22 Common Herbs and Spices in Asian Cuisine

Updated on January 5, 2018
Common Spices in Asian Cuisine
Common Spices in Asian Cuisine | Source

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.

Common Herbs

  • Chilies
  • Chinese chives
  • Cinnamon (and cassia bark)
  • Fresh coriander (aka cilantro)
  • Curry leaves
  • Fenugreek
  • Galangal
  • Ginger
  • Golden Needles
  • Kaffir Lime Leaves
  • Lemongrass
  • Star Anise
  • Thai Basil

Common Spices

  • Green Cardamon
  • Cloves
  • Coriander
  • Cumin
  • Fenugreek seeds
  • Five-spice
  • Nigella
  • Seven-spice
  • Turmeric

Read on to learn more about each one!

Bird's Eye Chilies
Bird's Eye Chilies | Source

1. Chilies

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 the hot chilies, but just know that it can be very powerful!

Chinese Chives
Chinese Chives | Source

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.

Cinnamon Quills (Cinnamomum Zeylanicum)
Cinnamon Quills (Cinnamomum Zeylanicum) | Source

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.

Coriander
Coriander | Source

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.

Curry Leaves
Curry Leaves | Source

5. Curry Leaves

Curry leaves are an essential ingredient in Indian cooking. They can be used either fresh or dried.

Fenugreek
Fenugreek | Source

6. Fenugreek

The fresh leaves are used extensively in Indian cooking. The dried leaves are called "methi."

Galangal
Galangal | Source

7. Galangal

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
Ginger | Source

8. Ginger

Ginger is a popular ingredient and 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!

Golden Needles
Golden Needles | Source

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.

Kaffir Lime Leaves
Kaffir Lime Leaves | Source

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
Lemongrass | Source

11. Lemongrass

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.

Star Anise
Star Anise | Source

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.

Thai Basil
Thai Basil | Source

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.

Green Cardamon
Green Cardamon | Source

14. Green Cardamon

Green cardamon is native to Southern India but is now cultivated in tropic areas. To add a subtler flavor to a dish, remove the cardamons before serving.

Cloves
Cloves | Source

15. Cloves

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.

Ground Coriander
Ground Coriander | Source

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.

Cumin
Cumin | Source

17. Cumin

There are two times of cumin: black and white. Black cumin is known as There is white cumin and there is black cumin (nigella). 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).

Fenugreek Seeds
Fenugreek Seeds | Source

18. Fenugreek Seeds

Fenugreek seeds are a very popular ingredient used to make curry pastes in Southern India.

Five-Spice
Five-Spice | Source

19. Five-Spice

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
Nigella | Source

20. Nigella

Nigella is black cumin. Indian cooks usually prefer nigella over white cumin. It is found in seed form and typically roasted, ground, and mixed to make curry paste.

Seven-Spice
Seven-Spice | Source

21. Seven-Spice

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.

Turmeric
Turmeric | Source

22. Turmeric

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.

Questions & Answers

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      • profile image

        realtaexasgal@yahoo.com 

        2 months ago

        Obviously some of the spices above appear to be fresh. What is the shelf live of fresh herbs and can they be dried or frozen?

        Thank you.

      • BkCreative profile imageAUTHOR

        BkCreative 

        5 years ago from Brooklyn, New York City

        So true Ann Lizbeth - quality and freshness are everything. I've been disappointed many times buying these spices in local markets. We also lose the benefit of their nutritional value when they are old or poor quality. Thanks for writing!

      • profile image

        Ann Lizbeth 

        6 years ago

        Thanks for the fine information. The taste of everything depends on how good your spices are . It is hard to find good quality Asian Spices here in the US. Best are coming from Asia and I found a good Spices store on eBay

        http://www.ebay.com/itm/250608804742?ssPageName=ST...

      • BkCreative profile imageAUTHOR

        BkCreative 

        6 years ago from Brooklyn, New York City

        Thanks for the link to 24caratspices. I'll leave it here so others can check it out.

        Michale, tell me what ka is.

      • profile image

        Michal 

        6 years ago

        Is there an alternative to ka? I can't find it locally.

      • profile image

        indian spices 

        6 years ago

        I am very happy to read your articles it’s very useful for me,and I am completely satisfied with your website.All comments and articles are very useful and very good.

        Your blog is very attention-grabbing. I am loving all of the in turn you are sharing with each one!…

        a href="http://www.24caratspices.com" title IndianSpices Indian Spices

      • profile image

        Spices 

        7 years ago

        I am very happy to read your articles it’s very useful for me,and I am completely satisfied with your website.All comments and articles are very useful and very good.

        Your blog is very attention-grabbing. I am loving all of the in turn you are sharing with each one!…

        http://www.24caratspices.com

      • profile image

        organic spices 

        7 years ago

        hi i am new to this site .i am going to try this recipe right now after seeing.hope comes out good.Thanks for sharing.

        www.24caratspices.com

      • BkCreative profile imageAUTHOR

        BkCreative 

        7 years ago from Brooklyn, New York City

        Great info to share. Thanks a lot!

      • profile image

        Varninda 

        7 years ago

        Hello BKCreative,

        We have some nice Malaysian cooking Recipes. Just go to our website:TasteofMalaysia.biz then click on the link "Recipes"

        Wish you good luck!

      • BkCreative profile imageAUTHOR

        BkCreative 

        7 years ago from Brooklyn, New York City

        Thanks for adding it to the list, kulatunaga!

      • profile image

        kulatunga 

        7 years ago

        Why you do not enter black peppercorn as Asian spice?

      • BkCreative profile imageAUTHOR

        BkCreative 

        8 years ago from Brooklyn, New York City

        Thank you revolving spice rack. By the way, I like your name. Thanks too for writing!

      • profile image

        revolving spice rack 

        8 years ago

        Nice hub! I so much love asian spices for my cooking

      • profile image

        revolving spice rack 

        8 years ago

        Nice hub! I so much love asian spices for my cooking

      • BkCreative profile imageAUTHOR

        BkCreative 

        8 years ago from Brooklyn, New York City

        Thanks so much Maita. I love all the herbs and spices used in cooking. So health-giving! Thanks for the up rating!

      • prettydarkhorse profile image

        prettydarkhorse 

        8 years ago from US

        I love this hub, I didn't see this before, rating it up, Maita

      • BkCreative profile imageAUTHOR

        BkCreative 

        8 years ago from Brooklyn, New York City

        I'm so glad you came across it too DeBorrah K. Ogans and glad you found it helpful. Thanks so much for your comment and good wishes!

      • DeBorrah K. Ogans profile image

        DeBorrah K Ogans 

        8 years ago

        BkCreative, Nice Hub! I am glad I came across this one! I thoroughly enjoy great Asian Cuisine! This will be helpful!

        Thank you for sharing, Peace & Blessings!

      • BkCreative profile imageAUTHOR

        BkCreative 

        8 years ago from Brooklyn, New York City

        I always respond mruduveni jones! I love communicating with other hubbers - it is such a great writing community! You are so welcome and of course I am following you and will keep up with all your writing!

      • mruduveni jones profile image

        mruduveni jones 

        8 years ago from Denver

        Oh didn't expect you would respond. Thank you so much! You are welcome too! Glad to meet you also.

      • BkCreative profile imageAUTHOR

        BkCreative 

        8 years ago from Brooklyn, New York City

        Thanks so much for all the information mruduveni jones. Our access to all the great Indian herbs and spices are a bit limited unless we get to a major Indian market (and know what we are doing). You have provided all the information.

        Many thanks!

      • mruduveni jones profile image

        mruduveni jones 

        8 years ago from Denver

        Like white cumin and black cumin, there are green cardamoms and Black cardamoms, Black cardamoms are bigger in size and are used especially in some of the exotic Indian dishes like "Biryani".

        How about including Mace,Peppercorns,Nutmeg, Bay leaves, carom seeds... too in your spice list?

        Yellow Poppy seeds are also very common in south Indian dishes.

        Mustard seeds which are little larger than poppy seeds are very common in Indian daily cooking.

        Fennel seeds are also very common in many dishes.

      • mruduveni jones profile image

        mruduveni jones 

        8 years ago from Denver

        "Methi" is a Hindi(India's National language)word for Fenugreek leaves. Fenugreek seeds are tiny golden yellow colored seeds, with a bitter taste, and the leaves that grow out of those are cooked mostly with yellow lentils called "Toor dal" and also as a combination with other vegetables. The dried fenugreek leaves are called "Kasoori Methi" which has a great aroma and used as one of the spices in some of the exotic Indian Dishes.

      • BkCreative profile imageAUTHOR

        BkCreative 

        9 years ago from Brooklyn, New York City

        Hello einron - thanks so much for sharing this info about lemon grass.

        I had a great time in Malaysia and Singapore - loved the cuisine. But now I am more curious about the lemon grass drink and will look into it.

      • einron profile image

        einron 

        9 years ago from Toronto, Ontario, CANADA

        You have mentioned most of the Chinese herbs. I like Lemon grass for we use it in curry in Malaysian and Thai curry. Lemon grass drinks help people who go for chemotherapy and radiation. Check it out.

      • profile image

        BkCreative 

        9 years ago

        Thanks Jess, I'll correct that now! Although it is listed that way in a cookbook, further research shows it is a separate pepper.

      • profile image

        Jess 

        9 years ago

        whoa 5 spice is totally different from sichuan pepper, it is completely different products...

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