This section is dedicated to all things aromatics.
As you know, aromatics play a very important role in Asian style cooking. After all, this is the ingredient that helps bring out the flavor and smell of the wonderful dishes that we are making. Without these ingredients, you wouldn’t be able to have as good of a smell as you would have if you used them.
And there are many different ingredients out there for which we use for aromatics.
But how are you suppose to know which one is right for you?
After all, if you were to actually go to any Asian supermarket, you’ll notice that there are hundreds of different items out there for you to choose from. How are you suppose to know which ones to buy? Is it going to work with whatever you are deciding to make?
That is where this page comes in handy.
Although we can’t list out every single aromatic item out there as that would be impossible, what we can do is list out the most common and popular types that most families would use in their day to day lives.
We’ll try our best to tell you exactly what these items do as well as what they are normally used for.
So if you are ready, lets get started!
Full disclosure: In this glossary page, some of the posts will contain affiliate links, which means that if you do buy something as a result from following one of our links, you will be supporting our site “Cooking Sensei”. Prices are the same regardless if you use our link or not, so there is no harm.
One of the most common and versatile ingredients used in Asian cooking is one called a green onion. I’m sure you have seen and heard about this vegetable before as it is commonly used all around the world. But if you never had this before, do not worry. The taste is different than that of a regular onion as it is usually more mild and not very pungent. One of their stand out features is that they have a crunchy texture.
There is also a large green onion variety which can be found in certain supermarkets. It is certainly way bigger than that of a regular green onion, but the flavor is still the same.
- When buying green onions/scallions, always try to choose the ones that have a dark green color as that means they are fresh. Scallions which have turned a bit yellow or brown means that their time is usually up and are not as fresh.
- When storing this vegetable, you’ll want to shake off any excess water on them before placing it in the fridge. The reason for this is because most supermarkets will spray water on them to keep them fresh which makes them quite wet.
- Green part of the green onion/scallion is usually milder in flavor and is great to use for garnish or color of a dish. The white parts have a more sweet onion type of flavor when cooked, so its usually used together with other ingredients to cook.
Leeks are actually not that common in China, but are widely used here in the United States. When you go to any supermarket, you can typically find leaks for sale in any vegetable aisle. They are usually kept where the tops are cut off and only leaving a tiny green portion as they are widely considered to be tough and inedible.
Leeks have a mild, onion-like taste. In its raw state, the vegetable is crunchy and firm. The edible portions of the leek are the white base of the leaves (above the roots and stem base), the light green parts, and to a lesser extent the dark green parts of the leaves.
Lets be honest, I am sure we all know what an onion is at this point in our lives. After all, they are one of the most common ingredients found in supermarkets and are widely used in a lot of recipes. They come in many different varieties like sweet onion, yellow onion, white onion, red onion and more.
While onions are used in Chinese cooking, they aren’t really the preferred choice. Most Chinese cooking will utilize green onions or other varieties instead. But that doesn’t mean these onions are bad. In fact, they make for a great replacement and can definitely help elevate a dish.
Well you have read about onions, now meet its baby cousin “Shallots”. They are basically similar to onions in every single way. Except that Shallots have a more delicate and sweet flavor with a hint of sharpness, while onions bring a more intense heat. But other than that, you can literally substitute onions for shallots or shallots for onions in almost any dish.
You’ll find that certain recipes on our site calls for Shallots. The reason for this is because, even though shallots are almost identical to onions, they still have its place here in Asian dishes.
Ginger is a very important ingredient you have to know about as it is widely used for many Asian dishes. Almost every supermarket will carry this item, however in my experience, Asian supermarkets tend to be cheaper in price.
If you never had ginger before, the flavor and taste of it can be described as being a bit lemony/citrus type of flavor as well as earthy. But when used in cooking, it brings out so much flavor in the dish.
Galangal looks very similar to Ginger and is basically its cousin. Commonly known as “Thai ginger”, it looks like a hybrid between a turmeric and a ginger. This ingredient is commonly used to make many Thai, Indonesian, and Malaysian dishes as the flavor is strong and has a bit of a citrus taste.
This is another ingredient which I am sure you have probably heard about. If not, then just know that they are a great weapon to use against vampires!!!! Just kidding, but garlic is a universal ingredient where all cultures use in their cooking.
You can find that in many recipes on our site, we utilize garlic as it helps bring out a lot of flavor and elevates the dish.
If you never had garlic before and are curious on what it tastes like, well here is a description. When eaten raw, garlic tends to have a very powerful and pungent flavor. Which is why typically it is normally cooked in some way which helps mellow out the flavor considerably. Roasting garlic also changes the flavor and texture a lot as it results in a more creamy clove with a nutty mild taste.
In all honesty, green garlic isn’t really commonly used in Asian cooking. But it is still important to know about as it is also an aromatic. It may look like your average green onion, but it is vastly different. It will carry a very pungent garlic flavor when eaten. For many Western dishes, green garlic will be used to help enhance the flavor and color of the dish.
Garlic Scrapes are basically the flower bud of garlic. These buds and stems are typically removed from the garlic plant in order for the garlic bud to grow. They are usually found all over China and is a common ingredient to use for cooking Chinese dishes. Although here in the United States, they are a bit hard to find. If you do manage to find them, you’ll soon find out that they are pretty expensive as well. But usually during the summer months, it gets better as you’ll see Asian supermarkets stocked to the brim with them. Their taste is similar to that of a garlic where it also has a pungent flavor.
Chives is another staple ingredient used in Asian cooking. They may look like grass but I guarantee they are not. Their flavor is that of a mix between garlic and onions. It’s a unique flavor that is truly delicious when cooked.
In fact, one of my favorite recipes, pork and chives dumpling utilizes this to the fullest.
I would definitely recommend you to plant your own chives as buying them from a store can be costly. Growing your chives is so simple as you just plant the seeds and it grows like grass. You even maintain it like grass by just trimming the top every once in awhile and using the top to cook your foods.
It’s a very versatile ingredient which I highly suggest everybody have in their homes.
Yellow Chinese Chives
Yellow Chinese Chives are literally the same as Chinese Chives in every single way. The reason they are yellow is that they are grown without sunlight which causes them to have the lack of green pigment. Their flavor is the similar to that of the green chives except that it tends to be more mild in taste. It is a common ingredient to use for many Chinese noodle and seafood dishes.
Cilantro is a very common ingredient used in many Asian countries. It basically is the leaves of the coriander plant and is commonly used as a garnish or cooked in soups and steamed dishes. It resembles that of parsley and has a pungent, complex, citrusy flavor.
Some people like it, some people hate it, but whatever the case may be, it still is an important ingredient to know about.
Thai Basil is part of the basil family that has been cultivated to provide distinctive traits. Widely used throughout Southeast Asia, its flavor, described as anise- and licorice-like and slightly spicy, is more stable under high or extended cooking temperatures than that of sweet basil. Although not commonly found in American Supermarkets, Asian supermarkets tend to stock these in tons.
Lemongrass is a common ingredient widely used across Southeast Asia. It is easy to identiy as it has pale yellow-green stalks and looks sort of dry with a very beautiful citrus smell. It kind of looks like an odd green onion as it has a bulbous bottom with tough stalks. Flavor wise, it can be described as having a unique blend of tart lemon with a hint of mint in it. Lemongrass is exploding in popularity all over the world due to its fragrant smell and delicious flavor.
Typically used in Indian dishes, they have a characteristic that is sort of difficult to define. The actual taste of it can be compared to that of citrus, anise, or even lemon grass. However once cooked, they impart a sharp bite and a nutty aroma.
Turmeric might scare away some people at first because lets face it…it looks like a dried worm. But I guarantee you that it is not a bug! It is a plant that is commonly used in Southeast Asian cooking. Flavor wise, it is certainly very earthy and bitter with a bit of peppery spice. But once used in cooking, it will become like magic. If you ever had curry then you would know that the curry powder is typically made from turmeric. It’ll also change the color of your dish to a vibrant orange or yellow color.
But not only that, turmeric also provides a ton of health benefits. It is loaded with antioxidants and has some antiseptic properties as well.
Chinese Toon is an aromatic that is commonly found all over China during spring time. This plant is typically harvested from the young leaves of the Chinese Mohagony tree in the spring when the trees are sprouting and are available for only a few weeks during the growing season. The leaves themselves have a purpleish tint to them and they taste a bit like onions. They are typically used to make certain cold dishes.
Red Thai Chili Peppers
Red Thai Chili Peppers which are also called “Bird’s Eye” is a common ingredient used in many dishes to help add some heat. Red Thai chile peppers have a fruity, subtly earthy flavor with a pungent heat that slowly builds and then lingers on the palate. Typically when using them, we would usually de-seed them to help reduce the heat level. But depending on your heat tolerance, you may like it with seeds as well.
Shishito Peppers are a small green pepper that are commonly found throughout Japanese and Korean dishes. Flavor wise, they have a fresh peppery flavor and are slightly sweet. But in some occasions, you might get a pepper that is exceedingly spicy so be careful.