The use of Chillies in Thai cooking

The use of Chillies in Thai cooking
The History Of Chillies in Thailand

Whilst it is not entirely clear how the Chilli arrived in Thailand, it is speculated that it arrived there via the Portuguese.  Ceylon (modern-day Sri Lanka), which is in relatively close proximity to Thailand, was occupied by the Portuguese from 1505 to 1658.  When considering that wherever the Portuguese went, their Chillies went with them. As  Sri Lanka likes extremely pungent foods; it is not unlikely that the Chilli was introduced to the island during this time. In turn, they would have found their way via trade or the flight of birds (who absolutely love chillies) carrying seed to Thailand.

Thai chicken with chillies

Another route that the Portuguese might have used may have been via Malacca, which they used as a base from 1511 for trading and missionary expeditions into China, Japan, and Thailand. The Portuguese missionaries would certainly have taken Chillies with them in their journeys to Thailand as they were extremely fond of them in their cooking.

A possible link to the theory of birds carrying seeds to Thailand is the fact that the name of a very popular chilli in the country - the Prik kee noo - is also known as the birds-eye pepper.  This is of course entirely speculation, but not entirely impossible!

Whether by trade, through missionaries or birds, the Chilli arrived in Thailand. Its climate makes growing chillies easy, so it is possible they found their way from the wild into domestication or the other way round. Whichever way, one thing is clear; the Chilli is now so entrenched in Thai cuisine that it is not going away any day soon.

How Chillies are used in Thai Cooking.

Chillies are an integral part of Thai cooking. Whether pickled, dried, made into pastes, fried or fresh, Chillies can be found in a multitude of Thai recipes. Dishes like Pad kra prow ( Beef stir-fried with basil and chillies) Pad Thai (Prawns with bean sprouts and Chillies), Tom yum goong ( Prawn soup with lemongrass and Chilli) and Massaman curry ( a mild Thai curry made with beef, chicken duck or tofu) are but the tip of the fire poker when it comes to Thai cooking


The Thai name for Chilli is Prik.  In this list of some of the chillies commonly used in Thai cooking, you will find all of the names preceded with this title.

Prik kee noo suang (Birds eye pepper) is perhaps the most used and known. It is known outside of Thailand as “Thai Chilli” and reasonably easy to buy in other parts of the world.  The name Birds eye chilli and that of the African Peri- Peri are used synonymously. Thus another link is added to the Portuguese connection (The Portuguese introduced the Peri-Peri chilli to Africa). It is also found and known as kōcci in certain parts of Sri Lanka.

Prik kee noo suang grows from to 2 and 3 cm, with a weight of 2 to three grams. In its immature state, it is green but matures to a pungent, bright red pod with a Scoville rating of 100000 to 150000 Shu. These chillies dry very well and are then called prik kee noo Daeng haeng. They are eaten both as a green chilli and in its mature form. It is used in recipes like Yam Ma Maung (Thai Green Mango Salad), Prik Nam Pla (Thai Chili sauce) and Tom yum Goong (Thai prawn soup with Chillies)

Prik chee fah (Literally means Chilli pointing the sky). As the name implies, these chillies grow pointing upwards. They are quite large, growing to 15cm and milder than the Prik kee noo with a higher-end Scoville rating of approximately 70000. They ripen from a dark green Chilli with a grassy pungent flavour to a bright red colour with a sweeter flavour.  Widely used to make dipping sauce (Nam Jim Jaew ) and in relishes  (Ma hor - ) It is also used in stir-fries, curries ( for its flavour and red colour giving properties) and a garnish in salads or pickled.

Prik Kaleang. The  Thai people are not fond of mild chillies. This one is no exception to the rule. It is one of the hottest chillies found in Thailand. Their colour varies from light green, through orange to red. Used in recipes like Kaeng pa (Thai jungle curry made with pork and chicken). This chilli is not found easily outside of Thailand

Image credit:  Thai Food / by Jeffrey BeallCC by SA 2.0 / via Flikr


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