Module 5 – Cook With You Tongue – Lesson 1 – The 5 Flavours of Thai Cuisine

In Thai cooking there are five flavours:

  1. Sweet,

  2. Sour,

  3. Salty.

  4. Creamy;

  5. Spicy – Heat sits on top of the four core flavours.

  6. Plus Bitter


The secret of a good dish is the right balance of the flavors — you will find that there are “sweet spots” where the flavour just tastes right.

Whether chilli-hot or comparatively blands, harmony is the guiding principle behind each dish. Thai cuisine is essentially a marriage of centuries-old Eastern and Western influences harmoniously combined into something uniquely Thai.


1. Sweet Flavours

There are different types of sugar produced in Thailand which are white and brown sugar, palm and coconut sugars. Palm sugar comes from sugar palm tree or palmyra while coconut sugar comes from coconut palm.

Both sugars are produced from the sweet, watery sap that drips from cut flower buds. Palm sugar usually has a darker color, a more fragrant smoky aroma and a more complex flavor than coconut sugar. Palm and coconut sugars are usually used in curry dishes and considerably in Thai desserts.


Refined White Sugar has a sharp sweetness and does not change the color of the food.

Brown Suger is used in baking. If you can’t find palm sugar, substitute light brown or granulated white sugar, increasing the amount called for by about 20 percent.


Palm sugar, on the other hand, has a milder in sweetness and suitable for food containing coconut milk. When dissolved over the heat palm sugar can improve the flavor as well as enhance the aroma of dishes.


Coconut Sugar has an intense caramel-like flavor is an integral part of the Thai taste profile.


Dark/Black Soy Sauce (siu-dahm) is a strong and bold, salty and somewhat sweet soy sauce with a molasses flavour.


Thai basil has a sweet, strong aniseed flavour.


Sour Flavours

Sour flavor is extensively added in Thai salads, soups, dips, and some drinks, usually comes from tamarind (makham) both fresh immature fruit (which is light green and very sour), leaves and paste(made from mature brown pulps), lime juice (nam ma nau),  Fragrant Kaffir lime leaves, Lemongrass and white vinegar.

Tamarind is a sticky, brown pulp from a tree pod. Used to add a superb sharp and sour flavour.


Lime juice gives a sharp sour flavour.


Fragrant kaffir lime leaves give a pungent lime flavour.


Lemongrass gives a fresh citrussy flavour to Thai food.


Clear white vinegar, not the yellowish vinegar made from rice.


Salty Flavours

Salty flavor usually comes from sea salt, soy sauce, and fish sauce. Fish sauce is considerably used in Thai cooking while different kind of soy sauces are mostly used for soups and stir fry dishes and it may be used instead to personal’s preference or for Thai vegetarian cooking.

Sea Salt is most commonly used to preserve things such as eggs and fish. Course sea salt is also used in some curry pastes to both help grind the paste and to preserve it. While Fish Sauce is the traditional ‘salty’ element in Thai cooking, salt is sometimes used.


White Soy Sauce is also called ‘thin soy sauce’ or ‘light soy sauce’. Don’t confuse this with ‘low sodium’ or a healthier version of light. What they mean is it’s somewhat translucent, or not as thick as black soy sauce.


Thai fish sauce ( nam pla ) has a strong salty taste.


Incredibly pungent shrimp-fish flavour and aroma. Essential flavour in many thai fish dishes and curries, dry-roast before using to fully develop flavour.


Creamy Flavours









Spicy Flavours

Flavor usually comes from fresh and dried Thai chilies, black and white peppers, garlic, and ginger. This taste of Thai food, spicy, is seldom missed in Thai cooking. Level relatively differs from personal preference.

Thai chilies, Bird’s eye chili, these chilis are highly valued for their fruity taste and extreme spiciness. They are extensively used in many Thai dishes, such as in Thai curriesand in Thai salads, green as well as the ripe red chilis; or they can just be eaten raw on the side, with for instance, khao kha mu (stewed pork trotter served with rice).


White Peppercorns เมล็ดพริกไทย (ma-let prik thai) it is a little stronger and cleaner in flavor than black perppercorns.


Black Peppercorns เมล็ดพริกไทยดำ (ma-let prik thai dum) Mostly used in Western dishes.


Garlic is a very important ingredient used in Thai Food. It is commonly put in oil prior to frying vegetables and meat in stir-fried dishes.


Thai Ginger has a spicy, slightly sweet, peppery taste of fresh ginger.


Fresh Coriander  has a very strong smell and taste, and The leaves are commonly used to garnish soups, and the roots are used in a lot of dishes.


Also Bitter Flavours

Bitter flavor in Thai food does not often exits in most of Thai dishes. However, bitter flavor comes from a few kind of vegetables and fruit which is believed to have a medicinal benefit.

They are bitter gourd (ma-ra), known to have several medicinal benefits, is commonly used in soup dishes, stock and noodle soup.

Morinda Citrifolia Linn is known in Thailand as “yor”, leaves are called “bai yor” are extensively used in many dishes.


Thai Copper Pod or Cassod Tree (kee-lek), is the medicinal plant which its green leaves is often used for spicy curries.


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