At the heart of all Asian cooking are spices that pack flavour and bring complexity to your dishes. Here is a list of 5 Asian spices you must have in your cupboard that can bring new depth to your family meals. Perhaps you will be surprised with just how many spices there are, all with unique tastes, flavours and aromas.
- Number 1 - Star Aniseed
- Number 2- Kaffir Lime Leaves
- Number 3 - Galangal
- Number 4 - Lemongrass
- Number 5 - Ginger
Number 1 - Star Aniseed
While sipping from a steaming bowl of Vietnamese pho, you’ll find a delicate, aromatic broth with a flavor profile comparable to licorice or fennel. Star aniseed, or sometimes called star anise. is the likely culprit for that flavor. A secret ingredient in traditional Asian dishes, this warming, sweet spice can be simmered in broths and braises to add an extra depth of flavor.
Number 2 - Kaffir Lime Leaves
In Vietnam, Kaffir Leaves are used in chicken dishes to add fragrance and also to cover up the smell when steaming snails. Aside from that, Kaffir Lime Leaves are a signature flavor used in many Thai curries, salads, soups and stir-fries.
Like many spices, the dried leaves and rind are nowhere near as fragrant as the fresh. The rind has bitter, citrus notes, while the leaves have a strong, floral and pungent aroma with hints of both lemon and lime. The flavor is somewhat gentle yet bold and tends to stick around for a while.
Similar to bay leaves, whole Kaffir lime leaves are generally removed from the dish prior to serving. If you are going to leave them in a dish you should slice them finely. You can add them early on in the cooking process, but be careful as the longer they are in the dish, the more flavour they will give to the dish. You wouldn’t want to overpower your dish with this amazing spice!
Number 3 - Galangal
A galangal root, although has a similar structure to ginger, is slightly bigger and paler in colour. While ginger adds a fresh, sweet-but-spicy, earthy flavour to your dish, galangal flavour is sharper and more peppery. Galangal is a staple in Thai cooking along with the all-time favourite, lemongrass. You can use the two to create a refreshing lemongrass-galangal tea, or the popular dish “Tom Kha Gai”, otherwise known as Thai Coconut Galangal Chicken Soup.
Number 4 - Lemongrass
As a spice, fresh lemongrass is preferred in cooking as it has a vibrant flavour. The fresh stalks and leaves have a clean lemon, grassy scent to it, and the fragrance is not as sour as regular lemons or lemon peels.
Lemongrass features heavily in Thai, Indonesian, Malaysian, Vietnamese and Indian cooking. It is used widely in savoury dishes as well as in meat, poultry, seafood and vegetable curries. It compliments the coconut milk base well, and with chicken or seafood, there are countless Thai and Vietnamese dishes exploiting this combination. The stem can also be used to make herbal teas, or chopped to add flavouring in marinades.
Number 5 - Ginger
Found in all kinds of dishes, from Teriyaki Salmon to fish curries, ginger is another key ingredient you should definitely have in your kitchen. It can be bought in both root or powder form, and fresh ginger is most commonly used to get the best flavour. The Japanese even pickle slices of ginger to accompany their sushi, as it can be used as a palate cleanser in between pieces of sushi.