Cambodian Herbs

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Cambodian Herbs in Khmer Cuisine

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Cambodian cuisine is known for its unique blend of flavors, often achieved through the use of fragrant herbs and spices. Cambodian herbs play a vital role in Khmer cooking, bringing delicious and complex flavors to a variety of dishes. From lemongrass to kaffir lime leaves, each herb has its own distinct flavor and cultural significance.

Key Takeaways

  • Cambodian herbs are an important part of Khmer cuisine.
  • Each herb has its own unique flavor and cultural significance.
  • Lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves, galangal, turmeric, and holy basil are some of the most commonly used herbs in Cambodian cooking.

Understanding Cambodian Herbs

Cambodian herbs play a crucial role in Khmer cuisine, bringing unique flavors and aromas to traditional dishes. These herbs are not only prized for their culinary uses, but also for their medicinal properties and cultural significance.

There are many different types of Cambodian herbs used in Khmer cuisine, each with its own distinctive taste and purpose. Some of the most commonly used herbs in Cambodian cooking include lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves, galangal, turmeric, makrut lime, Asian basil, holy basil, winged bean leaves, Vietnamese coriander, and pandan.

Lemongrass is perhaps the most well-known and versatile of all Cambodian herbs. It is used in a wide range of dishes, from soups and curries to marinades and drinks. Its bright, citrusy flavor adds a refreshing, zesty note to any dish.

Kaffir lime leaves are another staple of Khmer cooking. These fragrant leaves have a citrusy, floral aroma that infuses dishes with a burst of flavor. They are often used in curries, soups, and stir-fries.

Galangal is a root that looks similar to ginger, but has a distinctively earthy flavor. It is a common ingredient in Cambodian curries, and is also used in marinades and soups.

Turmeric is a bright yellow spice that is commonly used in Khmer cuisine. It has a warm, slightly bitter flavor and is prized for its health benefits. Turmeric is often used to color and flavor rice dishes, as well as curries and soups.

Makrut lime is a small, bumpy fruit with a strong, tangy flavor. Its leaves are commonly used in Cambodian cooking to add a citrusy aroma to soups, stews, and curries.

Asian basil has a sweet, anise-like flavor that is similar to licorice. It is used in a wide range of dishes, including soups, salads, and stir-fries.

Holy basil is considered a sacred herb in Cambodia, and is often used in religious ceremonies. It has a peppery, slightly bitter flavor that is similar to cloves. Holy basil is a common ingredient in curries and stir-fries.

Winged bean leaves are a nutritious leafy green that is commonly used in Cambodian salads and soups. They have a slightly bitter flavor and a crunchy texture.

Vietnamese coriander has a fresh, citrusy flavor that is similar to cilantro. It is often used in soups, salads, and stir-fries.

Pandan is a fragrant herb that is used in a variety of Cambodian desserts and drinks. Its leaves have a sweet, floral aroma that infuses dishes with a delicate flavor.

Other important Cambodian herbs and spices include ginger, garlic, chilies, and black pepper. These ingredients are used in various dishes to add depth and flavor.

Lemongrass: A Staple in Khmer Cooking

Lemongrass, known as “krachai” in Khmer, is an essential herb in Cambodian cuisine. Its citrusy aroma and hint of sweetness make it a popular ingredient for marinades, soups, and curries. Lemongrass is also used in herbal remedies for its anti-inflammatory and calming properties.

In Khmer cuisine, lemongrass is often used to flavor broth-based soups like “somlaw machu kreung” or in marinades for grilled meats like “sach ko ang.” It’s also used to add fragrance to desserts, such as the traditional Cambodian sticky rice cake “num ansom chek.”

Recipes Featuring Lemongrass

Recipe Description
Somlaw Machu Kreung A sour soup with lemongrass, galangal, and seafood.
Sach Ko Ang Grilled beef skewers marinated with lemongrass, garlic, and soy sauce.
Num Ansom Chek Sticky rice cake wrapped in banana leaves with coconut milk and lemongrass.

Using lemongrass in your cooking can add a unique and refreshing flavor to your dishes. Whether you’re making a savory soup or a sweet dessert, this herb is a must-try in Cambodian cuisine.

Kaffir Lime Leaves: A Burst of Citrus Flavor

Kaffir lime leaves are a staple herb in Cambodian cuisine, known for their unique citrusy flavor and fragrance. These leaves come from the kaffir lime tree, which is native to Southeast Asia. They are often used in soups, curries, stir-fries, and marinades.

One of the key characteristics of kaffir lime leaves is their intense aroma. The leaves contain essential oils that create a potent citrus scent. In Cambodian cooking, kaffir lime leaves are often used to flavor coconut milk-based curries and soups. When added to a dish, the leaves are typically left whole and then removed before serving.

Kaffir lime leaves also provide a bright and tangy flavor to dishes. The distinctive taste of the leaves comes from the high concentration of citronellol, a natural compound found in citrus fruits. Its flavor can be described as a combination of lemon and lime, with herbal undertones.

To get the best flavor from kaffir lime leaves, it’s important to use them fresh. Dried leaves lose much of their flavor over time, so it’s best to purchase them fresh and store them in the refrigerator until ready to use. When selecting fresh leaves, look for ones that are dark green and have a glossy appearance.

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Some popular Cambodian dishes that feature kaffir lime leaves include amok trey (a fish curry steamed in banana leaves), somlor machou (a sour soup with fish), and samlor kako (a vegetable soup with pork).

Galangal: The Earthy Spice

Galangal is a root spice that is a key ingredient in many Cambodian dishes. It is a member of the ginger family and has a distinct earthy flavor and aroma. The spice can be used fresh, dried, or powdered and is often paired with lemongrass and kaffir lime leaves to create a flavor profile that is unique to Cambodian cuisine.

Galangal is known for its medicinal properties and is often used in traditional Cambodian medicine to treat gastrointestinal issues and respiratory problems. In addition, it has anti-inflammatory properties and is high in antioxidants.

One of the most popular dishes in Cambodia that features galangal is the traditional soup, samlor machu kreung. This soup combines galangal with lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves, and other herbs and spices to create a complex and flavorful broth that is served with fish and various vegetables.

Another popular dish that uses galangal is the Cambodian version of green curry, known as kari saek mouan. This dish typically consists of meat or seafood cooked in a curry paste made with galangal, kaffir lime leaves, lemongrass, and other spices, and is served with rice or noodles.

Turmeric: The Golden Spice

Turmeric is a vibrant, golden spice commonly used in Cambodian cuisine. It has a warm and slightly bitter taste, with a subtle peppery flavor. Besides being a versatile ingredient in the kitchen, turmeric has many health benefits and is a common medicinal herb in Southeast Asia.

In Cambodian cooking, turmeric is used in various dishes such as soups, stews, curries, and marinades. It is also a key ingredient in the popular Cambodian dish, Amok. This traditional dish is made with fish or meat, coconut milk, and a mixture of herbs and spices including turmeric.

Besides its culinary uses, turmeric is highly valued for its medicinal properties. It has anti-inflammatory effects and is often used to alleviate joint pain and inflammation. Turmeric tea is also a popular herbal remedy in Cambodia, believed to have numerous health benefits for digestion and overall well-being.

To get the most out of turmeric’s health benefits, it is best to consume it with black pepper. This combination increases the absorption of curcumin, the active compound in turmeric, in the body.

Overall, turmeric is an essential herb in Cambodian cuisine and a valuable ingredient in promoting good health and well-being. Its warm and earthy flavor adds depth to dishes while its medicinal properties provide numerous health benefits.

Makrut Lime: Aromatic and Tangy

Makrut lime, also known as kaffir lime, is a citrus fruit commonly used in Cambodian cuisine. It has a distinctively fragrant and tangy flavor that adds depth to a variety of dishes. The juice and zest of the fruit are both used in cooking, as well as the leaves, which are often torn or chopped and added to soups, stews, and curries.

Makrut lime leaves are an essential ingredient in Cambodian cuisine and are used in many traditional dishes such as amok, a steamed fish curry, and somlah machu kreung, a sour soup with fish and vegetables. The leaves are also added to marinades, sauces, and salads, providing a fresh and zesty burst of flavor.

Aside from its culinary uses, makrut lime also has medicinal benefits. Its leaves contain high levels of antioxidants and have been used in traditional medicine to treat a variety of ailments including coughs, colds, and sore throats. The essential oil extracted from the peel of the fruit is also used in aromatherapy to promote relaxation and reduce stress.

Makrut lime is widely available in Southeast Asian grocery stores and can also be found frozen or dried. When using makrut lime leaves in cooking, it is important to remove the central stem, which can be tough and bitter. To release the flavor, gently crush or bruise the leaves before using them in a recipe.

Recipes Featuring Makrut Lime

Recipe Description
Amok Trey A traditional Cambodian dish of steamed fish curry wrapped in banana leaves and flavored with makrut lime leaves and lemongrass.
Green Papaya Salad A refreshing salad made with shredded green papaya, tomatoes, and peanuts, dressed with a tangy makrut lime vinaigrette.
Samlor Machu Kreung A sour fish soup made with an array of vegetables, flavored with tamarind and makrut lime leaves.

With its unique aroma and tangy flavor, makrut lime is an important ingredient in Cambodian cuisine, adding complexity and depth to a wide range of dishes. Its versatility makes it a staple in many Southeast Asian kitchens and a must-try herb for any home cook interested in exploring new flavors.

Asian Basil: A Fragrant Herb

Asian basil is a common herb used in Khmer cuisine, with a distinct fragrance that sets it apart from other varieties. It is also known as Thai basil or sweet basil, and is often used in soups, curries, and stir-fries.

This herb has a slightly spicy and licorice-like flavor, and its leaves are often torn or chopped before being added to dishes. In Cambodian cooking, Asian basil is typically used as a garnish or added at the end of cooking to preserve its delicate flavor.

One classic Cambodian dish that features Asian basil is the beef and basil stir-fry, also known as Sach Ko Chroruk. This dish combines tender strips of beef with crunchy vegetables and fragrant Asian basil for a flavorful and refreshing meal.

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Asian basil is also a popular ingredient in salads, such as the green mango and shrimp salad known as Nhoam Svay Beouk. In this dish, the herb is combined with other fresh ingredients to create a colorful and nutritious meal.

If you’re new to cooking with Asian basil, be sure to look for fresh leaves at your local Asian market or specialty grocery store. You can also try growing your own at home for a fresh and convenient supply of this fragrant herb.

Holy Basil: A Sacred Herb in Cambodian Cuisine

Holy basil, or tulsi, is a sacred herb in Cambodian culture and is believed to have medicinal properties that promote health and well-being. It is a key ingredient in many traditional Cambodian dishes and is known for its aromatic and slightly sweet flavor.

In Cambodian cuisine, holy basil is typically used in stir-fries and curries and is often paired with meat or seafood. It is also used in soups and stews to add depth and flavor to the broth.

One popular Cambodian dish that features holy basil is “Bai Hapang,” which is made with minced pork, holy basil, and spices, and served over rice. Another dish that uses this sacred herb is “Cha Kroeung Sach Ko,” which is a stir-fry made with beef, lemongrass, and holy basil.

Overall, holy basil is an important herb in Cambodian cuisine, both for its culinary uses and cultural significance. Its unique flavor and aroma make it a versatile ingredient in many dishes, and its health benefits have made it a staple in traditional medicine for centuries.

Winged Bean Leaves: A Nutritious Green

Winged bean leaves are a beloved and nutritious green in Cambodian cuisine. These leaves are native to Southeast Asia and are commonly used in traditional Cambodian dishes. Winged bean leaves are known for their high protein content and are rich in vitamins A and C, iron, and calcium.

The leaves are often added to stir-fries and curries, providing a fresh and vibrant flavor to the dish. They can also be used raw in salads or as a garnish. The young, tender leaves are preferred for cooking as they are less bitter than their older counterparts.

Winged Bean Leaf Recipe Description
Stir-Fried Winged Bean Leaves with Garlic This simple recipe features the fresh flavor of winged bean leaves with the added kick of garlic. The leaves are stir-fried in oil until tender, then garlic is added for additional flavor.
Winged Bean Leaf Omelette This classic Cambodian omelette is packed with fresh winged bean leaves and herbs. The omelette is cooked until golden brown, creating a crispy crust on the outside and a fluffy, herb-filled center.

Winged bean leaves are a nutritious and flavorful addition to any Cambodian meal. Their versatility and unique flavor profile make them a staple in Khmer cuisine.

Vietnamese Coriander: A Flavorful Ingredient

Vietnamese coriander, also known as rau ram or laksa leaf, is a popular herb in Cambodian cooking. It is often used as a garnish or in salads, soups, and stir-fries.

The leaves of the Vietnamese coriander plant are long and narrow with a pointed tip. They are dark green with a purple tinge and have a slightly glossy appearance. The flavor of Vietnamese coriander is citrusy and slightly spicy, with a hint of mint.

This herb is often used in combination with other Cambodian herbs, such as lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves, and galangal, to create complex and flavorful dishes. One popular Cambodian recipe that features Vietnamese coriander is the Khmer beef skewers, which are marinated in a mixture of lemongrass, garlic, kaffir lime leaves, and Vietnamese coriander before being grilled.

Vietnamese coriander is also known for its health benefits. It is believed to have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties and may help to lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels.

To use Vietnamese coriander in your own cooking, simply chop the leaves and add them to your dish as a garnish or mix them into soups, curries, and stir-fries. You can also use the leaves to make a refreshing and flavorful tea.

Recipe: Khmer Beef Skewers

Ingredients: Instructions:
– 1 lb beef, thinly sliced 1. In a large bowl, combine the lemongrass, garlic, kaffir lime leaves, and Vietnamese coriander. Add the beef and toss to coat. Marinate in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes.
– 2 stalks lemongrass, finely chopped 2. Preheat grill to medium-high heat.
– 3 cloves garlic, minced 3. Thread the beef onto skewers and grill for 3-4 minutes per side, until cooked through.
– 4 kaffir lime leaves, finely chopped 4. Serve hot with a side of steamed rice and garnish with additional Vietnamese coriander leaves.
– 1/2 cup Vietnamese coriander, chopped

Pandan: The Fragrant Herb

Pandan, also known as screwpine, is a fragrant herb commonly used in Cambodian desserts and drinks. The leaves of this tropical plant are long and narrow, with a distinct aroma that adds a sweet, floral note to dishes.

In Cambodian cuisine, pandan is often used to flavor rice dishes, such as coconut rice or sticky rice pudding. Its leaves can also be used to infuse liquids, like milk or coconut water, to create refreshing drinks.

One popular Cambodian dessert that features pandan is num ansom chek, a sticky rice treat wrapped in banana leaves and sweetened with palm sugar. The pandan leaves impart a subtle, yet delightful flavor to this dessert.

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Another traditional Cambodian dish that incorporates pandan is bai sarch chrouk, a breakfast staple that consists of pork and rice cooked with coconut milk and pandan leaves. The pandan adds a unique sweetness to the savory dish.

Overall, pandan is a versatile herb that adds a distinct aroma and flavor to Cambodian cuisine. Its delicate floral notes make it an ideal ingredient for desserts and sweet dishes, while its ability to infuse liquids with its fragrance makes it a popular choice for refreshing beverages.

Other Cambodian Herbs and Spices

In addition to the aforementioned herbs, there are several other important spices commonly used in Cambodian cuisine. One such example is ginger, which provides a warm and slightly sweet flavor to dishes. It is often used in marinades, soups, and stir-fries. Another commonly used herb is sawtooth coriander, which has long, serrated leaves and a lemony flavor. It is often used as a garnish for soups and stews.

Cambodian cuisine also incorporates various spices to add heat and flavor to dishes. The most commonly used spice is black pepper, which is used to season meats and vegetables. Chili peppers are also frequently used, either fresh or dried, to add a spicy kick to dishes. Other common spices include star anise, cinnamon, and cloves, which are used in marinades and stews.


Cambodian herbs play a vital role in Khmer cuisine, providing unique flavors and fragrances that distinguish this cuisine from others in Southeast Asia. From lemongrass to kaffir lime leaves, galangal to turmeric, the variety of herbs used in Cambodian cooking is diverse and culturally significant.

Exploring the use of these herbs in traditional Cambodian dishes can be a rewarding experience for those interested in learning more about this cuisine. Whether used for their medicinal properties or to add distinctive flavor to dishes, Cambodian herbs are an essential component of Khmer cuisine.

By experimenting with these herbs, readers can gain a deeper appreciation for the flavors and aromas that have been part of Cambodian cooking for centuries. From stir-fries to soups, salads to curries, the possibilities for using Cambodian herbs are endless.

So, whether readers are experienced cooks or novices in the kitchen, they are encouraged to explore the world of Cambodian herbs and embrace the unique flavors of Khmer cuisine.


What are Cambodian herbs?

Cambodian herbs are a variety of aromatic plants and spices that are used in Khmer cuisine to add unique flavors and fragrances to traditional Cambodian dishes.

What is the significance of Cambodian herbs in Khmer cuisine?

Cambodian herbs play a crucial role in Khmer cuisine, bringing distinct flavors and aromas to dishes. They are also believed to have medicinal properties and are deeply rooted in Cambodian culture.

What is the importance of lemongrass in Cambodian cooking?

Lemongrass is a staple herb in Khmer cuisine, known for its citrusy flavor and aroma. It is used in various dishes and recipes, adding a refreshing and tangy element to the food.

How are kaffir lime leaves used in Cambodian cooking?

Kaffir lime leaves are highly valued in Khmer cuisine for their unique citrus flavor. They are commonly used in curries, soups, and stir-fries to add a burst of citrusy taste to the dishes.

What is the role of galangal in Cambodian cuisine?

Galangal is an earthy spice that is widely used in Cambodian cooking. It adds a distinct flavor to dishes, giving them a rich and aromatic taste.

What are the health benefits of turmeric in Cambodian cooking?

Turmeric is known as the golden spice in Cambodian cuisine due to its vibrant color and health benefits. It is believed to have anti-inflammatory properties and is used in various dishes to add flavor and color.

What are the qualities of makrut lime in Khmer cuisine?

Makrut lime is prized for its aromatic and tangy qualities in Cambodian cooking. It is used in both savory and sweet dishes to add a refreshing and zesty taste.

How is Asian basil used in Cambodian cooking?

Asian basil is a fragrant herb commonly used in Khmer cuisine to add a distinctive aroma to dishes. It can be used in stir-fries, soups, and curries, enhancing the overall flavor of the food.

What is the cultural significance of holy basil in Cambodian cuisine?

Holy basil holds great cultural importance in Khmer cuisine and is considered a sacred herb. It is used in traditional dishes and is believed to bring luck and blessings.

How are winged bean leaves used in Cambodian cooking?

Winged bean leaves are a nutritious green used in Cambodian recipes. They are often added to soups, stir-fries, and salads, providing both flavor and health benefits.

What is the flavor profile of Vietnamese coriander?

Vietnamese coriander is a flavorful herb commonly used in Khmer cuisine. It has a slightly spicy and citrusy taste, adding depth to dishes.

How is pandan used in Cambodian desserts and drinks?

Pandan is a fragrant herb that is often used in Cambodian desserts and drinks for its aromatic qualities. It provides a unique flavor to sweet treats and beverages.

What other herbs and spices are commonly used in Cambodian cuisine?

In addition to the mentioned herbs, other important herbs and spices used in Cambodian cuisine include ginger, garlic, turmeric, cilantro, and chili peppers. These ingredients add depth and flavor to Khmer dishes.

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