What are the five basic flavours of Thai cuisine?

by Nikita Singh

It's no secret that Thai Green Chicken Curry is the UK's most-ordered Thai dish. We can't get enough of this sweet, spicy, fragrant curry. But what makes it so good? 

Five basic flavours of Thai cuisine

The five basic flavours of all authentic Thai dishes are salty, sweet, spicy, sour and creamy. Many Thai chefs consider a dish incomplete if one of these elements is missing or not balanced in the correct ratios.


Salt is incorporated in a Thai dish through fish sauce, table salt, tamari or soy sauce. Chicken Panang Curry uses tamari instead of soy sauce to keep the dish gluten free. 


A common trait of all Thai dishes is a subtle sweetness most often from palm sugar, or cane sugar-derived jaggery which is used in Massaman Vegetable Curry. 


Depending on the dish, Thai curry pastes incorporate dried red chillies and ground spices, or fresh green chillies. Dried red chillies tend to lend a hot earthy tone compared to its fresh green counterparts. 

Peppery heat also comes from the use of galangal, a root from the ginger family, but more pungent and citrusy than its ginger cousin.


Tangy sour flavours are introduced to Thai cooking in the form of tamarind, lime peel, or fresh lime juice. Beef Massaman includes tamarind puree and lime juice to achieve an intense sourness which is later balanced by coconut milk and palm sugar.


In Thai cuisine, creaminess always comes in the form of coconut milk or coconut cream. This simple ingredient balances the intense salt and spice, adding a silky texture and a rich creamy taste like Chicken Satay

Can't decide which curry to try? Order the Taste of Thai family box and sample three unique Thai dishes, all incorporating the five basic flavours.