In Asian cuisine, Asian herbs are an essential ingredient which adds vibrancy and refreshing flavours to every dish. With the growing popularity of Asian food, we list out 11 of the most commonly used Asian herbs so you can make your Asian cooking as authentic as possible. We also chuck in our tried and tested methods for keeping these fresh for longer (Thanks Mom!). While the more popular Asian herbs are easily available in the local supermarket, a majority of them can be found at your neighborhood’s Asian Groceries. Better still .. grow them yourself!
Also Known As: Serai (Malay & Indonesian)
A versatile herb, lemongrass has a multitude of uses and plenty of benefits. Lemongrass is used in cooking, as an insect repellent and medicinal purpose. Zesty , floral like scent, lemongrass has a subtle yet distinctive flavour that adds to fullness in flavour. It is an essential herb in many iconic Asian dishes. Though and hard to chew, lemongrass is only used in cooking for its flavour and hardly consumed. Unless if it is blended into paste.
Famous Asian Dishes with Lemongrass : Tom Yum Soup, Rendang and Ga Nuong Xa (Lemongrass chicken)
Also Known As: Daun Kunyit (Malay)
The use of turmeric leaves is not as common in cooking as using turmeric itself. Turmeric leaves sprout from the root of the turmeric plant and has a grass-like texture. Smells earthy, turmeric leaves are used in cooking for its distinctive gingery taste. On its own, turmeric leaves has a strong bitter taste.
Famous Asian Dishes with Turmeric Leaves : Rendang, Patholi
Also Known As: Chinese Parsley, Cilantro, Daun Ketumbar (Malay & Indonesian)
Coriander leaves have a strong, soapy and tart taste. You either love it or hate it. In Asian cooking, coriander is commonly used in soups, curries, chutneys, dipping sauce and as garnishes. Never throw away the coriander stalk and roots as it has an intense flavour. Add them as part of the curry paste ingredients.
Famous Asian Dishes with Coriander Leaves : Coriander Chutney, Thai Green Curry
Also Known as : Daun Kucai (Malay)
Chives are commonly used in both eastern and western cooking. Close relative to leek and onion, Chives has a pleasant and mild flavour similar to spring onions. Chives are mostly used as a garnish and herbs while spring onions are considered a vegetable. Seen a lot in Chinese style cooking, Chives are best utilised in non-spicy food.
Famous Asian Dishes with Chives : Char Kuay Teow, Chinese Chive Dumplings
Also Known As: Daun Selasih (Malay & Indonesian)
Thai basil has an interesting flavour spectrum and is heavily featured in Thai cooking. Not to be confused with Holy Basil, Thai basil has slightly spicy with a strong licorice-like flavour. This flavour highly complements the sweet, sour and spicy nature of Thai food. Thai basil tends to bruise easily, hence they must be handled gently and frozen when not in use.
Famous Asian Dishes with Thai Basil : Thai Red Curry
Also Known as : Daun Salam (Malay)
Bay leaf is used in many styles of cooking. In Asia, they are mostly used in Indonesian and Filipino cooking. Best used as a dry herb, bay leaf has an earthy, eucalyptus-like taste. Due to this, they must be used sparingly. Correctly used, adding bay leaf into a dish will be the dish’s ‘wow’ factor.
Famous Asian Dishes with Bay Leaf : Adobo, Opor Ayam
Also Known As : Daun Kari (Malay)
The curry tree is native to India and Sri Lanka. A significant herb in Indian cooking, curry leaves are also used in Malaysia, Indonesia, and Singapore. Curry leaves have a peppery taste and a very strong aroma, activated upon contact with heat. For this reason, curry leaves are usually fried with other ingredients such as ginger and onion in the first stage of food preparation.
Famous Asian Dishes with Curry Leaves : Malaysian Curry Chicken, Kam Heong Prawns
Also Known as : Screw Pine Leaves , Daun Pandan (Malay)
Pandan leaves is a herb used in both sweet and savory food. With floral like scent and vanilla like taste, Pandan Leaves add flavour and color to a dish. Pandan Leaves pairs well with coconut milk, palm sugar, turmeric, and rice. When cooked together with rice, it releases a beautiful warm scent that lingers in your kitchen for hours. The essence of Pandan Leaves is extracted by blending the leaves with water. They are added to baked goods such as cakes and puddings.
Famous Asian Dishes with Pandan Leaves : Gar Hor Bai Toey, Nasi Lemak, Thai Mango and Sticky Rice dessert.
Also Known as : Daun Pudina (Malay)
Mint is a popular and widely used herb. Found in both savoury and sweet food, mint has a cool and sweet taste. It has an overwhelmingly fresh scent which is great paired with ingredients such as chocolate, yogurt, couscous and summer fruits. As a gentle herb, Mint is easily bruised and it is best to tear rather than cut them.
Famous Asian Dishes with Mint : Mint omelette, Ga Chien,
Also Known as: Vietnamese Mint, Vietnamese Cilantro, Laksa Leaf, Daun Kesum (Malay)
Vietnamese Coriander has an almost mint-like taste and a fragrant scent. It is a popular herb in Vietnamese Cooking as this herb is eaten on its own, in salads, soups, and many other dishes. Young Vietnamese coriander tastes tangy and slightly bitter. The taste of Vietnamese Coriander is in sour dishes.
Famous Asian Dishes with Vietnamese Coriander : Pho, Assam Laksa, Nuoc Cham
Kaffir Lime Leaves
Also Known as: Daun Limau (Malay), Daun Jeruk (Indonesian)
Similar to lemongrass, the Kaffir lime leaves have many uses. It has a subtle taste and aromatic fragrance. You can find the lime leaves fresh or frozen. Kaffir Lime leaves are usually used together with Lemongrass in cooking as many recipes call for both ingredients to be added. Kaffir Lime is mostly used in South Asian cooking. When freezing lime leaves, make sure they are properly covered as when the leaves start turning brown, both the smell and the tastes deteriorates.
Famous Asian Dishes with Kaffir Lime Leaves : Kaeng Pa, Tom Yum
Storing Asian Herbs
As Asian herbs tend to bruise easily, here are some of the best ways to store them for longer :
- For basil, coriander, mint and chives : Wash herbs and pat herbs dry to absorb moisture. Once dry, keep herbs in ziplock bag and refrigerate. This can keep them fresh for up to 10 days.
- For frozen herbs, once the packaging bag is opened, move all herbs into a ziplock back before putting back in the freezer. Keep herbs covered at all times
- Fresh lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves, curry leaves and pandan leaves can be frozen. Wash and pat dry. Place herbs in ziplock back and freeze for up to 1 month for curry leaves and 3 months for the rest.
- Store bay leaves in a container alongside other dry ingredients.