Kasma's Favorite Brands
To create great Thai food, start with the very best ingredients. The brands listed here are the brands that Kasma Loha-unchit uses in her own cooking because she finds she gets better food with them. Kasma has been teaching Thai cooking since 1985 and does not receive nor has she ever received any kind of remuneration from the manufacturers of these products.
If you can't find the brands locally, try one of the online or mailorder markets listed on our site.
"Your info on recommended brands has been a big help too. The right fish sauce, to my family, has made the difference between a form of forced torture and a meal that disappears so quickly that I have to time its existence in milliseconds."– A Thai cook in Los Angeles
These are just Kasma's recommendations. We'd recommend trying different brands, perhaps have a tasting of several brands at once, and use the brand that you prefer.
You can read about many of these ingredients starting at the Ingredients Index.
Check out our blog entry on Shopping at Asian Markets (for Thai Ingredients).
Click images to see a larger version.
Coconut milk (gkati) – Mae Ploy (19 oz.) can has a good flavor and usually has the most cream in it. Chaokoh (13.5 oz.) still has a delicate, sweet, natural flavor – don't expect a lot of cream, however. Beware of look-alike cans of inferior brands; make sure Chaokoh has an "a-ok" in it! For a brand wholly without preservatives, good cream content and flavor, try Natural Value (14 oz.); their organic coconut milk is the only organic brand we can recommend as it does not contain guar gum. Aroy-D also has a can without preservatives: read the label, though.
When buying coconut milk, it is a good idea to shake each can to find the ones with the most cream – the more sloshing, the less the cream. Chaokoh usually doesn't pass the shake test but is worth buying for its flavor.
Avoid products that contains guar gum: it changes the taste, giving an unnatural flavor and it homogenizes the coconut milk so that you the cream doesn't separate from the lighter coconut milk, which is essential for Thai cooking.
Also avoid "lite" coconut milk – You're paying mostly for water and won't get enough fat, which is where the flavor and the nutrition is. If you think that coconut oil is bad for you, please read our article The Truth About Coconut Oil.
|Curry paste (gkaeng ped) – Mae Ploy brand curry paste. These curry pastes in the plastic containers are far superior to anything Kasma has found in a can: the taste is fresher and cleaner. When making Massaman Curry Kasma also uses some Mae Anong paste combined with the Mae Ploy.|
|Fish Sauce (nahm bplah) Good fish sauce has a pleasant aroma of the sea, not an overwhelming smelly fishiness, and it should not be overly salty. If the bottle you have been using makes the dishes you cook taste too fishy, try a new brand. My favorite brands are Tra Chang (meaning "weighing scale") and Golden Boy. The latter is favored by my students for its endearing label, showing a baby boy sitting on a globe, cradling a bottle on the left arm with right thumb up. These fish sauces add a superb flavor to Thai dishes. Reasonably good are the King Crab, Anchovy brands. Squid Brand "Premium Fish Sauce" (only the Premium") is pretty good. Three Crabs Brand is not recommended. Taste several brands and choose your own favorite. Also see Kasma's articles on How to Make Fish Sauce and Using Fish Sauce to Flavor Food .|
|Oyster sauce (nahm man hoi) – Should be a Thai product, which is less salty and more flavorful than the Chinese variety and also does not contain MSG. Kasma's current favorite is Dragonfly Super Premium Flavored brand (to the left); it is a bit more expensive but the taste is worth it. Second choice is Dragonfly brand Premium Oyster sauce. Acceptable is "Mae Krua" – the front of the label depicts a plump woman stir-frying while shaking sauce from a bottle into the wok. Both brands do contain preservatives.|
|Peanut oil (nahm man tua) – A good oil for Thai food.. The brand she uses is Lion and Globe from Hong Kong. Knife brand is an acceptable substitute.|
|Rice: Jasmine rice (kao hom mali) – Should be Thai Jasmine rice. Kasma's preferred brand is Golden Phoenix. See Kasma's article on jasmine rice.|
|Rice: White Sticky Rice (kao niow) – Usually labelled "glutinous rice" or "sweet rice." The following brands are all good: Golden Phoenix, Butterfly, and Sanpatong (Three Ladies Brand). See Kasma's Recipe for Coconut Flavored Sticky Rice with Mango.|
Roasted chilli paste (nahm prik pow) – Often labeled as "chilli paste in soya bean oil." Mae Ploy & Butterfly brands are good. Look for one without MSG.
|Shallots, Fried (hawng daeng tawd) – Hanh Phi brand is Kasma's current favorite; look for the "K" logo. Nang Fah (Tue Kung) brand distributed by V. Thai Food Products is also good. They are almost as good as fresh-fried shallots.|
|Shrimp paste (gkabpi) – Kasma's favorite is the Klong Kohn (or Klong Kon) brand. This can be hard to find in the US because the name is not translated from the Thai script. It may say "Packed & distributed by P. Prateepthong." Look for the big green shrimp. Tra Chang (meaning "weighing scale" and showing a picture of a scale) is ok. Avoid Pantai brand - it has MSG.|
|Soy bean sauce (dtow jiow) – Kasma has recently begun using Dragonfly brand "Salted Soybean Sauce" – she likes its flavor plus the fact that it's preservative free. She used to use "Healthy Boy" brand's "Soy Bean Paste Formula 1" but they have recently begun adding MSG so she no longer uses it.|
|Soy sauce (si-ew): dark soy sauce (hua si-ew) – "Naturally brewed" or "naturally fermented." An excellent brand imported from Taiwan and now widely available in Oriental markets is Kimlan, which comes in a number of grades with varying prices. Its premium "Super Special" soy sauce is superb.|
|Soy sauce (si-ew): black soy sauce (si-ew dam) – A good black soy is made by the Kwong Hung Seng company of Thailand, which uses the dragon fly logo on the front label. Because this company makes three different kinds of soy sauces bottled in the same kind of bottles, make sure the label in front or back identifies it as "black soy sauce." The other two soy sauces they make are "thin soy sauce" and "sweet soy sauce," which is much sweeter and thicker than "black soy sauce."|
Soy sauce (si-ew): light or thin soy sauce (si-ew kao) – Koon Chun brand "Thin Soy Sauce" out of Hong Kong is the only brand Kasma has been able to find without additives and preservatives of any kind.
|Sriracha chilli sauce (prik Siracha, sod prik) - In both "medium" and "strong" degree. This smooth, orangish red sauce, with a consistency similar to a light ketchup, originated in the seacoast province of Sriracha on the eastern seaboard of Thailand. Because the waters off Sriracha are known to be shark infested, a well-known brand of this imported sauce has a shark as its logo. There are many good Thai brands. Look for a brand without preservatives or additives.|
Here are a few tips to help you when negotiating the aisles of Asian markets.
|Coconut sugar (nahm dtahn maprao) or palm sugar (nahm dtahn bpeep/buk) – If you have a choice, select a soft, rich brown sugar; if not, any kind is better than none. A soft sugar is easier to spoon out. (Kasma's information on palm sugar.)|
Coriander seeds (loog pak chee) – The Thai seeds are small, more sweetly perfumed, and fuller flavored.
Cumin (mellet yira) – sometimes erroneously called "fennel" or "caraway" in Thailand (i.e., on Thai packaging).
Black Sticky Rice (kao niow dahm) – Labeled "black glutinous rice" or "black sweet rice," sometimes available as "Indonesian black rice." See Kasma's recipe for Black Sticky Rice Pudding.
Tamarind (makahm) – For most areas of the country, to get consistent results in cooking, it is best to purchase tamarind in compressed blocks wrapped in clear plastic wrap, labeled simply as "tamarind," or "wet tamarind" (direct translation of the Thai term for this form of cooking tamarind - makahm bpiak). Most already have seeds and strings removed. Sometimes you'll find compressed tamarind that is labeled as "candy" although the sole ingredient listed is tamarind; this is done to avoid the necessity of having to include nutritional analysis required of imported food products. (Kasma's information on tamarind.)
Vinegar (nahm som) – Kasma usually uses plain white, distilled vinegar from the supermarket. You may also use any unflavored white or rice.