The Thai diet includes a range of herbs and spices which are relatively unknown in the west, but which for the Thais have a significant impact upon both the flavour and also the health benefits of their food.
Hot spicy food can also mean healthy food. Capsaicin is the source of the heat in chilies. Capsaicin can benefit health by speeding the rate of metabolism therefore burning more calories, increasing stomach secretions to aid digestion, lowers triglycerides, increases production of endorphins, reduce high blood pressure, clear blocked noses and may fight against some forms of cancer.
Galangal is a rhizome used in a number of preparations, including Thai Gold Red and Green Curry Pastes. The Thais believe that Galangal has carminative (good for the digestive tract), cancer blocking and antifungal properties.
The Kaffir lime bush is used for both leaves and fruit in Thai cooking. The Thais believe that it is both a natural carminative and expectorant (improves the flow in the respiratory tract) properties.
A common herb now in the west, it is used extensively in Thai cooking and is a key ingredient in Thai Gold Curry Pastes. Lemongrass, like kaffir lime and galangal, is known to have strong carminative and anti-fungal properties. Lemongrass is a mild diuretic.
Shallots are used in Thai Gold Curry Pastes and are known to have good stomachic (aids digestion) properties. They are also a well used relief for catarrh in Thailand.
Known in Thai as Krachai, black galingale is used in Thai Gold Curry Pastes and has a very subtle though distinctive flavour. It is used sparingly. Krachai is also carminative and anti-fungal, but also has antihistamine properties and has been shown to be cardamonic - reducing the growth of tumours.
The following links provide further information on the health benefits of these and other wonderful Thai herbs.