certificate from the Thai Industrial Standards Institute, Ministry of Industry;
- clear, reddish brown color (it should not have any sediments), like the color of a good whiskey or sherry and no food additives;
- contains salt (Sodium Chloride), not less than 200 grams per liter;
- protien, not less than 9 grams per liter,
- no color added except natural color from caramel
When buying a bottle of fish sauce, check the label. Unfortunately, the label is in Thai and with some brands, the label may not be a true label because they just want to meet the US import standards and requirements. The real label must have a certificate and certificate number from the Thai Industrial Standards Institute, must show both manufacturing and expiration dates and the color must be a clear, reddish brown. If the color is a dark or muddy brown, the sauce may be lower grade, improperly fermented, or too old.
There are so many brands of fish sauce. Tiparos is a first grade fish sauce made in Thailand. Squid brand is well-known in Thailand as a premium, more expensive fish sauce. The difference is subtle, but Squid brand is a lighter color, has less of a fish smell and is a bit less salty. Golden Boy and Tra Chang are other examples of first grade, premium fish sauce. Thai Kitchen brand is a lower grade fish sauce. Ingredients are anchovy extract, salt and pure cane sugar.
I usually use Tiparos or Golden Boy brands. They both are good but I prefer the Golden Boy brand because of its milder smell.
Green Curry Paste
It is not difficult to make the paste for green curry dishes once you gather all the right ingredients. However, the quality and freshness can be hard to perfect since it is hard to find fresh ingredients in the US. Fresh ingredients are the key to making the highest quality curry pastes. Frozen ingredients are the next best thing to fresh ones. To make paste, the traditional Thai way is to pound ingredients in a mortar with a pestle. This is fairly time consuming. In some recipes, use of a food processor or blender is an alternative option. [Get Recipe]
If you do not want to make your own paste or are in a hurry to make green curry dishes, there are plenty of processed paste brands to choose from at the Asian grocery stores. My favorite brand is Nittaya. My family has bought many Nittaya curry pastes for generations. As Bangkok is a large and fast-moving city, many people, especially the new generation, have skipped making their own paste and are buying a pre-made one. Pastes from Nittaya are well known and have an excellent reputation in Bangkok. Their pastes are the finest quality of paste made - they use fresh, quality ingredients and ensure the taste has a well-balanced mix of spices and herbs.
It is not common to find Nittaya products in Asian grocery stores in the US, at least in a small town. However, you can purchase them online from templeofthai.com. You can also visit nittayathaicurry.com to find out more about their products. Since preservatives are not added to the product, freezer storage is recommended to maintain freshness and quality longer. Mae Sri or Mae Ploy brands are other 2 fine choices when it comes to buying curry pastes.
Shrimp paste or Kapi is a dark purple and greyish brown fermented shrimp paste with a very strong odor which most unaccustomed Westerners find to be too much. It has an even stronger smell than fish sauce. Many Thai curries have kapi as an ingredient which blends well with other strong flavors from chilies, garlic, fragrant spices, roots, and herbs. It is also an important ingredient in many spicy soups, salads, sauces and stir-fry dishes.
A dish called nahm prik is named after it (Nahm Prik Kapi) since it is the primary ingredient, alongside pan-fried, local sardines (Pla Too) and raw, blanched and egg-dipped vegetables. Another famous rice dish that is named after it is Khao Krug Kapi.
Roasted Chili Paste
Num Prik Pao is primarily made from roasted red chilies and ground dried shrimp. It has a wonderful mellow taste. Num Prik Pao is used to flavor soups, including the popular hot-and-sour soup Tom Yum Goong, as well as stir-fry and noodle dishes, salad dressings and dipping sauces. It also has a sweet taste and is used as a spread on toast, crackers or shrimp chips for a quick snack. It is often served with vegetables such as cucumbers, cabbage and yard-long beans. The vegetables are dipped into the sauce and eaten with rice. Num Prik Pao may also be simply eaten alone with rice.
A good brand of pre-packaged roasted chili paste is "Mae Ploy." Another brand, Pantainorosingh, is good but now contains MSG. If you are looking for a fresh made one, try Nittaya. Nittaya packages of Roasted Chili Paste will say "Chili in Oil." Pastes from Nittaya are well known and have an excellent reputation in Bangkok. Their pastes are the finest quality of paste made - they use fresh, quality ingredients and ensure the taste has a well-balanced mix of spices and herbs. It is not common to find Nittaya products in Asian grocery stores in the US, at least in a small town. However, you can purchase them online from templeofthai.com. You can also visit nittayathaicurry.com to find out more about their products. Since their pastes are based on fresh ingredients and preservatives are not added, freezer storage is recommended to maintain freshness and quality longer. Mae Sri or Mae Ploy brands are other 2 fine choices when it comes to buying curry pastes.
Num Jim Bouy is the Thai name where bouy means plum. As the full name suggests, this plum sauce is made from salted plums and juice. Plum sauce is a sweet and sour dipping sauce that many people use as a Spring Roll dipping sauce or with other deep-fried appetizer dishes.
Oyster sauce is a sweetened soy sauce with oyster extract added. High quality oyster sauce is made by condensing oyster extracts, which in turn is made by cooking oysters in water until a white broth is produced. Oyster sauce is used in marinades, stir-fry dishes and dipping sauces. There are a few brands of Thai oyster sauce. One is "Mae Krua" and another brand is "Healthy Boy." The Mae Krua brand is quite flavorful and is available in small, medium and large bottles.
These two brands of oyster sauce taste noticeably different from the Chinese brands available in America. The Thai sauces are less salty, have a more pronounced oyster flavor and are not heavily loaded with monosodium glutamate (MSG).
Soybean Paste is made from fermented crushed soybeans, wheat flour, salt and water blended into a paste. The common Thai dishes that use this Soybean Paste are khao man gai, pla jian, and lad nah. The premium quality brands are "Health Boy" and "Dragon Fly" which is produced with a high quality, natural fermentation process.
Spring Roll Sauce
There are many processed spring roll dipping sauce brands. They are sweet and have a reddish color. The common brand is "Pantainorasingh" which states it uses no preservatives and no artificial coloring.
Since there are so many brands, it is recommended to read the label to find the one that not only has no MSG but also no preservatives and no artificial coloring. If you cannot find the one you like, you can simply make one.
Thai Light Soy Sauce
Thai Light Soy Sauce is also called "thin" or "white" soy sauce. This type of soy sauce is well balanced, including being salty but not as salty as Fish Sauce. It is called for in many recipes like stir-fry dishes, marinades, and dipping sauces. It is great as a vegetarian substitute for fish sauce. Thai light soy sauces are more akin to Chinese soy sauces, than Japanese-type soy sauces. Thai light soy sauce is stronger and less sweet then Japanese soy. A premium brand is "Healthy Boy" brand.
Tom Yum Paste
Commercial Tom Yum Paste is made by crushing all the herb ingredients and stir-frying in oil. Seasoning and other preservative ingredients are then added. The paste is bottled or packaged, and sold around the world. Tom Yum flavored with the paste may have different characteristics to that made with fresh herb ingredients.