Asian Ingredient Glossary

Unfamiliar with popular asian ingredients? Here is a guide to help your cooking knowledge.

Asian Chile Sauce

A thin, orange-red sauce that combines chiles with sugar, salt, oil, and vinegar. Often used as a condiment, its heat level ranges from mild to fiery hot.

Asian Sesame Oil

Golden brown oil extracted from crushed sesame seeds. With an intense, toasted nutty flavor, only a small amount is needed to enrich stir-fries or cold noodle salads. Can be combined with other oils.

Chinese Five-Spice Powder

A spice blend usually made from equal parts star anise, cloves, cinnamon, fennel seeds, and Sichuan peppercorns, widely used in Asian marinades, sauces, and barbecued meats.

Cilantro [(sih-LAHN-troh) coriander, Chinese parsley]

A zesty, earthy-limy herb. Use chopped leaves and tender stems or whole leaves in marinades and curries or as a garnish.

Coconut Milk

A creamy, slightly sweet liquid processed from shredded coconut and water. An essential ingredient in Southeast Asian curries, soups, and desserts. Refrigerate 1 to 2 days after opening. Freeze up to 2 months.

Dried Shrimp Paste

Don't let the strong odor turn you off -- cooking mellows the salty shrimp taste of this incredibly pungent paste and gives curries a rich authentic flavor. Available in cellophane-wrapped blocks, plastic tubs, or glass jars. Keep sealed in a heavy-duty plastic bag.

Fish Sauce (nam pla; nuoc nam)

A fermented extract of anchovies. This deliciously salty condiment adds a special richness to savory dishes like stir-fries curries, and dipping sauces.

Fresh Ginger

A tan, knobby root with a crisp, fiery sweet flavor. Adds a fresh zing to savory foods. Slice, mince, or crush its yellowish interior. Choose firm roots.

Galangal (guh-LANG-guhl, or guh-LANG-ga; Thai ginger)

Related to ginger, galangal is preferred in Southeast Asian cooking for its clean, slightly lemony taste. Can be sliced or crushed before adding to soups and curries. Look for its pinkish opaque skin, and firm white flesh.

Kaffir Lime Leaves (ka-FEAR)

Glossy dark-green leaves. Just one will add a citrusy-floral aroma and a wonderful zest to your curries. Discard whole kaffir leaves before serving; however, if they're shredded, leave them in. Refrigerate fresh leaves 5 to 7 days; substitute dried leaves, if desired.


Firm, pale-green stalks that resemble green onions. Adds a fragrant, lemony essence to dishes. Cut off green top and slice white, tender core for marinades, sauces, soups, and spice mixtures.

Sichuan Peppercorns (SITCH-wahn; Szechuan peppercorns; SEHCH-wahn)

The citrusy-spicy aroma and sharp distinct taste of these small, flower-shaped berries is wonderful added to dry marinades for meats. Available ground or whole, often in cellophane bags.