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The 5 Flavors of Thai Posted by on Feb 25, 2013 in Beginner

I consider myself a decent cook, and love the food I eat. I can cook food from around the world, from American, cajun, Mexican, Japanese, Indian – you name it. But there is something about Thai food which always causes me to fail. One of my favorite Thai foods is pad see ew, but no matter how many times I try cooking it myself it never tastes right. I either forget one of the many ingredients, or use too much of a certain ingredient, or something . . . hey if I knew what I was doing wrong I wouldn’t be doing it wrong!

image credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/achauer/5923343410/


I think what makes Thai food cooking so difficult is the careful balancing of flavors and spices. As I understand it, every Thai food needs at least two of the five major flavors to taste right. It’s a yin and yang thing, a sweet and sour (pork) balance.

The 5 major flavors are: 




Sweet Waan5 หวาน
Sour Brieow3 เปรี้ยว
Spicy Ped2 เผ็ด
Salty Kem1 เค็ม
Bitter Kom5 ขม


What ingredients are used to achieve these flavors in Thai food? Here is the quick list:

Sweet – cane and coconut palm sugar

Sour – lime, tamarind, mango, pineapple, and other sour fruits

Spicy – chili peppers, peppercorns

Salty – sea salt, fish sauce

Bitter – bitter melon, and raw leaves from various plants and trees (either wild or cultivated)


Here is how to say it all in Thai:




Sugar Nam4dtaan1 น้ำตาล
Lime (and lemon) Ma4naaow1 มะนาว
Tamarind Ma4kaam5 มะขาม
Mango Ma4muang3 มะม่วง
Pineapple Sab2ba2rod4 สับปะรด
Salt Gluea2 เกลือ
Fish sauce Nam4blaa2 น้ำปลา
Bitter melon Ma4ra4 มะระ
Chili pepper Prik4 พริก


And a few more useful words to describe the ingredients for your food: 




Food ingredients Suan2 bra1gawb2 ส่วนประกอบ
Condiments, spices Krueng3 brung1 เครื่องปรุง
Fresh Sod2 สด
Rotten Now3 เน่า
wet Bpiak2 เปียก
dry Haaeng3 แห้ง
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