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What Herbs and Spices Are Used in Asian Cuisine?
People today are cooking more Asian cuisine than ever before, and it's important to know the basic ingredients to make the most authentic dish possible. I've made a list of common seasonings separated into herbs and spices.
- Chinese chives
- Cinnamon (and cassia bark)
- Fresh coriander (aka cilantro)
- Curry leaves
- Golden Needles
- Kaffir Lime Leaves
- Star Anise
- Thai Basil
- Green Cardamon
- Fenugreek seeds
Read on to learn more about each one!
You can find large chilies, medium chilies, and bird's eye chilies in Korean cooking. If you're not used to cooking with these peppers, remove their inner tissues to eliminate most of the hotness. This way, you can still get a milder version of the same flavor. I do like hot chilies, but just know that they can be very powerful!
2. Chinese Chives
Chinese chives are typically more pungent than the ones commonly found in the market, which are European chives. They're bought fresh and chopped whole (flowers and all) to be used in stir-fry dishes and spring rolls.
3. Cinnamon (And Cassia Bark)
Know that the cinnamon you buy in an American supermarket is most likely cassia bark. True cinnamon is from Sri Lanka, and I've found it in Asian markets labeled as Cinnamomum zeylanicum. They are rolled-up quills, which are better than the ground kind because they're more flavorful and last longer.
Cassia bark is related to cinnamon and comes from other parts of the world. It is usually used in large pieces for flavoring and can be easily picked out of the dish. Cinnamon is typically preferred for sweet dishes.
4. Fresh Coriander (Cilantro)
You may have to ask for fresh cilantro in American markets. You'll have to find the more mature plants used in Asian cooking in Asian supermarkets. Thai cuisine uses the roots, leaves, and stalks to make green curry paste. In Indian and Chinese cuisine, utilizing just the leaves is preferred.
5. Curry Leaves
Curry leaves are an essential ingredient in Indian cooking. They can be used either fresh or dried.
Fresh leaves are used extensively in Indian cooking. The dried leaves are called "methi."
You may see galangal in a market and mistake it for ginger. Galangal has a series of rings around it, but fresh ginger is smoother. This herb adds an aromatic bitterness to Thai dishes and is known as 'ka' in Thai markets. I recommend you buy it in a dried form.
Ginger is a popular ingredient and is sold in most markets. It's highly recommended you use only fresh ginger because the flavor and aroma are well worth it! It is universally used in Asian cooking, but it's also a great way to freshen up the air in your home. All you have to do is peel, chop, and boil it to create a refreshing aroma!
9. Golden Needles
Golden needles come from the tiger plant and are easily found in Chinese grocery stores. Make sure to soak them in hot water before using them in your dishes.
10. Kaffir Lime Leaves
These fragrant leaves are found in Thai markets. You can use them whole or shredded and mixed into a paste.
Lemongrass is an essential ingredient in Thai cooking that can be purchased in Thai and specialty markets. It gives a citrus-like sourness to Thai dishes.
12. Star Anise
Easily found in American supermarkets, this dried star-shaped fruit is a member of the magnolia family. It has a pronounced aniseed flavor and can be used whole or ground. Star anise is native to China.
13. Thai Basil
There are at least three varieties of basil used in Thai cooking, so it's important for you to choose and buy the right one because they all taste different.
14. Green Cardamon
Green cardamon is native to southern India but is now cultivated in tropical areas. To add a subtler flavor to a dish, remove the cardamons before serving.
You can easily find cloves in all American supermarkets, which is convenient because they are used in many parts of Asia. They can be used in both sweet and savory dishes, but make sure to remove whole cloves before serving a dish.
16. Ground Coriander
Ground coriander is easily found in American supermarkets, but the seed form is found in Asian markets. The seeds are dry-roasted before they are used in cooking. Ground coriander will lose its fragrance if stored for too long, so only dry-roast the amount you need for a recipe at a time.
There are two times of cumin: black and white. White cumin is easily found in markets in both seed and ground forms. White cumin is commonly used in Southeast Asia by being roasted, ground, and used to make curry paste. (See black cumin, or nigella, below.)
18. Fenugreek Seeds
Fenugreek seeds are a very popular ingredient used to make curry pastes in southern India.
Five-spice usually consists of the following ingredients: cassia, star anise, fennel seeds, anise pepper, and cloves. This mix is aromatic and not too hot.
Nigella is black cumin. Indian cooks usually prefer nigella over white cumin. It is found in seed form and is typically roasted, ground, and mixed to make curry paste.
Seven-spice is also known as Japanese shichimi. It is a blend of fragrant spices that include: tangerine peel, poppy seeds, sesame seeds, chilies, and seaweed flakes. A hot blend of seven-spice also includes ginger and sansho pepper.
The warm yellow color of this spice makes us think of saffron, but you definitely don't want to use it as a substitute. Tumeric is sold all over the United States and adds a distinctive flavor to Asian festival dishes.